Embracing and celebrating the backgrounds, uniqueness, cultures, and perspectives of each of our associates is core to who we are at Arvest. Black History Month allows us an especially unique time to recognize the achievements of the African American community throughout history and today.

In recognizing Black excellence, we pay tribute to the past, embrace the present, and envision a future of greatness, for everyone, for generations to come. Join us as we share some of the inspiring stories of our associates that highlight their journeys and contributions to the communities we serve.

Growing up in Roland, Oklahoma, Rodney Shepard’s parents instilled in him the importance of love, care, responsibility, and accountability. Today, those traits, combined with the life lessons he says came with athletics, are evident in who he is as a person and leader. 

Sometimes you drive, sometimes you are in the passenger seat, and sometimes you are just the navigator when you are working with others,” Rodney said. “The important thing is to remain accountable. If you say you will do something, you follow through.”

In his youth, invitations to social events would go unanswered due to his introverted nature.  However, with the support and encouragement of friends, family, his wife, and teammates at Arvest, Rodney now steps out, faces fear, and seizes new opportunities. 

During a fundraising event in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 2016, Rodney repelled off the side of a building downtown. And on another occasion, he went parasailing with his wife. 

Rodney in a harness preparing to repel off of the side of a building giving the camera a thumbs up     

But learning to take risks is not the only thing that helps define his 30-year career at Arvest. He values and has embraced our strong focus on serving the communities where we operate.

“When I joined the company, we were encouraged to be actively involved in our community,” he said.

Which not only enriches his life but also allows him and others to better serve those we interact with. 

“This teaches us how to work with others and solve problems that we may not currently have but may experience during our lifetime.” 

Rodney’s community involvement has included serving in the United Way of Fort Smith Area, Single Parent Scholarship Fund, Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mercy Fort Smith Communities, Fort Smith Symphony, Springfield Board of Public Utilities and the American Bankers Association Community Bankers Council.As for the motivation that drives him personally and professionally? Rodney says it’s his wife, Lisa, two children, and three granddaughters. But the Shepard family extends beyond that, to include a foreign exchange student from Slovakia named Erika (pictured), who calls Rodney and Lisa “Mom and Dad.” 

Rodney and his family welcoming Erika at the airport     Rodney smiling with his family

Rodney says Black History Month is a deliberate time of reflection, appreciation, and celebration – not just of the journey but also of the significant contributions made by African Americans. 

“It is a time for inspiration for others so they can see no matter how long the journey, how difficult or easy it may be, you must stay the course.”






Few people have the opportunity to grow up surrounded by diverse cultures, religions, and with a global perspective like Iffy Ibekwe.

Born in Benin City, Nigeria, and raised in the Middle East, she called places like Dubai (UAE), Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), and Doha (Qatar), home. Through traveling the world, she constantly met new people and collected unique experiences along the way.

Iffy smiling in Mexico     

Iffy eventually finished high school in Sugar Land, Texas, and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with her undergraduate and law degrees.

And, just as her early years were critical in shaping her as a person, Iffy’s latter years proved the same. In law school, she got to know a professor who also became a mentor.

“Professor Sarah Buel was such a motivational person in my life,” Iffy said. “She spoke about life to me and encouraged me and my professional pursuits. [Buel] was an example of someone who truly overcame so many odds. It was wonderful to have her as someone who walked by me in that season of life.”

Today, meeting new people and growing alongside them is still a large part of Iffy’s life, showcased by her involvement in the weekly “Coffee Break” hosted by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team at Arvest. These sessions offer associates the opportunity to learn and engage in thought-provoking discussions and gain practical tools and techniques to enhance their work and personal lives.

Iffy and her husband Chi have four children and love to be active. Additionally, they participate in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and through that, have been able to become a second family to another child. Iffy says hanging out with their “Little” and attending his activities brings them much joy.

Iffy and her family     Iffy and her children

She describes Black History Month as a time of celebrating and commemorating the challenges and triumphs of African Americans in the U.S. As an immigrant, she gained valuable insights from her ongoing study of U.S. history. One quote that has left a lasting impression on her is:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Growing up in Asbury Park, New Jersey, meant a juxtaposition of experiences for Candace Foster. On one hand, she says, the community witnessed race riots, while on the other, beach-goers were vacationing along the shore.

The diverse environment of this “melting pot” left a lasting impression. It shaped her perspective and taught her to embrace and appreciate all cultures while living as she was raised – to be Black and proud!

Candace joined the U.S. Air Force at 18, and after finishing basic training in San Antonio, Texas, she served in various locations including Washington, D.C., South Dakota, and Korea. 

Candace and her husband, also a veteran, enjoy spending time together on their land in Oklahoma alongside their dog, Suzi Q, and chickens. She describes herself as a “worker bee” and loves getting things done. 

That includes getting things done in her community. She has served as a volunteer for “Night to Shine,” which provides individuals with disabilities the opportunity to come together and enjoy a prom night. 

Night to Shine is just one of the ways she helps reach her daily goal of making someone smile. Candace cares about people and takes the experiences she has lived through to help her build relationships. 

Candace and her husband smiling     Candace volunteering     

“I made a commitment a year ago to find a place to get some time outside myself every month,” she said. “It is a joy and always makes me want to do it again.” 

She is active in our Associate Impact Groups, where she develops, learns, and gets involved through volunteerism. Her personal mottos include a song from James Brown, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and the phrase, “Save money, and get to know and invest in the people in front of you.”

Candace says Black History Month is a time to reflect and honor those who have contributed to the United States. 

“Acknowledging our past constitutes growth,” she said. “If you do not acknowledge where you have been, how do you make a better future? Our past is what helps to shape our future, so for me, I have a rich history in my culture.” 

If there is someone who embodies a commitment to community, it’s Virgil Miller Jr. 

His dedication to the Little Rock, Arkansas, area is evident, having received the Willie Oates Volunteer of the Year Award, Arkansas Humanitarian of the Year Award, and the Inaugural Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award. He currently serves on the board of Arkansas Capital Corporation, is the Ward 1 Director of the City of Little Rock, and is an active member of his local church.  

“You never know the effect you may have on someone when you volunteer,” he said. “I am especially proud I have a chance to do that and that I work for an organization like Arvest that encourages community involvement.”

For the Millers, community is a family affair. Virgil says his daughters are also heavily involved in volunteer work. 

“They come by it honestly,” he said. “I’m very proud of my daughters’ accomplishments and active community involvement.”

Virgil was raised in Berkeley, California, and during his 7th grade year, his family relocated to Arkansas, where he later graduated from Arkansas Tech University.

During his 10 years at Arvest, he has served in community development, working with investment programs such as the Housing Assistance for Veterans (HAVEN) program. HAVEN was designed to assist with modifications to homes of U.S. veterans and active-duty service members who became disabled as a result of their military service. Or, the funds can be awarded to Gold Star Families that were impacted during this time frame for home repairs/rehabilitation. These efforts, he says, define some of his most meaningful career work. 

Virgil says discipline and striving for success have been essential character traits throughout his career. He learned them from his father, who said, “No matter what you do, be the best at it.” 

For him, Black History Month means both celebrating and acknowledging the work yet to be done. 

“It should be talked about the whole year because that is what history is all about,” he said. “My history is 365 days a year.”