Longevity in health is never a given and isn’t something most people take for granted. A marriage of more than 60 years is a rarity these days. A business that remains strong and vibrant beyond the half-century mark is the exception to the rule. However, Benton is fortunate to have one individual who wraps all of these amazing accomplishments into one bundle of lightning. His name is Lib Carlisle.
Since 1960, Lib has been at the helm of one of the most successful real estate firms in Saline County. Thomas Real Estate continues to be a fixture in the landscape of the city, a stone’s throw from the Saline County courthouse.
The business was founded by Robert Thomas. One of their first hires was Lib. But the story of this trio goes back further.
Lib was born in 1936 in a small house in an area that was, at the time, on the outskirts of Benton. Today, the house is gone, but it was located adjacent the new Regions Bank branch under construction on Military Road. Eight days after Lib’s birth, Lib’s father died. His mother faced the daunting challenge of raising a son on her own while mourning the death of her husband.
In stepped brothers Albert and Robert Thomas, Lib’s uncles. As he grew, the brothers taught him the importance of helping others. They became his father figures.
At the age of 14, Lib took a job at Smith Caldwell Drug Store as a soda jerk. The central location of the store next to the Royal Theater made it a popular place to shop and grab something to eat. People from all walks of life passed through the door every day, each one of them a potential lesson. He learned to talk to people, get to know them and show genuine interest in their well-being.
Time passed and Lib enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia where he met the love of his life, Sandra. They were married in 1958 and are still going strong.
Lib recounts the moment in 1960 when he received a letter from his Uncle Robert asking him if he wanted to join the new business, Thomas Real Estate.
“I got that letter and I said I’m going home!” And that’s exactly what he did. In 1965, the business was turned over to him as sole proprietor. “I owe everything to my uncles. They were there for me. They taught me the importance of taking care of your loved ones.”
For the past three decades, Thomas Real Estate has grown, but the circumstances through which the business came to be remain the foundation firmly planted in Downtown Benton where it all started.
Lib points to several subdivisions in the area that he has developed. They include the Dobbs subdivision in 1960, then came Watson Manor, Misty Meadows, Rolling Acres, Desoto Terrace, and currently Richland Hills.
So how does a business stay alive for 60 years in such a competitive industry as real estate?
For Lib, adaptability is the key.
“When we first started back in 1960, the only way to find a home was to contact an agent. These days, the Internet opens all kinds of possibilities for buyers to search for their home before ever stepping foot into an office or contacting an agent. You have to adapt.” he says. “Used to be I could only see my listings. But now, we can search online and I can find homes listed by other agents and sell them too! You have to change with the times.”
Across the years, Lib has seen his share of growth in Benton, but he attributes one moment in time when he saw the community get behind a project that served as the catalyst moving the city from a suburb of Little Rock to a fine city all to itself.
“The Event Center. That’s the point where everything changed.” In 2011, voters in Benton approved a bond issue to build an event center. In the fall of 2013, it officially opened and has been steadily booked since that day.
“Sure, we had businesses coming here before then, but it was the event center that the community got behind and said, ‘Let’s take a chance.’ Now we have more businesses coming here because of the success of the center. We don’t have to go to Little Rock for what we need anymore. We have everything we need right here.”
Benton is often described as a small town with lots of character. In that respect, Lib Carlisle and Thomas Real Estate fit right in. It also doesn’t hurt that the man out front is a bit of a character himself. From what he learned from his uncles, the customers at Smith-Caldwell, his clients in real estate, and, most importantly, from Sandra, you can rest assured that anyone that has spent time with Lib leaves with a smile on their face and a story to tell.