Wade Ozbirn passed away Sunday afternoon, Aug. 16, 2015, at the age of 91. He died at his home, of natural causes. Wade was born to Berry and Susie Ozbirn in Ash Flat, Ark., on April 11, 1924.
A talented musician, he played the piano and trumpet, and as a young man played with his own group at high school parties and proms. He graduated from Ash Flat High School in 1941, and enrolled at Harding College. His college years were interrupted by World War II, as he was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Wolters, Texas, for training. Seriously injured in a training accident, he spent the remainder of the war in Washington, D.C., working in the Land Acquisitions Department of the Army.
Returning to Searcy and Harding College to finish his education, he met Jewell Combs. He and Jewell married on Dec. 8, 1951. After graduation in 1949, he had applied and been admitted to medical school. While contemplating that decision, a good friend, O.R. Perkins, recruited him to teach, “just for a year,” at a small rural school at which Mr. Perkins was the Superintendent. Mr. Perkins decided to return to Texas, and Wade was soon one of the youngest school superintendents in Arkansas. White County Central Schools was a poor rural school, and finances were always a concern. Wade purchased used school buses from wealthier districts, and he and his staff mechanic, Sam Crawford, rebuilt engines and kept them running. Wade, an accomplished mechanic, spray-painted several buses in the distinctive School Bus Yellow by himself. Wade received a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” brought sudden and unexpected federal funding to rural schools like Central Schools. Accustomed to operating on a shoe-string, Wade had a surplus at the end of the first year of the additional funding after paying everything that needed payment. He then wrote to the Arkansas Department of Education to inquire as to how to return surplus funds. The reply was that there was no such thing as surplus funds, and that he should find some way to spend it, as any return of funding would mean less funding would be allocated the next year. That and other such incidents formed Wade’s opinion as to many government programs, believing that such spending could not be continued. In the meantime, he administered the schools, worked on equipment that failed, and patroled parking lots during basketball games to keep mischief in check. He wasn’t above trimming the campus grass on an old Farm-All Cub tractor.
By the 1970s, as he predicted, the other side of government spending began to appear. A movement to consolidate rural schools began as the government attempted to achieve “economies of scale.” Wade joined his close friend, James Martin, in forming the Arkansas Rural Education Association, which lobbied the Legislature and then-Gov. Clinton to preserve local school boards and local control. He was very concerned that his students, almost all of which already required bus routes to get to school, would face even longer waits and bus rides. He was very pleased when Central Schools escaped consolidation, although many rural schools did not.
In 1977, Wade retired after 28 years as Central Schools Superintendent, and became the White County School Supervisor until his final retirement in 1992.
Wade enjoyed all types of vehicles and equipment. Capable of both body work and engine repair, he restored a 1923 Model T Touring Car and a 1931 Model A Roadster, among other cars, from rusted basket cases. One of his happiest moments was his recognition and award of a trophy by the local Dirt Road Car Club. Wade was a pilot until his family became more of a responsibility, and owned and operated boats, motorcycles and tractors. He spent many summer vacations renovating various rental properties, and could build a house from the foundation to the roof. He was also an “early adopter” of gadgets, owning a Sony U-Matic Video Recorder in the early 1970s when recording television shows was very rare, along with sophisticated stereo equipment to assist his love of music. He insisted on retaining many vehicles and properties until the very end of his life, as he enjoyed them so much.
Wade attended the College Church of Christ. Wade was predeceased by his parents, and is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jewell, and sons David, and his wife, Connie, of Dallas, Texas, Randy, of Searcy, Ark., Clark, of Grapevine, Texas, and Greg of Allen, Texas.
Memorial contributions may be made to International Health Care Foundation, 102 N. Locust St., Searcy, Ark.
Funeral services will be Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, at 10:30 a.m. in the Chapel of Roller-Daniel Funeral Home. Entombment will follow at White County Memorial Gardens. For online guestbook, www. rollerfuneralhomes.com.