Hendrix College Junior Competes on ‘Jeopardy!’A Q&A with Joe Coker

Hendrix College Junior Competes on ‘Jeopardy!’
A Q&A with Joe Coker

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

In early April, one of Arkansas’ own got the opportunity to compete on the popular TV trivia show “Jeopardy!”

Joe Coker, a junior studying physics at Hendrix College in Conway and son of the Rev. Keith Coker, made it to the 2020 Jeopardy! College Championship, competing against college-age peers from across the U.S.

Coker, who graduated from Conway High School in 2017, made it to the semi-finals in the tournament and won the semi-final prize of $10,000.

We were recently given the opportunity to glimpse into the world of TV game shows and asked Coker a few questions about his once-in-a-lifetime stint on the legendary game show.


How did you make it on to Jeopardy? What was the process behind getting on the show?

Back in October, I saw that Jeopardy was offering an online test to appear on the College Championship and decided to take it just for fun. I was pretty surprised, but very excited a couple of weeks later when I got an email that I was invited to Austin over a weekend in November to audition in person. For that audition, I was in a group of about twenty students, mostly from universities in the South. They had us take a written test, then called us up three at a time to play a practice game and to conduct personality interviews, similar to the interview portion of the show. I did okay on the test, but I thought I did pretty badly in the practice game. They told us they would call around the first of the year if we were going to be on the show, but that we wouldn’t hear anything if not. The New Year came and went, and I had pretty much written it off until January 15, when I got a call from Culver City, CA (where the Sony studio is), and it was Glenn Kagan, Jeopardy’s contestant coordinator, telling me that I had been chosen for the College Championship. I was beyond excited; I couldn’t believe it when he gave me the travel information. I’m not sure I really believed it had happened until I got an email later in the week with contracts to sign and flight information to fill out.


Growing up, did you ever have dreams of being on a game show?

I watched Jeopardy a lot when I was younger, but I stopped watching regularly around when I was in middle school. But I remember being a kid when Ken Jennings made his legendary run on the show, and I was totally enraptured by his performance. He was so smart and seemed like such a warm, friendly guy. I think that was the peak of my Jeopardy dreams. As I got older, the odds of getting on just seemed so low that I didn’t get my hopes up. Getting to be on the show was a childhood dream come true.

The show was obviously filmed quite a few months before it aired and before COVID-19 pretty much shut down the world. How long ago did you film for the show and did they ask you to keep the results of your time on the show secret from everyone until it aired?

We filmed the entire tournament in two days in early February. All the contestants had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and everyone who attended was asked not to reveal any information about the clues or the results of the games. It’s been very difficult to keep everything a secret, mostly because I’ve been wanting to tell people all about the experience but I’ve had to be careful not to let anything slip.


What was your strategy for the show? Did you spend lots of late nights studying as much trivia as you possibly could?

To prepare, I started by watching a College Championship from a few years ago and keeping track of what kind of questions were asked and, of each category, how many I knew. I found that my weakest area was geography, so after that, I spent a few days memorizing the world map until I could identify any country and could picture the map in my head well enough to know what was next to what. I also listened to the podcast co-hosted by Ken Jennings called The Omnibus, where he and his co-host talk about all sorts of topics, in hopes of picking up some trivia. I definitely got some responses right on the show that I wouldn’t have gotten just a few weeks prior.


Do you think your time at Hendrix helped you to prepare for Jeopardy?

My time at Hendrix has taught me more than anything else how to synthesize information from various disciplines. You have to be able to recall knowledge of history in a politics or religion class, you have to be able to recall aspects of math and chemistry in a physics class, and so on. College, especially a liberal arts college, has helped me learn how to quickly access information from completely different areas of my memory, which is a crucial part of Jeopardy.


Do you hope to go back on the show in the future, or maybe try to compete on another game show?

Unfortunately, barring a dramatic rule change, my performance on the 2020 College Championship will be the entirety of my Jeopardy career. Not only can contestants only appear once, but even immediate family members can never audition to be on Jeopardy. As far as other game shows go, I just can’t see myself appearing on any of them. Jeopardy is the one I loved as a kid, and it’s the only one I really identify with. But I’m not complaining; I’ve been insanely fortunate to have the experience I got to, and if it means I can never be on the show again, I consider it a small price to pay.


Is there anyone else you want to acknowledge as a big source of inspiration and support for you, not just on the show, but in your everyday life?

