Josh Releford signs with Florida Southern



Staff Writer

Donning a brand new Florida Southern t-shirt, David Crockett High School senior Josh Releford signed his name to a paper that will write his future on and off the basketball court. But for the star point guard, committing to Florida Southern College is a ticket to a lifelong dream as well as a weight off his shoulders.

dsc_9453-2“It was really a stress reliever because I didn’t know if I was going to play college ball,” Releford said to the Herald & Tribune at his signing on Thursday April 13 in the Crockett library. “From the beginning of the season to the middle of the season, I didn’t know if I was going to play at all. This is something I always wanted to do. No matter what level, as long as I got to play for free—and to do what I love.”

Along with landing a spot with the Lakeland, Florida squad, Releford finished his senior season shooting over 50 percent and shooting 78 percent from the free-throw line. He also tallied 146 assists and 826 points in his senior season alone. Overall, the 5-foot-9 senior scored 1,210 points at Crockett.

“He’s a competitor. He has drive. He wants to be good and he’s not afraid to be good. When you’re not afraid, you’re not afraid to fail,” Crockett boys basketball head coach John Good said. “He can hit shots because he’s not afraid to miss shots. That’s what people don’t understand. He’s in the gym everyday. He’s taking shots. He’s like, ‘If I make it, I make it. If I don’t, I’ll take it the next time I get it.’ That’s what you’ve got to love about a guy like him. That’s why he’s going to be successful down there.”

DSC_0137It might have been a given that Releford would play high school basketball, but his choice to play at Crockett all those years ago came as a surprise to some. But for the guard who left Johnson City, Crockett was the way to get to his dream of playing college basketball.

“It was something that people said he was crazy for doing it, but he had a goal and he felt like this was the best place for him,” Good said. “And that proved to come true.”

“You know, he kind of took a chance on us and made a tremendous sacrifice to come over here and we obviously appreciate it, but he gave up something to get here,” Crockett boys basketball assistant coach Tony Gordon said just before Releford signed his name. “And we’re just hoping that sacrifice continues to pay off.”

Fast forward three years, and the Pioneers had reached the state tournament Releford’s junior season and for the first time in program history. However, the Crockett senior had to find a way to lead the squad to success the following year—after losing seven of the leading eight players on the school’s roster.

“As a leader and as a senior, really I just soaked in what we did last year and I brought it with me this year to go and give it to the young kids,” Releford said. “We made it far. And the group I had my senior season, I felt like I did good leading them and it just felt like a good legacy. Some people will remember me, I hope.”

For Good, Releford served as a leading scorer and team motivator, but he also refused to let the Pioneers settle, which is something Good certainly won’t forget.

“He took over a lot of leadership. Obviously we lost a lot of pieces from the previous year, but he stepped in there and didn’t let us go into places like we were supposed to take the backseat to anybody,” Good said. “He always tried to motivate our kids and let them know that, ‘Hey, there’s a standard here and we’re not going to let it down regardless of who’s on our team or not.’”

As Releford posed for pictures with his family, now all wearing their own Florida Southern t-shirts, Good stood a few feet from the young man he had coached for the past four years. The head coach looked back on all Releford had accomplished—and was accomplishing there on a Thursday afternoon at David Crockett High School.

“Josh came in as a young man and he matured,” Good said. “He set an example for other people and for other players to follow and he had the goal to play college basketball.

“And that dream is coming true today.”

Gubernatorial candidate talks state goals in Jonesborough


Randy Boyd


Staff Writer

Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd made his way through Jonesborough’s Historic Courthouse on Monday, April 10. But he wasn’t just there to tour the downtown landmark after visiting a Washington County Republican Women’s lunch—he was also there to visit community members and speak on his latest goals as he runs for Governor of Tennessee.

The gubernatorial candidate, who was also a Tennessee Department of Economic Community Development Commissioner, has worked on education initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise that offers free tuition for Tennessee high school graduates for two years at any community or technical college in the state. Boyd was also part of the Drive to 55, the state initiative of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. But for the Knoxville native, the work in bettering Tennessee education is just starting.

“We need to continue the Drive to 55. When I started it, we were at 32 percent, today we’re at 39 percent,” Boyd said. “We still have a long ways left to go, so as governor, that’s going to be my top priority to make sure that people get the skills they need to be able to meet the jobs of the future and the jobs of today.”

Those jobs are a part of Boyd’s three-pronged set of goals he is aiming to enact.

“If anybody really understands economic development, they realize educational attainment is workforce development which is economic development,” Boyd explained. “You can’t desegregate the three. So you’ve got to be able to invest in education. If you’re going to have the workforce you need, it’s going to attract the businesses you’ll want to have.”

Boyd is also wanting to get Tennessee in the top spot in the southeast for high-quality jobs. Tennessee is currently at No. 4. He is also focusing on reducing business taxes and rules and regulations for small businesses.

“I am a businessman and not a politician. I think one thing that will be different is I’m not going to define myself as being a great talker. I want to define myself as being a great listener. I’m going to work really hard to listen to the people across the state,” Boyd said. “In business you actually have very quantifiable, countable goals. I don’t believe in vague generalities. We’re gonna actually have very specific things we’re gonna get accomplished. We want to make Tennessee the state of opportunity.”

The state, which hit it’s all-time-high annual rate of deaths due to a drug overdose at 1,415 in 2015, is facing an opioid battle. Boyd sees this problem as a foundation which needs to be repaired before other goals can be met.

“Before we can be successful in any of those three objectives, we have to make sure we have a healthy population,” Boyd said. “One of the biggest threats today is the opioid epidemic. And in upper East Tennessee, it’s particularly acute. And we’ve got to find dramatic and urgent solutions to this crisis, Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to be successful in education or jobs or anything else we try to do.”

In gauging the needs of the state, the East Tennessee candidate said he’s looking at all areas of the Volunteer State.

“I think the things that are important for the entire state are also important for East Tennessee. When I look across East Tennessee, there are many places  that there’s not a good technical college closely. If you live in Johnson County, there’s not a technical college there. So we can tell them that it’s free, but we don’t give them a school to go to. So we’ve got to start making physical access as well as financial access possible.”

It’s these neighbors that Boyd is also wanting to aid; he was a part of TNECD’s initiative to provide grants to assist in improving economic indicators in Tennessee’s distressed counties. Now, he’s looking to continue that state-wide work.

“We’ve got to provide an opportunity for everyone. We’ve got too many of our counties that are struggling,” Boyd said. “Many of our counties are in what’s called the distressed category. Many of those are neighbors of Washington County. Johnson County, Hancock County, Cocke County are all distressed counties. Some of our others are on the bubble. So we’ve got to really double-down to make sure that our neighbors are doing well too.”

Eggstravaganza: Children gather for town-wide Easter fun

2017 Easter Eggstravaganza JBO - Photo by Whitney S. Williams (32)

Photo by Whitney S. Williams


H&T Correspondent

On April 8, a perfect spring Saturday, families wandered the sidewalks of downtown Jonesborough, loitered in the plaza of the International Storytelling Center, and congregated under purple blooms on the walkways and grassy areas of Jimmy Neil Smith Park during the Annual Easter Eggstravaganza.

“We came for the egg hunt,” Carlene Long, a first-time attendee of the event, said from her seat on a park bench in front of the International Storytelling Center at about 2 p.m. “We didn’t realize it didn’t start until later.”

2017 Easter Eggstravaganza JBO - Photo by Whitney S. Williams (17)

Photo by Whitney S. Williams

The Easter Eggstravaganza, organized by Main Street Jonesborough and Jonesborough Parks & Recreation, kicked off at 11 a.m. with an Easter Market — local vendors set up shop on the plaza of the Storytelling Center, offering Easter and spring-themed wares and gifts — but the main events took place from 1 to 3 p.m. and were scattered throughout the downtown area.

Allison Long, Carlene’s granddaughter, sat on the bench beside her with an empty white basket hooked on the crook of her arm, waiting to be filled with eggs. She showed off a stick only half-colored with fluffy blue cotton candy. The other half had been eaten away.

“I got to touch the [fire] truck and get cotton candy,” 7-year-old Allison said, grinning widely. “I’m going to get my face painted soon.”

The young visitor to Jonesborough traveled all the way from Lenoir City (near Knoxville) to attend the event and to visit her grandmother. Asked if she would attend the Easter Extravaganza again, Allison answered with blue-dye-tinged lips, “Yeah!”

In addition to cotton candy, face painting, and access to a fire truck (which many parents took advantage of, taking memorable photos of their children behind the wheel), there were also games to play, a petting zoo, free popcorn, children’s crafts, and photo opportunities with princesses and the Easter bunny. Law enforcement was also on hand with a police dog, which kids and adults alike flocked to meet.

“We were very pleased with the turnout,” Melinda Copp, director of Main Street Jonesborough said. “There were a lot of people in town.”

Many sponsors were involved with the Eggstravaganza, she said, providing the popcorn and cotton candy and other assistance.

“I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped out,” Copp said. “We had a lot of people and organizations involved, and without them it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The event, which has been held downtown for the past four years, has had some small changes over time, Copp said, but the heart of it has stayed the same. It brings people downtown and gets them involved with organizations and people on Main Street and in the Jonesborough community.

“My friend’s mother told me about this event,” said Rebecca Barlow, another first-time attendee and a resident of Unicoi. In her arms, she held 7-month-old Grant Barlow. Faith Addison Barlow, almost 3-years-old, tagged along at her side.

“(Faith) wanted to see the Easter bunny,” Barlow laughed. She gestured at the family vehicle, parked nearby. “We got here late and we were able to just pull up and park right next to the Easter bunny, so that was nice. The Easter egg hunt is a surprise.”

The hunt, limited to children 12 and under, took place in Jimmy Neil Smith Park. Children dressed in bright colors sporting Easter baskets patrolled the park grounds throughout the afternoon, anticipating the hunt. The park had been split into four parts, each one dedicated to an age group, and in advance of the hunt, children raced up and down the paths, looking for the area meant for their age group, scoping out the best egg hiding spots.

