HER: A dynamic real estate duo

Ouachita Abstract owners Janelle McLendonand Kay Thomas serve three counties with their experience.

Photo by Tina Sams

Janelle McLendon and Kay Thomas may not have had abstracting experience when they walked into Ouachita County Abstract Company, but they had the drive to learn more about the business. And, both asked a lot of questions.

"I started working here on October 19, 1981 on Columbus Day. I was 26 years old," said McLendon, who had been a stay at home mother of two and had also previously worked for a furniture store for a short time. " I was hired by Mr. William S. Jordan, one of the owners and also, the manager of the company."

McLendon was hired as a typist.

"Mr.Jordan would prepare what is called a chain of title and the typists would pull old books which held copies of recorded documents, such as deeds, mortgages, etc. all these were recorded in the Circuit Clerk's Office and we would type those documents exactly and proof what we typed and then those pages would be included in the Abstract, " she said.

An Abstract is a book, a compilation of everything recorded about a particular piece of real estate..

When Jordan realized McLendon was interested in learning more about how to know what and why certain documents were included he began to teach her.

The company has references and information compiled in tract books which are a wealth of information regarding the real estate in Ouachita County. Those are used daily in researching and preparing title insurance, even today. They are a valuable asset to the company and to the county.

Thomas was 25 years old when she was hired in 1985 and had worked for SAU Tech's Fire Training Academy, Belk Jones and Anthony Forest Products in El Dorado where she typed purchase orders for logs to be sent from Anthony Sawmills. She and McLendon became friends quickly, and always encouraged each other to learn more about the business. Thomas became experienced with platting the legal descriptions and was just naturally gifted in working with the legal descriptions of real estate. McLendon had more interest in the research and the laws regarding real estate. Together these two make a good team, each using the experience they obtained through the years.

"We were both fast typists," McLendon said. "Mr. Jordan used an old Royal manual typewriter. The day I was interviewed for the job, I noticed his typewriter, and I asked if they only had manual typewriters. Mr, Jordan informed me he had just bought the new IBM electric typewriters and I told him 'Thank goodness, I don't think I could handle the manual kind, it would wear me out!'" Jordan was always a solemn person, but he laughed that day. Later they all three formed a friendship. "He was a great boss!" both said.

In 1986 Mr. Jordan sold the business to Searcy Harrell, Jr., Edwin Horton, Charles Plunkett and Phillip Foster. Phillip Foster became the manager of Ouachita Abstract & Title Co. The new owners knew that Abstracts were being replaced by Title Insurance. Both McLendon and Thomas agree that Phil Foster was always a very encouraging boss. He explained the real estate laws and taught them even more than they learned from Jordan. Foster encouraged both to take the Abstractors test, which at that time was a 4 hour test. Both took the test and became licensed shortly after and both were eventually taught how to research and examine the title and type the forms necessary in insuring the real estate.

In March of 2005, Harrell and Foster approached McLendon and Thomas and told them they wanted them to buy the company. Mr. Harrell had so much faith in their ability to do the job that he financed the purchase of the company, which also included the Calhoun County records and building.

The pair signed the closing papers on the business on April 1, 2005. A date they both still find humorous.

"We hoped it wasn't an April Fool Joke!" Thomas said.

"I can remember when setting up the new Company Phil asked 'Which of you will be president?' Both of us pointed at each other. He said now one of you has to be the president, which of you can work with the public and take the complaints, and, Kay said, 'That's you Janelle!'

"We were not fighting over being the President, but on who had to be the President! Kay prefers, I handle the public, so I became President, and she became Secretary," said McLendon.

The two respect each other and allow the other to speak her mind and they make decisions together. That is why the business partnership works so well, McLendon said.

The pair worked hard to pay off the business and on April 1, 2015 they did. It was a bittersweet moment as Mr. Searcy Harrell, Jr. had passed away.

"We leaned heavily on Phil and Searcy in those early years, they were our go to guys," Thomas said, "Searcy helped us buy the business and, it was sad because he had passed away and we felt that he would have been cheering and celebrating with us on our last payment!"

"Paul Lindsey is our go to guy now when we need some legal advice. We have been blessed to have so many to help us through the years," McLendon said.

"We laugh about all the men in our lives, and we think we surprised some of them that we could do what we have!" Thomas said.

A few years ago the two bought the building where the Ouachita County business is still located, from Judge Charles Plunkett

"He always loved to dicker with us about buying it and one day he agreed to sell at the price we offered." McLendon said.

Thomas said Plunkett had an unusual request when the pair first began renting the building after buying the company "It had to be written into the contract that Plunkett could come in and use the copy machine whenever he wanted to come in, with his own key, day or night," she said, "He made copies of every receipt he ever had. After selling the building, he lost the access. We assume he bought his own copier!"