I definitely want to thank my family for encouraging and supporting me on my path to becoming something of a know-it-all. They certainly help rein me in if it gets obnoxious, but they cultivated in me a love of knowledge and never made me feel embarrassed or silly for knowing obscure pieces of trivia. I also want to thank my girlfriend for helping me study and putting up with the endless stream of Jeopardy reruns I watched in the weeks leading up to the competition. And, of course, I owe at least a little bit to every teacher I’ve ever had, and they deserve my thanks too.

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

ARUMC Reschedules District, Annual Conferences to Online Zoom Meetings

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. (April 24, 2020) – In an effort to ensure the health and safety of voting members and visitors to the 2020 Arkansas Annual Conference amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference has made the decision to reschedule the May 27 – 30 gathering in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and move the business of the conference to an online Zoom meeting.

Bishop Gary Mueller commented, “Although Annual Conference has always been about being together, I am grateful for technology and our conference staff that are enabling us to adapt in a difficult season so we can still connect and carry out the essential business of the Arkansas Conference.”

In accordance with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’sExecutive Order #20-15, meetings such as Annual Conference via remote communication are allowed.

The rescheduled date for the Annual Conference business session will be Saturday, June 13 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. All clergy and lay voting members will be provided information to join the Zoom call, and guests will be able to view the meeting through a YouTube livestream.

This session will consist only of items deemed essential.

The Clergy Session will be held on Wednesday, May 27 beginning at 1:30 – 2 p.m. on Zoom. Participants who will need to participate in this meeting include all who would normally attend the clergy session.

Additionally, on May 27 from 2:15 – 4 p.m., clergy voting members will participate in the clergy voting session via Zoom. clergy in full connection, clergy with voting rights, those presented for commissioning and ordination, and Board of Ministry lay members.

All District Conferences have been rescheduled to Zoom meetings, which will take place between May 16 – 19 and will last approximately one hour each. The new District Conference dates are as follows:

  • Southeast District – Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m.
  • Southwest District – Sunday, May 17, 2 p.m.
  • Northeast District – Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.
  • Northwest District – Monday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.
  • Central District – Tuesday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.

Participants for the District Conferences will include all district clergy; district laity who are members of Annual Conference by charge conference vote; district laity who are members re: Conference Standing Rules; and those selected to serve as lay-clergy equalization at-large members. The meetings will also be open to all guests for viewing through YouTube live stream.

In district sessions, the agenda will consist only of items that have been considered essential. For Lay equalization, due to the unique nature of circumstances, we will continue to use our current standing rules.

Those who may have trouble being part of the online sessions because of internet connectivity issues will be provided a place to participate in a safe manner consistent with current guidelines. Specific locations and safety precautions are being identified and will be announced soon.

To allow for in-person ordination, the Ordination Service has been rescheduled for Sunday, Aug. 30 beginning at 4:00 pm. A location has not yet been set, but plans are still in the works for the service to take place in a church setting.

For updated Annual Conference information, visit arumc.org/ac2020/.

Fort Smith Ministry Spreads Joy Through Handcrafted Cards

Fort Smith Ministry Spreads Joy Through Handcrafted Cards

The Caring Through Cards Ministry meets every Wednesday night and handcrafts about 90 cards in one hour.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

There’s something special about getting a handmade card in the mail. Whether it’s wishing you a happy birthday, a family portrait during Christmas, a Get Well Soon card if you’re feeling under the weather, or a Just Thinking of You card that can brighten up your day, there’s a certain feeling of nostalgia and warmth in receiving a message the old way that can’t be replicated through a text or an email.

That special feeling is one of the many reasons that First UMC Fort Smith started their Caring Through Cards ministry, a Wednesday night program where volunteers handcraft cards for their community.

“The Caring Through Cards class is part of our Wednesday Night Life program, which lasts about nine weeks in both the spring and the fall,” said Kelly DeSoto, a member of Fort Smith First and a card maker who started the class a few years ago.

“Each night, our class tries to make about 90 handmade cards in one hour, sometimes more, sometimes fewer depending on how many volunteers we have that night,” DeSoto said.

First Fort Smith’s Wednesday Night Life is a program that meets weekly on Wednesday nights. On a typical night, people gather at the church and everyone begins the night by taking communion and then eating a meal together. Then, they split off into their selected groups to take part in that night’s class activities.

