Four out of the past five years Larry Patten has driven 10 hours from his home in Whitwell, Tennessee to come to a place he called home for only a few years in the 1970s.
Patten graduated in 1977 from Westark Community College with an Associate of Applied Science and an Associate of Arts while studying auto mechanics.
A self-described “Army brat,” his family moved regularly though he thinks of Kentucky as home. His journey to Westark began with hearing stories about the area from a friend during his own military stint in the Navy. After he was discharged, Patten came to Fort Smith and enrolled at the community college using his veteran’s benefits.
Patten studied auto mechanics in the college’s garage, then located at the corner of Waldron Road and Kinkead Avenue, a location where the Lion’s Den student housing currently resides. He regularly made the dean’s list.
“We had a good institution then too,” he said.
After graduating and working for a few years in Fort Smith, Patten returned to Tennessee. He worked on his own repairing cars before becoming a deputy sheriff. Then he worked in construction. From 1986 until his retirement in January 2014, he worked in road construction.
But since the advent of the UAFS Homecoming celebration, Patten has taken time to return to the campus where he worked for his education and his start. He enjoys seeing the changes with its growth as it has moved from a community college to a university with its expanded programs and new buildings.
“They’re moving forward and progressing,” he said. “They’re giving more students the opportunity to go to school.”
Patten usually brings his sister and stepdaughter with him to the event, enjoying the parade, tailgate, game and, usually, the alumni dinner.
“If everything goes right, I’ll be back next year,” he said.