Forest brings new haunts to old town


Staff Writer

The Hales Community Ruritan Haunted Forest off Boones Creek Road is back and ready for business — if you dare.

The haunted forest event — which celebrates it’s 30th anniversary — opened a week early on Sept. 29 this year and will run through Halloween.

The event is supported by the Hales Community Ruritan and serves as the group’s largest fundraiser of the year to support various different needs such as school supplies and Christmas gifts for children throughout Washington County.

Even though the forest has been the backdrop for the haunted forest for many years, operators Robb Phillips and Cathy Shephard are also ready to bring new frights and sights to the community event.

“We have all new scenes up here every year,” Phillips said. “And we have a haunted escape room up here too. So we have two attractions.”

“I love getting out here and deciding, ‘what are we going to do this year?’ ‘what are we going to do different?’,” Shephard said, “and get out there and try to think of the best scary thing we can think of and go with that.”

Though Phillips said some of the scenes can be pretty scary, he stressed that the event is often a family affair and allows folks to do something with their friends and family to get into the halloween spirit.

“It’s something for families to do together. There’s not much going on with that anymore, but we get a lot of families in here,” Shephard explained. “The whole family is involved. And it gives friends something to do every year.”

The two friends also own and operate East Tennessee Ghost Tours and Escape Room 101 in Jonesborough, so featuring haunts and spooks for others’ entertainment is pretty familiar for both Phillips and Shephard.

“People like to be scared,” Phillips said, “And it’s fun to do, but it gives back to the community. We’re always trying to give back and help bring business around to our area and to Downtown Jonesborough. That’s a big part of why we do this.”

The haunted forest is open Friday and Saturday, now until Halloween from 7:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. The forest will also be open Thursday, Oct. 19 and Thursday, Oct. 26, but will close at 10 p.m. on those dates.

The haunted forest will also be open on Oct. 31. For more information call (423) 218-8648.

Celebrating a Milestone: Farm Bureau employee hits 50-year mark

Velma McKee


H&T Correspondent

Velma McKee, a native of Jonesborough, will celebrate a milestone on Oct. 1 of this year: 50 years as an employee at Washington County Farm Bureau. And what does McKee have to say about the achievement?

“Time moves on,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head.

McKee graduated from Lamar High School in 1963. After school, she worked for Steinway Clothing Company in Johnson City. She then did a short stint as a temporary employee for the Extension office before landing a job with Farm Bureau in 1967.

“I was sitting on the porch and my mail carrier came by, and she wanted to know if I might be interested in a job,” McKee said.

An employee at Farm Bureau was getting ready to go on vacation, McKee said, and they needed someone to fill in. She interviewed on a Friday, and was told to come in on Saturday morning.

“I didn’t even fill out an application or anything,” McKee said. “They didn’t have any back then.”

With only a short window for training, McKee hit the ground running, jumping into her new position with only four hours of instruction under her belt.

“If it hadn’t been for Bob Brumit, I never would have made it,” McKee said. “He was the agency manager then, and he helped me considerably.”

When the employee she was filling in for returned and announced she would be leaving Farm Bureau, McKee was offered the position permanently.

At the time, she said, the Washington County Farm Bureau in Jonesborough was very small.

“It was just me, Bob Brumit, and an adjuster, I think,” she said, “so it’s come a long way.”

Washington County Farm Bureau was formed in 1932 by farmers and farm leaders who wanted representation in both state and national affairs.

When it was formed, they didn’t offer all the services they do now, mainly just representation, McKee said.

Their first offices were in the Jonesborough County Courthouse.

“From my understanding, the first office was in the broom closet,” McKee laughed.

When she started, though, the Farm Bureau office had moved and was on Main Street.

Things were significantly different back then, she said.

“When I started, we had a manual typewriter and a manual adding machine,” she said. “We’ve come a long way from typewriters and adding machines to computers.”

McKee has worked in many facets of Farm Bureau over the years, and according to current Agency Manager Kevin Broyles, she is an integral part of the Washington County Farm Bureau team.

“She’s been involved in every aspect of our business,” Broyles said. “Velma is a tremendous asset as an employee.”

McKee’s current role is in customer service, which she said is the best job she’s ever had.

“I’m up front when you come in the door and I direct people where to go. I get to see about everybody who comes in, and they’ll say, ‘You mean you’ve not retired yet?’” McKee laughed. “I say ‘No, I’m still here. They told me they were going to have turn me out feet first.’”

McKee also serves as the Secretary of the Board, a position she has held since 1978.

Over the years, McKee has attended many conventions and women’s conferences with Farm Bureau, and the trips she has been on were a highlight of her career, she said.

“I went to Hawaii in 1977 for the first time,” she said. “We went to the big island and it seemed like a dream when I got back.”

She made a second trip to Hawaii with Farm Bureau in 2004, and a third in 2012.

“We had some really good times and met a lot of nice people,” she said. “I got to go and see places that I never thought I would.”

Her favorite part of working at Farm Bureau, and one of the reasons she has stayed so long is the people, she said.

Some of the customers have been with Farm Bureau about as long as she has, she said, and her co-workers are wonderful as well.

“The whole Board, when I started, they just took me under their wing,” she said. “They treated me like family. You couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

McKee received a dozen red roses and a plaque for her 25-year anniversary with Farm Bureau, and after 40 years of service she was presented with a clock.

“Time just keeps moving on,” she said again, gesturing toward the 40-year anniversary clock, which is displayed in her office.

At 50 years of service, McKee has no plans to retire, and she credits that in part to Farm Bureau.

“They’ve been good to me,” she said. “I think they’re good to all their employees.”

The Washington County Farm Bureau in Jonesborough is located at 1103 Boones Creek Road. They offer health, life, auto and home insurance, among other services. Their phone number is 753-2106.

Locals strum up dulcimer skills



H&T Correspondent

On Tuesday and Friday afternoon each week, students gather at the Jonesborough Senior Center to play the dulcimer, and sitting in a circle, strumming strings, they join voices to breathe life into old folk songs, bringing the past into the present, if only for a few minutes.