In the Caring Through Cards class, participants work on a specific card design each night. A sample design of the card is shown to everyone, and then they get to work making their cards. DeSoto said a little bit of prep work is done before the class, such as cutting shapes out of paper, but everyone is given their own tools and supplies to complete the project.

The idea for the cards ministry originally began as a way to stay in touch with the 80 and over members of the church, including those who are shut-ins, are in nursing homes, or have trouble making it to church on a regular basis. The church wanted to find a way to continue reaching that age group when more modern ways of communication weren’t always a possibility.

“We started out sending cards just for the holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, and so on,” DeSoto shared.

They’ve now incorporated their congregational care plan into the program as well, and make Sympathy and Thinking of You cards that can be sent out to more than just their octogenarian-plus members. All together, the class sends out about 180 cards each time they celebrate a holiday or event.

Handmade cards made by the Caring Through Cards ministry.

DeSoto said that since starting the program about three or four years ago, they have doubled the number of volunteers who come out to the church each week to make cards.

DeSoto began the class with one other person from the church, Gail Oakes, and that first year they had 12 people participate in the class.

As they’ve grown, they’ve added more leaders, and currently, DeSoto and Oakes, as well as the Rev. Janice Sudbrink and Jeanne Starr, lead the class on Wednesday nights.

Oakes, who works on staff at First UMC, is responsible for not just preparing the card materials and designs, but creating the list of 80 and older members and others who will receive the cards once they are mailed out.

The cards are hand-addressed and stamped when sent out, and Oakes says they do this rather than run it through a postage machine to make the cards feel even more personal.

According to DeSoto, it isn’t just older women who participate in the crafting; they have a range of different age groups, as well as both men and women who participate in the class.

“It’s really enjoyable to see not just the women, but the men get really into the crafting as well!” DeSoto said.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has no longer made it possible for the class to meet in person, DeSoto said they have enough cards to last through July 4th. They are hoping to be able to get everything back to normal and continue making cards again once the pandemic has settled down and churches are allowed to gather in person.

For DeSoto, Oakes and the other volunteers in the Caring Through Cards ministry, it’s not simply about creating cards and sending them off; it’s another way that they’ve been able to make connections and share the love of Christ with those who are no longer able to make it outside their homes to worship.

“Each night that we have class, we start the night by reading thank you cards that we’ve gotten from people who we’ve sent our cards to,” Oakes said. “We do it so our volunteers know what this means to these people … because sometimes, that’s the only mail they get.

“We let them know that no matter what age you are, you’re thought about. Somebody loves you.”

For more information on the Caring Through Cards ministry, contact Fort Smith First UMC at fsfumc@fsfumc.org or Gail Oakes at goakes@fsfumc.org

A Letter From Arkansas United Methodist Editor Caleb Hennington

A Letter From Arkansas United Methodist Editor Caleb Hennington

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Dear faithful readers of the Arkansas United Methodist,

Almost two years ago, I was hired by the Arkansas Conference to take over as the editor of the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper. At the time, the newspaper, and the entire Center for Communication team, was going through a major change in strategy.

When I was hired in June 2018, I was asked to reimagine the role and the idea behind the Arkansas United Methodist. Through that reimagining, the newspaper transitioned from a monthly print publication to a digital-first, online magazine, full of links, videos and interactive elements that brought the publication into the 21st century for the first time in its 138 years of publication.

Although we continued to print a small number — a little more than 200 copies — of the Arkansas United Methodist magazine, our focus at the time was making sure the magazine was more accessible for wherever you happen to be reading it and from whatever device you chose to read the news of the Arkansas Conference.

With the shift to digital, we saw a significant increase in the number of readers who preferred to get their news online.

But we also noticed something else; a huge increase in the amount of traffic our ARUMC website was getting each month.

The numbers don’t lie; a greater number of you choose to read our stories when they post on the website rather than when they are first published in the digital magazine.

In a recent survey, we asked you if you would like to receive the AUM in an email format rather than its current layout, and 63.8% of you said you would.

We also asked which format you prefer to receive information from, and an overwhelming majority of responders selected an email newsletter, followed by social media, and then our website.

With that being said, starting in April, we will no longer be printing or publishing a monthly magazine; the Arkansas United Methodist will be a fully online, digital product.

