Curtis & Jane Shipley: Baking the World a Better Place

When Shipley Baking Co. produced bread at its longtime Dickson Street location in Fayetteville, it operated as the Holsum brand, among others, and was the wholesale bread supplier for grocery stores and restaurants across three states.

Loaves were baked inside the iconic yellow brick bakery building in Fayetteville’s downtown district. Depending on the time of day, you could catch a scent of freshly baked bread wafting down Dickson Street. From there, the bread was distributed across western Arkansas, south as far as Mena, east to Tulsa, Okla., and north into southern Missouri.

“At one time, Holsum bread was on shelves all over this part of the country,” said Curtis Shipley, retired vice chairman of Shipley Baking Co. ‘“Don’t say bread, say Holsum.’ We bought the name for Arkansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri. We were running one hundred loaves a minute at the bakery in Fayetteville, and there was a mom and pop grocery store on every other block.”

If you were born and raised in Fayetteville or live here now, you’re reaping the benefits of decades of hard work by Curtis Shipley and other like minded community leaders to build and secure the city’s future.

Shipley, a Butterfield Trail Village resident, has served on the board of directors of Washington Regional Medical Center for 28 years and was a founding member of the Washington Regional Medical Foundation board. He was president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, and a longtime board member of the Beaver Water District, which brought a reliable drinking water source to the region, spurring incredible growth.

He served as chair of the University of Arkansas Foundation and the UA National Development Council, and was a member of the UA Board of Advisors. He also raised money for Save Old Main, the campaign that restored the signature building on campus — ever-visible from downtown — to its former glory and beyond.

In many ways, his efforts changed the face of Fayetteville.

When Curtis and wife, Jane Shipley, moved to Butterfield in June 2019, it deepened their already well-established bond with the Village. Jane’s mother, Irma Boyer, a longtime Fayetteville educator, was a beloved Butterfield resident for nearly 20 years.

Like her mother, Jane was also a teacher, and had returned to Fayetteville in the late ‘90s after years in the New York City area. She met Curtis after buying a home in the same neighborhood, and mutual friends played matchmaker. They married in 2002.

Today, the Shipleys are relishing time with family and friends, volunteering their support in the community, and enjoying the vibrant place that launched their love. 

“One love that Curtis and I share is an endearment for Fayetteville,” Jane Shipley said. “I spent lots of time and effort finding my way back to Fayetteville to live 22 years ago. We’ve grown from a sleepy little college town, where everyone knows almost everyone, to a bustling city of just the right size. I appreciate the growth and development that we have in Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas, and Curtis has been a big part of that.”

The corner on Dickson Street where the bakery thrived for 50 years.

Shipley Baking Company was established in 1920 in Fort Smith by brothers W.G. “Garvin” Shipley, and B.H. “Harry” (Curtis’ father) Shipley. The Depression soon hit, but the bakery business was booming.

The Shipley brothers opened additional bakeries in McAlister and Muskogee, Okla., and for a short time on the downtown Fayetteville square. In 1937, the Dickson Street bakery was built.

“In those days the bread wasn’t sliced or wrapped,” Curtis said. “It initially came to Fayetteville by train from Fort Smith. After things progressed, people just weren’t making bread at home as much anymore. The housewives… they went bonkers over sliced bread, and they’d hustle down to the grocers for loaves of it.”

Over the years, Shipley bakery produced Holsum bread, Roman Meal bread, Country Hearth, Soft Twist, Butter-Egg, Potato Bread and a number of other bakery products and items.

Curtis was reared in Fort Smith. After high school, he moved to Fayetteville to attend the University of Arkansas, where he earned a degree in marketing with a minor in economics. Then, he served six years in the military before returning to Fayetteville in 1962 to run the Dickson Street bakery. His brother, Harry Shipley Jr., ran the Fort Smith bakery operation.

As a downtown business owner and UA alum, Curtis knew many people in town and served on a number of boards, including the Fayetteville A&P Commission, First National Bank of Fayetteville, Bank of Fayetteville, Fayetteville Youth Center and Fayetteville Salvation Army. He also served as administrative chair of the board of directors at Central United Methodist Church.