The teacher of the class, Don Burger, has been playing the dulcimer, an instrument with Appalachian roots, for over 30 years.

“I really took to the dulcimer because it’s a simple instrument,” Burger said. “It’s very accessible, and at one time the dulcimer was very common around here.”

The history of the instrument fascinated Burger, who has even taught classes on the subject.

“I taught a class on the history of the dulcimer at King College,” Burger said.

“Its origin is about 200 years ago in Kentucky. It’s the only original American instrument.”

But it gets very little attention, he said.

“People don’t even know it exists,” Burger said. “Being a dulcimer player, I played on the streets in Jonesborough for a few years, and never once did someone come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I also play.’”

Burger organized Jonesborough’s Dulcimer Week, which took place in May of this year, to help give the instrument some publicity.

“It was actually nine days of dulcimer-related free activities so you could experience the dulcimer,” Burger said. “You could see it, you could touch it, you could even play it as part of raising awareness.”

Dulcimer Week sparked interest, which led to the class at the Senior Center, he said.

“The dulcimer is a great instrument for seniors,” Burger said. “People will have wanted to play an instrument, and then life just passes them by… but they still have a song in their heart.”

The dulcimer is a simple instrument, so it’s perfect for beginner musicians who want to learn to play something without too much complexity, he said.

To play the dulcimer, Burger said, “you just need to have a love for music and a dream of yourself as a musician.”

Originally, the class was only supposed to run for seven weeks, but with continued interest from the students, the class has been extended, Burger said. 

Carol Cerniauskas, one of Burger’s students, became interested in the dulcimer after attending a concert by Joe Collins during Dulcimer Week.

“I thought, I’m going to do that, and that day I bought my dulcimer,” Cerniauskas said. “I signed up right away because I wanted to make music.”

Cerniauskas, who moved to Johnson City from Baton Rouge a little over a year ago, said the class has been fun for her. 

“We don’t just learn the mechanics of playing, we get a lot of musical history. It enriches our whole experience,” she said.

Even the songs the class plays have an interesting history to them, Burger said. “The songs… have really interesting stories. Which song would you like to play?” he asked the class.

“Grandfather’s Clock,” Cerniauskas responded. Burger leafed through his notes to find the right page.

“This song was written around the time of the Civil War by Henry Clay Work,” he said.

“A lot of his songs were not easy to listen to because they were pretty honest about how people were affected. This happens to be a sentimental song, but it’s not so sad.”

The members of the small class launched into the old melody with confidence.

After weeks of practice, the group is now getting ready to perform, Burger said.

“We’ve dwindled down to a core group of people who really seem dedicated to learning and playing, to the point where we’re beginning to show off a little bit,” Burger said. 

According to Burger, the class is scheduled to perform at a senior event in November, and members of the class plan to eventually take the dulcimers into area schools “to see if we can get children interested in playing the dulcimer.”

The ongoing dulcimer classes, which take place on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. and on Fridays at 1:30 p.m., are not currently open to new students, Burger said, but he does plan to schedule more classes at a later date. 

The Jonesborough Senior Center is located at 307 E. Main St. For more information on Senior Center classes, contact 423-753-4781.

Locals strum up dulcimer skills

A taste of Italy: Boone Street coordinator explores farm life in Europe

Ashley Cavender is all smiles on her trip across the pond.


H&T Correspondent

Ashley Cavender made a life-long dream come true this past summer, and it began with a spur-of-the-moment purchase at the beginning of the year.

“I was looking at flights with my friend on New Year’s,” Cavender said, “and we found one to Italy. It was a very good deal.”

Cavender, who had never been out of the country before, booked the flight, but decided she didn’t want to experience Italy as a tourist. She wanted to immerse herself in Italian culture. That’s how Cavender became a WWOOFer. A WWOOFer lives and works alongside a host in their chosen country, and in exchange, they receive room and board.

“WWOOF stands for Worldwide Organization for Organic Farming,” Cavender said. “You can WWOOF anywhere in the world, but I’d always wanted to go to Italy. I’ve been obsessed with Italian culture and food since I was young.”

The Jonesborough resident wanted to work on a farm, but not in agritourism, a growing industry where visitors get to briefly enjoy the more-fun aspects of farm life.

Cavender serves through AmeriCorps as the local food coordinator for Boone Street Market, and she works with small farmers daily — so working on a homestead, she reasoned, would not only be more interesting than agritourism, but would help in her job as well.

“With all that I’ve done at Boone Street Market, I know so much about agriculture,” Cavender said, “but I don’t know the hands-on aspects of it. I don’t know what it’s like to get your hands in the dirt 12 hours a day.”

She used the website to find a suitable match, and she ended up on a homestead called Tobbiga, located near Scansano. She lived at Tobbiga with a farmer, his wife, and their two children for 18 days, and she woke every morning at 7 a.m. to feed rabbits, chickens, donkeys and cows. She did the milking, chopped wood and fixed fencing, and she was present for the birth of a new addition to the farm: a calf. 

At first, it was overwhelming, she said, especially since the family didn’t speak as much English as she thought they would, but after a while she fell into a rhythm.

Cavender arrived at the farm on July 20, a blazing hot time of year in Italy, and especially in Tuscany, which has been under a drought.

“Some days it would get up to 104 degrees,” she said, “so we wouldn’t work in the heat of the day. We would make lunch for ourselves and the family, then we would nap for an hour or two and go back out.”

Dinner, she said, usually wasn’t until about 9 p.m. 

“It was really challenging physically and emotionally, but I really enjoyed it,” Cavender said. “It just gave me a different perspective on the farmers I interact with daily. I don’t think I could do it every day. It takes so much out of you.”

It has its rewards as well, though, Cavender said, like being present for the birth of the calf.

“I can see how it’s really a labor of love,” Cavender said.

The relaxed Italian lifestyle appealed to Cavender, and she has vowed to implement a more relaxed attitude in her Tennessee life.

“Italian culture is much slower than the United States, and it really taught me to just sit back and relax,” she said. “They really enjoy their time and their food. They put so much love and effort into every meal they produce.”

The meals were a highlight of the trip for Cavender.

