Jacqueline Froelich

Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative journalist and has been a news producer for KUAF National Public Radio since 1998. She covers politics, the environment, energy, business, education, history, race and culture. Her radio segments have been nationally syndicated. She is also a station-based national correspondent for NPR in Washington DC., and recipient of eight national and state broadcast awards. 

Tuvala native and noted Republic of the Marshall Islands political leader, Tony de Brum, died Monday in the capital city of Majuro. De Brum is also widely recognized as a global nuclear disarmament and international climate change treaty negotiator.

De Brum often traveled from the Marshall Islands  to the Arkansas Ozarks, where an estimated 13,000 Marshallese migrants are now settled, to visit family and friends and take advantage of employment, educational and health care opportunities.

Marshallese are able to freely travel and live anywhere in the U.S. for as long as they wish with only a passport because of de Brum’s enduring political efforts.

Several toddlers huddle under an oak tree on the Harrison town square pretending to burn something.

"P-wish," a little boy says.  "I’m going to light the fire up!”

Their parents stand a few feet away, with roughly 60 other Ku Klux Klan members holding placards as a gay pride parade goes by. The air vibrates with chants and counter-chants, some of the anti-LGBTQ shouts vulgar. The Klan protestors follow the pride procession for several blocks, converging on a local park where parade members are staging a small festival. Protestors are barred from the gated event so take up positions around the perimeter. Many are mothers pushing infants in strollers, children and teenagers, as well as single women, all members of the Christian Revival Center, operated by Pastor and Ku Klux Klan leader, Thomas Robb. 

  

Dr. Sheldon Riklon walks into an examination room inside Community Clinic in Springdale and greets his patient.

"Iakwe," he says, and slides a stool over to Haem Mea, a shy Marshallese elder. The two speak softly to one another for a few moments.

Then he poses this question: So what's it like to have a real Marshallese doctor in town?

“Really helpful,” Mea says, grinning.

Riklon is one of only two U.S. trained Marshallese doctors in the world. He relocated from the Hawaiin islands last year to Northwest Arkansas where the largest population of migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the world now reside.

Dr. Riklon practices family medicine at Community Clinic, a federally qualified health center which last year served more than 36,000 middle- to low-income patients in Benton and Washington Counties, thousands of them Marshallese. And many of them are really sick. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans don't need special civil rights protections, according to the Arkansas legislature and governor. Act 137 of 2015 bars cities and counties from passing ordinances that "create protected classification or prohibits discrimination" on anyone not covered by the state's existing civil rights codes.

Arkansas's Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other classifications — but not sexual orientation or gender identity. And because several state anti-bullying and domestic violence statutes offer LGBTQ Arkansans protection, opponents say local codes are redundant — codes such as Fayetteville's Ordinance 5781 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

State Act 137 also ensures that “businesses, organizations and employers doing business in the state are subject to uniform nondiscrimination laws and obligations.”

But Act 137 has come under judicial scrutiny.

Summer vacation season is heating up with residents venturing into woodlands to hike and camp, but danger may be lurking in the forest, in the form of infected ticks.

Arkansas has some of the highest rates of tick-borne illness in the country. And this summer a new disease has been confirmed by state health officials: the Heartland virus, so-named because it’s spreading across America’s heartland.

The Heartland virus was first detected eight years ago, in Missouri, after two farmers were hospitalized with a mysterious debilitating illness.

A federal program which provides temporary legal status to more than a million undocumented youth will be terminated if a coalition of conservative states prevails in making it so.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday announced she has joined with nine other state Attorneys General and the Governor of Idaho formally asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to urge the Trump Administration to revoke Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The program was initiated via executive order by the Obama administration in 2012 after Congress failed to act on sweeping immigration reform. DACA protects youth from deportation by providing temporary legal credentials to law-abiding undocumented youth enabling them to legally work and drive. More than 1.2 million young people have been “DACA-mented."

Arkansas university and college administrators and faculty have been busy this summer drafting new policies to accommodate a new state law allowing concealed weapons on campuses this coming school year. Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, with an enrollment of 12,000 last semester, formed a special task force in April to consider the change. 

Teresa Taylor is the interim executive director of Institutional Policy, Risk Management and Compliance for the college.

“We held very open public town hall meeting forums to explain the laws that exist already, and what that means for our campus,” she says.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin in early June pronounced the American veterans health care system to be in “critical condition.” 
 
One northwest Arkansas VA hospital, however, appears to be thriving, and that prompted U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (R-3rd District) to invite Shulkin to take a look.

