Celebrating Amazing Women During Women’s History Month

America’s Car-Mart Pays Tribute to Nan Smith

(Left) Nan Smith, a former President and CEO at a Car-Mart; (right) Nan with Hank Henderson, also former President and CEO at a Car-Mart

It’s Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate all women and their contributions to society. At America’s Car-Mart, we’re incredibly proud to pay tribute to our own Nan Smith, a former President and CEO.

Nan was Car-Mart’s President from 1999 to 2002 and Chief Operating Officer from 1981 to 1998. Sadly, she passed away in 2007, but her legacy and spirit live on today at Car-Mart.

“Nan was everything you would want and hope for in the person leading a group of young men and women in working to create a better car company,” says Rick Musial, Vice President of Underwriting. “She never compromised her principles or morals and taught those around her to do the same. She was always kind even while being very demanding or if she needed to be tough. She was always respectful to everyone no matter who they were.”

Nan Smith – A Great Role Model

She was a trailblazer and paved a unique path at Car-Mart. She embodied accountability, and she inspired and challenged those around her to be better every day. Today, she remains a role model for Car-Mart’s current and next generation of leaders.

Bart Fleeman, Bill's youngest son, Nan, Jeannie and Bill Fleeman
Bart Fleeman, Bill’s youngest son, Nan, Jeannie and Bill Fleeman

Steve Watson, Area Operations Manager, appreciates Nan’s guidance and recalls a turning point in his career. When he was an assistant manager in Benton, Ark., Nan called him and said, ‘Steve, this is Nan. We are opening five stores in the next two months. You are on a fence. On one side of the fence, you will be a successful manager, and the other side is unemployment.’

“I chose Poplar Bluff. I admit I had become complacent in my role. That single point in time determined my tenure with Car-Mart,” Steve says. “Nan was like a second mom to us at Car-Mart. She always had our best interest at heart, pushed us to perform at the level she knew we were capable of and held us accountable.”

Nan was a leader who cared about her associates, and she challenged and encouraged them. “Nan’s advice was ‘work hard, learn your job, do it right, make a decision, and if you don’t feel like you can complete a task, then assist someone who can’” says Lori Spencer, Senior Compliance and Audit Manager, Corporate Office.

In fact, Lori, a 25-year Car-Mart veteran, worked at Car-Mart with Nan. And now she wants her legacy to be that of a ‘mini Nan Smith. “I traveled with Nan many times and I saw her compassion and how she helped people,” Lori says. “She was tough at times, but her heart was in the right place to help people. I strive to be the same and to make a difference in people’s lives like Nan did.”

Creation of the Nan Fund

It is well known that when Nan would see a Car-Mart decal in a restaurant parking lot, she would go in and ask who drives the Car-Mart car. When someone responded, she introduced herself, thanked them for their business, and paid for their meal. Many, many times, she bought groceries for customers and people. Nan incessantly lent a helping hand to others.

Circa 1992 at Regional Managers Meeting. From Left to Right Hank Henderson, Ben Rhodes, Nan Smith, Ted Taylor (seated), Steve Grafton, John Scott, Brian Cole
Circa 1992 at Regional Managers Meeting. From Left to Right Hank Henderson, Ben Rhodes, Nan Smith, Ted Taylor (seated), Steve Grafton, John Scott, Brian Cole

In 2004, Car-Mart created the Nan Fund to honor Nan’s legacy of charity and benevolence. The fund provides financial assistance to Car-Mart associates in need. Associates provide ongoing funding. Car-Mart matches personal contributions made by associates up to $50,000 within a fiscal year.

Associates experiencing unexpected hardships (e.g., losing a home because of a fire or natural disaster, major medical problem, or significant financial crisis) can apply for the Associate in Crisis Fund.

“At the point when you lose everything in a house fire, having the necessary cash to take care of the unexpected immediate expenses, like the loss of our daily medicines, was huge. It put the whole family at ease while dealing with the complexities of insurance companies’ disbursement of funds,” says Terry Neumaster, Compliance Manager, Rogers, Ark., who was a recipient of the Nan Fund in 2017.

Nan – An Inspirational Leader

“Nan was one of the most compassionate persons I have ever known. She was always doing things for those less fortunate or in a tough spot and never told anyone or talked about it,” Rick concludes. “You only knew about it by being with her and seeing it in person. She passed on many of those traits to those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her and worked with her. She left this company and this world better for being a part of it.”

The original location of Car-Mart of Sapulpa. Circa 1993. Picture left to right are Dean Williams, Pat Melson, Gregg Carroll, Nan Smith, Bryan Adams, and Thad Shook
The original location of Car-Mart of Sapulpa. Circa 1993. Picture left to right are Dean Williams, Pat Melson, Gregg Carroll, Nan Smith, Bryan Adams, and Thad Shook

At Car-Mart, we are incredibly thankful for Nan’s kindness, compassion and generosity of spirit during her tenure at Car-Mart. Nan left her mark on Car-Mart in many positive ways. She will be remembered for her passion for Car-Mart and her everlasting desire to help people and make a difference in their lives.

Recent Posts

Categories