African children drum up education opportunities

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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.”

Artists to share skills in drawing, painting classes



Drawing and Print Making classes will begin Monday, Jan. 30, and Tuesday, February 1, respectively, and will be taught by Sharon Squibb. Squibb received her BFA from the University of Tennessee, her MFA from the University of Cincinnati, and her MAT from East Tennessee State University. She lived in New York City, working as a non-fiction and art book editor for Random House, among other publishing houses. A woman of many talents, while in New York, Sharon performed several one-woman shows, as well as “Don’t Tell Mama” on 44th Street. She also performed in several shows in the West Village. After a successful decade in New York City, she relocated to Jonesborough, where she has shown her fine art work in Jonesborough’s Juried Art Shows, The Women’s Fund Art Shows and more. In her personal art making, she has worked extensively with drawing, printmaking, and painting media, and particularly enjoys exploring the figure as subject matter. Ms. Squibb is also involved at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre as an artist. She has been teaching art at University High School in Johnson City since 2000, and has been a faculty member of Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts at the McKinney Center since the center opened its doors.

Studio Art, with a focus on oil painting, and with an introduction to drawing, watercolor, and acrylic, begins Monday, Jan. 30, and will be taught by Bill Bledsoe. Bledsoe is a working artist, and is known for his work in creating the paintings and posters for the National Storytelling Festival for more than 23 years. While in the military, Bledsoe was an official artist for the United States Air Force, for which he received the Achievement Medal and the Award of Excellence for his artistic contributions upholding the moral of his fellow airman and commanding officers.

Bledsoe has worked for the Walt Disney Company as an assistant to Emmy-award winning director of the television mini-series Roots, Charles Bennett. Bledsoe has illustrated numerous children’s books, including “Everyone Has a Story to Tell” by Rebecca Isbell and Marilyn Buchanan. He has designed public murals including those in the pavilion on Boone Street in Jonesborough, and has been commissioned to paint the portraits of dignitaries from across the United States. He received his MFA in Studio Art and Graphic Design from East Tennessee State University, and serves as head of the secondary studio arts program at Providence Academy.

Charcoal Portraits from Photograph begins Thursday, Feb. 2, and is taught by Janet Browning. Browning taught art in public schools for seven years, before founding ArtSmart Inc., an after school art enrichment program that later became KidSmart. This program operated in eight states and employed over one hundred teaching artists. Browning has also worked as a portrait artist in resort areas, on cruise ships, and in malls. After twenty years of this work, Browning began focusing on buying art from all over the world, with a particular passion for traditional arts of the indigenous tribes in the Amazon area. Browning makes several visits each year to deep jungle locations along the Amazon, along with a guide, and participates in fair trade with these indigenous artists. She has also recently been visiting other places, such as Nepal, where she has started discovering fabric artists. She owns Hands Around the World, a shop on Main Street selling handmade art items from these locations and others around the globe. She received her degree in Art and Education from East Tennessee State University.

Rounding out the painting and drawing classes is the Watercolors course, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 31, taught by Ginny Wall. Wall spent most of her life in the far north of Minnesota, where her appreciation for nature began. Her artwork largely depicts her interpretations of natural things that inspire her.

While most of her work centers on realism, she also has a focus on more experimental, impressionistic work involving mixed medium, collage, print-making and calligraphy. She has been featured in numerous art shows and exhibits over the last ten years, and has won several awards for her work. She has been published, and has a huge following on Pinterest, where hundreds of her watercolors are featured.

Registration for these classes and others continues through Jan. 21. Registration forms are available at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough on 103 Franklin Avenue, and can be found online, along with the full catalog of classes on the Town of Jonesborough website at:

For more information, email Theresa Hammons at: or call 423-753-0562.

Making 2017 best year ever for the Herald & Tribune

ht-fbook-logoFor a newspaper that has been publishing since 1869, vowing to make this new year the finest ever is certainly brave, if not a little foolhardy.

After all, the Herald & Tribune has been covering the iconic town of Jonesborough and its surrounding Washington County communities, even the world, for nearly 150 years now. (We’ll be celebrating that in 2019!)

We have already heralded the advent of war more than once; followed the workings of schools, town, county and state governments in both detail and broad strokes;  and shared brilliant stories of neighbors, friends and sometimes even adversaries as they opened their doors and told their tales.

As the years have gone by, the job of  America’s daily papers have also become more difficult.

We have gone from a field of competition made up mostly of radio and television news broadcasts to now include the immediacy of the internet with its promise of countless blogs, e-editions, Facebook and more.

Still, while our staffs have become smaller and our challenges greater, our dedication has never waned.

And this year, in 2017, we are convinced that dedication — renewed fresh and bright at the beginning of each year — is going to make all the difference.