Originally, we were going to make this announcement at the end of April, just before the beginning of the General Conference gathering in May. But as with everything else that’s happened in the last few weeks, those plans were modified and a new reality quickly took its place.

With the fight against COVID-19 now becoming the sole focus of our everyday lives, we decided this was the best time to make this move.

I know many of you will be disappointed to hear this news, but with the hard decision to end the magazine also comes greater opportunities for further growth in storytelling by the ARUMC.

Rest assured, you can still expect to receive the same amazing and inspiring stories from around the Arkansas Conference. Our commitment to quality will not change with this new format.

More details will be shared with you at a later date, but for right now, expect to see the AUM newsletter in your inbox more frequently.

If you’re a current subscriber, you will not need to change your subscription in any way. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the AUM, I encourage you to do so now. We have some exciting stories planned for the future, and we would hate for you to miss out.

Thank you for supporting the AUM and please keep sharing your stories with us! We love hearing from you and helping to tell the amazing work you all are doing through Jesus Christ in your communities.


Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor, Center for Communication

EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into ActionRecovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into Action
Recovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic

A bronze statue still stands despite the destruction surrounding it at the Mall at Turtle Creek Mall in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The tornado, rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, carved a path of destruction through the city center. Although 22 injuries were reported, none were life-threatining and no fatalities have been reported. Photo by Jonesboro Police Department.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

On Saturday, March 28, a powerful storm whipped through the Northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro, producing a large tornado that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and injured 22 people.

Relief efforts are now underway to help the more than 200 buildings that were damaged by the tornado, which was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service office in Memphis with maximum winds of 140 mph.

According to local media reports, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were caused by the tornado, which made its way through major city streets in the middle of town and through several residential areas north of the city center.

Remarkably, in part due to the current COVID-19 social distancing efforts in place throughout the U.S., no fatalities were reported from the tornado.

Despite the destruction caused to several businesses usually packed with people, including the Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding restaurants, many buildings were empty when the storm hit Saturday evening.

United Methodist Churches in the city also received minimal damage, although several church members’ homes were impacted.

The Rev. John Miles, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, said that more than 100 church members were out on Sunday morning assisting in clean-up efforts, and more would be sent out in the coming days.

“While I am grieved by the disaster I am amazed that no one was killed. The damage to many houses was enormous,” Miles said. “I feel relief that no one was killed, sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and gratitude for the many people who have flooded these neighborhoods to help.”

Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, said that at this time, access to the city is still very limited, although their team was allowed to enter on Monday and bring donations for relief efforts.

“Right now, it looks like 20% residential damage, 80% businesses, but we don’t have official numbers yet,” Mann said. “I want to say thank you to St. Paul UMC for allowing us to use their facilities for our relief efforts and First UMC for housing our volunteers.”

At Cornerstone UMC, the Rev. Kathleen McMurray said her church has been hard at work sewing face masks to protect against the coronavirus since before the tornado hit, but after Saturday they have worked to hand out the masks to disaster response workers.

McMurray said that it’s been difficult to balance the need to help the community recover from this disaster while still remembering that physical distancing rules related to the coronavirus still have to be followed.

“It is really difficult to process such loss in the midst of the rising global pandemic of COVID-19. We want to help but we also want to help safely, and so we are doing our best to listen to the needs and procedures from our Disaster Response leaders in the community,” McMurray said.

Victor Moran, a member of First UMC Jonesboro whose home was damaged in the tornado, said the support he and his family have received from the church has made a huge impact on how he’s processing this challenging time.

“The team from First Church showed up at our house this morning like a conquering army. They completed in less than an hour what would have taken me days. Then they spread out through the neighborhood serving with grace, timeliness, and excellence.

“Please convey to the whole church Teresa’s and my deep, deep gratitude for what you all have done,” Moran said.

McMurray said that despite the tragedy of the past weekend, there is still hope that can be found in all of it.

“One of the biggest things we as people of faith can do is to offer hope. COVID-19 brings with it so much fear and anxiety already. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude on top of it can be overwhelming. Being able to share the gospel of resurrection, in word and deed, in the midst of this is powerful for our community.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of disaster for Jonesboro on Sunday, allowing the city and state to potentially receive federal money for disaster relief as well.

The Arkansas Conference has also set up a donation hub for disaster relief in Jonesboro and the surrounding community. To donate to tornado relief efforts, visit our online donation website and select Jonesboro Disaster Relief.