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The Grandpa of Turpentine Creek

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


When John Hollopeter arrives at work, he always takes time to greet everyone by name. He has a cheerful "Good morning" for Flip, who comes waddling out and stands up on his hind legs. Goober comes running when he sees John get out of his car. While others don't get up, they do respond to John's greeting.

"That's Miss Izzy," John said. "She's a pretty girl. Talk back to me, Izzy."

Izzy is one of the 100-plus tigers that call Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge home. Flip is a coatimundi, a South American version of raccoon, and Goober is a monkey.

Turpentine Creek also home to lions, panthers, bears, cougars and other animals that were adopted as pets and abandoned. They are fed and cared for by Tanya and Scott Smith and their staff with the help of a cadre of interns who consider John part of their extended family.

"They all call me Grandpa," he said.

John is actually an uncle by marriage to Scott Smith, who is the nephew of John's first wife. A former truck driver, he has worked at Turpentine Creek for a couple of years, driving the trolley for the habitat tours. It's a job John continues to do despite being diagnosed with bone cancer last year.

"I feel like I've got to keep going," he said.

Born in 1935, he grew up on a small farm in the upper Midwest where "life was all work," he said. He and his older sister walked to school in winter even when the plows had piled the snow so high, the power lines along their road were buried.

"I can hear my mother saying "Watch out for the power lines,'" he said.

In 1952, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves. His mother went to the recruiting office to sign for him because he was only 16. Attached to a reserve unit near his home, John remembers going every other week for training, then to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training. He was told when he finished that the unit would be going to the Far East Command, but John and a handful of others didn't get to go to Korea. So he put in his three years in the states, he said, receiving his discharge papers in the mail.

He put the discharge papers on a shelf of the cabin he built on 40 acres in Michigan. In the early 60s, he had a job picking up newspapers off the train and delivering them to towns along Lake Michigan. He returned home one morning to find the cabin had burned down along with everything in it, including the discharge.

"That's the last I saw of it," he said. "I probably should have done something about it at the time, but I didn't."

When he went to get a copy, he found out that a fire in St. Louis had destroyed thousands of military records, including his own. Efforts by people at the Veterans Administration to get a copy have failed, he said, as did an attempt by his older daughter in Michigan. He remembers the promises the recruiting officer made when he enlisted.

"I doesn't need a loan to build a house," he said. "I'd like to get some help from the V.A. for this cancer that I've got, but it doesn't look like that will ever happen."

In the meantime, he is losing weight. The interns take him out to dinner several times a week, but nothing tastes good, John said, and he has to force himself to eat.

"I know I'm sick, but I can't do anything about it," he said. "I can't afford it."

Coming to Turpentine Creek and helping any way he can helps, he said. Part of his job is to talk with visitors, making sure they have a good time. So he gets up in the morning, puts on his uniform and drives from his home in Berryville to the refuge, where he greets Flip and Goober, Thor the lion, Miss Izzy and the other tigers. A source of joy is seeing the animals released from enclosures with concrete floors into large, natural habitats with room to roam. For animals raised in cages, it's the first time they have walked on dirt or grass.

"It's something to watch," he said.

Only Miss Goldie, sitting under a picnic table with her head ducked under her wing, doesn't respond to John's greeting. But he doesn't care.

"I've got to speak to everyone every morning," he said. "It may sound silly, but sometimes they seem like your best friends."