You see, we still believe that no one can provide a a better snapshot of a community than its community newspaper.

We have the ability to tackle the hard news when necessary, but also include the sweet moments of life that truly make it all the more worthwhile — like a young student proudly bringing in a perfect ACT score, a group of older first-time authors creating their own book or a hardworking sports team beating the odds in tribute to a fallen classmate.

And we have you, our readers.

A community newspaper is only as good as its community, and we believe we represent one of the best Tennessee has to offer.

Your calls, comments and encouragements have often pointed us in the right direction and kept us going when we became weary.

Now, we have another request — or two.

First, let us know what you want to see.

The field of news, the way it is delivered and the impact it has on our lives continues to change each year — and we want to be able to meet your needs.

What interests you? What causes you to pick up the paper and what stories catch your eye?

For some it may mean the most up-to-date coverage of local government. For others, it might mean garden tips, a good recipe or two or even something we have yet to create.

If you love something we offer, let us know. If you wish we included something we don’t, let us know that too.

And, finally, as we move throughout 2017, never let us off the hook. Continue to be our guide as to what you, the community, needs to see.

You are the most important part of the Herald & Tribune.

And together we are going to make 2017 the best year yet.

County mayor eyes school construction for 2017



Staff Writer

The year of 2016 was one of planning for the new Boones Creek K-8 School. And now, 2017 is slated to be the year of breaking ground at the upcoming school’s site.

And that’s something Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge says must remain a priority in order for the school to open in August of 2019.

“Based on what (the school board’s) architect has given as a timeline, there are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made in the next three months to keep this project on schedule,” Eldridge said. “If we don’t get this stuff out of the way in the next two or three months, it’s certainly going to be in jeopardy.”

So far the county commission has established a fund set aside for the new school while the school board has discussed the location at length and most recently at the last Board of Education meeting on Dec. 8, the new school’s layout. Eldridge said for the new school’s plan to run smoothly, both the county commission and the school board will need to align both groups’ concerns.

“It is so important there is good communication and collaboration during this process,” Eldridge said. “The county commission knows how much money it has to spend. The school board knows what they want in the way of a facility. There has to be a very deliberate effort made to align those two priorities. I’m disappointed that there hasn’t been more interest in making sure that those two things are aligned from the beginning. If we’re not careful, that’s going to end up being the stumbling block in the next few months.”

Finding common ground wasn’t the only concern from 2016 that will affect the new year; one of the biggest discussions the county commission faced was the tax increase. The tax hike was levied in order to fund the new Boones Creek School as part of the Washington Way plan. Eldridge said it was a decision the commissioners weren’t anxious to make. However, Eldridge is most concerned with seeing tax payers’ investments pay off through the new school.

“It is important that they see a return on that investment. And that’s what is it—it is an investment,” Eldridge said. “We raised taxes to invest in the school system. They need to see a return on that investment, not just in the form of new bricks and mortar, but even more importantly, they need to see a return on that investment in the form of improved student achievements and outcomes, career readiness, college readiness as a result of the Washington Way vision that’s been cast.”

Though the new school will be at the forefront of both the county commission and the school board’s priorities, Eldridge also has other topics he is looking forward to working on in 2017.

Eldridge said establishing a long range, general fund budget plan will help manage expenses from year to year. The financial plan will involve studying how current expenses will affect finances down the road.

“That’s not something that I would say is common in county government in Tennessee, but having that long range plan is invaluable as a management tool,” Eldridge explained. “When you project that into the future budgets, it’s amazing how you see the compounding effect of these recurring expenditures that are being approved. This is just a very important tool that we have to incorporate.”

But with all the talk of budgeting and planning, somehow the conversation with any Washington County school board member, county commissioner, or county official always circles back around to the new Boones Creek School.

“I’m optimistic that we’re gonna get this (the plan for the school) headed in the right direction. I think that long term, it’s gonna make a huge difference in Washington County,” Eldridge said. “Not just in the school system, but for everybody.”

Top Stories of 2016:Washington County brings in Kimber Halliburton

Kimber Halliburton stepped into her new role on July 1.

Kimber Halliburton stepped into her new role on July 1.

The new year is approaching, but for Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton, everything has been new.

Halliburton, the first ever female Washington County Director of Schools, took over July 1, 2016, after Ron Dykes’ retirement. And after serving as a principal in Nashville, Halliburton headed for East Tennessee with some changes in mind.

The words “Washington Way” are nearly synonymous with the new director of schools; Washington Way is the proposed constructional and instructional plan for Washington County schools and involves a range of priorities from new schools to new technology.