“Their food is outstanding,” she said. “It’s so fresh. We had olive oil from the olive trees on the farm. We had grains that he had grown himself and ground. The culinary aspects are phenomenal.”

In addition to the straight-from-the-farm fare, Cavender experienced cuisine in other Italian cities while traveling, including Florence and Venice.

The month-long experience changed her perspective on farming, she said, and she saw many connections and similar struggles between the small farmers in Italy and the small farmers in Tennessee. The experience also changed her perspective on life in general.

“It changed me,” Cavender said. “I can bring a gazillion aspects of that back to Boone Street Market and back to Jonesborough with me.”

She was nervous about making the trip and had fears about traveling alone, she said, but doing so added to her life in ways she never expected.

“Have you ever had such an intense gut-wrenching fear… then you feel the fear melt away and turn into this confidence that you never thought you’d have inside of you? That’s literally what traveling alone did for me.”

The encouragement of the Jonesborough community, including a wonderful going-away party, helped in getting her to Italy, she said.

“It was really, really beautiful to know there was so much support and love for me as I went on this adventure by myself, and it was even better to know when returning that I was coming back to such an amazing community that loves and supports me.”

Cavender plans to WWOOF again, and she recommends the experience to everyone.

“It’s a great way to travel. It’s for anyone at any stage of their lives.”

Appalachian Fair photographer recalls his fondest memories

David and Thelma Stover take a minute to relive their Appalachian Fair memories.


Staff Writer

While fair-goers were taking in Friday night, country concerts and riding up high on that glowing, technicolor ferris wheel at the Appalachian Fair, David Stover was taking in all the Appalachian Fair sites too—through a camera lens, that is.

David has been an Appalachian Fair photographer since 1995 and has shot hundreds of photos of livestock, pageant contestants, exhibits and musical entertainers throughout the years.

Now the Washington County native has stacks of photo albums that could cover two coffee tables from all those years of photography.

On the fairgrounds, where he showed up one afternoon asking for a press pass, not knowing he’d walk out with a photography job instead, David is known by many as the man behind the camera.

But when he first got his start, he had another job — until his passion for photography took hold.

“I was in electronics. That’s what my degree was in. I worked over at Eastman in the electrical instrumentation group and if something happened or would go wrong and break, then I was the one they called on to come take the picture,” he said. “I was one of the very few that had a camera inside Eastman. When I was working I’d take a half day of vacation and go to the fairground. I went to work at 7 o’clock and have half of a day in by 11 o’clock — that way I could get to the fairground pretty early.”

From Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw to Chris Young and Miranda Lambert, the photographer’s been up close and personal with every entertainer at the fair. He says his favorites were the older country singers, but nothing puts a smile on his face quite like the name Charlie Daniels.

“Oh, Charlie’s my buddy,” David said. “He used to have a man who drove the bus for him who was one of Ernest Tubb’s sons. He was a good one.”

A photo of Thelma and David Stover can be find in David’s collection of fair photos.

David and his wife Thelma also recalled a plethora of roses a LeeAnne Womack admirer sent backstage just before her performance at the fairgrounds — along with some extra security that night. 

During his time shooting photos at the fair, David has been on board an United States Army Parachute Team’s aircraft, within a few inches of enormous monster trucks barreling right by him and Thelma and was chased by a prize-winning bull who was, luckily, kept away thanks to the protection of a fence. But for David, his favorite part was when he could create a beautiful photograph that included the winner of the Fairest of the Fair pageant.

“Some of my favorite things to do, and I didn’t get to do it too much because of scheduling problems, was shoot pictures of the Fairest of the Fair up in the carnival participating in some of the games,” David explained. “You pick out one that’s really colorful and have her participate and shoot pictures of her.”

As for Thelma, who has accompanied David on each of his summertime fair adventures, her favorite part of the Appalachian Fair has always involved the livestock and their owners.

“I love the Wool and Woolies because you see those kids and adults out there working with those sheep and then they come in with the clothes they’ve made to wear that evening,” Thelma said. “They’re all dressed up and it’s just a different person to see. They really look pretty. That’s one of my favorites.”

Thelma and David aren’t just regulars at the Appalachian Fair — the two also go to the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville and the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina, which is also involved with Drew Exposition, the ride-operation company that has been involved with the Appalachian Fair for decades.

But for David, it’s not just a social event for him and his wife where they can visit with old friends they’ve seen each year at the fair; it’s also a place he used to visit as a young boy growing up on a farm on Hairetown Road.

“(Going to the fair as a boy) started my interest years ago. We’d go to the fair real late in the evening — we didn’t go in the day because we had too much work to do,” David recalled. “It’d be tobacco cutting time and we’d cut tobacco until late in the evening and then come night time, we might ride out to the fairground. The guy who ran the fair, we just about grew up together.”

His tubs of photo albums are full of pictures of ferris wheels, guitar slingers, cows and sheep and monster trucks, but one of his favorite pictures, somewhere hiding in one of the many hardcover photo albums, is a picture where the stars (and the moon) seemed to line up just right on one of David’s many nights at the Appalachian Fair.

“You don’t get this short very often — I only remember it twice — there was a shot of a full moon coming up looking across the stage, looking east, and the entertainer’s on the stage at the same time,” David recalled, eyeing the closest photo album. “It’s in here somewhere.”

Painter blends inspiration in art


Sitting in her small studio illuminated by a flood of natural light, Ginny Wall, accomplished artist and McKinney Center teacher, shared her journey to art.

“His name was Mr. McGowan. He was my most special art teacher,” Wall said as she gently wiped off dust from the top of the blue tin box. “It was the end of the school year and all the teachers were saying goodbye to their students. Mr. McGowan walked up to me and said, ‘I’m really not supposed to do this, but I want you to have this because I want you to keep paining.’ It was this little cheap 99-cent blue tin box of paints.”

To Wall, the simple blue tin box is a reminder of encouragement and inspiration.

“I was so motivated and inspired by him just encouraging me. Don’t you wish you could go back and say, ‘you don’t know what that meant to me?’”

Wall has taken that story from her childhood and strives to inspire her students in the same way “There are those people all along your whole life. Those little bright people, they might not even know they are encouraging you that much. But, as a teacher, we want to do that to our students.”