But Faith had more urgent things on her mind. She tugged at Barlow’s shirt, her eyes alight.

“The Easter’s bunny’s over there!” she pointed to a line of people in front of the courthouse  a line that led to the Easter bunny — before running off to wait her turn.

Barlow followed with a smile, joining the crowd.

On the courthouse steps behind them, a little girl in a pink dress hugged a princess, posing for a photograph. A family walked past carrying fresh popcorn, their faces painted, meandering toward their car. A man and woman with a small dog in tow strolled down the row of open shops on Main Street, peering in the windows, and shouts and laughter from the direction of the park heralded the beginning of the egg hunt.

It was another idyllic day in Jonesborough, and another successful Main Street event.

For information on upcoming events in downtown Jonesborough or to see photographs of the Easter Eggstravaganza, visit the Main Street Jonesborough Facebook page. You can also call the Historic Jonesborough Visitor Center at 423-753-1010.

‘Sister Act’ shares message of friendship



Staff Writer

Lead character Delores Van Cartier—as played by Eureka Inn innkeeper Katelyn Yarbrough in the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s presentation of “Sister Act”—stood in a black and white ensemble in front of her jiving squad of nuns. The club-singer-turned-nun said her newfound band of nuns were going to put the “‘sis’ back in Genesis.”

And that’s exactly what the JRT cast and crew accomplished with their comedic yet surprisingly sentimental rendition of the Whoopi Goldberg classic for family and friends night on Thursday evening.

Most know the premise of the story thanks to the 1994 hit movie about a singer who witnesses a murder by her lover and club-owner. The outspoken lead character then has to attempt to blend in amongst the group of nuns with which she is hiding in a sort of witness protection program. The story—full of booty-shaking nuns, odd-ball gangsters and one wildcard disco queen nun—stands on it’s own. But it was the cast that truly made the story come to life in Tennessee’s oldest town.

Yarbrough’s rendition of the lead character was stellar; from solid vocals on various musical numbers to first-class acting, it’s easy to forget she’s a community member and not the character she portrays. Meanwhile, the head nun, Mother Superior (played by Dawn Gentry), added a stark contrast to Yarbrough’s character and enough sass to last till the very end. And of course the wacky cast of nuns with some serious vocal abilities blended the perfect combination of comedy and talent.

“I’m just amazed that here in Jonesborough, a fairly small town, that we attract—and they don’t just come from Jonesborough—but we attract this quality of singers and dancers and actors,” Jonesborough resident and storyteller Pamela Miller said. “And it is a real asset to the community. And I just can’t say enough good about the leaders.”

It was also the cast’s use of the stage that further impressed folks like Miller who found themselves wrapped up in the story playing out in the small theatre.

“I’m amazed at how creative and how good they do with so little on the stage,” Miller said. “Because they really help the audience to use their imagination. And it’s like tonight, the audience just gets swept up in it.”

Ester Perisin, who used to be a Jonesborough resident and now resides in Chicago with her husband Gregory Perisin, enjoyed a stay at the nearby Eureka Inn. They were also dazzled by the small theatre’s ability to captivate the audience.

“I have see a community theatre before. I’ve been here at the repertory and I’ve seen the community theatre in Johnson City. So I know there is a lot of quality here,” Perisin said. “My husband is here for the first time and he was a little bit skeptical and I said there’s a lot talent in such a small town. And I think he now knows that.”

From roaring laughter at random disco-themed solos featuring characters like the club-owner’s henchmen and a love-struck policeman to the crowd’s inability to refrain from clapping on beat to a funky nun performance, the audience seemed to find themselves caught up in the show.

But it wasn’t all just laughs; Among the entertainment that stayed true to the classic story while also adding a few new dynamics, “Sister Act” also provided a lesson on friendship and sisterhood by the show’s end, bringing the story full-circle.

“I really liked the dimensions that they added and how they made the emphasis on the sisters and the relationships,” Miller said just a few feet from the cast who lined both sides of the sidewalk at the alley’s stage door. “That was the thing that carried it for me. It was their love and their willingness to stand with and for her.

“And to me, that’s part of the message of love.”

“Sister Act” will run from March 31 to April 23 at 125.5 West Main Street in Jonesborough. General admission tickets are $16, students and seniors are $14 and group rates are $12 for groups of 15 or more. Call 423-753-1010 for more information.

Walking with mastodons: Gray Fossil Site offers very old with a bit of new



Staff Writer

There’s a high school, a Dairy Queen, and a softball complex just a few miles off the main road that runs through Gray, Tennessee. But most don’t realize this tiny town is also home to the remains of prehistoric rhinos, alligators and elephant-like animals ready to be uncovered and restored at the Gray Fossil Site and Museum.

“One of the things about this place that people don’t realize is that this is a world-class fossil site. It’s a treasure for the entire world and it’s incredibly rare having a fossil locality like this where you have such a diverse deposit of organisms,” paleontologist and Director of GFSM and the East Tennessee State University Center of Excellence in Paleontology, Blaine Schubert said. “And they represent a time that we don’t have represented anywhere else in the entire Appalachian region. So what that means is that most of the plants and animals that we find are things that we’ve never found before. They’re completely new to science or they’re a long ways away from we knew they were before. So a lot of new animals get discovered.”

And now the Hand-On! Regional Museum that has been stationed in downtown Johnson City for over 30 years is headed to it’s new home at the GFSM. Here ETSU will team up with Hands-on! as a rare team of museum coordinators and paleontologists.

“The Hands-On! was really looking to grow substantially and move into a newer facility where they could grow,” Schubert said. “We were really wanting to do a lot more in public education but also in research. Once we realized there was the possibility for us to partnership where they (Hands-On!) would handle more of the day-to-day public aspect and where we could help them and oversee the science that was going out about the fossil site, it became really this synergy and excitement of basically doubling our whole program.”

For Hands-On!, a location change (which should be complete by 2018) will bring differences in the look of the museum, but Hands- On! executive director Andy Marquart is also looking to keep the heart of the regional museum right where it always has been.

“Our mission won’t change. Our goal is to be an extension of the classroom, to provide a safe place for families to come and create memories and learn together,” Marquart said, “We’re really looking at the space as an empty canvas for experiences we can have over time and really adjust on a day-to-day basis. And I think that’s what people will notice the most.”

Apart from a new location, the staff at Hands-On! will also work next door to the 5-million-year-old fossil site behind the building. The site has provided the museum with complete fossils of numerous animals like the red panda (that has been found in only one other place in North America), a venomous lizard, tapirs and short-faced bears.


Before the fossils are on display, they are studied, cleaned, and assembled in the lab at the site.

Before the fossils are on display, they are studied, cleaned and assembled in the lab at the site.

It’s served as the centerpiece of ETSU’s role with the site.

“Our goal to the general public is to teach them more about their natural heritage and more about how things have changed here overtime and get them interested in this sort of bigger picture of the world through time,” Schubert said. “It becomes pretty amazing to people when they realize that there used to be rhinos here. And there used to be red pandas and alligators. So it’s that concept that sometimes is really hard for some people to even believe.

“But when you’re at a place where you can show them as you’re pulling it out of the ground and putting it back together again that it is genuine and that it’s right there. It’s gets people a lot more interested in science and in discovery. And a lot of places don’t have the kind of opportunity that we have to show that hands-on approach, that right-out-of-the-ground science in action that we can do.”

Out of that ground also came a discovery that will take up much of these paleontologists’ time (and laboratory room) for the next few years; ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum registrar April Nye told the Herald & Tribune that remains from an elephant-like mammal with long tusks known as a mastodon were discovered in 2015. Though parts of the mastodon are yet to be pieced together, the lab holds a large mastodon skull incased in an enormous cast, a lengthy radius ulna bone and a few sections of the mammal’s tucks which are on display for visitors through the windows at one end of the lab.

DSC_5057 Mastodon tusk

A mastodon tusk can be spotted through the window of the lab where the paleontologists work on their findings.

“This one was also a surprise. We didn’t know what kind of elephant-like animal we had,” Schubert said. “There were a couple of different possibilities. And it turns out that what we have is one of the earliest and most complete mastodons in North America. But as people come out and see us excavating this summer and next summer, that’s one of the primary things we’ll be working on is this enormous mastodon. One of our new paleontologists that works on these kinds of animals has estimated that the weight of it was around 16 tons. So that’s one of the newer highlights.”

Prehistoric heavyweights aren’t the only fossils taking residency in the lab at the museum; Paleontologist Joshua Samuels—while examining a chipmunk footbone—explained the importance of also studying small rodent-type fossils which have also been found at the site.

“Some of these really small things, the useful thing about them is that they will tell you a lot about the environment but also, they’re really useful in helping to tell time,” Samuels explained. “A lot of them, they’re short-lived. They tend not to be very geographically widespread. Something like a mastodon, they live everywhere. They can walk from one place to another real easily, but something like a chipmunk or a gopher or a mouse, everywhere you go you find a different one. So they’ll tell you a lot about the environment.”


Paleontologist Joshua Samuels explained what all studying prehistoric rodents can tell the world about an area and a time period from which the animals came.

“Some of these really small things, the useful thing about them is that they will tell you a lot about the environment but also, they’re really useful in helping to tell time,” Samuels explained. “A lot of them, they’re short-lived. They tend not to be very geographically widespread. Something like a mastodon, they live everywhere. They can walk from one place to another real easily, but something like a chipmunk or a gopher or a mouse, everywhere you go you find a different one. So they’ll tell you a lot about the environment.”

Not only do these paleontologists have work to last them years but they also serve as living examples of a type of career the topics displayed throughout the museum can lead to. Marquart said.