On the Washington Regional board, Curtis was part of the campaign to expand the first hospital on North Street. Later, he served on the campaign to build the nationally ranked Washington Regional Medical Center of today at North Hills Boulevard and Fulbright Expressway.

“Early in the hospital’s history, board members and community leaders came together to plan for the future of health care,” Curtis said. “We realized that Fayetteville was going to continue to grow and we needed a hospital that could serve not only the city, but the entire region.”

Curtis also served on the board of directors for the Beaver Water District for 28 years. The district brought cities together in a collaborative effort to supply drinkable water to the region.

“The Beaver Water District was the first ever real example of the region working together in the common interest of doing something collectively,” he said.

Jane Boyer’s childhood home was in Fayetteville’s Washington-Willow Historic District. Her father, Paul Boyer, was an entomologist at the UA whose focus was on protecting the cotton industry in Arkansas. Paul met future wife Irma when they were students at Arkansas Tech University.

“Moving to Fayetteville in the ‘50s was such a highlight to our family,” Jane said. “My parents had gone to school here and always wanted to return. Other parts of the state had been very happy but this was a terrific new chapter and we loved it. My mother finished her degree in education plus a master’s degree, and my father centralized his work in one area.”

Jane graduated from UA with a degree in marketing and merchandising and considered a career in women’s fashion in New York City.

In 1964, Jane unexpectedly found herself teaching sixth grade and fell in love with it. She obtained a master’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas in 1971 and began teaching in New Jersey.

Jane lived there, just outside of New York City, for 27 years and experienced the art and culture every chance she could. But by the mid-1990s, she was no longer married and her children were grown. She was ready for a change.

In 1998, Jane moved to Ridgeway Drive in Fayetteville where Curtis had had his home since moving to Fayetteville in 1962. He was divorced, and Jane, a lifelong walker, walked daily with friends who kept telling her about a nice man in the neighborhood she needed to meet. (They were telling Curtis about Jane, too.)

“I finally got brave enough to call and ask her out, and I invited her to coffee,” Curtis said. “And she said ‘no,’ because she had to teach. So I said, ‘All right, would you care to go to dinner?’ And it was less than a year later we wed. We clicked pretty quickly.”

On their wedding day in 2004

Curtis and Jane each consulted their two adult sons (four total) and received their families’ blessings. They announced their engagement and were married four months later.

After they were married, Jane taught school for two more years, then she and Curtis traveled: to Australia and New Zealand, for three weeks in Ireland, by cruise to eastern Canada and the Mediterranean, and by river boat along the Rhine River.

In 1998, Jane started teaching at Fayetteville schools and later joined the district’s gifted and talented program, which was founded by Barbara Pritchard, another Butterfield resident. With occasional but “much needed” advice from her mom Irma, Jane taught elementary school in Farmington and Fayetteville for 12 years before retiring in 2005.

With her mom living nearby at Butterfield, Jane was able to visit her nearly every day. Irma Boyer, who first became an educator in Arkansas in the ‘30s, lived close to friends and family at BTV until her death in 2019. She was 109.

“My mother was beloved and the matriarch of our family,” Jane said. “I had 20 years with her here at Butterfield, and that was an extreme blessing.”

Retirement for the Shipleys these days includes as much time as possible with close family and friends. Curtis’ son David, wife Jamie and sons Rhys, 10, and Braden, 6, live in Little Rock. Son Neil, his wife Sally and their children Sarah, 23, and Harry, 21, live in Fayetteville.

Jane’s sons and their families live out of state. Jeff, wife Suzanne and children Cate, 7, and Wes, 5, live in Kansas City, Mo. John and Denice live in Brandon, Miss.

Jane is honored to be on the UA Library Advisory Board, and she also supports college opportunities for young women through the P.E.O Sisterhood. She and Curtis were both part of the UA’s recent Campaign Arkansas, which raised $1.4 billion for student, faculty, program and capital support.

“It really opened my eyes as to the why and how the university has developed as it has,” she said. “It’s been beautiful to see.”