Lincoln looks ahead

By Judy Riley

Leaving Mobile, Ala., for Searcy, Ark., was a leap, but White County Judge Michael Lincoln has been taking leaps of faith his entire life. His early years and young adulthood prepared him for life in general. His first visit to Searcy was during spring break at Harding University. He fell in love with the town and the community and soon found a pathway to make it his home.

Photo by Mike Kemp

He is a graduate of the School of Religion, with a Bachelor’s in Bible, another Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Public School Administration, all from Harding University. He taught fifth grade for four years, then was principal of Judsonia Elementary for 13 years. Meanwhile, his family was growing with his wife, Shelley. With serious renovations, they made an old farmhouse that had been in Shelley’s family a showcase. Their family now includes six children, two sons and four daughters, and 21 grandchildren. There are 35 stockings hung by the chimney with care every Christmas.

A huge leap of faith was leaving his career in education to accept a position as executive director of Camp Wyldewood, a Christian camp north of Searcy. This job was not without challenges. There were funding issues and major infrastructure needs. Calling on his construction skills and people skills developed during his days as an elementary principal, he brought the facility from a camp to a modern facility used not only for summer camps but also for family retreats. When that task was completed, Lincoln turned his thoughts to politics and a larger challenge.

Lincoln’s life had been one of public service, and he sought to put his background and commitment to helping people to the ultimate test by running for White County judge. It was yet another leap of faith to take on the task of managing the infrastructure of one of the largest counties in the state. White County was growing in population and becoming a hub for industry and health care. It already had more county roads than any other county. Many of the county offices were bursting at the seams with growing demands. Over his 16 years in office, he worked with justices of the peace and the road department to pave miles and miles of county roads. Wooden bridges had to be repaired or replaced.

“Judge Lincoln is a forward thinker, always willing to do what is right even in light of obstacles,” said Lisa Brown, his longtime administrative assistant and newly elected successor. “He is especially gifted at navigating difficult circumstances. He has supported me and encouraged me to broaden my opportunities.”

County buildings were also a challenge. Judge Lincoln had the foresight to recognize the need for county offices to be close to the courthouse and a part of the storefront of Searcy. He led the county to purchase a building for the county clerk and lease one for the county tax collector, both on the court square. Major additions were made to the county jail and health department. New land and facilities were procured for the Office of Emergency Management and the Road Department. A new state-of-the-art 911 Center was built, and renovations were made to the offices of the prosecutor, veterans, juvenile, county judge and assessor. But his pride and joy was having the opportunity to design and construct a new facility for the Cooperative Extension Service, which is widely recognized as the best in the state.

Judge Lincoln’s vision has been undergirded by a deep faith. He is proud to recognize his faith as part of who he is and his key to success. He is often found speaking in area churches. He has never backed away from a challenge and has always taken a stand on principle. With Judge Lincoln, there is no place in his DNA for adversarial relationships. He quoted his dad, “When things go bad and folks wrong you, just go to Lowes, buy some lumber, build a bridge and get over it.” This remarkable visionary has built a multitude of bridges with concrete and steel and with heart and faith. His legacy will live on, not only in bricks and mortar but in lives influenced.

What are his retirement plans? Quoting Judge Lincoln, “Shelley and I are turning to music. She is learning to play the violin and I am learning to play the cello. Spending time with our grandchildren is always on our radar. In short, we want to be prepared to do whatever the Lord directs us to do.”