“The lab is right there. You can see what they’re working on and the dig site is hundreds of feet from the back door of the museum,” Marquart said. “So you get this intimate experience with folks that are dedicating their lives to these ongoing discoveries and that’s something that we’re really really thrilled about. They get to talk to real life scientists and they get to see exhibits that they’ll never forget and they’re going to go home and tell their parents about and tell their friends about. That’s really the difference we’re into making and this opportunity allows that to grow.”

Marquart also said the collaboration with these paleontologists also helps the GFSM’s work in presenting the community with a place where an interest in science can thrive.

“The general public is stuck a lot of times finding their own research if they’re interested in something or they’re seeing it on TV or they might come across it in some news article if they see it in their social media feeds,” Marquart explained. “Very rarely does the general public have access to actually go and talk to live scientists that specialize in something that’s happening like they can at the Gray Fossil Site.

“And we’re not saying that we want every child that comes through our museum that we have a specific direction for them—that they should be the next Nichola Tessla or the next major paleontologist, but what we do want for them is to find their own interest in science.”

From learning about paleontology to seeing firsthand the kinds of animals that used to roam East Tennessee, the site and museum is ready to continue educating the community—while also fascinating them with their discoveries right here at home.

“People quite often don’t know what’s in their own backyard,” Samuels said over the rodent fossil sitting on the table in front of him. “You might have something like this sitting at your feet.” “If it wasn’t for the road,” Nye said, “we wouldn’t know either.”

Aromatherapist blends oils, education



Staff Writer

From joint pain to the inability to sleep at night, Ann Boynton, the owner of Aroma-Sense Essential Oils on Fox Street in Jonesborough, has an oil for that.

“People have gotten away from this. And this isn’t new. It’s not new age,” Boynton said in her shop, surrounded by tiny glass bottles of her own brand of essential oils. “This was medicine before the pharmaceutical people took it away in the ‘90s. You would go to a doctor and he would have a long prescription and he would go to the pharmacist and it might be a week before you could pick up different things that they’d mix up. This is where it started.”

For Boynton, it all started in Boca, Florida where she first smelt the aromatic allure of essential oils at a lady’s booth at the mall. From there, she took classes to learn more about the essential oils, their medicinal properties and how they can aid numerous ailments. But It was the medical side of the oils that sent her to work with dermatologistsDSC_4957 and plastic surgeons to develop a love for skin care. And it was her interest in essential oils that sent her to England and France to study under aromatherapy expert Robert Tesserand and medical herbalist Martin Watt. And now she even has her own essential oil brand made from flowers and plants cultivated on farms in places like Canada and Texas.

But simply owning a shop full of scents, scrubs, skincare and permanent makeup isn’t her passion—it’s the oils and sharing her extensive education.

“I was retired twice. I decided to come back to life,” Boynton said, laughing. “I couldn’t stay because when I saw these oils out in shops and they’re adulterated and they’ve got different things that they put in it that makes it not a pure oil. I’m like, ‘People need to know.’”

These essential oils, which seem to have become increasingly popular, are used for their fragrances, but they’re also used for medicinal properties. Things like headaches and acne issues are treated with oils like peppermint and tea tree oil, but for the essential oil shop owner, it’s all about understanding symptoms and treating them naturally.

“In Europe all acupuncturists, they treat the symptoms before it becomes a disease, America, we wait until it gets to be a disease and then when it’s so far down the hill, it’s hard to catch up with it,” Boynton said. “Look at what they’ve done to some of the medicines that someone really really needs—they put it up 300 percent. In Asia, if you go to an acupuncturist, you pay him when you’re sick. You don’t pay him when you’re well.

“All these oils, all these flowers, everything has medicinal properties. From putting your feet in a footpath to smelling them on a pillow.” 

Boynton has books, folders and certifications throughout her shop to back up her education and knowledge. But it’s phone calls like the one from a customer whose pain had been relieved thanks to some peppermint oil from Boynton’s shop that solidifies the store owner’s belief in these oils.

DSC_4970“I can’t prescribe because I’m not a doctor, so forgive me for that,” Boynton said with a laugh. “But I can tell you, tell me something that’s wrong and I can tell you something that you can mix as a massage oil, to smell, to put it in bath water.

“I stand behind it. I stand behind all of it. The thing about it is, it works. And I’ve had thirty years. And I have a lot of formulas and I have a lot of books. This is something that has been my passion.”

Boynton also wants to educate people on the natural chemical balance she says essential oils can offer. From help in getting to sleep to finding an oil to help relax, Boynton is dedicated to all levels of oils and the people she comes across.

From customers like the one who called for advice on another ailment during Boynton’s talk with the Herald & Tribune to any interested customer that happens to wander into her shop, Boynton is ready to educate the world on the role these age-old oils can have in one’s life.

“I have a reasonable market. It’s not much because I’m selling the knowledge of the oil for mankind to get away from all this stuff and we’ve hurt the planet so badly,” Boynton said. “It takes just a little bit.”

“I don’t know how much longer I have on this earth, but I’m gonna try. I wanna try and do as much good as I can.”

Aroma-Sense Essential Oils is located at 105 Fox Street in Jonesborough. The store’s hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 8 to 5 p.m. Boynton will also hold free Sunday classes and the next session will be on Sunday, April 30 from 2 to 3 p.m.

African children drum up education opportunities

DSC_4743 Full frame


Staff Writer

The stained glass windows in Jonesborough United Methodist Church typically pour light into the sanctuary, but this past Sunday, nothing beamed as brightly as the smiles on the faces of the singers, dancers and drummers of the African Children’s Choir.

The choir made a stop in Jonesborough as part of their American tour filled with contemporary Christian songs as well as traditional African songs.

DSC_4755The group doesn’t just travel throughout the world to entertain and fill up every church pew in a small Tennessee town’s church though; the ACC is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to help pay for education through the donations accepted on tour for children in African countries.

“They know from their experiences in Uganda that not everyone gets schooled,” ACC volunteer, Kyle Serquinia, said. “I mean, that’s evident every day of life. They understand how valuable school is and they are very serious. They love the opportunity they have to go to school. And they do understand that by going on tour they are helping to raise more money for other kids to go to school as well.”

Not only do these dancers and musicians help better their education when they return to their home country, but the kids also get to experience America.


ACC volunteer Kyle Serquinia is traveling the country with the choir.

“These kids before coming on tour had never been outside of Uganda. And for many of them had never been outside of a 20-mile radius,” Serquinia explained. “On tour they see new things, new experiences every single day. It just kind of blows us away that it’s normal for us. Having hot showers, that was a big thing to them—having lights everywhere that you just turn on and off with a switch. One of the very first things they recognized when we were driving through America was how clean the roads were. It’s fun to just experience America through their eyes.”

Their experiences don’t just affect their lives today or even just when they get back to Uganda; Serquinia said that before he became a volunteer with the organization, he saw first-hand what ACC had afforded these children, and also, their futures.

“I got to meet a lot of young adults, men and women in their 20s and 30s who got to tour as a child and are now adults, professional teachers, doctors, nurses and lawyers and business men.” Sequin recalled. “All of them said to me, ‘We would not be where we are today without the help of this organization.’ I just got blown away by the organization, the work they do and how it changes children’s lives to where in 15 or 20 years, they’ll be doctors, teachers, lawyers and other professionals and will help them not only provide for themselves, but also change their community.”


It was standing room only at the Jonesborough United Methodist Church on Main Street on the night of the choir’s performance.

“This education will not only help themselves, it will help their family and their whole community,” Serquinia said. “When they go back to Uganda they’ll have their education paid for from now all the way through the university level. That education will give them the opportunity to do great things and to build up their communities and help themselves and help other people.”

Still singing a song of giving: For Novelty Band, music is about fun, sharing

XLighterThe Jonesborough Novelty Band provides yuletide entertainment at the Knight House


Associate Editor

It’s about so much more than the music. It’s also about the giving.

Since 1992, the Jonesborough Novelty Band has entertained visitors to Tennessee’s Oldest Town at festivals, schools, churches—any place where folks are having a good time.  The “three guys who love to sing” are Sam Burke, Mark Calliham and Terry Countermine.

“We don’t do elevator music,” said Countermine.  “The fun we have is because of audience reaction.  As long as our audience keeps coming, we’ll keep singing.”

Audience participation is the group’s specialty.

But the band does more than just entertain with fun music and audience interaction.  Each year 90 percent of any proceeds from their appearances benefit Habitat for Humaniy. The money collected during the years now exceeds more than $50,000.  Countermine said, “We have raised more money than it takes to build a house.”


Mark Calliham

They raise that money playing a variety of songs. “We like the music of the kind that was played by the Kingston Trio,” Calliham said, “We tend to play music that has been around for awhile.”  As a historical reference, in 1957 the Kingston Trio emerged from San Francisco’s North Beach club scene bringing the rich tradition of American folk music into the mainstream.

The group’s repertoire includes 600 to 650 songs.  “You can play about 40 songs in an evening,” said Burke. To choose selections, he added as an example, “We get together before Christmas with our song book.”  The book is titled “Life’s A Song – Sing Along”.

Countermine put together the original song book while working on his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Penn State University.  He put the songs on computer cards. They are now printed in a songbook.  The Novelty Band has distributed hundreds of books.  Countermine said they usually tell their audience the books are handed out, “Keep the book if you make a $10 donation to Habitat for Humanity.”

The band’s history dates back to downtown Jonesborough in 1992 at a restaurant with a Blue Tick Hound in the window.   “It started because of Steve Bacon’s Coffeehouse,” Countermine said.  “I told Steve I would provide music for the Storytelling Festival.  I called my brother and one of my best friends to help.

“Steve told me about Sam. We sang together for the first time at Halloween, 1992. Mark joined in December for some Christmas sing-alongs and the rest is history.”

The Novelty Band uses banjo, guitar, upright bass and a variety of other instruments to lead crowds in sing-along-songs.  Christmas bells are handed out to participants during the Heritage Alliance’s Progressive Dinners. The trio distributes kazoos when they perform before elementary school audiences.