The original plan included a new Boones Creek K-8 school, a new Jonesborough K-8 School, and those schools’ previous locations to become the site for a magnet school. Halliburton also wanted to add a vocational site for students opting out of the college route after high school.

Though her plan has seen some revisions thus far, the Washington Way is still at the forefront of Washington County Board of Education meetings and discussions.

As of late, the BOE has been concentrating on deciding the layout of the new Boones Creek K-8 School while they also have decided to simultaneously make Jonesborough Middle School into a magnet school.

Building changes aren’t the only innovation Halliburton came ready to ignite in Washington County; Halliburton has also been an advocate for technology in the school system.

Halliburton was the principal of Waverly-Belmont which is one of two technology demonstration schools in the Nashville area. Clearly, this appreciation for technology has not been lost in the move.

From promoting the use of social media such as Twitter profiles for herself as well as school board members to aiming for a one-to-one ratio for students and technological devices, Halliburton has been clear about her intentions to equip Washington County schools with technological improvements—which should be a familiar aspect in the new year of 2017.

At the McKinney Center: Teacher restores magic in young art



“The librarian said it wasn’t art,” Chasidy Hathorn read as she pointed to the words painted on the mixed medium piece hanging on the wall of her historic home.

Hathorn, a former school teacher and now an art teacher at the McKinney Center, said “I had to retire from public school teaching because it got to the point that I couldn’t help those kids anymore. There were so many rules and so much red tape. When I got home I felt like I was crushing children’s dreams, and I wasn’t going to do that anymore. That is why I do what I do, and this painting is a reminder of that.”

As Hathorn continued up the stairs, her fingers traced the woodgrain of each picture frame surrounding the unique pieces on her wall. “When I began my journey at the McKinney Center, I found that the kids were so brilliant and fun!” she said. “It revived in me a child-like view of art.”

The McKinney Center continues to grow as an arts and humanities mecca where creativity and expression come to life.

Now in 2017, the McKinney Center will continue to incorporate classes of all kinds including the one Hathorn will teach.

From brilliantly bright, acrylic-gold speckling works of her own to creatively crafted canvas pieces by students filling her collection, it’s evident the inspiration each brings to her heart.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in details of a still life or trying to make our paintings into photographs, but these kids were just having fun and they loved it,” Hathorn said.

“I want to help them to continue that and not lose it. Let’s not take that away from them. Let them be creative, color outside those lines.”

Every time Hathorn passed a piece on her wall she smiled with each glance. These pieces of art, she believes, are sharing their story.

“And who are we to say what kids do. We are going to have a curriculum and a guide but at the same time I want them to have fun, paint their emotions, paint what they see, not what we see.”

A Mississippian at heart and a well-known artist in the region, Hathorn found a home at the McKinney Center back in 2014.

“When we first moved here I was trying to find my way,” she said. “I was almost afraid to get involved, to get settled. I finally began to explore, and I found the McKinney Center. They made me feel like home.”

While Hathorn worked on a piece inspired by her grandfather, she gently glided her brush over the words “empty chair” while she described days of the past spent with him.

She routinely took a step back while looking at the canvas, then leaned over to dip her brush into the gold paint sitting on the antique British table in the middle of her studio.

In the spring, Hathorn’s journey at the Mckinney will continue, with her teaching children’s fine arts, fine art construction and homeschool art classes. It will entail everything from mixed media collage to clay hand building, knife pallet painting, upcycling and even a bit about historic artists.

“I want them to leave confident with their talent and to know that each child is unique and special.” Hathorn said, “I don’t want them to look at each other’s works and say, ‘my work isn’t as good as so and so’s.’

“I want them to see all of their works as a masterpiece.

“I want them to leave feeling like true artists, like they are creative. I want them to make friends and I want them to leave with a sense of appreciation for art.

“Because every single one will leave as little Picassos.”

If you are interested in taking Chasidy’s class or another class at the McKinney Center email McKinney Center Director, Theresa Hammons at: or call 423-753-0562.

Sports season for 2016 filled with wins, losses


Tears blurred the scope of the 2016 sports scene, where a kaleidoscope of passion projected visions of triumph and tragedy that’ll last a lifetime.

David Crockett’s boys basketball team went to the state tournament for the first time in its 45 seasons thanks to a 73-70 overtime win at Oak Ridge in the Class AAA sectional. Patrick Good’s contested, off-the-dribble 3-pointer from the right corner with three seconds remaining was the game-winner that sent a raucous sellout crowd home emotionally drained.

Good, his coach/father John and his mother Tracy all clinched tightly afterward in a tearful embrace while Oak Ridge coach Aaron Green was shedding tears at the sight of it, recalling playing for his father at Sweetwater High School 21 years earlier.

