18 May 2017 For Florene Phipps ‘Life is good’ at Mayflower
by Jan Spann
Growing up in Kensett (White County), Florene Phipps played sports. As the tallest girl in school, she earned “all county” honors in basketball, but softball was another matter. “I was no good at softball, an easy out at bat,” Florene said. “And they put me in the back center where nobody paid attention, so I would sneak into the gym and shoot baskets, and they never missed me, I guess!”
Florene attended Arkansas State University at Beebe for two years before transferring to ASU at Jonesboro for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She taught physical education at Hall High School in Little Rock for 20 years, then decided to work on her PhD. At that time, the Little Rock School District offered a one-year sabbatical with full salary. When she reached out to her ASU advisor for a letter of recommendation, he instead offered her a graduate assistant position at Texas A&M. Florene returned to Hall in 1981 and taught mathematics for 15 years, retiring in 1998.
Florene and her husband, John, purchased seven acres in the hills above Mayflower and began carving out gardens in the woods. The couple used fallen trees to serve as borders for pathways and vegetable beds, leaving much of the property as a woodland preserve, sheltering the house from the road.
The vegetable beds are impressive in size and yield. This year, a few of the plantings include 60 nematode-resistant tomatoes, 10 kinds of lettuce, okra and peppers: cayenne, red and yellow bell, banana and jalapeño peppers. As the weather warms, the watermelon; cantaloupe; peaches and cream corn; garlic chive; purple hull peas; spaghetti, zucchini and yellow squash; plus shell and bush green beans will also be producing. In cooler seasons, Florene harvests cabbage, English peas, broccoli, carrots, beets and potatoes.
Not only does Florene harvest the produce, she also cans it for use throughout the year. Her variety of jellies — including blackberry, pear and strawberry — are highly prized gifts to her friends.
You might think all this garden-tending and veggie-canning would keep her busy all the time, but you’d be wrong. She’s also involved in professional and community organizations. Along with being a Faulkner County Master Gardener, she has an active church life. Florene also serves as a volunteer trainer at the Little Rock Dog Training Club. Her 10-year-old Rocket, a Papillon dog, earned many awards when Florene showed him in obedience matches. Now retired, he enjoys bouncing around the house to greet guests and then take his place on the couch.
Although John died almost 12 years ago, this woman is a survivor. She celebrates the years they had and goes on with the many activities that keep her life full and rewarding. “I like what I have — tending the gardens, being involved with friends and groups,” said Florene. “There’s not one thing I want to quit, so I’d say life is good.”
A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.