(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
Cleffie Gipson has made quite a mark for herself as a public servant and beloved humanitarian in the Caraway community and shows no signs of resting on her many achievements nor slowing down.
Gipson knows Buffalo Island people, and knows them well. She was born in Caraway, moved to Poplar Ridge, went to school in Monette, and graduated high school in Lake City. She has been a Tiger, Buffalo, Catfish and now takes pride in being a Rebel.
She is the daughter of Barrett and Maebelle Howell, has a brother Lewis and a sister Donna Varner.
"In 1956 I married my high school sweetheart, George Gipson," Mrs. Gipson said. "We never got out of Caraway, so naturally this place has always been home to us. We celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary last year."
The Gipsons have three children, Randy, Ronald and Lesia. They also have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Their family roots go deep in Buffalo Island soil.
"We have Sunday dinner together ever week," Gipson said. "That is one way I know I will get to see the kids and grandkids. I just put on all the largest pots and hope to have enough. I never know how many I will be having, but it is usually around 16. I just love them all home, and as long as I am able I will continue with the tradition. There is always room for another plate."
Mrs. Gipson makes friends easily. Everywhere she has lived, she has made new friends to take with her. She is the site director for the Caraway Senior Citizens, which is the largest center on Buffalo Island. The faithful flock comes from all over the eastern district of Craighead County.
"I have worked all my life and think nothing of it," Gipson said. "I hated chopping cotton but loved picking it. When I was just eight years old I could pick 50 pounds of cotton a day, and if we didn't we got a whipping when we got home.
"I bought my senior ring by earning $24 picking cotton," she said. "I thought that was the prettiest ring I had ever seen, and I wore it all the time. Years later someone broke into our house and stole my class ring. I am still upset over that."
Gipson is a community leader and has been all her life. She was PTA president, Girl Scout leader, den mother for the boys, coach for the 7 and 8 year old girls softball team, served as a Caraway Park Commissioner, and helped with the Fourth of July picnic. She encouraged people to sign up for rural water when it came to town.
"When the children weren't playing softball, I was," she said. "George and I were on a bowling league, and later took up golfing. I also like to fish."
Church has always been important to the Gipsons, and they attend New Hope Baptist Church, south of Black Oak. Mrs. Gipson is the assistant pianist and has served 26 years as the church treasurer. She played third base for Orwell Moore's state winning Tastee Maids softball team, and in her 50s won first place in the senior olympics on a team called "Golden Girls." After competing in the nationals, Gipson hung up her softball shoes.
"I would still love to play today, but I would have to have someone run for me," she said. "It would be too big a load for someone to carry around the bases. I guess the love of the game will ever be out of my blood."
To show her versatility, Gipson has worked at Sears, Farmers Insurance, Ford Tractor Company, American Greeting, Deglow Gin, Stubblefield Insurance, Thermogas Company, and Caraway Gin before taking the job of Lake City Senior Citizens, working for CRDC. In 1994 she was moved to Caraway and remains in that position still today, under the management of St. Bernards Medical Center.
"I will have to say that this is the most rewarding job that I have ever had," Gipson said. "I love what I do and the people I work with. There is not a bad apple in the bunch. We laugh, play and learn together. They all pitch in to help and I look forward to seeing them every day.
"My friends at the senior center are just like family to me. When one of them doesn't show up for a couple of days, I have to call and see why. I worry about them when they are sick or have burdens, and they do the same for me. We enjoy spending time together, and our spirits are lifted coming to the center every day."
Gipson was chosen as "The First Lady of the Year" at the 1989 Caraway fourth of July celebration and the 2004 Miss Northeast Arkansas Senior Pageant queen.
"I am always willing to try just a little of everything that is fun," Gipson said. "We had some great trips when our senior citizens were younger and able to go. When our Riverside senior boys basketball team played in the state tournament in Flippin, we took a bus load to the games, getting home at 3 a.m."
"I would think about retiring if it wasn't for the good people I have here," she said. "They constantly tell me not to think about retiring until they all die. I sure don't want that to happen, so I will be around as long as St. Bernards will allow me to be. I truly believe that it is more blessed to give than receive, and I want to help everyone I can as long as I can."