An advocate for the City of Hope. Vocal about downtown business revitalization. A promotor of all things Hope and Hempstead County. A person with a giving spirit. A true partner in business. People who see a need and find a way to meet the need.
Those are just some of the ways 2020 Citizen of the Year winner Cherry Stewart used to describe the newest Citizen of the Year winners, Steve and Celia Montgomery, Monday evening at the Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce 2021 Annual Meeting.
Steve and Ceila say they were surprised, shocked and most importantly honored when they found out that they were both named Citizen of the Year Monday evening, but Steve winning the award was no shock to his wife.
“I knew about him and was so, so proud for him and excited about that because I was told about it and told to keep it a secret, but I had no idea it would be a joint recognition,” she said. “That was just the most meaningful thing.”
Celia says that Executive Director of the Hope/Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce Beckie Moore gave her a heads up that her husband might be winning the award that night.
“She told me it was going to be a memorable evening and I may want to get some family there and I was like ‘something’s going on,'” Celia said. “I didn’t know for sure what it was, but we kind of had to keep some stories going, making sure he was coming and that we were all dressed up.”
Celia says that keeping the secret from her husband was an extremely difficult thing to do
“It was crazy,” she said. “We worked together all day and we were just on a short vacation together and Beckie had called me while we were on vacation and I was like ‘what do I do?’ But we did it and his family snuck in and he didn’t see anybody. He had no clue.”
Steve was raised in Forest City, Arkansas near Memphis and met his high school sweetheart Celia through a McDonald’s drive thru.
“I was the assistant manager for a grocery store in Forest City,” he said. “McDonald’s came to town and built a brand new building in 1977 across the street from the grocery that I worked at. After it opened, there was this cute girl in the drive thru at McDonalds that I would go through and see just about everyday when I had my lunch. After asking around, I was able to find out who she was and ask her out. We started dating in high school and it kind of went from there.”
Steve later found out that the “cute girl’s” dad owned that McDonald’s so he left the grocery business and went on to work for Celia’s father. The business eventually grew to four stores in Northeast Arkansas when Steve bought and sold one in Wynne, later buying one in Hope and Nashville in 1991 when they moved down here. They now own 10 stores total today. Both Steve and Celia are so gratful to be Citizens of this community.
“This was our first step towards bring our young children to a new place and developing a new business and we were a little nervous about all that because we had not done this yet,” Celia said. “Hope was what we needed and Hope is what we found. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Celia says that the name “Hope” was perfect for what her and her husband needed when moving down here.
“When we came and heard that the name of the town was ‘Hope’ we were like ‘that’s really cool,'” she said. “Then we came to visit before we moved and we went to church and we met some people and it was like ‘it’s not just the name, this is our hope. This could be our future.'”
Steve and Celia are devout Catholics and attend Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church here in Hope.
“We both believe in service very much and we try to give ourselves and our time to our church, that’s very important to us,” Celia said. “We are very proud of our relationship with our church family.”
Steve has also given back the community by serving as the city mayor from 2017 to 2020.
“[Serving as mayor] was enjoyable, it was rewarding,” he said. “As a mayor, the hardest the part is that you want things to run smoothly and you want things to be great. That’s the main thing. Some things you have to work towards.”
Steve says that running a city and running a business were two completely different things.
“As a business owner, when I want something done it can get done at the snap of my fingers,” he said. “When you’re serving civically like that, it can be difficult with some of the red tape and some of the regulations.”
Despite the difficulties adjusting, Steve says that one of the most rewarding things about serving as mayor was seeing the city workers behind the scenes.
“One of the biggest things I got out of that was seeing what each individual working for Hope does for our community and how much they care about it as well,” he said.
Today Steve and Celia have two kids with three grandkids between the two and 10 years from now, they say that although they hope to be retired, they never plan to stop giving back to the community.
“When we are retired, we’ll have that little extra time to give even more back to Hope,” Steve said. “There’s opportunities here for our community that we want to see played out and continued. We’re a larger community but we have a small town feel about us.”