Reynolds is far more than the lady holding a sign. We discussed her background recently as she was holding a "Let's Get Wet" sign during a huge downpour, clad in a jacket and holding an umbrella in front of the Highland Square -- a sign of her purpose and determination. Reynolds is a fascinating and driven woman whose real interest is the environment, rather than tax dollars and the convenience of purchasing alcohol locally.
Reynolds, who has lived in Sharp County for 20 years and previously in Florida, worked for five years to get the wet/dry initiative on the ballot in November. Her presence is definitely known as evidenced by Facebook posts by people who discuss how Reynolds will "make the county a lot of tax money," or say "that crazy woman wanting to save gas and drink more."
Yet interestingly enough, Reynolds does not even drink alcohol. Reynolds' sees a wet county as an avenue to accomplish her main goal of cutting down on carbon emissions from the use of gas as people travel to purchase alcohol.
Reynolds concern for future generations, long after she is gone. As a self proclaimed environmentalist, she has been active in earth saving projects, such as recycling, for over 35 years. Reynolds said she obtained a degree in sociology many years ago and worked briefly as a social worker, something that really wasn't for her. Laughing, she said, "I am an outdoor, active person; I should have never majored in sociology." She then spent years traveling the world with her husband as he spent 20 years in the military.
After he retired from the service, the couple moved to Florida where Reynolds opened a day care. Being involved in recycling, she also got the children in day care to save cans and recyclables. "We would take them to the bins in a wagon," she said. "They used the money from recycling the cans and bought a subscription to Nature's Conservancy." While living in Florida over 35 years ago, she became interested in organic gardening, and has loved it since. During this time, she began reading about environmental issues through publications and on the internet. She contributes to several such, as the Environmental Defense Fund and League of Conservation Voters. Reynolds said climate change began to be more and more frightening to her. She realized she could be scared and do nothing, or act in some way to make a difference, no matter how small the difference might be.
In 2007, she started a small group called the Sharp County Climate Awareness Project after a Climate Awareness meeting held in Hardy gym which aimed to get legislators to pay attention to climate change and enact laws that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "It didn't do a bit of good, it was a nationwide effort that resulted from little groups all over the country trying to do their part to make a big change at the national level," Reynolds said. She explained that the group formed after those who went to the event wanted to learn more about greenhouse gases. Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT), which is responsible for the current Wet/Dry issue on the ballot, was formed from the awareness group.
"At the last meeting, a couple of young Highland students who were about to graduate attended. One I had met at a tree planting event at the school. He brought a friend to the meeting and the group was discussing ways they could help curb greenhouse gasses in the county. The young man came up with the idea that, by getting a wet county, harmful emissions could be reduced". Reynolds said she thought that was profound idea for a youngster, one the would have more positive impact than riding their bikes and changing to energy efficient light bulbs or hanging laundry out. "The wet county would have profound effects. Zachary Renard was the student, and he may not even remember or realize but he actually planted the seed for this."
Reynolds presented the idea to her good friend Bernadette Friegy, who helped her with recycling. Freigy, along with her husband, Stu, and Reynolds, formed Save Energy Reap Taxes. Later, SERT added Jerry Adams and Merlyn Lind. Jerry helped with signature gathering, and Lind was a door knocker who helped promote the cause and gather signatures.
The first effort provided the required amount of signatures but, in 2008, Judge Phil Smith ruled the signatures were not notarized properly. A firestorm of negative public comments came in to area newspapers regarding voters not being able to vote on the issue, after the decision was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The disheartening decision did not slow down Reynolds and her group. They immediately began collecting signatures for the election in 2010. But after gathering enough, they faced another disappointment. After presenting the signatures to the clerk's office, were told they had missed the filing deadline. According to the SERT website, "The 2010 Secretary of State's Initiative and Referendum pamphlet still had the old filing deadlines."
"We did so good every time we tried, but on the third attempt, it was kind of a big decision, Stu was very reluctant, but luckily he did not drop out," Reynolds said. After deciding to go back to work, nearly 5,000 signatures were presented to the clerk's office on July 13, and a wet/dry vote was approved. Voters will have the opportunity to choose. This, Reynolds said, was all she ever wanted.
In order for the initiative to pass, she made it clear that those who signed the petition also have to get out and vote.
Reynolds, whose daughter is also a very active environmentalist, said sometimes she calls her and cries saying she feels the issue seems hopeless. "I would not beat my brains out for getting more tax money in Sharp County or for the convenience. Every time you burn a gallon of gas going off to buy alcohol, vehicles emit 22 pounds of carbon emissions," Reynolds said. She explained that trees and plants and the oceans absorb some of the carbon, but much of it remains. "The carbon unites with the oxygen so the molecules combine and that stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years," she explained. "The oceans are becoming acidic by this, and we are at risk of losing our reefs. It is serious," Reynolds said. She went on to talk about the drought and said she wondered, "Is this going to be the new 'normal'? Farmers have to get subsidies, and over 2,000 cities have had record heat this year. Global warming is already happening, but can we make it less horrible, than if we didn't do anything, by reducing these gases for the next generation."
Reynolds is aware that some allege that children will have easier access to the alcohol if the county becomes wet. She said if minors want to get it, they can, regardless of whether they have to drive or not.
A group in opposition to SERT has posted Burma Shave style signs in a few locations both inside and outside the county, opponents of making alcohol sales legal have yet to come forward to discuss their plans to fight the "Vote Yes" campaign.
Whether you are for or against making Sharp County wet, it is hard not to admire Ruth Reynolds for her determination to do something to make a better the world for the future.