Right In Your Own Backyard: A Wildlife Refuge


Story by: Jim G. Miller  Photo: Courtesy of Turpentine Creek

On scenic highway 23 about seven miles outside of Eureka Springs, there rests one of the largest wildlife preserves for big cats in the country. That refuge is called Turpentine Creek, and it has been a refuge for tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, and other endangered wildlife since 1992. “It’s right in your own backyard,” says Scott Smith Vice- President of TCWR. Smith began as a volunteer who devoted his services as a carpenter and welder to the refuge back in 1994 and has never looked back since.
“We invite everyone who has not been here to come see these magnificent cats. The spring season is the best time to visit.” Turpentine Creek originated when Tanya Jackson Smith’s family acquired a lion named “Bum” while they lived in Northeast Texas in 1978. Smith, who currently serves as president, was only 11 at the time but remembers the second lion they got in 1982 that was named “Shelia.” The family was successful at taking care of these two lions in their backyard up until 1992 when they moved to Eureka Springs to establish the Refuge.
The Jackson’s soon acquired many more big cats for their refuge when a breeder and black market dealer on the run showed up with forty two cats stuffed in cattle trailers. The Jacksons put a great deal of work into preparing the 500-acre refuge where TCWR now rests. Over time people from all over the country began contacting the Jacksons, seeking to relieve themselves of the burden of their big cats. TCWR is UDSA regulated and now rescues cats that have been abandoned, abused or neglected by their licensed or unlicensed owners.
“The cats go through about 1500 pounds of raw meat everyday,” says Smith. Eighty-five percent of it is donated as poultry by Tyson Foods. The remainder is donated by individuals or purchased using donations. If you are interested in volunteering or donating your time or money to this one of a kind refuge located right here in Arkansas, visit their website at www.turpentinecreek.org or visit them and their amazing big cats while it is still cool outside.
Cost for admission is $20 for adults, $15 for teenagers, and $10 for Senior Citizens. Children three and younger get in free. During the summer months, the refuge is open from 9am to 6pm. The park is open everyday of the year except for Christmas. Feeding time is a major highlight not to be missed which is usually around 5 p.m. during the summer. TCWR also offers habitat tours and educational talks given by refuge zoologists and biologists.
TCWR houses 130 big cats and other endangered wildlife. All of the cats are spayed or neutered and are given the best care possible. The refuge also offers photography opportunities as well as lodging. Some people have even been married there. Definitely worth the drive, this is a must see destination for every Arkansan and an opportunity to help support a place of safety for these animals in need.

Spring Break, But With Tigers - Texas students arrive to build habitats at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Channeling their inner tiger are from left, back row: Maddie Drake, Santiago Aguirre, Brittny Nguyen, Samna Rasheed, Jennifer Pimentel and UNT staff member Laura Pasquini. In front are Ruben Molina and Catherine Deblois.
Last year, Santiago Aguirre spent his spring break building houses for Katrina victims in New Orleans. The neatest part:

"We got meeting the person who was going to live in the house," he said.

Last week, Aguirre, a sophomore at the University of North Texas, helped create homes for homeless refugees with the help of six other UNT students. And they got to see one of the occupants step into her new home for the first time -- all four paws.

The new occupant was named O.D., and she was one of 30 tigers that Turpentine Creek adopted last year when Riverglen Tiger Refuge was closed. The North Texas students painted O.D.'s den and picked up rocks from her new backyard, a 20-by 40 foot space where the tiger can stretch her legs. The students also installed all the wire fencing around a habitat being built for Grumpet. Each new habitat will provide 1,000 square feet of space, more than two and half times that required by regulations.

The students arrived on Sunday, March 9 for the week, staying at the Retreat at Sky Ridge. They worked at Turpentine Creek from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and a half-day on Thursday, but also had time to sight-see. They visited Eureka Springs and Thorncrown Chapel, went fishing on the White River and horse-back riding at Bear Mountain. They hoped to get in some canoeing or kayaking on Lake Leatherwood before driving back to Texas on Friday.

"It's like vacation and a working holiday," Aguirre said.

UNT offers alternative spring breaks to raise students' awareness of social issues and injustice through volunteer service. Last year, senior Brittny Nguyen, an education major from St. Paul, Minn., chose to work at a food bank in downtown Memphis in order to enlarge her knowledge of how people live. This year, she wanted to do something completely different, and be in the countryside, so chose Turpentine Creek as first choice. While none of the students plan careers in animal science, it was the love of animals that led them to choose Turpentine Creek, they said. But it wasn't the tigers that drew Ruben Molina.

"I love lions," he said. "Me and lions, we get each other. The first thing I did when I got here was run up to Thor."

Thor lives in an enclosure in the old compound, but Turpentine Creek president Tanya Smith, vice-president Scott Smith and their staff of professionals and interns have been focusing on getting all the animals into larger habitats on the refuge's acreage. Habitats for the tigers from Riverglen Tiger Sanctuary, most of whom are elderly, are being built on Rescue Ridge, a remote section of the refuge where they can quietly live out their lives.

UNT students on alternative spring break trips also rebuilt homes in Joplin, Mo., Moore, Okla., and New Orleans for tornado and hurricane victimes; worked with children at the Cherokee Nation's Head Start Program in Tahlequah, Okla.; created care packages for the homeless in San Antonio, picked up trash on Galveston beaches and worked at facilities serving neglected children and homeless teens in St. Louis.

The Turpentine Creek contingent were accompanied by Laura Pasquini, a university staff member who is working on a Ph.D. in learning technologies with an emphasis on social justice. The group included three high school students who attend UNT: Maddie Drake of Paris, Texas; Catherine Deblois of Melissa, Texas, and Ruben Molina, of Mission, Texas.

Drake said the opportunity to work at Turpentine Creek was very rewarding.