“I bought a whole bunch of bells and made 40 sets,” Countermine said. We hand them out at Christmas time“. And when we play in front of children, we give them kazoos. We have a whole set of kids songs. We learned quickly that you can’t hand out the kazoos too soon.  Once the children have them, it is like having a swarm of bees in the room.  Now we wait until the last 10 minutes of the program before handing them out.”

“We also have a home-made Applause Meter,” Countermine said.  “The lights go on when you make a lot of noise. The more noise, the more lights go on. We have taken the Applause Meter to several sing-alongs.”

The group also has a “Git-Fiddle.”  It is a homemade instrument that’s a one-person rhythm section.  “It’s always a big hit when we add it to the group,” he said.

Burke said during the band’s “peak years” they were playing 50 times a year at various events. They have participated in the Jonesborough Days and Christmas Parades for more than 20 years. During one stretch, they won 1st place in the summer parade four years in a row.

Other appearances have included performing at the Eastman Lodge in Kingsport, at the Yarn Exchange, for Halloween Haunts and Happenings, for the Jonesborough Days kickoff supper and at the Jonesborough Methodist Church for Appalachian Christmas.  A couple of other gigs have been on Valentine’s and Saint Patrick’s Day at Cornbreads plus a featured performance on Groundhog Day.

The band has traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina for a performance on behalf of Habitat for Humanity.  They played at the “Best Friends Festival” in Norton, Virginia for three years to benefit the fund raising efforts of the local Volunteer Fire Department. The Jonesborough Repertory Theater has used the trio in a benefit concert.

Seniors are a favorite audience for the Novelty Band.  “We sing the old songs,” Calliham said.  The group performs almost every New Years’ Eve at the Colonial Hills Assisted Living Center.  However, this New Years gig does not begin at midnight but at 2 o’clock in the afternoon so the audience can retire early.

The band will also play and sing for wedding receptions.  However, before booking them, Burke said, “You should come hear us if you have not heard us before. Our music is a bit different from other bands.”  Audiences must listen to the Novelty Band in live performance to understand why “novelty” is part of the name.

On one occasion, about 20 years ago, Terry’s wife, Sandy, gave him “several hours” of studio time as a present.  JNB made their first – and only CD. “It never made the charts,” Countermine said with a smile.

XNoveltyTerryThe only “professional musician” in the group is Burke.  He remembers bagging groceries when his father said, “If I could make one-half the money, he would put up the other half for a musical instrument costing $75.”

“I started playing in 1964 – the bass,” Burke said.  “I played music while in the Army.  When I got out, I went on the road as a professional musician.  When Sam moved back to the area, he played in the Johnson City Symphony, as well as many other local bands.

Burke has been an engineer, teacher, musician and an educator.  He worked for a number of years with the Wellmont Health System maintaining their medical equipment. On occasion, he would have to leave a Novelty Band performance for an emergency repair of life saving equipment at a Health System hospital.  He currently is an associate professor in the Department of Computing at East Tennessee State University where he obtained both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. His faculty web site states, “When not teaching, Sam plays, creates, eats, sleeps, edits and in general does anything and everything music.”

     Calliham grew up, played and sang in a family that enjoyed music. He was in 5th grade when his father got him a guitar.  It was a hand-me-down from his brother – an Electric Silverton.” His philosophy of music is “If it is not fun, why do it?”   

     By the 9th grade, Calliham was playing with a group called “The Ambassadors.” He said, “We wore yellow shirts and paisley ties.  We played beach music.”  He went to Tennessee Tech University where he majored in chemical engineering. As part of his education, Calliham was in a Co-Op project at Huntsville, Alabama and found the time to join a group playing “honky-tonk” and Rock-n-Roll music. The chemical engineer continued to enjoy playing the guitar while employed by Eastman Chemical from 1973 until his retirement in 2011.

   Recently retired from teaching Computer Science courses at ETSU, Countermine said he remembers taking music lessons in the 4th or 5th grade.  At one time he played the tuba.  He now plays the banjo, bouzouki and ukulele. “We all sang – we all loved to sing,” he said about his family. 

     After high school, he went to Alliance College in Pennsylvania on a basketball scholarship and later was an assistant basketball coach at the school. Also a mathematics teacher at Alliance, he left the college for graduate degree studies completing his doctorate in computer science at Penn State.  For Countermine, “Music was always about having fun.”

     With the combined musical experience of more than 100 years, the trio has been described in one newspaper story as having “spontaneous personalities.”  They all agree, “We sing good harmony together.” The ‘three guys who love to sing” will have looked at the chord structure of a piece of music before they bring that new song to their play list.

      However, Calliham said, “We play on eye contact as a means of communicating with one another.  We play off the crowd.” In the final analysis, he said, “We live by the code that we don’t want to peak too.”

Turning a page: Town Hall ‘mama’ gets ready for a new chapter




Tears are flowing freely at Town Hall this week as administrators, staff and the community prepare to say farewell to a longtime fixture at 123 Boone Street.

“You’re the linchpin,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe told Virginia Causey before an audience at Monday night’s Board of Mayor & Aldermen meeting when Wolfe declared Friday, March 17 — Causey’s last day as a town employee — as Virginia Causey Day in her honor.

“We love you, Virginia. You’re heart is as big as this room if not bigger. And I can’t help but think that the culture of this town has been profoundly influenced by (you).”XVirginiaCraig

Causey will retire after almost 40 years with the town, getting her start many years ago in the two-room old town hall now occupied by Jonesborough’s Corner Cup.

That was back in 1971, she said, and little did she realize the adventure and the strong relationships that waited ahead.

“At that time, I was the only female that worked for the town,” Causey recalled. Everything was done by hand and Causey not only took care of town business, she also fielded fire and police calls — sort of a one-woman operation. When Causey and her husband, Bud, adopted their son, Frankie, she quit to spend more time with her family.

But the lure of Town Hall couldn’t be denied and Causey returned in 1983, dedicated to the well-being of staff and community every since.

She loves this town, she said, which has been her home for her entire life. And she tries to hold tight to her belief that she must treat everyone she encounters with love, patience and kindness.

In that pursuit, Causey has become “mom” to more staff members than she can list, and they have become her family, she admits. “Since I’ve been working here, I’ve lost so many family members,” she said. “My mom. My dad. My brother. My sister. It’s so different here,  how everyone just engulfs you.”

That, Causey said, is why it has taken her so long to finally retire. She had been talking about it since turning 65. Causey turns 69 today.

“Bud and I have been married for over 50 years,” she said. “We’ve known each other all our lives because he lived beside me growing up.”

Still she hesitated, until this past September, as she and her husband were talking. “Bud said to me ‘You will never set a day. You’re going to work until one off us dies.’” Causey recalled. “After he went to bed that night I went in there and started to write my letter of retirement. It’s just time.”

XVirginia3But that doesn’t mean it’s easy — this decision that Causey calls one of the hardest of her life.

“I love all these employees,” she said simply. “I’ve worked with so many of them. I’ve nurtured them. I’ve been with them through divorce. I’ve been with them through sickness. I’ve been with them through births.”

And these employees have loved her back.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” Town Operations Manager Craig Ford wrote earlier this week. “Your guidance and encouragement have helped me so many times. May God bless you in your retirement as you have blessed me.”

Other comments were just as inspiring.

“Virginia is like your best friend, mother, guardian angel and Number 1 supporter all rolled into one,” said Town Administrator Bob Browning.

“I have worked with Virginia for over 27 years,” wrote Lorena Cradduck. “During this time she has demonstrated over and over that she truly cares for all employees for the town and our citizens regardless of the situation. Her little shoes will be hard to fill.”

As for Causey’s sidekick and work “sister” Donna Freeman, her message have summed it up best.

“Thanks for all the memories and fun times,” she wrote. “Love ya!”

Ramsey makes stop at Kiwanis to advocate school voucher plan



Staff Writer

Former Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s black truck rolled down Second Avenue in search of the small yellow building in which he’d be talking with the Kiwanis Club of Jonesborough. Ramsey wasn’t in Tennessee’s oldest town to talk East Tennessee State University basketball (of which he’s a fan) or to explore the nearby downtown streets of Jonesborough.

He was on a mission to talk to Tennesseans about the Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“We don’t understand it in Northeast Tennessee because we have great schools. But there are some areas like Memphis, like Nashville that parents need a choice on where to send their kids,”  Ramsey said. “And I’m traveling the state right now trying to spread that word.”

Ramsey has travelled to numerous towns across Tennessee as part of the tour organized by Tennesseans for Conservative Action in favor of the bill that offers scholarships to students who are zoned for a school within the bottom five percent of schools in Tennessee. This would allow students from these low-success public schools—who must also be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—to attend a participating private school.

Ramsey said the system, as it is now, only allows a family two decisions in making sure their child attends a better school.

“We have school choice now for parents that have means,” Ramsey said. “You either have the money to send your kid to private school or you simply move. For those kids that are stuck in those failing schools in the inner city, I think they need some kind of a voucher system.”

Though the bill has gained support from many Republicans in the House, it comes with opposition as well; Ramsey said many school boards are not in favor of the act due to the fear of pulling money from public schools and putting more money into private schools.

“I’ve heard that it’s taking money away from public schools and stuff like that,” Ramsey said. “But to say that, you have to say that I’m more for the system than I am for the student. And the way most of these programs are designed, half the money stays with the school system, half goes with the students.”

As for students who might fall behind at their new private school thanks to these vouchers, Ramsey said individual education plans where multiple faculty and staff — along with the student and his or her parents — can create a plan to keep the student on the right track can also be of assistance.

Ramsey also said the bill wouldn’t really affect Northeast Tennessee.

“It won’t affect (an area like Jonesborough) at all. I really don’t think so,” Ramsey said “That’s what frustrates me at times, that we have people that aren’t necessarily for it around here when it won’t affect Northeast Tennessee at all. You’ve got to think, we’re about raising the whole ship, the whole state of Tennessee, not just us. We’re the example, not the problem.”