Good scored 29 points, and fellow seniors Dustin Day (26 points) and Brendan Coleman (11 points, 13 rebounds) were invaluable in defeating Green’s talented Wildcats. It was the Pioneers’ second win of the season against Oak Ridge, who finished the season 34-3.

Crockett beat Oak Ridge 87-85 in double overtime in the Arby’s Classic quarterfinals. With a capacity crowd exhausted from the entertainment and eagerly eyeing him, Good made two free throws with 2.6 seconds left to win it. Day (26 points), Good (24) and senior Peyton Ford (20) led the scoring charge for Crockett in one of the area’s all-time great wins at Arby’s.

The Pioneers lost in the state quarterfinals to Station Camp, 78-68, but Patrick Good wasn’t through with a year for the ages. He signed with Appalachian State after becoming Crockett’s career scoring leader, visited Italy for an exhibition tour during the summer and scored 21 points in Knoxville against the University of Tennessee in his second career game.

Daniel Boone and David Crockett each made the football playoffs for the first time in the same season, and it happened in dramatic fashion.

Boone had to win the Musket Bowl at Crockett in the regular-season finale to clinch its berth, and running back Charlie Cole made certain it happened. Cole rushed for 192 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Trailblazers’ 14-10 victory and became Boone’s first freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in the process.

Senior TK Hill rushed 15 times for 98 yards for the Pioneers, adding to his tally as the Pioneers’ all-time leading rusher.

As it turned out, it was Crockett head coach Jeremy Bosken’s final regular-season game. Bosken, an ex-military man and excellent promoter with as much passion for players as football, surprised many when he made the emotional decision during the first week of December to resign and become offensive coordinator at Cleveland.

Bosken energized the Pioneer program and the community while going 20-23 during a four-season span that included two playoff berths. It would’ve been four playoff berths if not for a two-season ban Crockett and Daniel Boone were given by the TSSAA for the “Musket Brawl” in 2014.

Crockett hadn’t won 20 games in a four-season stretch since 2002.

A couple of solo acts stole the show at Daniel Boone.

Freshman wrestler Isabella Badon pinned Hendersonville’s Jessyca Mumaw in 5:46 to win a state championship in February at the Williamson County Expo Center in Franklin. Badon defeated Madeline Davis (Siegel) and Nena Chrestman (Sycamore) in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Junior Ben Varghese won a state championship in the 3,200 meters in Murfreesboro. It was part of a bittersweet meet for Varghese, who was tripped when he got together with Science Hill’s Noah Charles in an entanglement that cost Boone a first-place finish in the 4×800 meters.

The ‘Blazers still managed to finish second in the relay thanks, in part, to an exceptional recovery by Varghese and an impressive finish from anchor Josh Routh, who is now at East Tennessee State.

Two-sport Boone standout Jaclyn Jenkins also moved on to college after a productive senior year. Jenkins concluded her basketball career as a 1,000-point scorer and then helped the Lady Trailblazers reach the Class AAA softball sectional by compiling a 28-9 record and a 0.99 ERA. Jenkins tallied 217 strikeouts in 241 innings. She batted .426 with five home runs and 35 RBIs.

Now, Jenkins is following in the footsteps of her mother, Tonya Bailey Jenkins, a record-setting pitcher at Milligan who was also a 1,000-point scorer in basketball. Bailey Jenkins is in the Milligan College Athletics Hall of Fame.

David Crockett senior volleyball player Addisyn Rowe was named the Big Seven Conference player of the year. Rowe, a middle blocker who has committed to Marshall, also finished runner-up in the state in the pole vault as a junior last spring after coming in third in the state as a sophomore.

The everlasting impression of 2016 for many in Gray surely came during Daniel Boone’s inspiring volleyball and football performances following the Sept. 10 death of junior setter Kaylee Rabun, who was killed on her 16th birthday in a single-car accident that also injured Trailblazers football player Ryan Sanders.

A moving pregame tribute was paid to Rabun in the first football game after her death, and Boone responded with a 46-29 victory against Tennessee High.

“I didn’t know how that was really going to affect us mentally. It’s been a tough week here for us,” an emotional Daniel Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins said after the game.

In Jenkins’ hand was a laminated game plan that included pictures of Rabun.

“I wanted her to be with us,” he said, “and she was.”

A large crowd also gathered in Bobby Snyder Gymnasium to watch the Lady Trailblazers’ initial match following the death. And after Boone outlasted Dobyns-Bennett for an epic 25-15, 26-28, 25-19, 22-25, 17-15 triumph of human spirit, spectators repeatedly chanted, “Three!” in reference to Rabun’s jersey number.

The Lady ‘Blazers went on to finish second in the Big Seven Conference, advancing to the regionals.