After an early morning tour of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville Monday, Shulkin, at a press conference on the grounds, characterized the forested campus facility as extraordinary.

 
 “It is a five-star facility. That means it is the very top of performance across the country in VA’s.”
 

Millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. face deportation under President Donald Trump's immigration enforcement orders. To accomplish this task, Trump is reviving federal enforcement policies that authorize and deputizes state and local law officials to catch, detain and remove non-citizens back to their country of origin.

An estimated 70,000 undocumented immigrants live in Arkansas, according to the Pew Research Center which monitors immigration trends.  Many working families, raising American-born children, fret their lives will be ripped apart by Trump’s mass deportation order. A coalition of Arkansas human rights activists are stepping forward hoping to intervene. 

Rusti Barger, a stay-at-home mom of six, delivered her first two babies in the local hospital. When she became pregnant a third time in 1999, she and her husband David, from rural Faulkner County, chose to have a home birth. They hired a midwife who instructed her to undergo a state-mandated medical risk assessment. Barger made an appointment at the county public health clinic. And that’s where, she says, things went awry. 

Taking a stand inside Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump on March 28th signed an executive order releasing the coal, oil and natural gas industries from pollution mitigation and thresholds set forth by the previous administration.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters, including industry executives and coal miners, Trump said his Energy Independence Executive Order fulfills a campaign promise for a "new energy revolution."

"Today, I'm taking bold action to follow through on that promise. My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.  We're going to have clean coal, really clean coal.  With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations. … And we're going to have safety, we're going to have clean water, we're going to have clear air."

Arkansas Nuclear One, a few miles northwest of Russellville, is among 61 commercial nuclear power facilities in the U.S. operating ninety-nine nuclear fission reactors. Constructed in the late 1970s and currently owned by Entergy, Arkansas Nuclear One operates two pressurized light water reactors with the capacity to generate 1,776 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 355,000 homes and businesses.

The reactors are cooled by water drawn from Lake Dardanelle. Thick white steam rising from the power plant's iconic six-story hyperbolic cement tower is visible for miles. Locals, Russellville Mayor Randy Horton says, divine weather conditions from the plume. 

“In the old days, we would drive to the base of the cooling towers and fish in the hot water discharge stream. It never was threatening, never been scary.”

Two joint resolutions sponsored by Arkansas Republican Senator Jason Rapert calling for a Convention of States to propose, under the power of Article V, amendments to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage as between one man and one woman and that life begins at conception-- effectively banning abortion--passed the Arkansas Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives late Tuesday.

In February, Senator Rapert, District 35, Conway made his case for social change to the Arkansas Senate.

“It’s kinda like sittin’ there and somebody’s attacking the house," he said. "They’re coming through the front door, and you got a shot gun over in the corner and you know you can use a shot gun to stop the aggressor. But you don’t go pick up the shotgun to stop the aggressor. Pick it up. Article 5. Pick it up. Propose an amendment. Pick it up. And stand up for what you believe in.”

Dirk DeTurck sits in a rocker on the front porch of his rural Conway home, nervously smoking a cigarette. The retired native New Yorker and U.S. military veteran says his neighborhood, filled with petroleum field workers, is not where he intended to settle when he moved to Arkansas. He gazes north towards the Ozark foothills. In 2004 that's where he built his 5,000 square-foot dream homestead on six acres perched atop a mountain ridge in between the towns of Guy and Greenbrier in Faulkner County.

Seventeen-year old Daniel Montgomery was born a girl but by age eleven knew he's a boy. He's always stood up for himself at school. He's bravely agreed to come forward to talk on the radio about what it's like growing up transgender in Fayetteville's public school system. But first, we discuss that pink tinge in his dyed blond hair?

“Oh that," he says. "That's way faded. I want to dye it half red, half blue but that’s so time consuming." 

Things are hectic for this high school senior with graduation on the horizon and getting ready for college. He wants to study art and German. He plans to teach high school someday. But right now he's being forced, he says, to reckon with the Trump administration's revoking of federal protections for transgender public school student school accommodations — for example bathroom and locker rooms. Montgomery, of course, prefers to use the boys restroom. And on rare occasion, he says, he's hassled. 

Last May, sisters Anais, Elise and Emory Bowerman spent the night at a Girl Scout slumber camp in Lowell. The girls came home the next day covered with ticks. 

“One second my life was going great," says Anais, 11. "Then a tick bites me and it’s all ruined.”

Anais, a budding artist, says her hands started to shake. Her sisters Elise, 10, and Emory, 7, also started to feel ill.

