At the age of 105, Arlene Hyten Rainey had lived quite a life, and according to her children, Rainey's was filled with laughter and adventure.
After the recent death of her mother, Laura Rainey Russell said she is not sad, but instead she is reminded of all the great years she had with her mom. Russell describes her mom as fun, talented and someone who loved this community.
Bruce, Rainey's youngest son, said only weeks ago, his mom was asking him about what things were going on in Benton.
When asked how he would described his mother, Bruce called her calm, loving, accepting and someone who had a great sense of fun.
He also noted that her nickname in her mother's side of the family was "Lady" and she fit that name perfectly.
Russell and her two brothers all live in other states, and even through they tried to persuade her to move, Rainey was adamant that she did not want to move out of the state.
Russell said her mother’s family had lived here since the Civil War, and Rainey was born in home that was once occupied by the Union Army.
Rainey’s father, Charles "Bullet" Hyten, was the creator of Niloak Pottery, and Rainey took great pride in her family’s history.
According to Russell, she traveled around the state speaking about Niloak pottery up until about 10 to 12 years ago.
Bruce said his mother and father dated for six years before they were married and then waited another six years before having children.
He called this "remarkably ahead of her time."
Mary Kay Mooney, who has been one of Russell’s friends since they were in school, said it is hard for her to remember a time when Rainey was not a part of her life.
While attending Benton schools, Mooney spent many days at the Rainey’s home with her friends.
Mooney describes Rainey as a “southern lady,” adding that she was always kind and welcoming.
Along with building a relationship with the Rainey family as she was growing up, Mooney also had the opportunity to spend time as an adult with Rainey on various committees. Both women were interested in the history of Saline County.
“We used to talk about that (history) so much,” Mooney said. “She was just such a source of information, historical information, about Saline County and she was just so neat to talk to… she really was a Saline County treasure.”
Rainey also loved to share information about the history of the county with everyone. Rainey was instrumental in the creation of the Gann Museum. Representatives for the museum issued this statement following Rainey’s death: “Mrs. Rainey was the daughter of Charles "Bullet" Hyten — creator of Niloak Pottery— and a true asset to our community. Working with the Saline County Library, the Gann Museum, the Clinton Library, and so many more places, Mrs. Rainey blessed all who were in her presence with her kind heart, big smile and vast knowledge of pottery, history, and genealogy. The Gann Museum of Saline County would not be what it is today without her and we will miss her dearly. Rest in peace Mrs. Rainey and thank you for all you did for our community in your 105 years of life. You were truly an inspiration.”
Along with sharing her family's history, Rainey was active in various projects, including the Southwest Trail mural in Downtown Benton and the Saline Crossing project.
Bruce said throughout her life, Rainey always tried to stay up to date on changes across the country and was always open to hearing new ideas.
"She was never locked into an old school belief on anything. The fact that she kept an open mind to anything was a great precedence for me to follow," Bruce said.
Rainey was described by many people as also being an avid sports fan.
According to Russell, her parents took her to attend football games at CW Lewis Stadium beginning when she was only a baby. Russell said the family was often at the stadium multiple times a week watching sporting events.
The Rainey had season tickets to watch the Panthers and they sat in the same seats for decades, according Donnie Burks, director of the Benton Athletic Memorial Museum.
Rainey’s husband, Nelson, was one of the people who assisted during the creation of BAMM and Rainey was by his side the entire time, Burks said.
Prior to the closure of the stadium, BAMM's board of directors celebrated Arlene Rainey Day and recognized her during a home game. She also received the Donnie Burks award during the Salt Bowl.
One of the highlights of Rainey’s life was when her grandson, Russell’s son, lived with her when he was a senior in high school. At the time his parents were living in Germany, but he wanted to play football in college. A recruiter at the University of Arkansas told him, he would have to play in the states to become eligible to play at the college level.
He was a star player for the Benton Panthers and would go on to play for the Razorbacks after getting offers to play at the University of Arkansas and the University of Alabama.
Russell said her mom took pride in her appearance and every day she would get dressed up and put on her makeup.
While attending Henderson State University, at a time when most women did not go to college, Rainey was named homecoming queen. Each year, their family would make the trip to see Henderson State University take on Ouachita Baptist College.
Russell said her mother’s family was extremely adventurous, adding that they traveled to California in the 1920s, which was unheard of at the time. Even later into her life, Rainey enjoy traveling, including going to various sporting events.
Rainey and her husband would travel to Memphis and stay at the Peabody Hotel every year to watch the Razorbacks play. They also traveled to New Orleans to watch Russell’s younger son play football in the NFL.
Bruce also remembered his mother's enthusiasm for traveling and the fact that she was always up to try something new.
"She would just stop what she was doing if someone offered her the chance to go something else," he said. Bruce remembered one day his mother received a call while cooking bacon. The person told her he was going somewhere and wanted to know if she wanted to go. She told him that she just needed to turn the bacon off and she would be ready to go.
"That's the kind of enthusiasm she met life with all the time and something that she learned, I think, from her father, who she adored."
Everyone who knew her agreed that she stayed active well into her later years.
Russell said that her mother enjoyed playing bridge and was an active member of her church, First Presbyterian Church. When interviewed at her 100th birthday party, Rainey said she was born on a Saturday and her mother enrolled her at the church the following day.
"A death like this always leaves a hole in a family, but I feel like she is going to leave a hole in the community because of her love of Benton and the potential she saw there was very great," Bruce said.