Loving this rural farming community, and the people, is as natural to a person born here as breathing air. On the flip side, it is refreshing to meet those who love it by choice. The love and appreciation for this community and the things taken for granted by those born here, speaks volumes of this week’s featured couple. Mark and Jennifer Ballard are a perfect example of love grown from assimilating into a community with a willingness and goal of becoming a positive member. Mark and Jennifer each moved to Newport as single adults, following a career path. The couple were introduced by George and Tamya Stallings at the Pavilion of Jacksonport State Park the Wednesday before Portfest 2006. The couple married on February 2nd, 2008 and their beautiful daughter, Annsleigh, was born in October 2009.

            Mark is a graduate of Germantown High School in Germantown, Tennessee. After high school, Mark continued his education and received a degree in Parks and Recreation Administration from Memphis State. Currently, Mark is the Superintendent of Jacksonport State Park.

            Jennifer attended Mountain View High School and graduated from Arkansas State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She furthered her education at the University of Alabama and earned a Master’s Degree in Library Information Studies. Jennifer is the Library Director at the Jackson County Library.

            The couple’s daughter, Annsleigh, is a student at Newport Elementary School, which she loves. “We also provide a taxi service for Annsleigh while we are not earning a living providing this service,” laughs Jennifer. “It is a great source of entertainment!”

            The couple stay busy taking an active role in the community and Jackson County. Mark serves on the Massey Alexander Levee District Board, is a member of the Jackson County Historical Society, Jackson County Council on Tourism, and The Ozark Gateway Tourism Board. Jennifer serves on the Iron Mountain Regional Arts Council, PEO, and Jackson County Quorum Court. Jennifer is a Class 5 New Vision Newport Alumni. The couple attend First Baptist Church, Newport.

            “We love our community and the friends we have made over the years—the welcoming spirit of our community is wonderfully overwhelming!” states Mark and Jennifer. The couple are quick to praise Annsleigh’s educational foundation she has received from Under the Rainbow Preschool and Newport Elementary School. “NES has wonderful teachers and the education our daughter’s had since her first day of kindergarten, Oh, my stars, is excellent. You cannot imagine how pleased we are with this child’s education and how much she has enjoyed it.” In addition, “I also love that my friends at NES sent me photos of her first days of school because my mama-heart likes to know what she’s doing.  Anns knows that her Dad and I know lots of people and if she misbehaves, someone will tell us.”

            There are so many things the Ballard’s love about Jackson County and Newport. They love knowing people by name and having a connection with them, and that it is a rural farming community. “We aren’t farmers, but we appreciate the hard work they do to provide us with necessities of life.”

            Outside of work and school, the couple love to travel as a family. Mark likes to play golf and Jennifer enjoys pool time, reading, and throwing hatchets. Annsleigh loves tumbling, swimming, her puppies, cooking and throwing hatchets. Mark is working on encouraging her to learn to play golf!  

            As for a cause or organization that the family is passionate about, the couple are quick to point to the Lord and their involvement at First Baptist Church. “We love Jesus and we are grateful that He sent us to each other.” 

            When I asked Jennifer about anything else she would like the community to know, she smiles as she tells that in 1991, Mark spent 21 days hiking the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area in California. During the adventure, he chased a black bear, crazy! As for Annsleigh, Jennifer tells that she is one of the most organized people she knows and Anns is on the cover of Lori Plegge’s cookbook, “Kids Can Cook Too!”