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Arkansan of the Year

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By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Dero Sanford

   width=It was 1986 when Easterseals Arkansas imagined an evening of inspiration + accolades. Arkansan of the Year would celebrate distinguished business and civic leaders with a heart for community as well as a prestigious resume of philanthropic endeavors. “That was 37 years ago, and I was serving on the Easterseals Arkansas Board of Directors,” Jim Keet recalls, “I came up with the idea to select high profile individuals… I never dreamed I would be chosen as one of the honorees among the ranks of Presidents, Governors, U.S Senators and accomplished business leaders.” Jim will be recognized at the gala later this month for his steadfast commitment to Easterseals Arkansas and countless other nonprofit organizations. 

   A self-proclaimed family man, Jim credits his parents with his work ethic and values. “My folks told me to be the best at whatever you do and never accept mediocrity,” he reflects. “Now, my family inspires me with their hard work and kindness towards those who are less fortunate.” His civic leadership includes a multitude of nonprofit organizations as well as a tenure in the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas State Senate. “Jim exemplifies the criteria for Arkansan of the Year,” Easterseals Arkansas Director of Marketing & Public Relations Jillian Jacuzzi explains, “He has given time, talent and resources to improve the quality of life for Arkansans. Jim is an astute businessman and creates an atmosphere for his employees to engage with nonprofit organizations, like Easterseals Arkansas, and really make a difference.” 

   It all began with a strategic partnership and a Wendy’s franchise with friend + fellow entrepreneur Jerry Hamra. During the iconic era of the “Where’s the Beef ” campaign, this pop culture slogan – questioning the substantive of more things than burgers – seemed to reflect a pragmatic business philosophy. “We received the Founder’s Award as best franchise worldwide and continued with many other ventures.” 

   One of those ventures is JTJ Restaurants, LLC – recognized for introducing Taziki’s, Petit + Keet, Cypress Social, Waldo’s Chicken & Beer and Count Porkula to The Natural State. It’s a love of community that brings these extraordinary eateries to life. This devotion to the welfare of fellow Arkansans spans beyond the brick + mortar businesses. “It is an important part of our company culture. To whom much is given, much is required,” Jim reflects. “I’ve been involved with so many organizations. We try to find a way to say ‘yes’ to virtually every request because we are invested in the communities in which we operate.” Jim remembers philanthropy as an integral part of the initial business model for success. “Jerry had a great heart and encouraged me to follow in his footsteps.” The Keet family remains deeply invested in the community.

   Jim served on the Easterseals Arkansas Board of Directors for two decades and  insists his unwavering support is simple. “The staff is extraordinary and treat every client as if they are family, wrapping their arms around the less fortunate from birth through adulthood… loving them, nurturing them, inspiring them and empowering them to live the best life possible.”  width=

   For more than 75 years, Easterseals Arkansas has provided services for children and adults with disabilities to achieve their full potential. “Equity, inclusion and access to these life-changing services is at the heart of Easterseals Arkansas,” Jillian elaborates. Jim adds, “They continue to evolve and remain one of the best service organizations in the country.” Proceeds from Arkansan of the Year support this mission fulfillment work. New Easterseals Arkansas initiatives include the Roommate Housing Program, which offers additional independent living opportunities, as well as expanded employment + education services. “Taziki’s Restaurant on Highway 10 employs one of our adults,” notes Jillian. “The Keets encouraged her in a speaking opportunity at the State Capitol at a disabilities awareness event. This was a major milestone for her that she still proudly speaks of to this day.” Jim admits it’s people and community that make the Capital City special. “I’ve done business in 25 states and nothing compares to hospitality and generosity of Little Rock. It is the best kept secret in America.”

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