John Burkhalter Led to Pathfinder To Help Arkansans With Developmental Disabilities
John Burkhalter said all journeys in life start small. “The journey through life always has taken time, but the experiences of the journey (both good and bad) are what make it all worthwhile. Always look at the glass half full, for life’s journey is what is important.”
Burkhalter’s journey began in Branson, Mo., where he was born. His parents, both of whom grew up on farms in Arkansas, were living there while his father worked as an engineer on the construction of Table Rock Dam. When he was just 6 months old, the family moved back to Arkansas and settled in Sylvan Hills. It was there that Burkhalter “learned to shoot a gun, plant a garden and be around farm animals.”
After graduating from Sylvan Hills High School, Burkhalter enrolled at Hendrix College and graduated with a pre-med degree. He then enrolled at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he earned his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering.
Burkhalter is a professional engineer, property developer and contractor. “I build all types of site-work projects, which consist of excavation, utilities, roads and water and sewer systems,” he said. “I run and own/operate apartment complexes, warehouses and office buildings. I started my first business in 1991. [I] know what it takes to start a small business and work to grow them into companies that employ many people. The road to success takes time, patience, discipline and sacrifice.”
Burkhalter and his wife, Penny, have been married for 16 years. “Penny and I have been together through the good times and the hard times,” he said. A cancer survivor, “Penny was treated for a very aggressive form of cancer while she was pregnant with Anna Grace, our youngest daughter. I have been humbled by her strength and courage.”
Older daughter Johnna Kay is 11, and Anna Grace is now 8. They’re both into competitive dance, so Burkhalter says he is a “dance dad.” That’s not to say his daughters won’t turn out to be hunters, too. “Last year, Johnna Kay shot her first shotgun on a duck hunt,” Burkhalter said. “My girls and I have got a lot of hunting ahead of us.”
Considering his steadfast devotion to family and his successful, increasingly busy career, it’s surprising Burkhalter has time for anything else. It may not always be easy, but he clears his schedule for causes that are close to his heart. The most recent leg of Burkhalter’s journey has led him to Pathfinder, Inc., a nonprofit organization “dedicated to developing and implementing individualized strategies designed to allow citizens with developmental disabilities complete access to community life.”
Pathfinder serves people with developmental disabilities, from preschool children to senior citizens, according to Sha Stephens, co-director of compliance and public relations/marketing liaison for the organization. “Pathfinder has an array of services, including preschools, adult workshops, community integration, intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled and more than 10 homes.”
Burkhalter was introduced to Pathfinder a decade ago. “My accountant, Bob Ferguson, approached me and suggested that I go to Jacksonville with him to see the great work that was being done at Pathfinder. Bob had learned through working with me for many years where my soft spots and my interests to help others were,” Burkhalter said. “He and I toured the Pathfinder facilities, and I saw so many people whose lives were being impacted in a positive manner through the efforts of Pathfinder and the staff.”
He accepted a position on the board and said he has never looked back or had any doubts that this was one of his life’s callings. “We all want to be proud of what we achieve and how we live our lives. Pathfinder allows all who are served the opportunity to have a better chance in life. People with disabilities are no different than you or I; they just need a little more help, compassion and guidance,” Burkhalter said.
This past November, Pathfinder marked its 40th anniversary with an evening event at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Burkhalter and other board members were in attendance, of course, but they also played a big role in the event’s success behind the scenes.
“John has an innovative mind, and he’s always willing to be there and help,” Stephens said. “That was our first big fundraiser, and John was very instrumental, along with other board members, in getting those numbers up and helping us. He called a few days before the anniversary event and said, ‘Don’t you worry, I’ve got all those tickets sold.’”
“We are a quiet and unassuming board,” Burkhalter said, “but when we need something to help those we serve, we all pull together to get the mission accomplished.”
What’s next for Pathfinder? Stephens said the organization wants to expand its services even more. Pathfinder now serves more than 1,400 Arkansans and recently opened Pathfinder Academy, which serves sixth, seventh and eighth grade students with autism spectrum disorders. Stephens said there are clients out there who still need the organization’s services, and Pathfinder plans to get its mission in front of these people this year.
(To learn more about Pathfinder or to get involved with the organization, call 985-0528 or visit PathfinderInc.org.)