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Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard pays tribute to fallen healthcare workers

The River Valley chapter started in January 2022 and now consists of 650 members and has done 11 tributes so far.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Most nurses will tell you, the profession is a calling for them. Now, the newly-formed Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard is paying tribute to those who've spent their lives caring for others.

Founder Elsie Collins started the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard in the Searcy-Rose Bud area to honor her friend and colleague Teresa Buchanan who died of COVID-19 complications in January 2021. The RN had dreamed of starting the Honor Guard herself before she passed away.

Statewide, nurses have now formed more than 19 chapters and volunteered their services to complete more than 50 tributes for fallen nurses.

Here at home, RN Kara Branton started the River Valley chapter by herself six months ago and has grown the group to 650 members. She is the president of the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard River Valley chapter. 

"Nursing is a calling, a lifestyle, a way of living," Branton said.

On June 23, 2022, a celebration of life for 95-year-old Mamie Mann was held in Fort Smith to honor her service as part of her final farewell. Inside Goddard United Methodist Church in Fort Smith, family and friends gathered to remember the life of Mamie.

"She went back to school in 1968. She was a very good nurse for a very long time," said Mamie's son George Mann. "Her work ethic was like none other."

And seated in the front row were nine fellow nurses, there to honor Mamie's lifelong commitment.

"It’s so wonderful to listen to the family’s stories like Mamie’s today because we knew her as a nurse. But to hear what she was like as a mom and a family member and a grandma, it was just wonderful," said Joyce Simpson, RN. 

Simpson is the vice president of the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard River Valley chapter.

"So that’s my favorite part is being able to hear the stories because I would not have otherwise heard the stories of these women that have come before us and they have done incredible things," Branton said.

Led by third-generation nurse Branton, the River Valley chapter of the Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard is growing quickly.

"We did our first tribute in January (2022). I actually did it alone because we were still very new," Branton said.

"We began to work and work and today we have over 650 people. So I’m just so honored to see what one person can do," Simpson said.

Since most funerals are planned in a week and some within a day's time, Branton says it's helpful to have such a large pool of volunteers.

"So with the nurses’ schedule too, a lot of them work three 12-hour shifts, I mean, our schedules are so different so having that large group really helps us to be available," Branton said.

Each service includes the Nightingale Tribute, named after the founder of modern nursing — Florence Nightingale.

"Nurses here today honor Mamie and her life as a nurse. She is not remembered by her years as a nurse but by the difference she made during those years," Branton read during the service.

And a reading of the poem "She Was There" written by nurse Duane Jaeger.

"When a calming, quiet presence was all that was needed, Mamie was there. In the excitement and miracle of birth, in mystery and loss of life, Mamie was there," Branton recited during the service. "And now that it is time to be at her Lord and Savior’s side, Mamie is there.”

"I’m just so honored to pay tribute to these nurses because I know how much of their lives they have given. They give on holidays, they give on weekends, they give 24 hours a day. Their families give," Simpson said.

"Paging Mamie, RN. (bell dings) Paging Mamie, RN. (bell dings) Paging Mamie, RN. (bell dings) We now release you of your nursing duties," Branton said as she performed a final page during the ceremony.

"That final clock-out for a nurse, when you can say, (breathes out) I did it. This is the final for your nursing career. You did it and you did it well," Simpson said.

A small gesture of appreciation honoring a lifetime of dedication.

"You’re there for the family, you’re there for their healing, you pray that it brings just a little bit of peace to them. But we leave changed," Branton said.

"I’m forever changed," Simpson echoed. The retired nurse has her own service planned for when the time comes. "It’s already all set up for me. I have eight Honor Guards and they all know who they are."

The Arkansas Nurses Honor Guard has chapters all across the state. Any licensed practical nurse, registered nurse or nurse practitioner is eligible. You can reach out to your local chapter at the phone number below to request a free tribute for your loved one or to volunteer.

You can reach the River Valley chapter through its Facebook group.

Current Chapters:

Arkansas County: Jaime Siems (870) 883-1096

Berryville/Huntsville/Harrison/Jasper: Patty Brothers (870) 654-3764

Camden: Traci Word Peterson (870) 833-2781

Dardanelle: Beth Underwood (479) 264-4295

Drew County: Belinda Wells (870) 723-3436

Faulkner County: Vickie Buckner (501) 514-2138

Johnson County: Deborah Lyman (870) 613-0166

Lonoke & White Counties: Tracy Waymack (501) 605-3628

Northeast Arkansas (also including Batesville, Little Rock & Osceola chapters): Elsie Collins (founder) (870) 378-4799

Paragould/Manila/Leachville: Lynette Dunlap-Estes (870) 351-4826

Pine Bluff: LaKita Murry (870) 718-7663

Polk County: Sissy Sanders (479) 437-4100

River Valley: Kara Branton (870) 423-8824

Springdale/Fayetteville/Bentonville/Siloam Springs: Cynthia West (479) 966-2910

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