Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
For many, growing up in Conway and Faulkner County included time spent at the Y.B.M.A. Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds served as a backdrop to many of our fondest memories. In the spring and summer, we gathered for ballgames. Every game ended with the trip to the concession stand for a snow cone. In the fall, we gathered for rodeos and the highly anticipated county fair.
So what was Y.B.M.A.? On March 11, 1937, several Conway young business and professional men gathered at the Bachelor Hotel with officials from the Little Rock Young Business Men’s Association to discuss the formation of a similar club in Conway.
The group elected Vernon Keadle as temporary chairman and Guy Jones as temporary secretary-treasurer. Walter Scales and Ted Hiegel were appointed to develop a constitution while other committees were appointed to develop policies and membership guidelines.
After the group adopted their constitution, it decided to focus on improving transportation, moving the city dump and opening trade with Van Buren and Perry counties. The initiation fee was set at $2.50 while membership dues were set at $1.50 a month.
Charter members of the Conway YBMA were Sid Adams, Theo Ashcraft, Roland A. Bradley, Gabe Balmaz, R.E. Cochran, Herbert Cooke, Floyd Cohlman, Turner Doolin, Walter Dunaway, Jess Dempsey, Gus Enderlin, Russell Greer, Wallace Gist, Alton Gibbons, A.J. Hambuchen, Cleddie W. Harper, Ted Hiegel, Guy H. Jones, Ernest Keller, Vernon Keadle, Foy Loveless, Joe B. McGee, George Muse, R.A. McNutt, Robert W. Mosley, Russell C. Roberts, Walter Scales, R. Edward Speaker, Ernest Simpson, George Simon, Vernon Tucker, Gene Williams, Hilary Woodruff, and Bert Woodruff.
In subsequent meetings, R.A. McNutt was elected president, the bylaws were approved, and the motto, “Conway Bigger and Better,” was adopted. J.J. Kane, Raymond Price, W.A. Sullivan, Richard Pence, Kelsey Parker, C.S. Gordon and Russ Ethridge also joined the organization.
The Y.B.M.A. took over many of the functions and activities of the Chamber of Commerce. It elected the chamber president and met with the chamber board. Members went out into the county, holding community meetings to try to improve relations between Conway and the rural communities of the county. They also offered assistance to these communities.
In the fall of 1938, Y.B.M.A. and the Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the first Faulkner County Free Fair. In 1946, it purchased from the John Emil Lachowsky estate the 40-acre tract south of Robins Street that became known as the YBMA Fairgrounds. The fair was moved to that site and remained there until 2010.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Y.B.M.A. focused on developing the fairgrounds. A cattle barn was constructed in 1952 as well as a ball field with lights and bleachers. After sponsoring a softball program for several years, it established a Little League Baseball Program in 1954 with Floyd Morse as the first manager. By 1958, there were 18 teams with 338 boys involved in the program.
In 1959, the Faulkner County Riding Club was given permission to build a rodeo arena at the fairgrounds. It sponsored a rodeo there in October 1960. In 1961, the Arkansas High School Rodeo was held there.
More fair exhibition facilities were constructed and Conway Corporation installed restroom facilities in 1960. The first American Legion district baseball tournament and a large political rally were held that summer.
During the 1960s, the boys’ baseball program expanded and a girls’ softball program was started under the supervision of ASTC physical education instructor, Betty Swift. Y.B.M.A. also made financial contributions to Arkansas Boys State and Girls State, 4-H Clubs, local garden club projects and other civic organization projects. The fair continued to expand and was said to be the only county fair in the state to earn a profit in 1969.
Y.B.M.A. moved its meetings from the Bachelor Hotel to the American Grill in 1943. Later, after meeting at Walker’s Café for a short time, meetings were moved to Tommy’s Restaurant. Over twenty businessmen attended these meetings on a regular basis. Membership declined by 1969 so the club began meeting at noon to try to encourage more participation. Their efforts met with good success as many became members.
A permanent building was constructed on the fairgrounds in 1974. Home Demonstration Clubs had their meetings there. Conway Corporation also installed the big water tank at the fairgrounds that year.
In 2010, Y.B.M.A. Fairgrounds became Conway Station Park, a 9-field boys’ baseball park. The Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds, located at 2505 East Oak, is now the home for the Faulkner County Fair.
Y.B.M.A. ceased to function when a new fair committee was established several years ago.
Note: Information on the history of Y.B.M.A. was found in Faulkner County: Its Land and People published by the Faulkner County Historical Society in 1986.