A Heart for Service




Fred Markham.jpg

It’s quite easy to look around and spot a problem – to see something that someone (else) should fix. To come up with a potential solution takes vision, and to be someone that commits to doing the necessary work takes a whole lot of heart. Texarkana native and recent returnee Fred Markham attests to the value of being in service to others and believes wholeheartedly that his greatest success is in creating opportunities for others to succeed.

Through his extensive non-profit work with the Boy Scouts of America, Learning for Life, the Texas Pioneer Foundation, and many local organizations, Fred’s goal is always the same: the education and success of future generations. “I get excited about it, and I’m passionate about it because education changes lives,” he said. “Education will improve the life of the individual and in turn will improve communities.”

The values of service and education were instilled in Fred early on through observation, experience, and some direct teaching as well. “The real heroes in my family were my maternal grandparents,” he said. As farmers in Southwest Arkansas before the Great Depression, they ensured that all four of their children graduated from high school, opening many doors that were previously locked. He remembers his Aunt Julia, his own first grade teacher in Dierks, Arkansas, becoming the first college graduate in the family. “She continued her education and worked as a housekeeper while pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas, and I have always thought that was inspirational.”

A graduate of Arkansas High School, Fred spent two years at Texarkana College before transferring to the University of Arkansas, earning a degree in economics, and taking a banking job in Memphis, Tennessee. “I thought banking sounded like a good job until I figured out what I really wanted to do,” he laughed. For 30 years, Fred enjoyed a career in the banking industry, while raising a family in Austin, Texas, and taking many opportunities through his work to volunteer and engage with a variety of nonprofit organizations. When he decided to retire, he knew just what he was ready to do next. “I retired on a Friday, and on Monday, I really got to work in the nonprofit world.”

In 2004, with a handful of like-minded colleagues, Fred founded the Texas Pioneer Foundation, a private, grant-making organization that supports educational endeavors across the state of Texas. “We support public schools, access and success in post-secondary education, as well as leadership and character development programs,” he explained. Locally, that has included grants for student scholarships and mentoring programs at Texarkana College and Texas A&M – Texarkana, including a recent mentoring program at A&M to help African-American men achieve success. “We have done a great job in Texas of getting more students into college, and I think now we need more programs that help them continue to be successful.”

Much of what the Texas Pioneer Foundation funds is what Fred calls “capacity building.” They have sent well over 100 teachers across the country for hands-on, in-depth trainings, and Fred says it is the thank you letters he receives afterward that keep him excited about it. The Texas Pioneer Foundation has also helped to create 181 local school foundations across the state, including within many of our local districts. Their experts then teach the local foundations how to grow, raise money, and support their own future progress. “One of the things we do well is to connect people. We bring dedicated people together so that their work will create even more opportunities.”

^ During the Friends of Scouting fundraising dinner in Austin, Texas, last February, Fred served as the keynote speaker. 

^ During the Friends of Scouting fundraising dinner in Austin, Texas, last February, Fred served as the keynote speaker. 

Fred’s experience as an Eagle Scout has been a major influence throughout his life, as well, and has guided him into many leadership positions. “Even when I was younger, working at Camp Pioneer, to see an 11-year-old kid develop over the years into a very skilled and capable Eagle Scout – that has always left a big impression on me.” Fred serves as Chairman for the Learning for Life and Exploring National Executive Board, a character development and career mentoring program, and is a member of the Boy Scouts’ National Executive Board. “We’ve partnered with the Texarkana Texas Police Department to sponsor an explorer post, and Queen City has a fantastic emergency services explorer post, and there are other explorer posts in different areas,” he said. “It gives students the chance to work closely with a mentor in their chosen field to determine if that is really the path they want to follow, and in many cases it leads to future employment and educational opportunities.”

Since returning home to Texarkana, Fred admits that he enjoys the slower pace, but that’s not for lack of work to stay busy. In addition to his ongoing work as the Executive Director for the Texas Pioneer Foundation, he will serve this year as President of the Caddo Area Boy Scout Council, serves as the Advisory Director on the Texarkana College Foundation Board, and supports numerous local organizations including CASA, the Boys and Girls Club, Domestic Violence Prevention, and many others. “There is always a need for volunteers and for support,” he said. “Supporters don’t last forever, and we always need new blood and new ideas, and there is so much value in being of service to others.”

Over the course of his career, Fred Markham has created a healthy resumé of service work. As he continues to answer the ever present call to service, his passion overflows. “I feel very fortunate to be able to serve in these roles,” he said. “It takes time and energy, but it’s worth it because there is so much benefit for all of our kids. I think the best thing any of us can do is to show up and do the right thing for the right reason.”