A man known for his service to his city and others was announced Thursday night as the recipient of the 2018 Iverson Riggs Citizen of the Year Award.
Van Buren native and Mayor Bob Freeman was lauded as a leader with a servant’s heart and one recognized for “service above self.”
Freeman’s selection for the honor was announced at the 63rd annual meeting of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce.
Freeman said his selection as the recipient of the Iverson Riggs Citizen of the Year Award was a humbling experience.
“At the end of 20 years in the Army, I knew I needed to go home and my wife Terry and I returned to the Van Buren home I grew up in,” Freeman said. “Then came another turn in my life when Bill Thomas hired me at Citizens Bank.”
Then came Freeman’s decision to run for mayor.
“Something told me that is what my life had prepared me for,” said Freeman, now a three-term mayor preparing to retire at the end of the year.
“As a public servant, I have tried to make a difference in the lives of others, the way others have made a difference in my life,” Freeman said.
He also was quick to praise others for the strides Van Buren has made during the past 12 years.
“It was everyone pulling together in the same direction,” he said. “We have a bright horizon in Van Buren and we need to keep going in that direction.”
The Iverson Riggs Memorial Citizen of the Year Award was created in 1987 to honor the memory of Iverson Riggs, founder and publisher of the Crawford County Courier newspaper. This award is given to an individual who has made exemplary contributions of time, talent or resources to the community.
In her nomination of Freeman, former chamber board chairman Lyn Miller said Freeman’s “service above self” began with his military career when he chose to serve his country.
“And, he did so with excellence, achieving the rank of colonel,” Miller said. “He then returned to his hometown and his skilled leadership quickly earned him the position of vice president at Citizens Bank.”
During his time at Citizens Bank, co-worker Joe Stewart said Freeman “had a desire to help others and lead in a way that did not show as ‘look what I am doing’ but that was truly trying to help others and the community in a quiet, humble way.”
Keith Hefner, president and CEO of Citizens Bank, said Freeman followed his servant’s heart when he made the decision to leave the bank and run for mayor.
“It was a decision from which we all have benefited,” Hefner said. “Bob Freeman is a man of honor; his integrity is born of a spiritual nature and manifests itself in his every secular endeavor.”
Van Buren Police Chief Jamie Hammond said Freeman embodies the same love and vision for the city as Iverson Riggs did.
“His morals and principals are unparalleled to anyone you will ever meet and those morals and principals don’t get discarded when it comes to the decisions he makes for our city,” Hammond said.
Freeman’s executive assistanty Jennifer Froud said Freeman walks through the office door every day hoping to make a difference.
“Never has he made anyone feel insignificant, unimportant, unheard or neglected,” Froud said. “In fact, he often goes out of his way to do just the opposite by offering an encouraging word, taking the time to listen to upset citizens or giving his time or monies to benefit others, never seeking recognition or boasting his achievements.”
Both current city council member Alan Swaim and former member Donna Parker pointed to the building projects undertaken during Freeman’s 12-year tenure.
“Mayor Freeman devoted his personal commitment of time, energy and enthusiasm which led to the passage of the tax initiatives that funded our new public library, police department, fire station, senior citizens community center and expanded our park system,” Parker wrote.
Swaim said Freeman’s accomplishments during his three terms have been amazing.
When Freeman decided to run for mayor, Hefner said Freeman said he had been called to give back to the community, his hometown.
“He conveyed his desire to see Van Buren and this region prosper,” Hefner said. “And, while politics can be a messy profession, he felt the city was at a crucial juncture and needed someone to step forward in a leadership role.”
During high school, Freeman was president of the student council and served as student body president. Freeman attended the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
After graduation, he was commissioned as an artillery lieutenant in the Army. He also holds a master’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology and is a graduate of the U.S. Army General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and the Defense Systems Management College at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Freeman’s military career spanned 20 years with various staff and command assignments around the globe. He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After retirement, Freeman returned to Van Buren and worked with Citizens Bank & Trust Co. for seven years before being elected mayor in 2006. He has served as the chair of the planning commission, member of the Municipal Auditorium Commission, member and past president of the Van Buren Rotary Club in addition to being a Paul Harris Fellow, member of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce Board and CASA Board and United Way volunteer. He is also a graduate of Leadership Fort Smith and was inducted into the Van Buren High School Hall of Honor in 2017.
Freeman and his wife Terry are members of Heritage United Methodist Church, where he has been a lay leader. They have two children, Sarah and David.