Influential Arkansans 

We highlight more than 50 who shape our state.

Page 4 of 24

In 1993, Bill Dillard III began his retail career in the regional office for Dillard's Inc. in Phoenix, Ariz. The grandson of the founder of the department store giant is now vice president of the company, overseeing accessories, beauty and home merchandise products.

His professional path included gaining valuable international business experience while living in Hong Kong, sourcing private brand merchandise for the retailer. In 1999, he earned a master's in business administration from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Dillard, or "B3," as he's known within the company, has worn many different hats in the company, including selling, buying, product development, merchandising and area sales management. In March, he was honored at the Fashion Institute of Technology's annual FIT Foundation Annual Gala, alongside William P. Lauder, executive chairman of Estee Lauder Cos. Inc. The award was given to Dillard and Lauder in recognition of their leadership in the retail industry.

Juvenile and adult offenders

Since 1994, Dee Ann Newell has tirelessly advocated for the children of prisoners, creating what was only the third program in the nation to address the needs of such children. For more than a quarter century, Newell, 66, has worked with juvenile and adult offenders. During that time she created a program to teach parenting to imprisoned women and in 2006 helped bring to the public's attention the fact that Arkansas prisons shackle women prisoners during childbirth. She has worked to pass legislation in each General Assembly since to make the Arkansas practice illegal. Also in 2006, the Little Rock native won the Senior Justice Fellowship Award from the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation for her work with children, mothers and caregivers. As a Soros fellow, Newell created the 14-state (including Arkansas) National Partnership for Children of Incarcerated Parents to pursue legislation to guarantee certain rights to the children. With funding from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Newell also founded the Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind non-profit; Rockefeller also funded the documentary "Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis" that featured Newell. As well as implementing family-friendly visiting policies that make it easier for children to visit their parents in the prison setting, Newell has started school-based support groups for students at Central and Hall High Schools.


Pastor Rick Bezet has presided over enormous growth in his congregation since New Life Church, headquartered in Conway, began in 2001. "We only started with one family and then one day we had two families and then three families ..." he said. The church now has 15,000 members of churches in North Little Rock, Cabot, Conway, Hot Springs, Heber Springs and Fort Smith. By 2009, Outreach magazine ranked New Life Church No. 1 on its list of the 100 fastest growing churches in the United States.

Attendance across all six houses of worship averages about 8,000 a week, Bezet said. The pastor said the church has grown by noting what turns people off about church and doing the opposite. Citing a study by the Barna Group, Bezet said that people are leaving churches because they didn't find the sermons relevant, their kids didn't want to go, they didn't like the music, they didn't identify with other churchgoers and they thought the church was only after their money. So Bezet and NLC offered what they believe are sermons that "mainline Arkansas" families will respond to, programming for children and contemporary music. The church also decided not to press for tithes. "We thought, 'let's not do it this way,' " Bezet said. "Let's just go for the people and if the Lord can't do the rest on the funds that come into a church, if He can't do that, then this is not built by God. Let's just build people and we'll let Him take care of the rest."

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