She scuba dives, kayaks, hunts deer, shoots pistols, plans gigantic fundraising events, and leaps tall buildings in heels. Well, maybe not that last one, but she looks fantastic in them. Susan Stockton is her own brand of Super Natural Woman.
“I can tell you I out punted my coverage,” says her husband, Mike Stockton. “She’s smart, sweet, and there’s not a lot of drama. I love that she drives around in a Jeep, can laugh when things go bad, and is hot when all dressed up for a performance at The Sheid.”
If you have to look up what Mike meant by “out punted my coverage,” you’ll find it means he married a girl he considers out of his league, and after a look at everything this woman can do, it would be easy to think she’s out of our league, too, but she would deny that, just as quickly as she would laugh at Mike. Susan Stockton is so easy going she fits in wherever she goes. And wherever she goes, people have fun, even when things go wrong.
Her philosophy: laugh at life’s imperfections.
“We don’t talk about the wedding that was perfect,” she says. “We talk about the kid whose hair caught on fire. We remember the time we were coming home from the lake and the wheel came off of the boat trailer.”
When things go wrong, as they inevitably will, Susan says, “That is going to be the best story about the weekend.”
Susan and Mike sometimes refer to these episodes of imperfection as “apple juice.” Her philosophy set their marriage on the right track from the very first day when Susan spilled apple juice on Mike’s lap during their honeymoon flight to Cancun. He was wearing khaki shorts and the accident was easily misconstrued. The flight attendant gave him a single cocktail napkin to soak up the spill.
“I would have lost my mind at that point,” Mike says, “but Susan just laughed. We had imperfection from our first day of married life, and we still laugh about it.”
Born and raised in North Little Rock, Susan comes from a family of politicians. Her father, “Big Jim” (he was 6’5”) Holsted, and grandfather, Leon Holsted, were senators. Her parents, Jim and Joyce, were so involved in sports and the community, and their extended family so large, they were sometimes described as the Kennedys of North Little Rock.
Her dad instilled in her the value of sports. He was well-known in the Twin Lakes Area for his passion for bicycling, both mountain and road, and for the bicycling group he started. He was instrumental in creating the bike trails at Sylamo, Camp Robinson, and Pigeon Creek, and was involved in establishing David’s Trail at Panther Bay on Lake Norfork.
“I was surrounded by sports growing up,” Susan says. “All of our family vacations were sport related. It’s something you tend to pass on.”
Susan met Mike when he was going to school in North Little Rock for his masters degree.
“He was such a good person, family-oriented,” Susan says. Her son, Dalton, was 6 when they married. The three of them moved to Virginia for Mike’s job in Human Resources.
“We bonded because it was just the three of us,” Susan remembers. She was used to being surrounded by a huge family and a community she knew by heart. Suddenly, it was the three of them in a place they knew nothing about.
“When we asked for directions, people would say, ‘It’s where the Montgomery Wards used to be,’” Susan laughs. “That meant nothing to us. It has become a family joke when we are lost.”
One of life’s painful imperfections interrupted their home in Virginia. Dalton was old enough to travel alone to see his father in Arkansas, but Susan and Mike didn’t feel comfortable sending him on so many flights by himself, and it was expensive.
To solve the problem, they moved back to Fayetteville. By that time, Susan’s father had started a financial advisory business in Mountain Home. Susan and Mike traveled often to visit her parents in Mountain Home, and Mike’s grandparents at their farm in Hardy.
“It was a huge decision to leave the HR world Mike knew in Fayetteville and learn a new industry,” Susan says, but the family took a leap of faith and in 2007 moved to Mountain Home where Mike and Big Jim went into business together at Holsted and Stockton. Susan had obtained her Series 7 Investment Securities License in the 80s and had worked as a desk trader for an investment firm in North Little Rock, so she joined Mike and her dad for the first year. Mike and Jim moved their practice to Wells Fargo after that first year, where there were good opportunities for both of them and a lot of office support in place.
“We became part of the community here faster than anywhere else,” Susan says. “I love the people here. I love living here!”
A Father’s Influence
It was 2013 when she and Mike lost both of their dads within a year of each other. The couple decided to carry on Jim’s Athlete of the Week award, and added an annual scholarship, co-sponsored with Susan’s uncle in Little Rock. Each week the coaches in the Mountain Home School District, together with the athletic director, choose an outstanding athlete. Susan and Mike present the athlete with a trophy. At the end of a full season of sports, the local sports writers select one of those athletes to win a $1,000 scholarship.
“There are certain criteria,” Susan says. “Winners must play two sports, have character, and be willing to go the extra mile. It’s a cash award they can spend on whatever they choose, wherever they have a void. It can be sports equipment or a laptop. It’s something Mike and I have really enjoyed giving at the end of the year.”
Former athletic director Janet Wood was grateful that Susan and Mike continued the tradition.