Along with the Ouachita County and Calhoun County Tract books they acquired when purchasing the company, they have also acquired the tract books

or Dallas County and now serve all three counties. Thomas has always done the research for Calhoun and Dallas County orders and also, other surrounding counties when asked. Jason Thomas also helps Thomas with those out of county orders. Kay has also always done the research for timber orders. McLendon has always researched the Ouachita County orders.

"We are both hometown ladies. Kay's family lived in Harmony Grove and she is a graduate of Harmony Grove School. I am a graduate of Camden High School. My maiden name is Dunn and my father's family were all from Hampton. Our roots are deep in both Ouachita and Calhoun Counties, : McLendon said.

Both ladies are avid readers, when they have time to read. They both stay very busy, but wanted to give back to the community the best way possible. And, that is why they are so proud of several book projects they invest in every year. The Ambassador company supplies books to each first and fourth grader that attends Harmony Grove School. The Ambassador company explained to Thomas and McLendon that they can only send the books to the school districts that want to participate. One of the books supplied is called, "The Way To Go" The stories give the children examples of the right way to treat people and to make wise decisions in all the hard things that they may face growing up.

"We receive handwritten thank you letters from the students every year, and we love to read how happy they are to read and have these free books," Thomas said. "We are very proud sponsors of this program. We pray that each child will consider what they have learned from reading these books before making a decision that could cause harm to themselves or others," McLendon said.

Another program they are proud to sponsor is "Come Unto Me" which is sent to grieving families who have lost loved ones in the community.

"This book is beautiful, and deals with the grieving process. The deceased loved one's name is engraved on the front of the book and we receive many thank you cards from the families who receive one. We are so proud to be one of several sponsors from our business community to hopefully bring some comfort during sad times," Thomas said.

"We try to support financially anything that will help our community. We love Camden, and want to see it grow and prosper," McLendon said.

McLendon and Thomas both say that they couldn't have become business owners without the support and encouragement of their spouses and families. Thomas is married to Roger Thomas and they have one son Jason Thomas, who is also an employee. Her granddaughter Kinley Shipp is also presently employed with the company. Kay and Roger attend church at Bethel Temple Assembly of God. McLendon is married to David McLendon and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and their daughter Kim Lewis is employed with the company Their son Jason is a registered nurse , presently employed at the VA Hospital in Little Rock in the ER. The McLendon's have 7 grand children. David and Janelle attend church at Cullendale Church of Christ.

McLendon said despite the hard work of she and Thomas, there is no way the company could excel without the wonderful employees they have been fortunate to employ.

"Our employees are wonderful and Ronda Yarbro, who has been here with us before we bought the company, is one of the best closing agents around!"

" Along with Ronda, Kim Lewis, Jason Thomas, Kinley Shipp and part time employee Erina Yarbro, Ronda's daughter, we have recently employed Lakine Walker, who is training with Ronda to be a closing agent, and Margaret Pace who brings with her many years of experience working in real estate, researching and also has worked previously in the title insurance industry. We believe those two are going to be a great asset and fit right in with our little title company family. We are proud of our team!"

"We also, look back and think often about past employees who were with Phil and decided to continue with Kay and I after we became the owners. Brenda Tutt stayed with us, along with Ronda. We had worked together as employees, and were all good friends. Brenda was a big asset to helping Kay and I when we started out on our own. She has retired, but we still talk about those days and miss her being with us now,"McLendon said.

One of the biggest lessons that McLendon and Thomas took away from the years working with Phil Foster, is the importance of keeping a family first business.

"We try to keep a family first attitude, just as Phil always did. We actually took that further. There have been times when employees have brought their children to the office because they had no sitter, or their child wasn't feeling well. We even had a room set aside for them to sleep, and play in," McLendon said.

"We believe that treating our employees as if they are family, makes for a happier work environment and we want them to enjoy coming in every day," Thomas said.

"This company has evolved from an abstract company to a company which provides a complete service of title insurance, searches and escrow closings. This industry is a male dominated industry, most title companies are owned by males. We are proud that all the men who are in our lives and have been in our lives had the confidence in us to believe we could excel in this industry. Kay and I always try to encourage each other. Last summer the Arkansas Land Title Association contacted me to say I had been nominated to serve on the board of directors. I was hesitant. But Kay, who has always encouraged me, kept on talking to me about it and convinced me to try. So, at this time I presently serve on that board with mostly men! I am proud to represent the South Arkansas title companies and all the women who work in this industry," McLendon said.

McLendon and Thomas both say that without the encouragement of many, and the prayers of many, they would not be where they are today.

"What we have learned is no one just gets to run the company, without having had help from someone along the way. And it takes a lot of hard work! "McLendon said.

They both agree they wouldn't be here without that encouragement, and they hope to always be an encouragement to other women striving to succeed in business.