"We got to start a project and finish it, and then watch the tigers released into the habitat," she said. "We got to see the difference we made in a tiger's life."

Students pay a small fee to participate in alternative spring breaks, and those who go on one of the trips tend to sign up again, university coordinators said. The University of North Texas is located in Denton. (unt.edu). For more information about Turpentine Creek, click here.

Privacy policy for Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC.
Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC. (the “Site”) is a non profit organization and as part of its mission to rescue abuse, abandoned, and unwanted exotic cats provides services to help sustain this mission. Unless otherwise stated, for the purposes of this privacy policy Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC. will be referred to as “Us” or “We.”
Subject to the privacy limitations inherent with email and non-secure Web sites, We are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy. This document outlines our privacy policy and explains what We do with the personal information that We collect from users of our Site.
We update this privacy policy from time to time and these changes to the privacy policy will be posted on the Site. It is your obligation to review this privacy policy. If you have questions or concerns about this privacy policy, you may contact us via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Cookies are stored on your hard drive, not on our site. Most browsers are set up to accept cookies, but you can configure your browser to refuse cookies or to notify you when you’ve received one. If you reject cookies, though, you will not be able to use the Remember Me feature.
We also collect IP addresses to help us understand how our visitors access the Site, so We can make our Site easier to find and to improve our users’ overall experience when they visit Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC.
For any and all of these services you will also be offered the opportunity to opt into a service that will send you alerts on issues selected by you or that We feel may be of interest to you based on your other voluntarily provided information. We also may send you updates about the services or features of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in an attempt to alert you to better ways to use our services.
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We disclose your name, address, phone number and e-mail address to the recipient of the message you send through our Site.
We will not disclose any information about individual users, except as described in this Privacy Statement, or to comply with applicable laws or valid legal process, or to protect the rights or property of Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC.
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Will We use your information for direct mailings?
You are using the Site to engage in the activities and media newsletters, etc., which is one advantage of the Site. Occasionally we may send you a message or mail regarding animals, laws, products and services or news that might be of interest to you. If you do not want to receive such messages, simply send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with “remove me from the turpentinecreek.org list” in the subject line.
In addition, We may contact you via e-mail for the following reasons:
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You can change or correct your personal information at any time and for any reason, or to unsubscribe from turpentinecreek.org  Just click on the “Safe Unsubscribe” link at the bottom of all e-newsletters.
What else should you know about your privacy?
Keep in mind that your name, address, and e-mail address, as well as any information about yourself that you include in the messages you send through the Site, will be read by the recipient of your message and/or his or her staff. That’s really the point of the Site – to enable you to communicate with Turpentine Creek staff members. Remember that whenever you disclose personal information in your messages you send to others, that information can be collected and used by the recipients and may even be forwarded to other parties.
What restrictions are there on the data I submit or post on turpentinecreek.org?
We reserve the right to review all public postings submitted to the Site including photos and Letters to all domain names ending in turpentinecreek.org or any email to Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC staff members. Letters that contain profanity, advocate specific violence against an individual or a group or other objectionable postings will be removed and will not be subject to refunds or other compensation.
Turpentinecreek.org is a privately run, non-partisan site, so We reserve the right to not publish any commentary for any reason We choose. Profanity and threats will (among other reasons) prevent commentaries from being posted. All postings are at our discretion. We reserve the right not to publish any letter for any reason We choose. Profanity, threats and objectionable material (among other reasons) prevent Letters to staff members from being posted.
Children’s Privacy Statement
This children’s privacy statement explains Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC’s. practices with respect to the online collection and use of personal information from children under the age of thirteen, and provides important information regarding their rights under federal law with respect to such information.
This Site is not directed to children under the age of thirteen and we do NOT knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under the age of thirteen as part of the Site. We screen users who wish to provide personal information in order to prevent users under the age of thirteen from providing such information. If we become aware that we have inadvertently received personally identifiable information from a user under the age of thirteen as part of the Site, we will delete such information from our records.
Because we do not collect any personally identifiable information from children under the age of thirteen as part of the Site, we also do NOT knowingly distribute such information to third parties.
We do NOT knowingly allow children under the age of thirteen to publicly post or otherwise distribute personally identifiable contact information through the Site.
Because we do not collect any personally identifiable information from children under the age of thirteen as part of the Site, we do NOT condition the participation of a child under thirteen in the Site’s online activities on providing personally identifiable information.
Questions Regarding Privacy
If you have questions or concerns about this Privacy Policy, our privacy practices, or your dealings with us, please contact us by writing to:
Scott Smith – Vice President of Turpentine Creek Foundation, INC.
239 Turpentine Creek Lane, Eureka Springs, AR. 72632
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