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Unlucky ducks: a controversial hunt turns the public spotlight on Wingmead Inc., Frank Lyon Jr. and Associates.

Unlucky Ducks

A Controversial Hunt Turns The Public Spotlight On Wingmead Inc., Frank Lyon Jr. And Associates

Wingmead Inc., with its extensive farming operations in southeast Prairie County between Stuttgart and DeValls Bluff, had maintained a low corporate profile among the holdings of the Frank Lyon Co. Other subsidiaries like Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Ark., Frank Lyon Distributing Co., Twin City Insurance, Datamatic Services and Martin Advertising garnered most of the attention in the wake of the self-initiated liquidation by the Lyon family, who have opted to convert much of their successful business empire into cash.

The multimillion-dollar sale of these five operations during 1989 and recurring speculation of the pending sale of the Lyon-controlled Twin City Bank in North Little Rock have all grabbed headlines. Now, an unlikely turn of events has pushed Wingmead onto the roll call of Lyon-owned enterprises that have attracted public attention.

The Lyon family has also been thrust into the spotlight following a controversial duck hunt at Wingmead involving some familiar names in the Little Rock business community and the subsequent interdiction by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers. As a result of the incident, the feds have leveled misdemeanor charges against eight hunters for allegedly shooting nearly twice the daily limit of ducks.

Frank Lyon Jr., chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish 1982-89 Commision, was among the group ticketed for hunting violations that include wanton waste stemming from allegations that they shot 40 ducks, tagged their legal limit of 24 and left 16 behind dead or wounded.

Lyon is also a big financial supporter of wildlife conservation programs like Ducks Unlimited, where he holds the title of life sponsor, indicating he has made a bulk donation of $10,000 to help preserve waterfowl and their habitat.

"It was shocking to a lot of people," remarks Kiah Gardner, state chairman of Ducks Unlimited. "I don't have any insight into why he would be involved in this sort of thing. He's always been active with wildlife conservation as far as I know.... Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, of course."

A further ironic twist to the whole thing is contained in the wallets of hunters, who paid $7 for an Arkansas duck stamp. The 1989-90 waterfowl hunting and conservation stamp issued by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission features a portrait of ducks on the wing entitled "Wing Mead-Mallards."

The duck stamp program was started with the intention of highlighting each of the state's wildlife management areas. In fact, Wingmead is the lone exception to that unwritten rule. The Lyon's 11,000-acre, privately-owned estate includes most of Peckerwood Lake, which covers 4,000 acres.

The selection of Wingmead was intended to be a double honor: to recognize Frank Lyon Jr.'s service to the state Game and Fish Commission and to pay homage to Wingmead, which was established nearly 50 years ago as a private wildlife conservation area by St. Louis businessman Edgar Monsanto Queeny, the long-time chairman of Monsanto Co. who died in 1968.

Although guilt or innocence has yet to be established in a court of law, that hasn't stopped some wags from beginning an underground campaign to rename the 1989-90 duck stamp: "Daily Limit At Wingmead." The portrait features four mallards; the legal daily limit is three ducks per hunter.

Other members who were with Frank Lyon Jr. on that ill-fated hunt are:

* Maurice Eason, farm manager at Wingmead who has worked for Frank Lyon Jr. since he bought a 640-acre farm near Crocketts Bluff (Arkansas County) about 20 years ago.

* Tim Doepel, an employee at Wingmead.

* John Witherspoon, a real estate broker in Little Rock and cousin of Frank Lyon Jr.

* Charlie Whiteside, a VP at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith in Little Rock who has handled some investments for Frank Lyon Jr.

* John Whiteside, a businessman who lives in Dallas.

* John Grobmyer III, a residential building contractor in Little Rock specializing in home remodeling.

* Frank Grobmyer, president of J.R. Grobmyer Lumber Co. in Little Rock. (The Grobmyers are brothers, as are the Whitesides.)

At this writing, an arraignment is tentatively scheduled during the week of Jan. 19-Feb. 2 for the defendents to make an initial plea to the charges. Word from federal court sources is that U.S. Magistrate Henry L. Jones Jr. will be hearing the case in the event of a trial. Of the three U.S. magistrates who preside in Little Rock's Federal Courthouse, Jones has the reputation of meting out the toughest punishments to defendents found guilty of wildlife violations.