“Susan is indeed a remarkable person,” Janet says. “Soon after her father passed away, she came to see me to ask if she could continue the tradition her father had started years ago. Our students benefit greatly from this recognition. Because of her support and ownership of this award, many, many student athletes have received special recognition over the years.”
Susan followed in her father’s footsteps at Rotary, too. He was a past president of the organization, and Susan is the current president. Like most of the rest of us, speaking to groups was one of her greatest fears.
“Five to seven years ago, I was terrified to be in front of people,” she says. “When they first asked me to be on the board, I said no, but Mike said to me, ‘You can do this.’”
“I love her natural sense of leadership,” Mike says. “She has a true servant’s heart, whether it’s regarding church, the kids, whatever. Her servant-style leadership is very attractive. Being Rotary president allows her to flex some muscles she hadn’t flexed before.”
Being Rotary president also gives Susan another opportunity to carry on one of her father’s signature phrases. “My dad would clap his hands and say, ‘We are going to have a large time!’”
That phrase made a lasting impact on Sheila Wingard. “Big Jim was a huge influence when I joined Rotary,” she says. “He served as president and encouraged me to join the board. During my year as president, I could always call him for advice, and when our conversations ended either on the phone or in person, he would always end with, ‘Let’s just have a large time.’ To this day, when I think of Big Jim, I see his huge smile and hear him say that.”
Susan has added her own style to her dad’s phrase. She sends a weekly email to Rotary members, and in her signature she includes: Live Life Large.
The Largest Bridge Bash EverSpeaking at Rotary is one thing. Speaking to 5,000+ people at the biggest Bridge Bash event ever is quite another. A year ago January, Susan started working part-time for the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, planning their fundraisers and food drives. The organization’s biggest event of the year is Bridge Bash, held in September under the historic rainbow arch bridge in Cotter’s Big Spring Park. The goal is to raise $100,000, provide 500,000 meals, and package 100,000 meals for food insecure families. The one-day event includes live bands (this year the headliner was Marty Stuart), food and craft vendors, an auction, a 5K run, a kayak race, a car, truck and bike show and food packaging. 600 volunteers package meals to be delivered to nine counties in north central Arkansas.
In March, just as Susan was becoming comfortable with her new job, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Quick was hospitalized with double pneumonia. He would be out for four of the most crucial months of Susan’s planning.
“Not many people could do what Susan did,” Jeff says. “With her specific skill set, she was able to do just fine without my leadership and experience. With her gifts and grace, she stepped into a challenging situation and made the best of it. I was really pleased, not just for the food bank, but for the whole community. The way she lives her life is awesome.”
It’s a perfect example of how Susan chooses to embrace life’s imperfections, a trait that sometimes surprises even herself.
“Jeff was completely isolated with no way to communicate until about August, and there were times we were not sure he would recover in time for the event, so…let’s plan Bridge Bash!” Susan says. “My go-to answer was, ‘I don’t know, but I will find out!’ I booked entertainment, organized 800+ volunteers, and organized an event that really involves eight different, separate events all on the same day, and I did it! Thank goodness Jeff is back in good health, but we refer to that time as, ‘When you decided to go to sleep for 6 months!’ and laugh about how I had no idea what I had signed up for in January, but it is an incredibly rewarding feeling to be able to give time, talent and treasure to the food insecure in our area.”
Having Fun in Hardy
When Susan isn’t serving her community on various boards and councils in addition to her work for the food bank, or helping to clean up hiking and biking trails like David’s Trail, she and her family have a large time at the 400-acre Stockton farm in Hardy. Mike and his mother inherited the homestead when Mike’s grandparents died. It has been in the family since the mid 1800s.
“It’s a rallying point for family,” Mike says. “We say, ‘We’ll meet you at the farm.’”
There, the family rides four-wheelers, hunts deer and turkey, and is working on improving the land. Susan would like to build a home there and eventually retire on the farm, but she’s only 50.
“I want the boys to have time there,” she says. Dalton is 22 and lives in Fayetteville. Lawson is 13. “It’s beautiful country, with a creek and the family cemetery. The farm calls me. It’s quiet and peaceful.”
Mike’s cousins own rental businesses on the Spring River, so it’s another place for the family to canoe and kayak, and “there’s plenty of room for target practice,” Mike says.
Susan’s favorite target to shoot with her Glock 26 is a bleeding zombie alien, a mannequin stuffed with paint balls that “bleeds” when hit. They also shoot clay pigeons.
“I’m thinking I would like to have a cow,” Susan says. Mike isn’t sure she’d like the barn duties that come with a cow, but she has surprised him before.
“I scuba dive now because of Susan, and snow ski!” he says. “It’s one of my favorite things about her. I would say I would love to do something, but would never take the steps to make it happen. Susan does. She says, ‘Let’s go do it.’”
And when those things don’t go as planned, Susan laughs. She tackles her fears. She’s game for whatever life throws at her, and she plans on living life large! M! February/March 2017