Ramsey also has a focus on higher education. The former Tennessee Lieutenant Governor is now on the East Tennessee State University Board of Trustees. And in his post-political career, he’s ready to help ETSU adapt its policies to that of the region.

“What works for the University of Memphis doesn’t necessarily work for East Tennessee State,” Ramsey explained. “So we passed a bill to allow each of these six four-year schools to have their own board. So now we can decide what majors we need at ETSU, what are the policies we need for ETSU. If we decide there’s a certain major at ETSU to get a good job at Eastman or somewhere else, we can do that over night instead of going through a big bureaucracy to get there.”

Boone students meet Holocaust survivors, journey into past

DSC_2760 With D-Lighting


Staff Writer

The Knoxville Civic Auditorium was filled to the brim with middle school and high school students filing in, making sure not to leave a single blue crushed velvet seat empty. On stage sat a single brown, frumpy leather chair where 87-year-old Eva Schloss would bring the crowd to tears and to its feet. It was here that Daniel Boone students got to experience a firsthand account from one of history’s darkest moments—the Holocaust.

Schloss shared with these students her experience as a 15-year-old girl separated from her brother and father and was forced to hide out in Holland with her mother. Betrayed by a Dutch nurse who turned out to be a double agent, Schloss and her family were shipped to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944. Russians liberated the camp 10 months after Schloss arrived.

Only Schloss and her mother survived.

Schloss is also known for her ties to Anne Frank, her stepsister and also the author of one of the world’s most well-known diaries of the Holocaust. Before Schloss’ mother wed Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, Schloss and Anne Frank met as young children in Holland. Schloss described for the crowd Frank’s big personality, interest in boys and her love for talking. She even told a story about how Anne once stood at the top of a staircase just to showcase her ability to move her shoulder in and out of place with a huge grin on her face.

The details of the historical figure’s personality along with the horrifying insight of life inside a concentration camp was brought to life for the 21 Boone students sitting in their auditorium seats. The Holocaust studies class, led by Major Sessis at Daniel Boone High School, afforded the students the opportunity to hear from someone who was a part of the event about which they’ve studied.

DSC_4270“It’s a big moment for us to step back as a country and as a nation to think why this happened, why people treated people this way, what drove them towards this hatred, and what we can learn from it and not let it happen again,” Boone student Emily Walker said of Schloss. “I was very honored to be able to witness her to come and to go through such a horrible time in her life—and be able to have the bravery to come up and speak about it.”

This isn’t the only survivor students like Walker have had the chance to hear from and meet; many of these students met Polish Holocaust survivor Shelly Weiner in Nashville along with a lawyer who tries people for genocide and a priest who has travelled throughout Europe in hopes of uncovering mass graves from the era.

For Boone student Cameron Felten, the moment he shook the survivor’s hand is one he won’t forget.

“It was life changing. From other people’s perspective it would just look like a handshake,” Felten explained. “But getting to meet someone that was brave enough to share their experience on something that grim, just something that she had a possibility of not surviving, I felt very, I guess important. It felt very important to do it.”DSC_4276

Weiner hid in barns, tunnels and holes in the ground on different farmers’ properties for more than a year during the Holocaust. The survivor’s experience also served as a new perspective for the students.

“She had to hide, so it was a different experience. It really was,” Holocaust studies student MaryBeth Sain said. “You kind of forget about all the people that didn’t go to these camps and what their everyday life was.”

Sain was also part of the play “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” that was set during the Holocaust. She played a teacher in the play that was put on by the theatre arts class at Daniel Boone. And to get into her role, Sain used her experience meeting Weiner to give her added motivation. She also said the experience gave insight to the Holocaust that most students might not have heard about before.

“It’s a lot of emotional strain to get the character right. Especially with a play like this, we wanted to try as hard as we could to just give some justice to these people. So it took me months to get my character down to where I felt like I could give some type of justice to her,” Sain recalled. “When I heard Mrs. Weiner, just hearing her story made it more real.”

“Sitting in the classroom and learning about it is one thing, but being able to hear a first-person account and be able to just see her emotion, and see her strength and see the pain in her face—yet she had enough confidence and knew how important it was to tell it. Just to be able to experience that really did help me with my character development.”DSC_4285

For English teacher Sharon Phillips, the combination of students learning about the history and details of the historical event from all of these experiences made their work such as “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” that much more meaningful. It’s also served as a life lesson for them as well.

“The students pulled together,” Phillips said. “And the way they did it—I cried every time I watched the rehearsal. Everyone who saw this, they came up to me and said, ‘Man, this play was something so deep. We’re not used to this.’”

“I think this experience has helped them get that cultural viewpoint and that historical viewpoint to be able to promote right here in their school to be kind to each other because of differences. So I think that’s been a key.”

On the overnight trip to see Weiner in Nashville, Phillips said an instance where another kid made a discriminatory comment about another student came about. For the instructor, she felt the lessons the students could learn from the Holocaust are important in this day in age.

“That really made me think these kids need to be exposed to this (lesson from the Holocaust), Phillips said. “Just some comments another student made about someone’s difference that really bothered me. And I thought, ‘There’s a purpose. This young man, maybe when he goes to this event, this will help him.’”

From hearing from not one but two Holocaust survivors to detailing their lives on the stage at Daniel Boone High School, these students have not only learned about this historical happening, but they’re also determined to remember what happened and the weight the event still carries.

“It’s a big thing for them (the students who heard Schloss speak). There aren’t many holocaust survivors anymore,” Walker said. “Now they’re dying off unfortunately and once they’re gone, if this next generation doesn’t pass on the story, we can’t forget and we never should forget. We need to carry on and pass it forward.”

Author stops in to visit Jonesborough Middle School


Staff Writer

Four hundred, hardcover  books awaited Nashville author Andrew Maraniss at a circular table in the library of Jonesborough Middle School last Wednesday. With Sharpie in hand and a line of students waiting for their moment to meet a real live author, Maraniss began scribbling his signature just inside the cover of his first book.

DSC_4198Maraniss is the author of “Strong Inside”, a story about the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. The story follows Perry Wallace through the Civil Rights era at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where Maraniss also attended. And on Wednesday Feb. 23, Maraniss visited and offered each student a copy of his book as part of Humanities Tennessee’s Student Reader Day Program. But Maraniss’ book is about more than just the struggles his character faced on the hardwood; it’s a tale of a trailblazing athlete who is still relevant to this day and time.

“The story is about the courage that it took for him to be this pioneer,” Maraniss said. “So it’s appropriate right now because it’s black history month, March Madness basketball tournament is about to get going, it’s a Tennessee story and this movie Hidden Figures that’s out right now is about these people that no one had ever heard of before.

“I consider Perry Wallace a hidden figure also. Most people have not heard of him. Yet he accomplished something that was very important.”

Apart from sharing Wallace’s story with the kids, Maraniss also shared the amount of work that went into writing his book. It took the “Strong Inside” author eight years to write and do research for the book. Jonesborough Middle School principal Brandon McKee felt having an author visit to talk to the students about being a writer was a good opportunity for the school.

“Everyday they read things all the time, but they never meet the author,” McKee explained. “They get to see that point of view: ‘Why did the author write this book? What was the purpose of writing this book?’ They get to hear that story and how their stories can come into a book and they can sell that book. And everyone gets to share that story.”DSC_4195 This is a nice one

The story Maraniss came ready to talk to the students about was originally a book for adults and was later adapted into a kid’s book. But for Maraniss, making the story into a young reader’s edition was a perfect fit because Wallace is a kid himself throughout the lunch sit-ins he witnesses as a kid in Nashville and through the discrimination he endured in his career. But Maraniss also said the story is relatable to kids and the struggles they face today.

“I feel like this is the most important audience of all. It’s not the adults that I’ve been speaking to for a couple years, it’s the young people,” Maraniss said. “So I think it’s a story that teenagers can relate to because he’s overcoming a lot of challenges. Whether the reader is into basketball or not, whether the reader is African American or not, I think all kids are going through different struggles of their own and maybe sometimes feeling excluded or different. And how do they deal with that? Perry Wallace is someone who is sort of a role model, regardless of what you’re background is.”

Sharing this story that first started out as a topic for a paper he wrote in college isn’t the only mission for the author; Maraniss also considers the importance of encouraging kids to read in all of the trips he takes while traveling to schools.

“I think it’s important to get books in students’ hands. Literacy is such an important issue,” Maraniss explained. “With my book, I’ve heard a lot of librarians say that their reluctant readers, those kids might be interested because it’s a sports book. It’s not just a book about basketball or sports at all, but the cover is a cool action shot of a basketball player so maybe kids that are into sports and watch sports on TV but don’t tend to pick up a book, maybe this book will appeal to them and get them to be readers. And they’ll start to read other things to once they start to realize they enjoy reading.”

DCHS senior strives to give back



Staff Writer

Among the high schoolers still meandering through the halls of David Crockett High School on a slow-moving Wednesday afternoon around 4 o’clock, Zachary Mills stood out in a suit just outside the library, ready to share his story and his heart for volunteering.

“Growing up in Northeast Tennessee, I was raised on stories of how people in the community would come together and help each other in times of need,” Mills wrote in the essay he entered for The Prudent Spirit of Community Award for which he was dubbed an honorable mention for the state of Tennessee. “This was reinforced in me each time someone would begin to tell the story of my premature birth, usually including ‘miracle’ somewhere in the story.”

Today, Mills is the one lending a hand to his community through his volunteer work with school clubs like HOSA, the FIRST Robotics Competition and community organizations such as the work he’s done with multiple ministries and the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City. But there was a time when the high school senior who has logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours throughout the past four years was the reason the community came together.

Mills was born around 23 weeks gestation and had a high probability of long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities. He was born with a hole in his heart, eyes still fused together and was given steroids for his lungs and heart to assist their growth. Mills was also diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity which can cause blindness.