While Wall talked about her beginnings with art, she continued to watercolor a scene on the page beneath her hand, saying “I think it was a God-given gift. I really didn’t know that much about watercolor except I was really drawn to it and I really liked it. I love all the mediums, that was the medium that really just attracted me because it’s… It’s more spontaneous.”

Wall had painted the cover of books and magazines, she was the president of the Santa Rosa Association and spent over 20 years taking part in fine arts shows and exhibits. But that’s not all painting is about for Wall.

“It’s not so much mastering the technique, it’s more sharing and teaching that I enjoy the most. I’ve gotten to a level where I understand the medium so well that I can share with other people. And then they can have their own ‘ah ha’ moments!”

Wall not only helps her students artistic abilities grow, she also strives to be a light to them.

“People go through difficult times,” Wall explained. “So teaching is never just about teaching a subject. You’re always finding out about people and their trials. If they’re doing something that they love to do, it’s helping them somehow.”

While Wall intricately dipped her brush in the lightest hue of orange, she continued to talk about the depth art adds in a persons life.

“You will be inspired and that will become an outlet. If you follow it, if you pursue it, it is always going to be satisfying.”

Wall enjoys her days by the shore of Watauga Lake, working in her garden and creating art that is saturated with beauty. With a gentle spirit and a creative hand, Wall uses her abilities as a teacher to share her craft and the life lessons she’s learned along her journey.

“Seasons change in life, you know? And so, it’s a good thing to be able to just say, ‘I’m going with this, it’s okay.’ Give yourself permission to change. That idea of allowing yourself to change important. And when you feel the winds of change blowing, you wait until you know where they’re blowing.” Wall said. “For me, this journey of art has been a lot of changes.”

Begin your journey of art with Ginny Wall by taking one of her watercolor classes. For more information contact Theresa Hammons by calling 423-753-0562.

To see all classes, download the online catalog at this link:

Heirloom flowers take root

Hazel Marie Campbell


H&T Correspondent

On the Jonesborough Senior Center patio, Hazel Marie Campbell strolled from flower to flower, pointing out the irises and chrysanthemums she donated to the Senior Center earlier this summer.

“They’re not blooming right now,” she said as she bent to point to an iris, which was absent any colorful bud or bloom, “but the chrysanthemums will be in a few weeks. You should come back and see them then.”

The chrysanthemums won’t bloom until after a killing frost, she said, and when they do bloom they’ll be a rust-orange color. She knows because they’ve been in her yard for as long as she can remember.

Campbell inherited the decades-old flowers from her mother, who moved to Jonesborough with her family almost 100 years ago.

“My mom’s family moved from Carter County in 1918,” Campbell said, “and those flowers came with them and were planted there in the yard.”

Her grandparents loved flowers, she said, and so did her mother, Florence Treadway Wagner, so it was only natural for them to bring the blooms along.

“It’s just in the family to like… growing flowers and vegetables,” Campbell said. “Mama could put a stick in the ground and it would grow.”

One of her favorite memories, she said, comes from the lilac bush that was planted in front of her house when she was a child. Her family didn’t have central heating and air, so they opened the windows during the summer to cool the rooms.

“When the wind took that lilac scent all the way through the house,” Campbell said, “now that’s a good memory for me. That lilac scent just going all through the house in the spring.”

Campbell still lives in that house.

“It’s home,” Campbell said. “I’m surrounded by memories of Mom in the kitchen baking biscuits and Dad out with the horses and wagon… I love my little hometown of Jonesborough.”

Her first thought when she considered donating the flowers was the Jonesborough Senior Center.

“We were very touched,” Mary Sanger, director of the Jonesborough Senior Center, said. “She wanted to know the plants would be enjoyed by someone, and we thought it was a great idea to have them here.”

Sanger currently has a plaque in the works to commemorate the donation, and the Senior Center plans to get more flowers from Campbell in the fall. 

Campbell also plans to donate flowers to Cherokee Baptist Church for their garden.

“I want to donate some there at the church where my mom was a member for 60 or 70 years or more,” Campbell said.

Her main goal in donating the flowers is to preserve them, she said.

“I want some of them where they’ll be preserved because there’s going to come a point in time where I can’t live by myself way out in the country anymore,” she said. “I don’t want them taken over with bushes and weeds and honeysuckle.”

Campbell grew up caring for the flowers and has inherited the green thumb of her family members.

“I used to say give me something to dig with and a pile of dirt, and I was happy,” she said. “I loved my big vegetable garden and flower garden and working in the yard.”

However, for the last year or so it has been difficult to do due to health reasons, she said, and she’s had to have help getting work done outdoors.

“I’m afraid those gardening days are over,” Campbell said. “I’d like to see others enjoy (the flowers.) I have a saying, ‘I want my flowers while I’m living, but they won’t do me any good when I’m dead and gone.’” 

Since the irises at the Senior Center were without flower, she brought photographs of some of her irises in bloom to show their color, a pale blue.

“They’re not some of the newer hybrid ones,” she said, pointing to the photograph of her flowerbed at home. “This is an old-timey iris that’s been there forever and ever and ever.”

That’s another reason to preserve them, she said, because they are non-hybrid.

After gazing at the photo for a moment, she put it away, shaking her head.

“I wish my mom knew what all her flowers mean to me.”

The Jonesborough Senior Center is located at 307 E Main St. They are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

JRT makes NYC visit to learn from the best


Jonesborough Repertory Theatre members returned from a trip to New York recently, bringing back to their Jonesborough state what they viewed as an incredibly valuable commodity: the knowledge and advice of Broadway theatre professionals.

Sixteen JRT members, including technicians, choreographers, assistant directors, and all the directors for JRT’s upcoming season, attended the three-day Broadway Teachers Workshop, which took place from July 20-22.

“This is great that we were able to do this,” said Janette Gaines, director of education for JRT and organizer of the trip.. “You can’t produce great theatre if you never see great theatre.”

