Weems celebrates a century of ingenuity

Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Eureka Springs resident McKinley Weems, who assisted in the construction of the Christ of the Ozarks statue on Magnetic Mountain, along with a number of other projects, celebrated his 100th birthday Jan. 2.
Submitted photo

McKinley Weems spent a good chunk of his life building things, tearing things down, and finding new uses for the odd bits and bobs left over. 

On Saturday, Jan. 2, he celebrated his 100th birthday. 

The most well-known project Weems, of Eureka Springs, worked on was the Christ of the Ozarks statue on Magnetic Mountain near his hometown. The 67-foot-tall statue — which turns 55 this year — has an arm span of 65 feet and is the largest depiction of Jesus in the United States. 

While the Christ of the Ozarks statue might be the first thing that comes to mind, Weems’ daughter, Diane McClelland, says her father did much more. 

“He was with that project for a couple of years, and he has been recognized at the celebrations that their different anniversary levels and I’m sure he’s proud of that,” McClelland said. “He was also very instrumental in the relocation of the [Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway] with Robert Dortch, bringing the rail cars from Scott to Eureka Springs.” 

McClelland said her father and Dortch worked together “for many, many years” on various projects.  

“Those were things that my dad did in his later years,” McClelland said. “He also helped build the Carroll County Airport. He did the roadwork for that back in the 1960s or 1970s and different projects around town. My dad was pretty ingenious on moving and retrofitting things.” 

The father of eight, Weems also was known for frequently bringing home — or at least to his scrapyard — many different items, from odd bits of machinery and old tools to old vehicles. Another person might call most of it junk, but to Weems, each item had a purpose. He might not have known what it was at the time, but he was confident he could figure it out. 

“He never threw anything away, to speak of,” McClelland said. “Everything had a purpose. He would find out whenever people were going to junk out something or throw it away, and he was like, ‘I can pick it up. Are you giving that away? I’ve got a home for it.’ He was the guy in town that, when the buildings needed to come down, he did the teardowns and he was happy with the pay just to be able to take what he tore down, the materials, the wood, the metal, the old stuff. And he kind of had an eye for what purpose it might could serve or a usefulness for that.” 

Of course, that habit played well with his children. 

“It made it fun for kids growing up,” McClelland said, “whether it be a Trailways bus or an airplane that he brought in or that he owned himself, or an old NASCAR we got to play in.” 

Weems’ wife of 81 years, Lola Pearl Weems — who died in August at age 96 — turned her husband’s proclivity for collecting odd items into a 45-year business venture, establishing an antique shop called Country Antiques, which she operated until 2017 when failing health caused her to close the store. 

Weems often was referred to as a structural engineer, but his skill with various projects — both construction and removal — came naturally, McClelland said. 

“It was all self-taught and self-learned,” McClelland said, “and from working with people on a job. He had no formal education, but he read every encyclopedia cover to cover. It’s amazing how much my father has read during his lifetime. He’s always had a caring for knowledge and a want to learn more.”

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