It kind of feels like it happened overnight, but man, it didn’t. If you’re not from Jonesboro, or if you’re not an Arkansas State alum, you might be wondering why Howlraiser is even broaching this subject. After all, a town that hosts a university is, by its nature, a “College Town.” But trust me, even though Arkansas State was founded in 1909, many would have a tough time calling Jonesboro a College Town – until recently.
I’m not busting on the historically staid and rural nature of Jonesboro. It is what it is – a hardworking community at the center of the Arkansas Delta, surrounded by nutrient-rich farmland and tiny hamlets. Jonesboro is in fact the retail, medical, academic and entertainment destination of Northeast Arkansas – its phenomenal growth reflects that. It’s also the region’s moral and financial center, populated by an abnormal number of banks and churches. Because of this – perhaps – Jonesboro was slow to embrace the university, its most precious gift.
Why? Universities invite change, culture, exotic foreigners, weird art, spiritual awakenings, alcohol use, dancing, sexual experimentation, diversity, exposed abdomens, traffic, and a rainbow of criminal activities – drivers of growth both positive and painful that are at odds with Jonesboro’s unofficial charter of peace, quiet, and predictably. For decades, Arkansas State was viewed by many locals as a potential powder keg whose only purpose was to destroy the status quo. Jonesboro likes its quo.
But here’s the ultimate truth of the universe – change is a ripple whose course can be delayed with the most Herculean of efforts, but it can never altered. The moment Act 100 of the 37th Arkansas General Assembly breathed life into Arkansas State, Jonesboro’s destiny was changed.
At some point, Jonesboro stopped fighting its destiny and became a College Town.
You can’t point to one event that triggered this acceptance, but you can identify the moments that signaled the awakening: Stadium Boulevard become Red Wolf Boulevard, the relaxing of public drinking laws, the closing off of Caraway, the revitalization of Main Street, the embracing of the Red Wolves over the Indians, and the state’s awarding of the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. The community not only recognized the university’s value, it realized that A-State was the front door of its identity.
Oh yeah, a suddenly, A-State students had a place to go for fun and debauchery that wasn’t Memphis, Paragould or Tunica. We mentioned Main Street, with its new nightlife centered on the Red Wolves. What’s more, Jonesboro provided the student body with a convenient, just-off-campus watering hole – J-Town’s Grill – and built a nice apartment complex around it.
Jonesboro, like King Arthur and Aragon and Rocky before it, has seized its destiny, and has become a College Town. St. Bernard’s has incredible partnerships with Arkansas State researchers. A new convention center is now located on campus. Houses bear A-State flags with pride. We’re projecting a vibe in Northeast Arkansas.
We’ve become College Town USA.