Fayetteville jewelry store founder Bill Underwood dies at 90

William “Bill” Underwood, Founder and Chairman of the Family Business Underwoods Fine Jewelers He died at his home in Fayetteville on April 2 after a brief battle with cancer in downtown Fayetteville. he was 90 years old.

The Central United Methodist Church of Fayetteville, Underwood’s church since 1959, will hold a funeral service on Thursday (April 6) at 2:00 p.m.

Click here for the obituary.

Craig Underwood is the president of the company and became the majority business owner about 14 years ago. He has worked with his father since his 1987. Bill Underwood started his business on Dixon Street in Fayetteville on December 27, 1957.

Oklahoma native Bill Underwood spent four years as a watchmaker in the Navy before creating GI Bill. He went to Norman’s University of Oklahoma to study business and accepted a job in watchmaking for John Roberts, a company that specialized in manufacturing class rings.

After his first semester at OU, John Roberts offered Underwood the opportunity to manage the company’s small retail store in Fayetteville. After spending several months in Fayetteville, John Roberts offered Underwood the opportunity to acquire the struggling store outright.

In a 2017 interview, he told Northwest Arkansas Business Journal: “So they sold it to me on credit for $1,000. And that’s how we got started.”

Success took time. The first store, adjacent to the current Underwood store, primarily sold Fraternity his jewelry. Underwood lived in the back of the store, carried all classes at the University of Arkansas, and was the sole employee.

“When I was in class, the shop was closed. When I finished class, I opened the shop,” he recalls. “We had a little product, but not a lot. And we didn’t have a lot of money to reinvest in the business.”

He hired his first employee in 1958, married his wife LeAnn the same year, and in three years successfully paid off the $1,000 loan he received from purchasing the business.

Underwood received a business degree from UA in 1961. Also in the same year, the store met the stringent requirements to obtain the Accredited Gemological Lab designation from Arkansas’ first jeweler, the American Gem Society (AGS).

It marked the beginning of a new era for Underwoods, highlighted by the construction of the current building at 611 W. Dixon Street. Completed in 1966, the original design was the brainchild of the late E. Fay and his Jones, a nationally acclaimed architect and designer. Based in Fayetteville.

Bill Underwood

Jones approached Underwood and offered his design services in exchange for office space in the new building. Underwood agreed to this, and Jones used his second floor as an office until his death in 2004.

Over the years, Underwood has earned dozens of industry recognitions on a national level. In 1970 he was elected to the board of directors of AGS and in 1978 he was selected by the Smithsonian Institution to create unique jewelery pieces for the Smithsonian collection, one of only 33 jewelers in the United States. became one of his

In 1987 he was elected president of the Gemological Institute of America and in 1991 he was inducted into the National Jewelers Hall of Fame.

Underwood has served on the boards of First Variable Life Insurance and First National Bank. He was a Mason in his 32nd class and a longtime member of the Fayetteville Country Club. Underwood has also served on numerous organizations, including the Fayetteville Civil Service Commission, the Dixon Street Improvement District, and Rotary Clubs.

Bill and Leanne Underwood have made numerous charitable contributions, including the Sam M. Walton Institute of Honor at the University of Arkansas, the Underwood Gardens donation to the Walton Arts Center, and the Fayetteville Public Library Media Room.

In 2004, Underwood was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Sam M. Walton College of Business and in 2019 received the Citation of Distinguished Alumnus Award.

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