As part of the workshop, the group attended four Broadway shows: Anastasia, Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

“Watching four completely different types of musicals continues to be a great way of expanding my toolbox for creating shows at JRT,” Gaines said. “By watching, I get the best ideas for different approaches to set design, props and even costumes. My mind is opened up to step outside the box.”

After each show, the JRT members were fortunate enough to take part in question-and-answer sessions with the cast and crew, she said.

Gaines, who has been with the theatre for 15 years, said it doesn’t get better than “getting answers from the people who do it best.”

“It helps us to grow and produce quality, which brings more people into the theatre,” she said. 

In addition to evening performances, the musical theatre workshop also included daytime sessions on various subjects, like stage management, directing musicals, and choreography. 

“I think we’re an exceptional community theatre… because we have the support of the town, but we have a budget,” Gaines said among other things, the tips and tricks learned in the sessions have helped the theatre create complicated effects without undue expense.

For example, Gaines said, this year they were struggling to find a “magical” rose for JRT’s season opener, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and the options were limited and expensive, but during one of the workshop sessions a lighting designer for JRT learned how to make a rose with petals that will drop that will work perfectly for the upcoming production.

This is the third year JRT members have attended the Broadway Teachers Workshop, Gaines said, and every year they bring valuable knowledge back to JRT and to their students.

JRT directors were provided partial registration, she said, but many JRT attendees paid for the musical theatre workshop in full out of their own pockets.

“That’s the kind of committed people we have (at JRT,” Gaines said. “These are people who save money all year long so they can do this.”

JRT members are already planning to attend the Broadway Teachers Workshop in 2018.

Jennifer Ross, artistic director at JRT, said education is paramount to the theatre’s operation.

“Everything we do is to try to serve and educate others,” Ross said, so she found the attitude of the actors and directors on Broadway especially impactful.

They stress an attitude of service, Ross said, and having people so successful in their field emphasize the importance of serving others left a strong impression.

“You’ve got to give back to other people before you’ll be able to create effectively,” Ross said. “I’ll definitely be communicating that verbally to all our actors. It’s all about service to others.”

Ross said she is considering putting a sign about the importance of service in the green room as a constant reminder to everyone in the theatre.

Though JRT’s theatre family already strives to give back to the community, Ross said, directors are always trying to raise the bar of excellence at JRT and community participation is important.

JRT takes part in many community events, like the Storytelling Festival and Jonesborough Days, but the theatre would always love to do more, which is where volunteers come in.

“The doors are always open for anyone and everyone to join Friends of JRT,” Ross said.

The Friends of JRT meet on the first Monday of every month, and the next meeting will be on August 7.

Part of what makes JRT unique is the support of the town, Gaines said, and that support has only grown as of late.

“We had our best year yet last season,” Gaines said, which adds to the excitement for upcoming shows.

To celebrate the new season, JRT is having a Season Kick-Off Soiree on Saturday, August 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Attendees will get a sneak peak of JRT’s upcoming season followed by a champagne reception.

Tickets for JRT performances and for the Season Kick-Off Soiree can be purchased on the JRT website,, or through the Jonesborough Visitors Center.

You can contact the Visitors Center at 423-753-1010 for information on tickets and reservations, or JRT at 423-791-4440 for more information on the theatre and the Friends of JRT.

Artist to share art of ‘mud pies’

Jess Parks, the latest potter sitting at the wheel in Jonesborough, is ready to share her art.


“I grew up making mud pies.” Jess Parks declared, beaming proudly while still wearing a few speckles of clay in her long, braided hair, evidence of her work at the pottery wheel earlier in the day.

`“I’m very involved tactilely with making things with my hands. In high school, I took my first pottery class. I didn’t want to go to anything else.”

After looking over a table filled with her wheel-thrown and hand-built clay pieces, it is clear that when Jess Parks found that pottery class in high school, she discovered an important part of who she would become.

“I’ve always been making stuff, not just pottery,” Parks said. “For a time, I did flower arranging, and I was a cake decorator. I did some sculpting and pottery. I was sure I wanted to become an artist but didn’t know how to do it from where I was in Florida.”

Parks then described her journey from her hometown of Daytona Beach to Northeast Tennessee. After making several trips to visit family at her stepfather’s home in Erwin, she finally moved to Tennessee permanently and enrolled at ETSU. That is where she studied art design with a concentration in pottery and earned her bachelor’s degree.

Since moving to Jonesborough, Parks has begun to make a name for herself in local and regional art shows.

In addition to being a superb potter, she is becoming known for developing her own glazes. These distinctive glazes and her unique forms have a character all their own. They are recognized immediately as a “Jess Parks” piece — even though the pieces are always changing as she explores new colors and surface decorations.

Parks excitedly describes a new glaze she created on pieces that will be shown soon.

“No one else has the colors I have because I am the only one who makes them. I have a show in August with mocha diffusion with slip and acidic diffusions. I never get bored. I’m always developing new techniques.”

These techniques have caught the eyes of prestigious gallery owners, with her work now showing in places such as the New Morning Gallery at Biltmore Village in Asheville.

“Yes, that was exciting when I learned they wanted my work,” Parks said. “But more exciting for me is working with other people who have the same interest and seeing someone get excited about the same things I do. That does not get old.”

She explained that this happens in her collaborations with other artists, as well as in her classes with students.

“I’ve always been inspired by everyone around me,” Parks explained. “I was recently just inspired by a musician, and now I’m interested in making musical instruments out of clay. The more people I talk to, the more I am exposed to different tools and mediums and outlets of expression.”

Park shares this knowledge in classes that she teaches at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough.

“I like to develop my own methods and teach that, and also let students know how many ways there is to make something,” she said. “I want them to learn from me, and I want them to learn from others, as well, just like I did. It’s important to expose yourself to different potters because we all do things differently. I encourage my students to learn what they can from each one, and then develop their own style and method.”

Park smiled again. “I want to help get everyone out of the box. Help them have as much fun with the tactile experience as I do. Start with making mud pies, and end up with a coffee mug.”

Her laughter is infectious, and the joy she feels in teaching and creating is clear.