“I always thought it was neat, the people’s dedication to me because the first 72 hours after I was born was the most critical,” Mills explained. “I thought it was amazing the medical team staff was that dedicated and put in that much time and effort.

“Kind of from that, I want to give back. That’s part of the volunteering, just being able to give your time. I volunteer to give back and I also think it’s going to help me later in life because when you volunteer, you’re learning pretty much how to work for free. You learn how to not want that instant recognition.”

Because of the dedication from the medical staff who treated him as a baby, Mills is aiming for a profession in the medical field, which also inspires him to get hands-on experience at places like the Veteran Affairs hospital. However, Crockett health science teacher and HOSA sponsor Cheri Wolfe said his schedule doesn’t keep him from exceeding expectations.

“He is a very busy student. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what he’s doing, that young man will always make it a point,” Wolfe said. “He will always say, ‘Is there something I can do for you?’ He’ll be the first person I see when I come to class and he’ll be the last person I see when I leave. And he’ll always say, ‘Mrs. Wolfe, is there anything I can do for you?’ If I’ve had a particularly busy day, he’ll say, ‘You look a little stressed. Is there something I could help you with that would make the day go along a little better?’ He’s just always thinking of somebody else before himself. It’s just refreshing. It’s so heartfelt and sincere.”

Part of that sincerity comes out through his personal experience as a premature baby. Wolfe said his experience has only made his work at events like the March for Dimes that that much more meaningful to him.

“I love that he makes it personally his (project) too. For instance, the March for Babies, that was something near and dear to his heart,” Wolfe explained. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do this.’ Because he had that experience in his life, he felt that much more connected to it.”

Mills hopes to gain experience through the extra work he puts in at places like the VA, but it’s also a way to make a difference in someone’s life in a very immediate way.

“It was just amazing to see how the smallest thing you do (can make a difference),” Mills said. “And you don’t even recognize you do it at first. There’s this one little veteran, he’s just asking where to go and I walked him there, talked to him. Most of the veterans come there for their treatments, but a lot of them don’t even have anyone to talk to. A lot of them come there to talk. I think it’s just amazing the VA has a program like that.”

The VA has also provided the student volunteer with life lessons he will most likely remember for the rest of his life. And these lessons, in addition to his own experience, have most often come through a veteran, much like his grandfather who fought in the Korean War.

“I’ve learned not to take anything for granted,” Mills explained. “Because one day, they go off to war happy, healthy and ready to fight, and they come back and have to get their legs amputated or they have shrapnel.

“One guy was doing work-based therapy and was on move crew with me. He took shrapnel—he was special forces—to the head, bullet through his leg, bullet through his side. But he didn’t ever think that he would ever walk again. One thing he always told me was don’t take anything for granted. He didn’t even expect to walk again, much less get out of the sands.”

Mills has collected many memorable experiences from people like the veterans he’s assisted at the VA, but there’s another story that sticks out in the HOSA president’s mind and further inspires his work; Mills is especially moved by the times in his life when the community came together to help his family, similar to the way in which he aids others in their time of need.

“My grandma, she had five bouts of cancer. She’s had it since she was in her late teens, early 20s,” Mills said. “Every time that there was a treatment that was needed, even though they lived on a farm and didn’t have a whole lot of money at all, money would show up in the mailbox. I think that’s just a community coming together.

“It might be small like shoveling a driveway, but knowing that I can do something that can make somebody’s day better, even if it’s just talking to them, that’s what makes me want to carve out my time—knowing that I can make a difference, hopefully.”

Artist creates beauty in glass



The rhythmic ping of a shard of glass ever so delicately placed on a swirl of green and blue that will soon be fired anywhere between 1,099 °F to 1,501 °F ending with a result of a fluted vase, a 4-piece plate, or a coaster is sure to complement any coffee table. This is how Karen Hitchcock, a seasoned glass fusion artist and McKinney Center teacher, spends many of her days.

As Hitchcock lays a sheet of glass beneath a blade to begin the glass fusion process, she tells how her life as an artist and instructor unraveled. Hitchcock comes from a long line of artists, she grew up in New York with parents who worked at the Corning Glass Center and a sister who was an accomplished potter. A young Hitchcock reminisces on visiting the Corning Glass Center for school trips, recalling that as the instant when her love for art first blossomed.

As her eyes are fixed on the minuscule glass piece in-between the tweezers she is carefully holding, she points with her other hand to a small kiln in the corner of her studio. “I’ve had that one since the beginning” Hitchcock says, alluding to a story waiting to be told through a simple object. Hitchcock once owned her own business as a custom picture framer until her husband bought her that small kiln, she then sold her business and got into glass.


When Hitchcock is asked to dot the moment in the time line of her life when she decided glass fusion was her true passion she would say, “When I began teaching at Rochester Arc and Flame.” Those students and experiences provided her with life-lasting inspiration that delivers her daily motivation.

One of the things that drew Hitchcock to Tennessee would be the lower cost of living and one of the cleanest lake in the world, Watauga Lake. However, one of the things that keeps her in Tennessee is the McKinney Center in Jonesborough.

Hitchcock’s first experience with the McKinney Center demonstrates the friendly and welcoming nature that is typical of Jonesborough. Hitchcock happened upon the Art Glass gallery on Main Street, amidst searching for a piece for her kiln. There she met Steve Cook who pointed her in the direction of the McKinney Center, but not without displaying true southern hospitality. Cook first took her to Earth and Sky so she could experience their delightful chocolate masterpieces.

When Hitchcock walked into the McKinney Center she ran into Pam Daniels, Special Programs Coordinator. Hitchcock explained what she was searching for and Daniels knew just where to get it.

Daniels offered to pick up the piece for Hitchcock, considering she was heading to the kiln parts store, but in the meantime Daniels offered to take that piece off of her kiln for Hitchcock to use until she could get the new one. Hitchcock was blown away by the kindness from Daniels, “I was like Wow! I’m not used to that. Up in New York it’s not really like that.”

That simple encounter snowballed into Hitchcock being part of Fine Art in the Park, a fine art show the McKinney Center holds annually, and then becoming one of their art teachers.

You can find Hitchcock at the McKinney Center working with glass while sharing that passion with her students.

Be a part of Karen Hitchcock’s story by joining in on one of the Glass Fusion Workshops she will be teaching at the McKinney Center Feb. 17, March 6 and April 4. For more information contact Theresa Hammons, McKinney center Director, at or call 423-753-0562.

New grant one more part of Jackson puzzle




A recent tourism enhancement grant, announced last week from the State of Tennessee, has put Jonesborough’s Jackson Theatre one step closer to opening night.

But it is also a clear validation of a project, town officials say, they have long believed will provide a badly needed boon to an historic downtown.

“The Jackson Theatre project can and will be transformational for Jonesborough,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said after receiving word about the grant. “You look at the impact that the creation of the historic district made back in the early ‘70s. That forever has shaped the identity and trajectory of our town.

“Storytelling was another transformation phase.

“Now, the Jackson Theatre is a genuine article and a part of our history that will generate interest in people not just from the area, but from around the region.”

And that interest means more revenue for the town, local businesses and the region – enough revenue to catch the interest of the state.

“This grant is another recognition by the State of Tennessee that what we’re doing is worthy of investment,” Wolfe said.

The grant was awarded to the town specifically for its Jackson Theatre Project in the amount of $50,000 through the Rural Economic Opportunity Act, an act designed to help rural communities improve assets that will aide in the economic impact of tourism in an area.

The $50,000 will be added to such recent funds as a recent $200,000 donation from local arts philanthropist Sonia King for Jackson Theatre staff and facade work and an additional donation of $300,000 from King along with $200,000 from Wolfe and his wife, Jennifer, toward the purchase price of the Dr. Charles Allen building located next to the Jackson Theatre Building that will become part of the project.

Jonesborough was among 29 Tennessee communities that will each receive a share of more than $1 million in grant money. Nearby Carter County was also a recipient.

The theatre project in Jonesborough, a longtime dream of town officials and residents, includes the restoration and renovation of the Jackson Theatre on Main Street, as well as its expansion to include the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre – all to create a state-of-the-art, yet highly Jonesborough-appropriate theater complex.

“We have advertised this thing as a potential triple threat,” Wolfe said, adding that the complex would include live theatre, music and film.

More importantly, however, according to town officials, it would bring in the people needed to produce a healthy tourism revenue.

“The Jackson Theatre Project, as we have said all along, is a program to generate a customer base after 6 p.m.,” explained Town Administrator Bob Browning.

Statistics have shown, he said, that 80-85 percent of tourism dollars are collected after 6 p.m. Yet in a town the size of Jonesborough, keeping stores and restaurants open after 5 or so can be a challenge without the guarantee of more customers And without a number of shops staying open, he said,  customers tend to stay away.

“It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing,” Browning said of the dilemma of what to tackle first.

For Jonesborough, one solution is to provide something that will draw customers to Jonesborough at night.

“We’re looking at least 300 days a year of activity for our town,” Wolfe said of the anticipated Jackson Theatre schedule. “And that benefits every part of town.”

The $50,000 will help ensure needed renovations on the theatre’s important third floor of once unused space, which will now include a rehearsal and educational room, a costume storage area and prop space.

“There is a lot of initial work to be done,” Browning said.

Currently, the town is looking at a late 2018 opening date for its new Jackson Theatre, with work set to begin this summer.


Boone student works outside the box for big scholarship win



Staff Writer

Just a few months ago, Daniel Boone High School senior Connor Wilson informed Duke University—his dream school—that he wouldn’t be interviewing for their college program.

Now, he’s ready to continue chasing the premed dream he’s had since he was a kid.

Wilson has been awarded a QuestBridge Scholarship worth over $200,000. The scholarship is designed as a way for lower-income students in rural areas to attend the nation’s top schools. QuestBridge is partnered with schools like Yale, Princeton, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth and Columbia University to allow students who are academically eligible to pursue their college dreams though they might not have the funds to do so otherwise.

