John Duke's many years of service to Saline Memorial Hospital and to the Saline County community will be recognized at the second annual Heart of Saline Recognition Dinner and fundraiser.
The event is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23, at The Center at Bishop Park.
The Saline Memorial Health Foundation is hosting the event.
“The purpose of the Heart of Saline dinner is to honor someone who has put community and others above themselves,” said Matt Brumley, SMH foundation director. “Mr. Duke certainly exemplifies these qualities. We can say our community is a better place because of him and all of those he has impacted through his calling to serve.”
Duke began his career with Alcoa in Mobile, Ala., in 1947. He first came to Arkansas after accepting a job at the Bauxite plant in 1961. He held many positions within Alcoa but maintained the title of System Supervisor for 28 years in Bauxite where he retired. While he was affiliated with Alcoa, Duke served as employee assistant supervisor and continued this role on a volunteer basis even after his retirement.
“I met John in 1979 when I went to work at the Alcoa Plant at Bauxite,” said Paula Lattanzi, former Alcoa human resources manager. “Everyone who worked for John loved him.
"John had the incredible ability to develop a strong bond of trust with our employees and with the union," she said. "He was so effective that we gave him a private office and paid his expenses to help us help employees with drug, alcohol and gambling problems, and he also assisted with family issues. "John was especially effective with young people," she added. " John did all this for 10 years with no compensation.”
One of Duke’s first acts of community service was sitting on the board of directors of the Saline County United Way, for which he served as president and drive chairman. He later served on the board of directors for Saline Memorial Hospital for two separate terms, spanning a total of 13 years.
“One of my influences that kept me involved in community service was my interest in the Catholic ministry,” Duke said. “I followed an insight by the Spirit and attended classes for three and a half years to become a deacon.”
Duke was ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church in 1986 after completing 600 hours of school. Through the years, he has spent 30 years of study in the Catholic scripture and was commissioned a parish administrator, serving as director of deacons for the Little Rock Diocese.
“Deacon John Duke happens to be one of the finest men I’ve ever know,” said Sandy Baka, SMH Foundation Board member. “He is filled with the love of Jesus and it flows out of him to all. His sweet, loving spirit brings out the best in those around him.”
Duke has been honored for his community service — in 1988 receiving the Outstanding Citizen of Saline County Award from the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, and in 1999, the Community Service Award from the Counseling Clinic.
“The real honors of my life are God-given,” Duke said. “They are the blessings of my wife, family and Diaconate ministry. My seven children have made me practice what I preach. My 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren keep me young at heart.”
“Deacon John truly exemplifies the Heart of Saline and I can’t think of anyone with a more loving heart for everyone around him,” Baka said. “My life has been touched and blessed by knowing him.”
Proceeds from the Heart of Saline dinner will benefit the Saline Memorial Health Foundation, which supports the hospital’s mission of providing quality healthcare services to Saline County and surrounding areas.
During the past few years, the SMH Foundation has helped raise funds to build Hospice House in Bryant, to purchase cardiac monitors for the ambulance service and to provide cardiac medication for indigent patients.
Attendees at the banquet will be served filet and chicken, according to Rebecca Jones, director of marketing and community relations. Tickets are $50 each or $400 for a table of eight.
The social hour starts at 6 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6:30.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call 776-6746. More information about supporting the Saline Memorial Health Foundation also is available at this number.