“Another thing: I feel like sometimes you don’t fit in with different groups, but you can always come to my class. There are no grades. And you leave with something you didn’t know you could do — and that’s empowering,” she said. “Even if your pot blows up in the kiln, I feel like we all get something out of it.”

“Another thing: I feel like sometimes you don’t fit in with different groups, but you can always come to my class. There are no grades. And you leave with something you didn’t know you could do — and that’s empowering,” she said. “Even if your pot blows up in the kiln, I feel like we all get something out of it.”

When asked about what might be her newest developments, she springs up again.

“I am excited about moving on to my next subject matter, and great collaborations, joining forces with equally skilled artists in a different field,” Park said. “I am so open to that. I am not intimidated by anything. I am not afraid to fail, it doesn’t scare me —  it inspires me. It is a challenge. And even if it blows up in the kiln, I know I’ll have gotten something out of it to inspire the next big idea.”

Parks will be teaching pottery classes at the McKinney Center this fall, both hand-building and the potter’s wheel, levels one and two.

For information about classes at the McKinney Center, contact McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons at or by calling (423) 753-0562.

To see all classes, download the online catalog at this link: 

Artist shares his excitement in music

Jonathan Edens teaches a student a chord during a lesson.


“Initially, I just wanted to be a rock star.” Jonathan Edens said smiling, as he easily works the strings up and down his guitar. “It probably starts that way for most folks, I guess, but the more I played guitar, the more I began liking the artistry of it. Music became more than an ego trip. It became part of who I am.”

Edens, an accomplished musician who serves as a community member and mentor with the Tusculum College Jazz Band, is a native of Greenville, and comes from a family with a long history in the area.

“Everyone in my family is known for something,” he said and talks about his grandfather, Marion C. Edens, who was at different points the head football coach, basketball coach, athletic director, and director of admissions for Tusculum College.

“My grandfather also restored log cabins after he retired, one of which I own. It’s next door to my house, which is also a house my grandfather built.”

He goes on to share about his grandmother. She was a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. A weaver and a painter, she had a piece of linsey-woolsey exhibited in The Smithsonian. His mother learned the craft as well and is also a weaver.

“They were artists but didn’t call themselves that. They went about their lives creating. I feel like I am the same way. When I found music, I realized that is how maybe I would create.”

While he focuses on his music and carves out his own field of expertise and experience, Edens is also careful to learn and carry on the crafts of those who came before him.

“Tradition is important to me. Very much. I think it is an important responsibility to carry on tradition. My mom knows how to weave.

“I’m trying to get her to give me some lessons on weaving. I think we each have a skill and with that an opportunity to share that knowledge with someone else. I think that’s why I finally decided to start teaching. What is meant to do with all of this knowledge one has accrued if not to pass it on?”

He then thoughtfully plays a jazz rendition of Autumn Leaves.

“As a guitarist, I really struggled with jazz. This was the song that made me realize that I could become proficient at the art form if I could learn and master Autumn Leaves,” he said.

Edens explained that while he played with ease other forms on the guitar, he found his challenge in jazz.  “Jazz is a horn player’s idiom, or piano player’s, but with guitar, the pedagogy is the least developed. The placement in context with other instruments is not as well established. Which I think is one reason guitar took off with other forms of music, like bluegrass, country, and rock. It didn’t have to compete with other instruments.”

He goes on to explain that almost all horns are tuned differently, so a majority of jazz standards are in a key not familiar to most guitar players.

“Reading music, and reading music in a different key than I ever played, that was frustrating. But after working, and finally getting down Autumn Leaves, the door opened to a new world of playing music. I became more comfortable with the hard keys because now I knew I could do it.”

He smiled again and played the last measure of the song.

“Whether you are a beginner learning something new, or a proficient player, learning a new way of doing something, getting past that learning curve opens up those new worlds,” he said. “Discovering the excitement of that is something I love to teach.”

Jonathan Edens will be opening new doors to music this fall as he joins the McKinney Center faculty as a guitar teacher. He will be offering beginner guitar classes for both children and adults and will offer daytime and evening classes to accommodate most schedules.

For information about this class or other classes at the McKinney Center, contact McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons at or by calling (423) 753-0562.

To see all classes, download the online catalog at this link:

Drones fly into Jonesborough


H&T Correspondent

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a drone on the Jonesborough square. And thanks to an agreement between the Town of Jonesborough and Air One Media LLC, a flight service company owned by retired law enforcements officers Richie Hayward and Dean Chestnut, drone sightings could become a regular occurrence at future Jonesborough events and on Jonesborough property.

The agreement, signed earlier this year, stipulates that Hayward and Chestnut will provide aerial photography and videography for the city whenever called upon.

“Whenever they need us, they own us seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Chestnut laughed.

Chestnut has been a pilot of unmanned radio-controlled aircraft for almost 30 years, and he and Hayward assisted in the development of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Ordinance, which was passed by the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen in May.   

“The Board of Mayor and Aldermen decided… they needed to come up with some kind of ordinance,” Chestnut said. “They knew of us and asked us to help them… and direct them on where they could go to do more research.”

The ordinance states that drones must be used with a line-of-sight operation, that they must be operated at 60 m.p.h. or below, and that the maximum altitude for drone operation is 400 feet. The ordinance also prohibits the use of a drone on public property without authorization, and requires licensing and insurance for drone operators, among other regulations.

“We’re just mainly interested that whoever is doing this in town is doing it in a professional way… and also that they are going to do it in a safe manner,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said, but he pointed out that there are exceptions for some of the regulations.

“If they are flying it on their own property, then that becomes a different story,” Browning said.

Chestnut said he was glad to see the ordinance put in place.

“A lot of towns are doing [ordinances],” Chestnut said. “I think it’s a good thing.” 

Drones that are flown irresponsibly and without adherence to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules can pose a serious threat to other aircrafts and to people on the ground, Chestnut said.

“You can’t just get a drone and go out and fly,” Chestnut said. “Unfortunately, too many people are just out doing it and not using safety… they’re flying over people and crowds and cars, and flying at night when they’re not allowed.”

To operate the unmanned aircrafts, Chestnut and Hayward obtained a license for remote pilots.