Wilson will be attending Colby College in Waterville, Maine in the fall of 2017. Though it’s not the school he always pictured for himself, it’s a dream come true for the Boone student.

“I’ve always known I wanted to go somewhere big, go somewhere I feel like I’d have the best chance at,” Wilson said. “My sister was always super focused on her education and she always wanted to go big. I was like, ‘I really wanna go somewhere that I’m extremely proud of.’ When I looked at QuestBridge, all the schools were somewhere I was like, ‘I could see myself going here.’ It’s what I wanted since I was a kid.”

Wilson said he concentrated on his academics and community service to land a spot at an elite school. Activities like academic clubs, the soccer team and outside community service have kept Wilson busy. And his former AP chemistry and physics teacher Mike Taylor said Wilson’s well-roundedness also played a large role in his college search.

“I don’t want to say he was a model student because those aren’t really as well-rounded as he,” Taylor said. “And I know that the colleges and the QuestBridge people would rather see someone who is more well-rounded than someone who is so focused on studies; they don’t do anything else around the world. He is so involved that for him to do what he did in my class is wonderful.”

Before Wilson involved himself in his community, his mother Sarah recalled the moment she felt her son was meant for something big.

“I saw something at a very young age,” Wilson’s mother said. “I told him to go hang up his jacket. He couldn’t have reached that jacket. There’s no way he could have reached to hang his jacket up, but I just wasn’t thinking. Next thing I know, I hear this noise … He had gotten into his daddy’s tool box and he had gotten a hook and somehow had put this through a door where the key is. He figured out how to be able to make this concoction so he could hang up his jacket. He was a problem solver. And of course I totally knew it was my fault. I told this child to do this and he totally ruined the door, but he just saw things outside of the box.”

Now the high school senior hopes to solve some of the world’s problems; Wilson plans to double-major in neuroscience and Spanish. Pediatric neurosurgery is his main goal, but he has known since his grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia that he wanted to pursue a future in the medical field.

“I want to do research. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go into neuro,” Wilson explained. “You can’t really research a whole lot on the heart because we’ve got the heart pretty figured out, but we know hardly anything about the brain. There’s so much more that we can do to figure that out. I’d like to do research because impacting one life is huge; impacting thousands or millions of lives through research is a totally different scale. I’d love to be able to contribute.”

Along with his academic goals, the incoming college freshman also wants to aid those without proper medical care.

“I went actually on a mission trip in Nicaragua so I saw the health disparity there,” Wilson said. “These people, they live on matted dirt. So I definitely want to do something to use medicine. Go and help people outside of the country—those are future goals.”

In order to consider his future in such a large frame of mine, Wilson said he felt he had to think bigger than most high school students.

“Most people around this area, they don’t really go out and push the boundaries of what you can do educationally or even athletically,” Wilson said. “They kind of go for the norm. Coach Taylor for me was the teacher that was like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to be normal’. He was the guy that was like, ‘You can do better things than most people do.’”

When asked what he would tell other students aiming to attend an elite college, Wilson relayed similar advice to what he received from Taylor.

“You can do it is the main thing,” Wilson explained. “It’s totally possible. Don’t let people really tell you that ‘Yeah you can shoot, but you’ll probably just go to some other lower place.’ You can do it. It’s possible. All you have to do is put in the effort if you want it bad enough.”

He may be heading 18 hours from Northeast Tennessee to Colby College, but his mother, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School said she is proud her son is a product of Washington County schools. And now more than ever, she believes she was right all those years ago when she saw a big future for her son.

“(A small future) That’s not what he was made for. And to get a scholarship, period is awesome. But to get it based on merit and academics, as a teacher, I was so extremely proud,” Wilson’s mother said. “But I also expected it from him. I expected it. He wasn’t made—I’ve told him since he was little, he’s like David in the Bible. You weren’t made for small things. You’re not capable of small things. Go big or go home.”

Sensabaugh walks a new path



Staff Writer

It took him a second to remember the quickest way to the football field. But in all fairness, for the 6-foot, 1-inch former safety for the Dallas Cowboys, the walk from the David Crockett High School front office to the stadium is somewhat new. And so is his new position as the Pioneer’s head football coach.

“I walk around the school and everybody’s so happy-faced,” Gerald Sensabaugh said smiling at how welcoming the community has been. “People were just offering me their lunches while they were eating. They’re like, ‘Are you hungry? We don’t have anything, but you can have this.” Man. It’s just a real warm welcoming.”

Jonesborough has been buzzing with the news of Sensabaugh’s new post since it was announced on Jan. 16. Crockett held a meet and greet the following night in the school library where folks peeked over bookshelves to get a look at the new head coach. Meanwhile, two billboards in town show the former NFL footballer in his Dallas jersey with large letters saying, “Welcome to Pioneer County.”

And now, looking out onto the patchy, almost-green Crockett football field surrounded by pasture land, it isn’t exactly a glorious scene on a Thursday morning in January. But for Sensabaugh, he doesn’t see the field or the program as something small or needing to be fixed—he sees it as an opportunity.

“I know the repertoire around here at Crockett,” Sensabaugh explained, still gripping the football used as a prop for a photo earlier. “They say, ‘It’s just Davy Crockett. It’s a small school. Why would you go there?’ And it’s really not a small school. The community is doing their best to put a lot of enthusiasm in their athletics. And that’s what I really like about this program.

“I wanna come to Crockett and bring a winning tradition to Crockett. I wanna win as many games as possible. I can’t promise anything, but I can tell you—I’m gonna give it my all. We can do big things here.”

Sensabaugh spent his NFL career playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys. He also has a cousin, Coty Sensabaugh, who now plays for the New York Giants and who has worked with organizations like the nonprofit “Soles 4 Souls” to grant aid to children in the Dominican Republic. But of all the places the new Pioneer head coach has lived and could have chosen to begin coaching, the Kingsport native was drawn back home.

“I have a pretty good name here,” Sensabaugh said. “I‘d kind of rather influence a community that I’m from before I wanted to venture out. That’s why I like to talk to my cousin Coty. He does a lot of stuff overseas. I’m like, ‘I’ll handle back home. We can do what we can with our hometown and you go overseas and do what you can and impact the whole world.’ I try to focus on keeping our community up and letting everybody know about Kingsport and the Tri-Cities area.”

But Sensabaugh’s time in the NFL holds unforgettable memories—like the time he intercepted a pass from Peyton Manning during Jacksonville’s game against the Indianapolis Colts (a story he shared with the crowd during the night of the meet and greet at Crockett). He said the play launched his career and meant so much to him, he had the moment painted and it now sits proudly in his home.

His career also included the moment he discovered another dream of his—one he hadn’t completely realized until an interview with a college student in Jacksonville.

“He asked me what I plan to do after my career’s over,” Sensabaugh recalled. “And I started thinking, ‘I really wouldn’t mind getting into coaching.’ I still have it on DVD. My oldest son, he was like 6 months at the time. My 10-year-old, he was so little. I could see him in the background and he was tiny. There’s actual video footage. But I was just like, ‘Man. I really want to get into coaching one day.’”

From the moment the Crockett coach realized his new aspiration, playing among the world’s top football players and coaches gave him a new perspective—and those plays still swirled around in his mind as he led the way back towards the front office.

“I started paying attention to more details of both sides of the ball, learning ‘Why are we doing this?’”, Sensabaugh explained. “My first three years, I was just trying to make a big name for myself as much as possible. My last three years I was more focused on, ‘Hey, why is Jason running these routes like this? Why do they keep attacking me every time I get in this formation?’ You learn the ins and outs of the game—that’s what I was doing those last three years.”

Sensabaugh is well-aware his students aren’t playing on the professional level from which he absorbed so much information, but he’s ready to use it in a way that will apply to his athletes.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure these kids are coached well and that I implement a system that they can adapt to,” Sensabaugh said. “If some kids can be pushed harder than others, I’m gonna try to max them as much as I can. I don’t want to have a ceiling on any kid.”

But the head coach’s sights aren’t just set on football in his new role; before the NFL, Sensabaugh was a Kingsport kid trying to figure out his life. Now he’s also ready to instill the lessons he learned before playing professional football became a reality.

“When Coach Clark and Coach Barrett (of Dobyns-Bennett) talked me into playing football, my one goal was to get to college. With a 1.5 GPA, that’s pretty unlikely,” Sensabaugh said. “Colleges weren’t giving me scholarships because I was borderline. I quit when I was in tenth grade. I absolutely had no love for the game. I hated the game of football. They just said, ‘You have some talent, maybe you can get a scholarship, maybe not, but if you come out here, it’s at least an opportunity.”

“It’s more about the kids It’s not about football. Football is just another tool. It’s not everything. That in there is more important than out there on that field,” Sensabaugh said, pointing to the school. “If you’re not getting the grades, that means more than some football game.”

When asked what that young man who was deciding if he wanted to keep playing football was like all those years ago, it wasn’t far off from the students that periodically passed the new coach.

“Probably like a lot of these high school kids nowadays; you’re just young, you’re still taking on the world,” Sensabaugh said. “You’re pretty lost at that time. You really need some good guidance to show you the right ways. It’s great to bring in people that have successful lives because those will be your major influences. At that age, you’re really a sponge.”

By the time Sensabaugh had covered the story of his career, from quitting football to talking with his first team as a head coach, he had made it back around to the front of the building. Just like his career, part of the conversation had ended—and part of it was still going.

“I wanna practice with them. You’ll see me out there on days when I’m wearing cleats as well, to where I can show them how to get it done and show them how I’m doing it. And they’ll say, ‘Oh that’s how it’s done.’”

“I wanna live it with them. I wanna live it with them.”

Get ready for JRT’s ‘Kiss me Kate’



“Cole Porter meets William Shakespeare” is how director Jennifer Ross describes the musical “Kiss Me Kate,” opening Friday, Jan. 27, and running through Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.

