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This is more than just a tip of the old cap to a really great guy. Scott Van Laningham, a Siloam Springs native, was a good solid journalist before he began a career in which he helped plan, construct, operate and run one of the nation's newest airports -- and a vital cog in the transportation wheel of Northwest Arkansas.

He is set to retire soon from the day-to-day operations of XNA (Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport).

And if he retires like he has worked since coming down that dusty orchard trail to a little construction office work trailer in 1992, well, the area will see him only in Facebook posts from vacation spots around the globe.

You see, Scott Van Laningham has but one speed -- full speed ahead.

That full-speed ahead made him one of the premier reporters for the Old Gray Lady (the real Arkansas Gazette) down in Little Rock. He was one of the few remaining real reporters of that fine newspaper before her closure and eventually folding into the Arkansas Democrat for the hybrid newspaper we receive in the driveway each morning in the area.

Scott was a great reporter. He had some mundane beats -- city and county government -- but he knew his beat and he knew what news was and what was not.

Knowing his stuff was the key to his being hired by Uvalde Lindsey, the retiring state Senator in Fayetteville, for the airport job.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority was created Nov. 6,1990, as Resolution 179-90 by the cities of Fayetteville, Springdale, Bentonville, Rogers and Siloam Springs, as well as Washington and Benton counties.

"The purpose of the Authority shall be to construct, maintain and operate a regional airport and such auxiliary services and facilities as may be deemed desirable."

As people were getting behind the airport and other area projects, Van Laningham was hired by Lindsey, in 1992. He was ready to contribute, but Lindsey unintentionally made it difficult at first.

In a written history of the NWA Council, Van Laningham is quoted as saying: "We had a meeting with engineers on the layout of the airport, and he (Lindsey) knew more about the plan than the guys who wrote it," Van Laningham said. "The second meeting was with the airport finance guys, and he (Lindsey) knew more about their plan than they did. And the third meeting was about the Onward Airport campaign, and I thought, 'Great, I can contribute to this.' Same thing happened. Not five minutes into the meeting, it was clear that he (Lindsey) knew more about it than anyone."

Indeed, Lindsey, because he knew more about everything than everyone else whether the topic was highways, airports or water projects, made the perfect hire in Van Laningham.

But it was a team effort between Uvalde Lindsey, his late wife, Carol Lindsey, and Van Laningham that made the airport a reality, many of the Northwest Arkansas Council members say.

Many said they believed that Uvalde read the U.S. Federal Register at night just for fun." He knew what it would take to get a project like the airport done. It was his intelligence and Carol's persistence and Scott's work that got it done."

It didn't hurt that the trio had major support from Alice Walton, who was the first chair of the Northwest Arkansas Council, and Hammerschmidt, who retired from Congress and replaced Alice Walton as chair in 1993. For the next 13 years, Uvalde Lindsey and Hammerschmidt guided the Council's work.

Another benefit to bringing Scott Van Laningham home to Northwest Arkansas was to settle his wife, Kathy Mandrell Van Laningham, at the University of Arkansas.

She recently retired as vice provost for planning at the University of Arkansas, a post she held since 2000. She joined the university in 1992 as assistant to the vice chancellor for academic affairs, after working four years as a senior assistant for education to Gov. Bill Clinton.

Wishing Scott Van Laningham safe travels and easy days ahead into his retirement is good karma. He has earned it with developing and operating a busy small Midwest airport which was once only an apple orchard in Northwest Arkansas.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 08/08/2018

Print Headline: Scott Van Laningham retiring from XNA

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