“To me it was like getting a private pilot’s license,” Hayward said. “We studied hundreds and hundreds of pages. You have to know all about the weather, charts, aeronautical winds, safety for flying in and around airports, what you can do and what you can’t do.”

Aerial photography and videography started out as a hobby, said Hayward, a professional photographer, but it quickly blossomed into something more.

“We were having so much fun doing it,” he said.

The duo founded Air One Media two years ago.

Air One Media uses drone-mounted cameras for aerial video and photography, shooting promotional videos, real estate listings, inspections, events, and more. The company is fully licensed and insured and is FAA-certified to fly commercially both day and night.

In addition to running their business, Hayward and Chestnut have taught a drone STEM camp program for kids and teens for the last two summers.

“We really enjoy that. These guys are really getting into it,” Chestnut said. “They want to design the drones, fly them, race them. Drone racing is a popular sport now… a multi-million-dollar industry, and those drones will fly in excess of 100 miles per hour.”

The uses for drones are incredible and almost endless, Chestnut said, and with all the concerns about privacy and safety, the challenge at times is getting the word out that drones can be beneficial.

Drones are being used in real estate, construction, media, security, law enforcement, search and rescue, agricultural and infrastructure maintenance and management, geographic mapping, and more. Technology companies are even finding ways to utilize them in warehouses and deliveries.

“This technology that we have here has really evolved over the last probably three or four years, so just imagine in another eight, nine, or ten years what the technology will be,” he said.

The technology may be new, but ordinances on aerial flight in Jonesborough are not according to Deborah Montanti, executive director of the Heritage Alliance.

In February of 1841, the Jonesborough Whig published a list of corporation laws passed at the January 28, 1841 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Montanti said, including the following law regarding aerial flight:

“That any person or persons flying a kite, raising a balloon, or throwing fireballs within the limits of the Corporation shall forfeit and pay the sum of Five Dollars for each and every offence.”

“As hot air balloons were all the rage during the 1840s, and hot air balloon crashes were a real threat for fire, we surmise this was Jonesborough’s attempt to lessen the towns exposure to such a fire,” Montanti said. “We have no record of any such occurrence in Jonesborough, so perhaps it worked?”

If you need any type of aerial photos, videos, etc., or would like information about the use and operation of a drone or a demonstration, contact Air One Media at 423-767-1513 (Dean Chestnut) or 305-216-6666 (Richie Hayward) or visit their website at

Sweets down the street: New shop hits downtown


H&T Correspondent

Yearning for a sweet treat? If pralines, cookie dough, or truffles are your thing, Downtown Sweet is the shop for you. Opened only three months ago on the Jonesborough square, Downtown Sweet offers a variety of treats to satisfy your sweet tooth, but they consider pralines their specialty.

“Lots of people have left saying, ‘These are better than in Savannah!’ or ‘These are better than in New Orleans!’” Davy Funderburk, owner of the sweet shop, said.

Funderburk and his wife, Laura, both natives of Louisiana, opened Downtown Sweet together after moving to East Tennessee almost a year ago.

“We moved here without any promise of a job, with no real connections… but the Lord has provided what we needed as we go,” Funderburk said. “It’s a beautiful town and people are very friendly.”

The Funderburks began by selling their treats online and wholesaling to shops in Jonesborough after the move, then got the opportunity to open their own shop when Earth & Sky Confections left the Jonesborough square. The Funderburks set up Downtown Sweet at Earth & Sky’s former location.

Downtown Sweet has a different feel and “flavor” from their predecessor’s sweet shop, however, Funderburk said.

“Earth & Sky that was here before had phenomenal chocolates that were very artistically done, and we decided to go with a more casual, rustic, hand-rolled approach, so that’s kind of the flavor (of the shop), and that’s our flavor too,” Funderburk said. “We’re those kind of people. Everything’s very high quality, but kind of informal.”

The Funderburks have many plans for the shop’s future. Currently, Downtown Sweet offers six varieties of truffles, all made with fine Belgian chocolate, but they are working to expand that to nine varieties, and they hope to include vegan and dairy-free options. For the time being, only their milk and dark chocolates are Fair Trade, but a search is underway for a source for Fair Trade white chocolate. They are also working on adding pricing and packaging for those who would like to use their truffles as wedding and party favors.

In addition to truffles and pralines, Downtown Sweet offers handmade ice cream sandwiches, a cool treat for a hot summer day, and a unique snack: edible chocolate chip cookie dough, which is eaten with a spoon right out of a cup. The cookie dough is egg-free and made with pre-cooked flour, and it has been so popular they are considering adding more flavors. 

The shop is very much family-oriented, Funderburk said, not only because it is family-owned but also because of the sweets produced behind the counter. Downtown Sweet’s praline recipe comes from Laura Funderburk’s grandfather, and the tea cakes, another shop favorite, are a recipe from Laura Funderburk’s mother.

“The tea cakes are a very simple cookie, but we have people who come in just for those,” Funderburk said.

The cookies are lightly sweet with an icing that holds a hint of almond.

“Even the chocolate chip cookies, my dad and I used to make those,” Funderburk said. “I’ve just tweaked the recipe a little bit.”

The Funderburk children are even involved in the family business. They help out around the shop, assisting with cleaning, baking, and displays. 14-year-old Isaac Funderburk assists in managing the store.

“He helps me a lot,” Funderburk said. “He helps me keep the shelves stocked and things looking nice. Whenever we make something, he packages it and keeps the displays full. My second oldest helps with some of the cookies… and then number three, he waters the flowers and opens the door for people.”

Funderburk said it is helpful to have a store that is a nice place for the entire family.

“I have five children. My three older boys come with me pretty much every morning… it’s just nice to have a safe place where they can kind of be in and out of the shop.”

The Jonesborough square is a wonderful place to be, Funderburk said.

“I think the biggest perk has been being a part of downtown and meeting people,” Funderburk said, adding that it is especially fun during festivals and other busy times. “It makes you feel like you’re a part of something. It’s fun to be a part of the fabric of the community.”

Funderburk said he enjoys talking to everyone who comes into the shop, and he’s had a great time getting to know the surrounding merchants, all of whom have given Downtown Sweet a warm welcome.

