Late Friday evening, Wanda Bateman, 78, of Pine Bluff passed on; Bateman grew up in White Hall near the Pine Bluff Arsenal, the daughter of the late Arthur Lenson McBurnett and Juanita Nutt McBurnett,
Late Friday evening, Wanda Bateman, 78, of Pine Bluff passed on, leaving a hole in this city that can never be filled. She once told a SEA Life writer that “I’ve tried to live the way God would want me to and I have tried to treat others as he would want me to.”
Bateman grew up in White Hall near the Pine Bluff Arsenal, the daughter of the late Arthur Lenson McBurnett and Juanita Nutt McBurnett, and is survived by a daughter, Deana Bateman Bailey, and two grandchildren, Alex Bailey and Drake Bailey.
Later, she became a successful Pine Bluff real estate agent — often recognized for selling millions in property each year. She was a devoted member of the Trinity Episcopal Church.
But “Miss Wanda,” as she was known by most, made a name for herself as one of the most generous women in Central Arkansas. One of her most important causes was the annual Summer Cereal Drive sponsored by THV11 and the Arkansas Foodbank, which she donated to for 19 years.
Last year, although suffering with cancer, Bateman collected about 86,312 boxes of cereal. In the last five years alone, Wanda had single-handedly collected about 270,327 or more than a quarter-million boxes and in turn, filled the bellies of thousands of hungry Pine Bluff area kids.
Last year, former THV11 morning meteorologist and frontman for the Cereal Drive, said last year, “You know I love me some Wanda. From the moment I met her I knew she’d be trouble, but in a good way. She’s certainly an inspiration to a lot of folks in Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, and even central Arkansas.”
In 2016, Bateman was inducted to the Cereal Drive’s Hall of Fame.
Bateman purchased and paid for dogs and their training for the local law enforcement officers, fed first responders, including EMTs, firefighters and officers, during the holidays.
Wanda’s own annual Christmas party was one of the town’s most popular social events but it doubled as a fund raising effort. It was held at her bed and breakfast, Margland, and every year prior to its start, she hosted Photos with Santa for pets and their humans. As well, during the party, she sold homemade dog and cat scarves and blankets. All the profits went to the Jefferson County Humane Society.
Just outside Margland Bed and Breakfast, she built and kept stocked the Margland Food Pantry. It allowed anyone to open the clear, plexiglass doors and reach inside for an easy-to-prepare meal.
“A can of soup doesn’t mean much to me but to a hungry kid, it means everything…Hunger never goes away,” Wanda said.
However, her 40-year partner, Ed Thompson, said, “Most of her generosity was unknown by the public.”
She helped out with a meal or a little money whenever she could, he said.
For example, he said, one evening a man stopped by and asked to borrow $300 so he could visit his dying mother in Chicago.
“Wanda handed him the money, without any guarantee that he would pay it back. He did, a few weeks later,” Thompson said.
And recently while dealing with her own treatment at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Bateman offered to pay a wheelchair bound elderly woman’s cab fare because her family were no-shows and the woman had no way home.
“That’s typical Wanda,” Thompson said.
When asked to buy a ticket for a barbecue fundraiser for the city’s future military museum, instead of purchasing a single ticket, she bought $100 worth. That wasn’t usual when buying tickets for a fund raiser or good cause.
She didn’t wait for the public pleas of flood victims’ needs before donating money to the Red Cross of Arkansas’s Pine Bluff office last spring.
And while undergoing chemo at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, Wanda met some folks that have an animal rescue shelter in Paron. They weren’t hitting her up for money, just passing time while waiting on their IVs to drip. The next day, Wanda sent the group, Central Arkansas Refuge for Dogs, a $200 check.
A few weeks later when back at St. Vincent, Wanda overheard a woman, who was undergoing chemo treatment, saying she was drastically losing weight but couldn’t afford the anti-nausea medication.
Wanda paid for it.
Her close friends and employees like her personal assistant and long-time friend Joy Hunthrop, said, “Wanda’s the real deal.”
Thompson said, “Wanda is a special person.”
Bateman was known for her signature hats and was rarely seen in public without one on her head and a birthday cake in her hand.
So many remember how she made their birthday’s a little brighter, or how she visited local nursing homes — so that the patients didn’t feel forgotten — with a plate piled high with fried pies.
Joy said, “She used her power to do good throughout the community.”
Thompson said, ”Wanda Bateman and her good deeds will not be forgotten anytime soon.”