Little Rock attorney Bill Wilson is providing legal counsel for most, if not all of the defendents. Charlie Whiteside, Frank Grobmyer, Eason, Doepel and Witherspoon declined comment on the lawsuit. John Whiteside, John Grobmyer III and Frank Lyon Jr. could not be reached for comment.

IT'S NO SECRET THAT the whole Wingmead incident is a source of embarrassment for the entire Lyon family. The situation even gave rise to speculation that Wingmead might be the next asset of the Frank Lyon Co. to be placed on the sales block.

"Let me assure you that there's no truth to that," remarks Frank Lyon Sr. "Wingmead Farms is the only thing we've got left that is not for sale at any price. It's just not for sale."

The property obviously means a lot to the Lyons, but not from the fiscal standpoint of assessing the value of a a business. Regarding corporate profitability, Wingmead has been a poor performer in terms of contributing to the bottom line of the Frank Lyon Co. According to financial statements compiled by the Frank Lyon Co., Wingmead has consistently reported losses since its acquisition in 1976.

During 1986-88, Wingmead reported total revenues of $5.76 million and a total net loss of $937,562. An annual breakdown during the the past three years reads:

1988: Sales, $2.18 million;

Net loss, $150,910;

1987: Sales, $1.98 million;

Net loss, $95,513;

1986: Sales, $1.60 million;

Net loss, $691,139

The Lyons prize Wingmead for its unique geographic characteristics that make it a sportsman's paradise. There are hundreds of acres of woodlands that border LaGrue Bayou and Peckerwood Lake, which are home to a sizable deer herd, turkeys introduced by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, waterfowl and other game. The property is a refuge of sorts for wildlife, an island of hardwoods and wetlands in a sea of Grand Prairie farmland.

The raw ingredients were there long before Edgar Monsanto Queeny discovered Wingmead, but the multimillionaire was responsible for building the land into a wildlife mecca and creating its legacy as a nature conservatory.

His rules for guests who hunted on Wingmead were sometimes more strict than state and federal laws. Hired hands regularly patrolled the grounds in search of poachers who might try to hunt game on Wingmead.

Queeny built a two-story mansion with six bedrooms, where he and his wife lived during part of the year. The estate also has two outbuildings for the servants and farm manager's family. A paved driveway lined with large pine trees leads to the main house, located about a half mile west of Ark. Hwy. 33.

Wingmead was put into a trust dedicated to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis when the Queenys died. In 1975, the estate, appraised at $6 million, was put up for bid. The Frank Lyon Co. was the high bidder, paying a reported $5.8 million for Wingmead. In 1988, the land and improvements carried a value of $7.7 million on the Frank Lyon Co. books.

The fellow who has the Wingmead concession on "Private Property No Trespassing" signs must have made a mint. That message along with signs that read "Hunting, fishing, trapping or tresspassing for any purpose is strictly is forbidden. Violators will be prosecuted." are tacked up everywhere.

It's doubtful the U.S. Fish & Wildlife officers who ticketed Frank Lyon Jr. and the others blinked an eye at those warnings. These federal officers are empowered with the right of access to anyone's property in regard to migratory waterfowl, sans search warrant.

Sunday, Dec. 17th, the final day of the first duck hunting season in Arkansas, was the third consecutive day the high temperature mark hovered near or below the freezing mark. The temperature reached no more than 27 degrees that day nevermind the windchill factor.

Ice was a problem, so the spillway from Lake Peckerwood had been opened to provide running water into LaGrue Bayou. According to sources, the controversial hunt took place in a wooded duck blind about a mile below the spillway.

Duck hunters on the northern fringes of Peckerwood Lake were already mad at Frank Lyon Jr., who controls the lake's water level, because he had been drawing down the water to improve his hunting and compensate for the unusually dry autumn.

Some suspect it was some of these irate hunters who tipped off the wildlife officers to check on Lyon's hunting party that day. In the end, it doesn't really matter.

Hunters and businessmen alike are watching and waiting to see what the outcome will be when the defendents plead their case in federal court. Hanging in the balance are thousands of dollars in fines, the loss of hunting privileges and possible jail time.

PHOTO : A close-up view of stately Wingmead manor is difficult with no trespassing signs posted.
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Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 29, 1990
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