Susan (Hosto) Helka and Debra (Hosto) House agree that their larger than life father, Ralph, was a giant teddy bear who never met a stranger.
The 6'4", 260-pound Jackson County man almost never met anything he felt he could live without. "Daddy loved to collect things, especially if it was old," House explained, "the older the better." Hosto, who passed away in March 2012, was an avid collector of almost everything it seemed. "He collected books, he read constantly, he collected Indian artifacts, tools, jars, loads and loads of jars," said Helka, who left her Austin, Texas home two years ago and returned to the family home on the Jackson-Poinsett County line to care of her father following the passing of their mother, Doris. After being away from home for more than 40 years, she soon realized the gravity of her father's collection. "Daddy always collected things, I knew that, but after being away from it for so long, I was amazed at the enormity of it all," she explained. "Daddy collected what he collected," House added, "but he never shared it with us. He always said, 'You can have it someday, I may need that.'" When their father became ill, area doctors immediately sent him to a Memphis, Tenn. hospital where treatment began at once, however, the gentle giant remained there until his passing. Helka and House battled the emotional strain of losing their father as well as the unusual time restraints of having to deal with the enormous treasure he had accumulated over the years. "It has been an ordeal for all of us, our children included," House noted. "I have been home four times since July and Susan has been home maybe one or two more times than that." She continued, "We haven't had much time to mourn Daddy's passing. We haven't had much time to think about it." The property has to be cleared in October which they knew would be no small feat. However, it was not until the sisters dove in head first that they realized just how monumental that task would prove to be. "We have found things we had no idea he even had, or held onto," said House, who has been at her childhood home, and away from her own Biloxi, Miss. home, for more than a year. "Recently we found a bottle of Skin So Soft from Avon that my boyfriend in the seventh grade gave me," House joked, "later we found the box that it had come in, the box. Inside the box were some of my awards and ribbons and things that I had gotten in school that year. Then I was glad he had kept the box." Like my Depression-era children, Hosto rarely threw anything out, believing everything had a secondary use. "There are jars and coffee cans everywhere. He collected jars, especially blue ones, but if he needed them, they also could be repurposed. The coffee cans he used for nuts and bolts and that sort of thing," Helka noted. The two siblings began their task in March and have worked continuously since then clearing space and inventorying the vast collection stored throughout the house, on the grounds themselves and in three large storage buildings. "We have had 14 sales since March and have two more scheduled this weekend, Sept. 7-8, a rock sale Sept. 21-22, another auction Oct. 5-6 and a final sale Oct. 7," House explained. While they have moved an enormous amount of their father's legacy, they are overwhelmed by amount left. "We are actually having two auctioneers here this weekend so we will have two simultaneous auctions going on and hopefully we will move twice as much," House said. "But, there is still so much of it that we have yet to go through. We have been looking for certain things that we know are here but we haven't even found them yet." Among the many items that Hosto was known for an extensive - and eclectic - rock collection. Hosto built a rock shop in November, 1969 on the family farm but he he built his rock collection over numerous family vacations and various trips throughout the United States and Canada as well as Panama and Mexico. "He collected petrified wood, rocks, minerals, fossils - just about anything that was formed by Earth," House explained. "He obtained a fossilized cephalopod that the Smithsonian Institute was interested in at one time and we still have it." Hosto's Rock Shop was open to those interested in learning more about rocks of any kind as well as an educational source for many students whose field trips brought them to one of the most interesting places on Earth. "He would entertain students here at the shop and took some field trips himself to see students in their classrooms but he always had 'goodie' bags of a piece of petrified wood, rocks, minerals - usually stuff found in Arkansas," said House. "He wanted them to know what was around them and what they could find near them if they just looked." He carried that philosophy in his own life as well, always looking for that next piece of treasure near him. "Daddy collected books," Helka noted, "he had a lot of children's books, mostly educational books, but he had a lot of books on collecting, or fixing things or putting things together, or taking them apart." "He retained a wealth of knowledge and that was due to the sheer amount of what he read." Hosto's collection includes power tools, hand tools, wood, lumber, mussel shells, buttons, just about anything that he thought he might could find a use for later. "He bought out the button factory in Des Arc which included a rather large inventory of buttons. However, it also included tons and tons of White River mussels that had yet to be pressed to make the buttons," said House. "We still have those." Their former brother-in-law, Tommy Sitzer, has proven invaluable as the clean-up process has taken shape. "A lot of this stuff I helped Ralph carry in back in the '80's and now I'm having to haul it back out again," Sitzer joked. The two sisters urge anyone interested in taking a look back at a simpler time in history to take advantage of the few opportunities remaining. "There is something here for everyone," Helka said, "Daddy made sure that if someone needed something he would have it and be able to help them." House agreed. "Anything and everything that you might ever need, Daddy had it. Things that made no sense to anyone but him." She continued, "But he found a use for everything."