It would be a few years before the humble duck calling contest in Stuttgart would take wing.
It would be another few years before the humble bank in a renovated building on Main Street would branch out.
Today, the World Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival and Farmers and Merchants Bank are a pair of Stuttgart-based, Arkansas institutions. They have grown far beyond their modest beginnings to put the state on the map and serve the financial needs of its people.
The festival draws 30,000 people who take part in the duck calling contest, World Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff or run a 10K, who sample the arts and crafts and commercial exhibits or enjoy live exhibits, a carnival and midway.
Farmers and Merchants Bank, meanwhile, expanded over the years to five locations in Stuttgart and branches around the state, with $1.5 billion in assets. The bank, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, has locations in DeWitt, Marianna, Hazen, Des Arc, Perryville, and Morrilton, while its umbrella includes the Bank of Fayetteville, West Fork, Prairie Grove and Farmington.
Farmers and Merchants Bank also acquired Integrity First Bank with locations in Bentonville, Mountain Home, Gassville, Flippin, Lake View, Pocahontas and Jonesboro.
The bank and festival have both come a long way since they shared a street in 1945.
The duck calling contest was begun in 1936 as the brainchild of tractor salesman Thad McCollum, commander of Stuttgart’s American Legion Post 48, farmer and Producers Rice and Mill president Verne Tindall and Dr. H.V. Glenn.
The trio organized the competition as a simple celebration of the region’s vibrant duck hunting scene. Festivities were added, and by 1945, Main Street was blocked off for the event.
This perhaps distracted from the work going on in the building at Fourth and Main, where renovations were underway to turn the site into Farmers and Merchants’ first location.
Opening shortly after the festival, on Jan. 2, 1945, Farmers and Merchants Bank began with 80 stockholders purchasing the first offering of 750 shares for a total of $75,000 in capital. By 1958, Farmers and Merchants had moved into larger quarters on Seventh and Main, opening the county’s first drive-up teller window in the process.
The National Duck Calling Contest was growing too. It expanded to divisions at the state level, the Junior World’s Championship for any child under 12, a women’s division, out of state preliminaries and the World Championship contest.
By 1950, the program consisted of the Sportsman’s Party, concerts and a high school marching band festival and majorette exhibitions. Shooting exhibitions also became a part.
Known as the World Championship Duck Calling Contest by the mid-1950s, the event drew visitors from across the country, including celebrities and dignitaries. A 1957 advertising flyer touts rail transportation to Stuttgart, an airport suitable for Twin Beech and DC-3 aircraft landing. Trans-Texas Airways provided service for Stuttgart, connecting Memphis and Dallas to Stuttgart with single, daily flights east and west.
The duck calling competition has become a full celebration of duck season and developed into the nationally known event it is today. The World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival includes regional, age, gender and skill level divisions along with the World Championship, while the festival is rich with pageants, exhibits, merchandise and all of the related events.
Like the festival with which it once shared a street, Farmers and Merchants Bank has grown too. But, with 27 locations serving 18 communities, the bank still serves its original purpose, helping working people have the means to fund and manage their farms and businesses and ensure a good future for their families.
In short, the bank was founded to help the sort of people who helped make the duck calling contest a fixture and tradition in Stuttgart. It’s a mission that Farmers and Merchants Bank proudly fulfills each day.