“I threw up twice," Emory says. "I felt sluggish and my head was kind of dizzy.” 

Winter is approaching, and tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees, fleeing political and religious persecution, languish in tent encampments in Western Europe. Clint Schnekloth, a pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville is worried. Earlier this year, he petitioned the U.S. State Department to open a Lutheran-church sponsored refugee resettlement agency in Northwest Arkansas to help.

Arkansas has never been the destination for global political and religious refugees seeking asylum that states like New York and California are. But Canopy, a new federally approved refugee resettlement agency in Fayetteville — one of more than 350 religious and secular agencies like it operating across the U.S. —plans to change that.

In the autumn of 1965, on a 640-acre parcel near the tiny Ozarks community of Strickler, ground was broken on a secret nuclear fission energy test reactor operated by the Atomic Energy Commission and a consortium of 17 southern electric utilities.

After just four years, the Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor went dark. It was acquired a few years later by the big university up the road 20 miles—totally decommissioned. University scientists hoped to use it for nuclear research, but the program failed to launch. The site remained sealed. Now the U.S. Department of Energy has offered money to help tear it down.

But first media — as well as hundreds of curious locals — were briefly allowed inside.

Springdale resident Melisa Laelan caught the mumps last November from her kids even though she and her children were vaccinated. Her case is not unusual, one of 2,421 in Arkansas. What is unusual is that nearly half of all cases nationwide are in Arkansas.

“It was miserable,” she says. “I experienced severe pain on the side of my neck. You can’t swallow anything because if you do it hurts.”

The inflammation in her salivary glands caused her jaw to swell. She had fever and aches. The illness lasted ten days. 

“This is an epidemic,” says Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist with the Arkansas Department of Health. “Our normal case count is 3 or 4 a year. And a majority of our cases are among the Marshallese.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court in early December denied same-sex couples the right to list both parents' names on birth certificates, without a court order. So why does this legal fight over equal access to birth certificates even matter?

The historic Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor, referred to as SEFOR, located 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas will finally be dismantled, and some nearby residents are wondering what might leak out.

The hand, the strap, or the paddle?

Choosing the preferred instrument of pain as well as number of strokes against the bottoms of unruly public school students remains legal in Arkansas, and twenty-one other states.

“My understanding is that it’s typically a wooden paddle,” says Kristen Garner, staff attorney for Arkansas School Boards Association. She monitors public school discipline practices.  “The most prevalent is to be spanked on the rear end.”

Protests over construction of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota has triggered sympathy demonstrations across the nation, including in Arkansas. But Arkansas activists are also protesting a newly permitted 440-mile long underground oil transport project called the Diamond Pipeline.

Jacqueline Froelich / KUAF News

Election officials across Arkansas are completing last-minute training for poll workers in preparation for next week's general election. And this election cycle presents possible challenges, including potential vigilante poll watchers concerned about a "rigged election."

A wind resource map, published by the U.S. Office of Renewable Energy, illustrates the windiest real estate in America. A vertical violet streak down the nation’s midsection indicates persistent, intense winds concentrated in places like western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. And a private company, called Clean Line Energy Partners, plans to tap that for electricity it can immediately transport to utilities requiring a bolus of alternative energy in their portfolios.  

DeathFest and Vickie Kelley
Jacqueline Froelich/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Vickie Kelley spends a lot of time in cemeteries. She’s founder and president of the Natural State Burial Association, which espouses sustainable burial practices in Arkansas.

“Our message is you can take a body and conduct a woodland burial or create a conservation cemetery which leaves no mark, no trace,” Kelley says.  “You decompose, you become earth, and the burial site doesn’t look like a cemetery. It looks like wilderness preservation.”

A wind resource map, published by the U.S. Office of Renewable Energy, illustrates the windiest real estate in America. A vertical violet streak down the nation’s midsection indicates persistent, intense winds concentrated in places like western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. And a private company, called Clean Line Energy Partners, plans to tap that for electricity it can immediately transport to utilities requiring a bolus of alternative energy in their portfolios.  

Jacqueline Froelich/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Carroll County resident Pat Costner walks under her three solar arrays this warm autumn afternoon to a shed where she keeps a collection of heavy-duty batteries.

“They’re fully charged right now,” she says, gesturing at the noontime sun above our heads.

The retired Greenpeace senior scientist operates a grid-tied solar energy system with an unusual electrical utility meter.

“It tells me if I am buying or selling,” she says. “Today is a selling day.”

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