Bill and Alice Nix received some very special recognition recently at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro -- a petting zoo with their name on it.
"It was really an honor," Alice Nix said. "We were grateful. They (their children) made a wise choice. We have always worked with animals and young people and have enjoyed the farm life."
The children of the couple -- Jan Himschoot, Beverly McCollum and Mike Nix -- surprised the couple at the college campus Oct. 13.
The couple was told that a granddaughter, who is in the pre-veterinary program at ASU, was receiving an award from the College of Agriculture.
"That's the only reason we were going," Alice said. "We try to attend all of the grandchildren's events if we're able."
When the couple arrived, they noticed a number of individuals from Melbourne, Poughkeepsie, Ash Flat and other places -- friends and business partners of the Nixes.
"When?I saw these other people, I knew something was up," Alice said.
The zoo will be funded and livestock will be provided by their children.
"When ASU approached us with the idea for the Bill and Alice Nix Petting Zoo, we knew we had to do this," Beverly McCollum said at the presentation. "It was the perfect marriage of some of the things Mom and Dad hold dearly: service to the community, the value of working, education for children, love of animals and having fun."
Bill, 76, and Alice Nix, 75, have operated the Ash Flat Livestock Auction since 1960.
Both Alice and Bill were born in Ash Flat. The couple married in 1949.
"Our parents lived on farms and raised livestock but very low key in those times," Alice said. "We worked anyway we could."
Alice waited tables and Bill took odd jobs and even helped to build the gym at the Ash Flat School.
When the couple was able they borrowed a little money and purchased a few calves and heifers.
"(The cattle market) has its ups and downs," Alice said, adding that cattle prices broke soon after they made the purchase. They then sold the cattle and moved to Kansas where they worked for three years to save up and pay off the bank.
The couple lived off of Alice's wages and saved Bill's. They eventually saved up enough to put money down to purchase a small farm. They slowly began building their farm up.
They began building the Ash Flat Livestock Auction in the late 1950s, Alice said. In January 1960, they had their first sale at the auction barn.
"There was a need for one around here," she said, adding that a group of farmers, bankers and relatives encouraged them to get into the business. These people helped to finance the business for a few months until the couple was able to go to the bank and finance the whole amount themselves.
"The hardest part was getting to know the buyers and sellers," Alice said.
While Bill bought and sold cattle, ran the auction and handled the marketing of the business, Alice stayed busy in the office handling the paperwork and billing. Alice helped farmers and ranchers purchase veterinary supplies and took livestock orders from feed lots from other areas of the nation including Texas and Colorado.
The children also pitched in as they grew older. Mike began purchasing cattle when he was only 10 years old. As he got older and gained more experience, he eventually worked side by side with Bill on a daily basis while auctioneering at the sale.
Jan worked with her mother in the office with the daily duties and on the busy sale nights issuing checks following the sales. Beverly also helped by carrying sale tickets and helping her mother and sister in the office.
All three kids worked together as needed to tend the livestock. Through it all, the couple made sure to instill Christian values in their children.
Alice said the couple has made a lot of friends through their business and they enjoy working.
"We've enjoyed our work and the many people who have been customers of ours," she said.
Mike now helps to run the business along with his daughter, Melanie, and her husband. They also have a small group of dedicated employees who have worked for them for years, she said. Mike is also a partner in the Cord-Charlotte Livestock Auction.
To enable their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to attend college, the couple sells a calf each year for each grandchild. The money generated from the sale is put into a college fund.
To date, seven of the Nix's grandchildren have graduated, attended or are attending ASU.
The petting zoo is located in the ASU Farm Complex located at 203 Longhorn Drive. The petting zoo can be visited every year during October and April on announced dates. A group of ASU agriculture students have volunteered to staff the petting zoo, and each year an outstanding student volunteer will be recognized by the Nix family.