UARM Chancellor Dr. Phillip Wilson has announced that the new collegiate softball field being constructed at McMillan Park will be named the Cecil-Cummings Field in honor of the family’s donation made by Rhonda Weatherford and her three sons, Aaron, Brandon and Calvin Cummings to support Bucks Athletics and the Nursing Program, of which Rhonda is an alumnus. Rhonda was the only child of Don Cecil, founder of the Don’s E-Z Pay stores, which now boasts 7 locations across southwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.
“A gift such as this, especially from an alumnus, is such an honor to receive because it demonstrates not only their approval, but more importantly, their belief in our vision and what we’re building. This gift goes far beyond just reinvesting in the local community. Generations for years to come will be the benefactors of this generosity,” said Dr. Wilson.
Rhonda Weatherford knows first-hand how instrumental UA Rich Mountain can be in transforming lives with purpose. She earned her GED at the age of 21 from Rich Mountain when classes met at City Hall under the instruction of Pat Phillips. She then returned to Rich Mountain Vo-Tech to become an LPN. “Ms. Sheppard was the instructor… she was a retired Army nurse,” said Rhonda. “There were 12 in my class at that time.” She stated that she was inspired to go into nursing following the pre-mature birth of her first son, Aaron, who spent 10 weeks in a neo-natal unit.
Following that experience, Rhonda’s dream of becoming a veterinarian transitioned to the nursing profession, “I love to help people, especially the elderly.” Rhonda continued her nursing education, commuting to Poteau, in pursuit of her RN licensure. “It was very demanding as I remember; clinicals were in Fort Smith.” She said she’s never forgotten the encouragement she received from her dad, who had been a trailblazer in the rent to own furniture/appliance business. He was part of a three-man group who wrote by-laws and drafted early contracts to establish the industry in Arkansas. “People thought the concept was crazy at the time.”
She said circumstances warranted her to join her dad in managing their then three stores (Mena, Waldron, DeQueen) in 1996, but she continued working as a nurse. The first order of business was getting all of the stores computerized, which took a year.
Her dad passed in 2008, always wanting to open one more store.
So, when the opportunity came to open a store in Idabel, Rhonda seized it and added to their growing list of operations.
“We had so many customers from that area, it just made sense. We now have third generation customers there and we’re so grateful for their loyalty and support.” Another location was later opened in Broken Bow as well. “Our customers are what’s made it all. They are a hard-working group of people.”
Her sons have since joined the business: Brandon in 2009, Aaron in 2011, and Calvin in 2015. “They’ve each found their niche, and slowly, we’ve figured out how to all work together.” The boys saw the opportunity to open a store in Poteau five years ago and have recently begun the process to open a location in Booneville. “But that’s enough,” said Rhonda smiling. “We have a great team that works for us, and on average our employees are with us for a long time. One regional manager began with us 26 years ago doing deliveries.”
She is incredibly complimentary of the transformation that Rich Mountain has undergone since she first came to earn her GED, “It’s just unbelievable… its leaders, past and present, who all truly care about education and providing opportunities to the people of this area… without Rich Mountain, this community wouldn’t be what it is.”