Written by Samuel and Bella Spewack, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, this play-within-a-play features newly divorced Broadway stars Fred Graham (Joe Gumina) and Lilli Vanessi (Brittany Whitson), who are appearing in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Joining them in the cast are young rising actors Lois Lane (Heather Allen) and Bill Calhoun (Christopher Ward), who are notorious for doing anything they can—inside the law and out—to get their big break. Complications arise with romantic misunderstandings between Fred, Lois, and Lilli, who has just become engaged to another man. A pair of prison-educated gangsters adds to the chaos backstage, when Bill’s gambling debts mount up, and he signs an IOU in Fred’s name.

“I think this show is fun for audiences because it lets them see what happens in shows behind the scenes, and how that can affect an actor’s performance on stage,” said Brittany Whitson. “That, and the music is really wonderful.”

Cole Porter, whose music dominated mid-century America, wrote the score for “Kiss Me Kate,” which won the first ever Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949. The show is filled with songs that have since become American standards, such as the romantic “So In Love,” sung by Lilli and Fred.

Other numbers include a rousing rendition of “From This Moment On,” the flirtatious “Why Can’t You Behave,” and the hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.

“Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” which has become an anthem for theaters across the world, first appeared in the musical “Kiss Me Kate,” and is performed by the talented ensemble cast in an energetic, toe-tapping dance number.

The show features several breath-taking dance sequences, expertly choreographed by Heather Allen.

The songs from “Kiss Me Kate” are instantly recognizable, and they’re part of the American musical landscape. In 2015, Kiss Me Kate’s 1949 original cast recording was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for the album’s “cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy.

Rounding out this spectacular cast are Josh Baldwin, Austin Bird, Will Bishop, Summer Boothe, Brooklynn DeFreece, Jaclyn DiDonato, Ben Garber, Caroline Garber, Madelyn Goward, Shawn Hale, Lindy Ley, Jacob Maurer, Paul McQuaid, Mike Musick, Dominic Peterson, Dakota Reynolds, Jessica Shelton, Derek Smithpeters, Don Squibb, Connie Taylor, Corey Tickles, Kari Tuthill, Alex Vanburen, Michelle Weintre, Heather Whalen and Tara White.

Shows will run on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 general admission, $14 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 753-1010 or go online to


Taxi! Local driver continues to hit the road in style



H&T Correspondent

Watch out, Uber: Dick Conger is ferrying natives and tourists alike through downtown Jonesborough in his “Old Time Taxi,” educating folks on local history, all for free.

Conger downplays his service as “not really a taxi as such; just a fun ride, in an old car, with some historical trivia about Jonesborough.”

The current taxi is “a personally remodeled 1919 Model T Ford depot-hack,” Conger said.

The term “depot-hack” comes from the car’s original purpose as a taxi between the end of a train depot and a traveler’s ultimate destination.

“Nineteenth century technological change transitioned from the original, Model T Ford depot-hack [which Conger owns] to the current station wagon, which is the direct descendent of the depot-hack. The idea was to move people around efficiently, even after their train had stopped,” Conger said.

At first, however, Conger and his wife, the late Jane B. Conger, maintained Ford Model T “depot-hack” taxi as well as a 1931 Model A bus.

In the 1970s Conger and his wife owned and operated a Venetian blind installation facility in St. Petersburg, Florida.

According to Conger, the couple owned a Model T Ford depot-hack taxi as well as a 1931 Ford Model A bus, but had no place to store either of the vehicles.

Thus, in 1981 the Congers moved to the Jonesborough area and promptly purchased Jonesborough’s old town hall building.

“We bought the old town hall because it had depot bays, proper places to store and maintain our model T- Ford and our Model A bus,” he said. Conger immediately began giving tours in the area; all the while his wife, Jane, founded Jonesborough Accommodations, the first bed & breakfast in Jonesborough.

In 1982, the Congers renovated sections of their old town hall which they “turned into several shops that, subsequently, became the Old Town Hall Marketplace” and an incubate for roughly 30 local businesses, Conger said.

Conger also noted that, in that same year, he and his wife founded Print Distribution Services because “we felt like we could do a lot by promoting Jonesborough tourism through our brochures.”

Jonesborough’s mayor and aldermen “were extremely helpful in the process of establishing a business within the framework of local laws,” and even asked Conger to “make and distribute brochures” for Jonesborough’s abounding attractions, he said.

When asked why he felt motivated to start these several projects, all within a window of three years, Conger jovially added that he “could not let [his] degree in marketing and merchandising go to waste.”

During this period of activity, Conger would still drive his Model A depot-hack even “when things began to get very busy with the brochure business,” said Conger.

Eventually, Conger noted, he stopped giving local tours altogether.

Although he is now retired, Conger said he has started to give “Old Time Taxi” tours again and manages “300 to 400 short tours in his current Model T Taxi, every week.”

Given that his taxi can only muster a 35 mph top speed, his tours are restricted to “taking back roads through the country and little tours around downtown Jonesborough,” Conger said.

He admitted, however, that these restrictions may not be a problem for those who enjoy being immersed in Jonesborough’s flora, especially when warmer weather returns to Northeast Tennessee.

Conger is also active in the East Tennessee & West North Carolina Railroad Convention as well as the Model T Ford International group. The latter group meets bi-annually and is comprised of over two-hundred American chapters.

Little Library on the corner


Lisa Barnett


Staff Writer

On Emma Grace Drive a tiny bird house-like structure bearing a Tennessee three-star emblem resides, proudly awaiting a kid with a thirst for reading to come get his or her fill.

Lisa Barnett was once one of those eager children, ready for her next adventure waiting inside the pages of a book. And now, Barnett is giving that opportunity to kids and folks of all ages through the Little Free Library sitting watch in her yard.

“I have loved books since I was little. I have always loved books and there were times when I didn’t necessarily have access to books,” Barnett recalled. “When I saw my first Little Free Library in Glencoe Village,  North Carolina I knew then—and that was two years ago—I knew then that I wanted one. And I knew I could put one in my yard.

“It’s just something I felt drawn to have.”

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization designed to offer free books to the community. The creator originally built the first one to look like an old school house in honor of his mother who was a teacher and also loved books. They’ve spread across the country, but the idea remains the same—“take a book, leave a book” in order to encourage folks of all ages to take whatever book they like and to leave one as well.

But Barnett’s library, which was constructed by her husband as a Christmas gift, was built on more than just the Little Free Library’s original intent; the Little Free Library is a labor of love.

“It’s just a love of books and a love of having something to read,” Barnett said when explaining her reason for wanting a Little Free Library. “I think that’s important. Things like that are going by the wayside—cursive writing and you know…I just think a physical book in your hands means something. You can look at an iPad, you can look at a telephone, a computer screen, but to me, just having a physical book in my hand always meant something. I’m sure there are still people out there that enjoy that.”

Though the Little Free Library centers around books, this particular structure’s creator built the library with the community in mind.

“The focus is on kids with this. In the summertime, they may be walking around the neighborhood, they see it, they pick out a book. Nothing would make me happier,” Barnett said, laughing. “I felt like this is something I can do for my community, something I can do to get people talking, to get people meeting—give somebody something to read.”

Offering a resource from which kids can discover new favorites and classic tales isn’t all Barnett wants to give her community. To this Emma Grace Drive resident, a book is the perfect device to take its reader to places far beyond the Washington County limits.

“It’s just an escape. A book is an escape. You read it and you’re there. I used to get encyclopedias off the shelf and read them,” Barnett said, laughing at the memory.

“You can read a book and suddenly you’re wherever that book’s taking place. That’s what’s wonderful—it encourages imagination.”

The hope for Barnett’s Little Free Library is to offer adventures, but also to provide opportunities that differ from much of today’s technological world.

“They need something,” Barnett said with a sigh. “There’s too much social media and electronics, and I sound like an old woman by saying that, but there’s too much technology. They’re just bombarded by sounds and screens and maybe something like this, something different—I can see like a 5-year-old who learns there’s a little library in the neighborhood saying, ‘Mommy, will you take me? I want to get a book.’ That would just thrill me that it would encourage something different. Or that they could say to their friends, ‘Hey I went to the Little Free Library’ or ‘Have you been to the Little Free Library?’ It might encourage them to read a little bit more.”

Kids aren’t the only ones encouraged to enjoy the Little Free Library; Barnett said she has seen parents catch a glimpse of an old book they once read as a kid and immediately go right back to that feeling of reading it for the first time.

“It may be something that you’ve read before like a classic when you were a kid,” Barnett explained. “We’ve had moms walk by here with their strollers say, ‘Ah I read that when I was little!’ And you might want to read it again.”

The red, white and blue, house-shaped home for short stories and chapter books alike — standing at the edge of Barnett’s yard — doesn’t just symbolize a love of reading and the memories associated with books and stories; Barnett also wanted to honor her beloved state of Tennessee with the tri-star symbol she carefully painted on the front.

Barnett said she was inspired to paint the symbol on the Little Free Library after seeing the help so many Tennesseans offered to Gatlinburg after the town’s wildfire devastation. After she painted it, Barnett even sent information and a photo of her little library to the Tennessee Governor’s office who tweeted a picture of it on the Read to be Ready twitter page.

The heart of Barnett’s project, however, dates back further than a time when her home state made her proud; after discovering her love for books and doing all she could to get her hands on those printed pages as a kid, Barnett’s passion for reading never burnt out. Instead, this project might have reignited her love for books—and her life.

“I’m just partial to the printed word. If I get books from Amazon, I get the printed books. It just comes from being a child of my generation,” Barnett recalled. “We had books and I always worked in the library when I was in elementary school and middle school. I was drawn to books. Why I never pursued a career in that, I do not know.”

After a moment of thinking about the career tied to reading she could have pursued, Barnett looked ahead with hope for the future: “My second life may be starting.”