A Van Buren park will be named for a Vietnam veteran and his wife who turned a tragedy into the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many throughout the United States.
Members of the Van Buren City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to accept a $1 million land donation from the Rausch-Coleman families in return for naming the 55 acres adjacent to the Forest Oaks and Park Ridge subdivisions the "Mr. Chad and Betty Ann Colley Wilderness Park."
"You are a shining example of what service, love and faith are all about," Mayor Bob Freeman told Chad and Betty Colley. "Thank you for the difference you have made in so many lives … you have no idea of the ones that you touched."
Chad Colley said he is excited to see what the city does with the land which is north of Interstate 40.
"I am more excited for the city of Van Buren than for ourselves," Colley said. "I want the city and its children to know what it is like to be able to be in the woods."
Betty Colley said it is a real honor and privilege to have the wilderness park named for the Barling couple.
Colley was deployed to Vietnam Thanksgiving Day 1967 as a first lieutenant and a platoon leader and ranger in the 101st Airborne Division. July 21, 1968, while moving his company in position to cordon off an area under fire, Colley was injured by an explosive and lost both legs in the blast. His left arm was amputated later.
After his injury, Chad and Betty Ann Colley moved to Barling. He embarked on a new career as a real estate broker and became a licensed pilot.
Colley became an advocate for veterans at a national level. He served as national commander of the Disabled American Veterans and was awarded the distinction of handicapped person of the year by the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.
Betty Ann Putman Colley was born Dec. 31, 1945, and graduated from St. Pious X and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in physical therapy. She and Chad married Oct. 7, 1967.
In 1969, she went to work for Sparks Hospital and later with the infant development program at Bost School. She also was the first therapist for the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center. She went to work for Holt Krock Clinic in the 1980s and worked part-time until 1993.
Freeman spoke about how Colley had come home determined to let his life be an example, influencing Freeman’s own life after Colley got home from Vietnam.
Freeman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the father of a West Point graduate and Afghanistan war veteran, said abiding by the request of Rausch-Coleman and naming the park after Colley was never a question, but instead an honor.
The Rausch-Coleman families asked to donated the land to show appreciation to the city.
"The City of Van Buren has been a partner with us in providing affordable housing to the citizens of Van Buren over the past 50 years and for that we are appreciative," stated a letter to Mayor Bob Freeman signed by Rob Coleman and John Rausch.
Buddy Coleman, speaking on behalf of Rausch-Coleman Monday night, said the park would be a great way to give Van Buren residents a better quality of life while at the same time honoring a man who was not only a war hero, but also his nephew and one of his greatest inspirations.
Coleman said it is important to leave a footprint as to whom Chad Colley is.
"Did you know he was the guy who gave the seconding speech for Bob Dole when he ran for president? Chad was the second person to give a seconding speech for Bob Dole," Coleman said. "And if you ever paid attention to when President Reagan went to the tomb of the unknown soldier on Memorial Day, there was always a guy in a wheelchair and that was Chad. He and Reagan were good buddies."
Coleman said Colley is a humble man who is very appreciative of the council action.
"He would never have imagined all of the different ways his life continues to be commemorated," Coleman said. "He is proud of what happened here tonight."