Wanda Srygley and her crew of workers prepare the tenderloins, chicken spaghetti, potato casserole, chocolate cake, fresh fruit and more. But the one thing she always makes herself are green beans, which she covers in brown sugar and bacon.
“The first time I met her was at an annual dinner where she makes the only green beans I ever eat,” said Djordje Stojanovic, ’13, a former center for the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Lions’ basketball team.
“The green beans are the cheapest thing I make and its what they all love,” Srygley said. “I wonder if I didn’t bring them if they would still like me?”
It would seem they would. During a ceremony in her honor members of the men’s basketball team lined up to lean way down and envelope her petite frame in hugs and to kiss her cheek.
“I love them all and they know it,” Srygley said.
In December UAFS named the Stubblefield Center hospitality room in which she serves many of those meals the Bill and “Miss” Wanda Srygley Room.
“She opens her home, she opens her heart to our kids,” said Dustin Smith, UAFS athletic director. “This is a small way that we can repay her.”
During a luncheon in her honor, Srygley said, “I appreciate this, but in my heart I don’t know why you’re doing it.”
“Miss Wanda,” as the athletes call her, attends nearly every home game, has endowed scholarships and is nearly as famous for her green beans as she is for the hats always found perched atop her head.
“It didn’t matter if we were playing the best team in the league or the worst team in the league, I could always look left and see that hat,” Stojanovic said.
Srygley began attending Westark Community College basketball games with her husband Bill and continued to attend even after his death in 1989. Now she attends other teams’ games as well.
“I still don’t know the rules,” she said about volleyball. “I get upset when I think they’ve done something wonderful and the other team gets the ball.”
Srygley’s devotion to the Lions will soon show up on the racetrack. She has named three of her horses for the university. The first, UAFSLions, injured her leg and became a brood mare who gave birth to LionOnTheLoose, who is now in training and is expected to run in 2015. The latest to join the UAFS family is LouisTheLion after women’s basketball coach Louis Whorton, who earned his 600th win in 2014.
“Win, lose or draw, she always shows the way to do things,” Whorton said. “She’s just a classy lady.”
Srygley didn’t set out to serve all of the athletes a meal. During the university’s junior college days, she noticed the cheerleaders working hard during the games. So she gave the cheer coach money to take the girls to dinner.
“That kind of started it,” she said. “I looked around and all these kids work hard. What do they get for it? Nothing. So I thought, I’ll feed them.”
Since before Westark became UAFS in 2002, she has scheduled dinners in the fall for the students.
“It is a home-cooked meal and a chance for them to interact with Miss Wanda,” Smith said. “She loves the chance to visit with our kids and to tell them she appreciates and loves them.”