By John R. Schirmer
A pioneer in the Southwest Arkansas poultry industry was inducted March 3 into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame during the 29th annual induction luncheon at Little Rock’s Embassy Suites Hotel.
Neely Cassady of Nashville was among five inductees who were recognized at Friday’s program.
Master of ceremonies John Philpot told the audience about the time in the 1930s when “18-year-old Neely Cassady took over his father’s hatchery and started to expand it into an enormous integrated poultry enterprise. He is a true pioneer in the poultry industry.”
Cassady built and sold two poultry companies that continue today as part of Pilgrim’s and Tyson Foods.
Cassady was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 1982 and served for 14 years. He was an advocate for agriculture issues throughout his tenure in the Senate.
From 1973-74, Cassady was president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation. He served 27 years on the Tyson Foods board of directors from 1974-2001.
The University of Arkansas presented the Poultry Pioneer Award to Cassady. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International. He is a member of the Nashville Rotary Club. Cassady is a deacon at Immanuel Baptist Church of Nashville. He served on the Board of Trustees at Central Baptist College in Conway.
Mark Cassady of Nashville accepted the award on behalf of his father. He said that his father and mother Nina have been sick with the flu. His mother was unable to attend the induction; his father attended but asked that Mark speak.
“My father grew up on a farm outside Nashville. He’s been involved in agriculture pretty much his entire life,” Mark Cassady said. “He didn’t read bedtime stories to my brother, sister and me. He usually told us about growing up on the farm. Some of the stories we knew were a little exaggerated, like the giant watermelon he and his sister Virginia grew that was so big he had to cut it and put chairs inside it to eat it.”
Virginia attended the induction.
Neely and his brother Harold “slept in the chicken houses to keep wood on the fire,” Mark Cassady said. “His dad [Langston] gave each of them a blanket so if the fire went out they’d get cold, wake up and put wood on the fire. By the time he was on the Tyson board, he probably enjoyed the chicken business more than he did when he was sleeping in the chicken house.”
Neely would say “that we’re recognizing the wrong person, that his dad was the real poultry pioneer in Southwest Arkansas,” Mark Cassady said.
“But I think his dad would say, ‘Look at what this 18-year-old kid did after taking over the business.’”
Mark Cassady thanked Dennis Ritchie of Nashville for his role in nominating former Sen. Cassady for the Hall of Fame. “This means more to him than words can ever say.”
Other inductees include forester Allen Bedell of Hot Springs, rice farmer Gary Sebree of Stuttgart, poultry company executive Mark Simmons of Siloam Springs, and the late Bobby Wells, a plant breeder who developed many varieties of rice.
Butch Calhoun of Des Arc, chairman of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame committee and former Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture, said the 2017 inductees are “a great cross-section of Arkansas agriculture to be selected for the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame. The collective impact of these five can be felt in every part of our state. I have said this before, and it bears repeating. Agriculture is one of the great success stories of our state. What a privilege to see these great advocates of agriculture be recognized.”
The five inductees will bring to 158 the number of honorees inducted into the Hall of Fame.