Five-Oh-Ones to Watch 2024: Stephanie White, Mayor of Keo

Meet Stephanie White, Keo’s answer to the Energizer Bunny. Why Keo? This bundle of grit, commitment and vision has lived in the small town of Keo since she was 11. Other than a short stint in the Coast Guard, she has continued to live in the house of her raising. “Keo was a great place to grow up, though I did not think so at the time,” she said. “It is an even better place to raise a family. I am passionate about preserving Keo. It is a blessing to live in such a warm and quaint small community while still close enough to easily access goods, work and travel options.”

White wears many hats. She works full time as an RN at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, volunteers at the public school and has time to serve as the mayor of Keo. She recently led a group of volunteers to rebrand Keo, naming it the Pecan Capital of Arkansas. She said the movement was a total grassroots effort and volunteer-driven. “We have a coalition of ladies, called the Keo Collective, capable of moving mountains,” she said. “We recognized our beautiful and abundant pecan orchards as a unique asset we knew little about. Last year, we hosted a small festival with education about pecans as a focal point. A savvy community partner suggested we claim our place as the Pecan Capital of Arkansas, given the abundance of large orchards and homes with pecan trees.” So, the rest is history. This coalition of volunteers recently hosted the second annual Pecan Festival, attracting more than 2,000 visitors, and dozens of local vendors and exhibitors. And that is a big deal since there are only 207 residents of Keo, according to the last census.

What motivates White? She admits to being a “fixer and problem solver.” The skills and experience she developed in her nursing career are, according to her, easily transferable to her leadership role as mayor. “I know from education and practice the social determinants of health and how a person’s life expectancy can be predicted based on their zip code,” she said. “There are so many wonderful aspects of living in a rural community. I feel compelled to work toward sustaining and improving the environment for everyone. Healthy communities beget healthy citizens. And my personal experience with breast cancer solidified how unpredictable life is, so I committed to live life more fully and present.”

White is determined to help her little town thrive, encouraging others to stay the course with commitments of their time and resources. What is in store for this energetic small-town mayor? “My future is right here in Keo. The small community I could not wait to leave is now with my family, the center of my universe,” she said. “I dream of a vibrant community with great food, shopping, and cultural opportunities. We want to build on our brand with value-added pecan product manufacturing and ultimately hope to become a destination for pecan research, development and education.”