James “Jim” Spears, who served as Twelfth Circuit Judge from 1993 until 2016, following a lengthy career in law and a lifetime of community service, will be awarded the 9thAnnual Diligence to Victory Award, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Alumni Reunion Dinner.
Named for the motto of the 1928 first graduating class at Fort Smith Junior College — “Through diligence to victory” — the award is the highest alumni honor bestowed by the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. Recipients are alumni who have distinguished themselves through service to the University, their community, state, or nation, or whose outstanding leadership in their business or professional lives exemplifies this motto.
Past honorees of the Diligence to Victory award are Randy Wewers '58, Peggy Raynor Weidman '73, Stacey Jones '71, Conaly Bedell '56, Warren Rapert '81, Chester Koprovic '75, Lap Bui ’93 and Marta Loyd '97.
“Judge Spears’ long and distinguished legal career as well as his constant support of UAFS, education, and the arts in Fort Smith is a living example of the motto of the first class of Fort Smith Junior College, “Through diligence to victory.” We are honored to add him to our family of celebrated alumni,” said UAFS Alumni Director Rick Goins.
After graduating from Fort Smith Junior College in 1966 with an associates degree, Spears went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech in history and political science 1968
and his law degree at the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1973.
Though his work as a judge has changed countless lives, Spears says his civic volunteerism is his true passion.
“It’s our duty to make our home a better place,” Spears said “And it’s our duty toour sense of community to give back to a community that has given us so much.”
In 1998 Spears was awarded the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver award, a council-level distinguished service honorawarded to registered scouters who have made an impact on the lives of youth through service given to the council.
In 2004 he received the Arkansas Bar Association, Arkansas Bar Foundation’s Lawyer Citizen Award, and the Jack White Leadership Award, the community service award Arkansas Judicial Council, and the Grady Secrest Humanitarian Award from the Jaycees.
Beginning college at UAFS gave Spears opportunities that affected the trajectory of his life and propelled him forward. “It gave me the opportunity to experience leadership and it provided my first opportunity to really get involved in my community,” he said, recounting his term as student body president, though at the time it was called student board.
“It developed self-confidence and the people who were there were dedicated. They were some of the best teachers I ever had. It was a small community where people cared about you and took you under their wing.”
UAFS has maintained the close-knit student-faculty relationships, but the campus has grown exponentially, he said.
“I walk around out there and I see these buildings with names of people I knew very well. Breedlove, Fullerton, and others, they were real people to me. They absolutely shaped my future.”
Spears has also dedicated his time and investments to the arts culture of Fort Smith. An active supporter of the UAFS Season of Entertainment, a civic leader involved in the procurement of the Bass Reeves statue on Garrison Avenue as well as numerous other historic statues in the works, and an advocate of the arts in education, he has helped the arts community of Fort Smith blossom over the years. Spears has also dedicated time to the advancement of the US Marshals Museum in Fort Smith.
“Persistence is the only way to success,” Spears said. “You just have to never give up. I never give up on Fort Smith.”
The Alumni Reunion Dinner will be held at the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center, located at 800 N. 49th St. For more information on the event honoring Spears, contact Rick Goins at 479-788-7026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.