“We like being a part of people’s lives,” Funderburk said. “That sounds lofty, but it’s true.”

Downtown Sweet is located at 137 East Main St. and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the Downtown Sweet Facebook or Instagram page or

Group bridges gap for veterans


Staff Writer

If you see three men out and about in Washington County wearing white, short-sleeve button-ups, with dark blue, old-school side caps sporting a collection of colorful pins, you’ve stumbled upon the members of the Disabled American Veterans group — and they hope you recognize them.

“Anytime we’re out, we’re dressed,” DAV member Keith Jones said. “A lot of veterans groups, they go out and you don’t know if you’re really dealing with a veterans group or some individual that’s trying to hoodoo you. We’re not out there to hoodoo the public; we’re here to take care of our veterans.”

These members, who belong to the DAV’s ninth chapter in Tennessee, have hit the streets of Jonesborough and many other areas of the county in hopes of spreading the word about the local chapter of the DAV and to do some good while they’re at it. From crafts for both local members and service men and women currently in combat to the services they offer to veterans’ families at the time of their passing, Washington County’s local DAV group is ready to help disabled veterans and any other veteran who needs assistance.

“A lot of veterans don’t want to go to the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) and see a VA service officer because they’ve got it in their mind, ‘that guy works for the VA and their trying to keep me from getting my benefits,’” Jones explained. “So we found that it works better if we’re not connected with the VA, even though the paperwork goes through the same place. It’s just that mindset.”

Jones said there have also been times when members of the DAV have been approached by veterans who need assistance filing claims and even receiving their compensation.

“We had a guy that someone told him he couldn’t get compensation for his service connection because the government will take his firearms away from him. Well, the government won’t take his firearms away from him just because he’s service connected,” Jones explained. “And he, for years, wouldn’t go file a claim because he wanted his firearms. We got him in touch and he wound up getting $1,500 a month every single month for the rest of his life that he could have had 20 years ago if somebody was there to help him. It’s those kind of things that we do.”

Group member Keith Jones’ cap is decorated with pins from his time as an Army medic in Vietnam along with the work he’s done with the Disabled American Veterans.

The DAV also has a food pantry in their new building, at 407 E Market Street, Johnson City, Tennessee, for veterans who are in need of canned goods. They provide veterans with any wheelchairs, power chairs or any other similar medical equipment as well. Jones said the DAV also assists disabled veterans with financial assistance at times once they’ve been properly screened. The volunteer group operates on donations, an annual forget-me-not flower sale and their skeet shoot fundraiser.

“For years people didn’t know what DAV meant,” Commander of the DAV Chapter Ken Sheppard said, “Well now we’re back into the community again and people are starting to understand what we’re doing and who we are. That’s the main thing, to let them know what we stand for.”

The group most recently made an appearance in the Jonesborough Days Parade and was a part of Johnson City’s Pepsi Independence Day Fireworks Celebration. The local group even added a 13-passenger van to their organization that has helped them to become more mobile. But the van has offered another service to veterans as well.

“There are three or four trips we made out to Gray to people that would have died over the weekend if we weren’t able to go out and get them and take them to the emergency room,” Jones said. “This is the first year we’ve ever had a van and it’s really coming into play.”

The group has made an impact on numerous lives throughout the years; Sheppard told the Herald & Tribune about a veteran who always wanted to accompany the group on their trip to the war memorials in Washington D.C. Due to sickness, he wasn’t able to go. After he passed away, the group made a trip in his honor and laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial for him.

Meanwhile, DAV member James Lamprecht also told the story of a veteran whose dying wish was to have an honor guard at his memorial. Upon just an hour’s notice, DAV members were standing at attention to give the American veteran his honorary service.

“We just do what we can, that’s all,” Jones said.

Talking to these veterans is also a big part of Jones, Lamprecht and Sheppard’s “mission”.

“Especially Vietnam veterans (have a lot of built up memories of war). Vietnam veterans don’t like to talk to anybody but Vietnam veterans,” Jones, who was in the ninth infantry division in the Napalm Delta, Vietnam, said. “They wont talk. They won’t come out. They won’t come out to their families and they won’t come out a lot of time to their friends because they went through a lot of stuff that they don’t want their family to even know about. They think they’re protecting their family from what they went through. And most veterans are that way. But they’ll talk to a veteran or they’ll talk to a good looking woman, but they won’t talk to just anybody ya know.”

For these DAV members, primarily, they serve as a bridge between the help America’s service men and women need and someone who understands what it truly means to be a veteran.

“We’re them. We’re there with them. They’ll unload to us. I’ve had guys tell me stuff they wouldn’t tell anybody else. And I’ve probably told him some stuff I probably wouldn’t tell my wife,” Jones said, pointing in Lamprecht’s direction. “Not that I did anything wrong—just things that I’ve seen.”

The members have shown the community that they’re here to help and they’ve also shown one another the same thing; Sheppard once spent 12 hours at the hospital waiting for a veteran to get out of surgery.

And Jones was there for 11 days before Lamprecht’s wife passed.

“We’re brothers,” Jones said.

“And we’re proud of our chapter,” Sheppard added.

‘Just Jill’ ready to capture downtown

Jill Lewis has set up shop and is ready to document the lives of others through photography.


H&T Correspondent

On June 4 of 2016, Jill Lewis officially took up residence on the Jonesborough town square when she opened Just Jill Photography –– her studio and home away from home.

“I’ve always wanted a studio space and I’ve always wanted to be in Jonesborough, so this was the perfect place for me,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who has been a working photographer for about ten years, said the studio space, which was exactly what she had dreamed of, fell into her lap one day when her parents were visiting her in Johnson City.

“We had already eaten lunch, so we didn’t want to go out to eat. We didn’t want to see a movie because we wanted to be able to converse,” Lewis said. “We decided to take them to downtown Jonesborough.”

While wandering the shops, Lewis struck up a conversation with a shop owner who asked her if she was looking for studio space. Lewis, who had two young children at the time, said she would love a studio space, but wanted to wait to look for one until her kids were older.

“The shop owner and I went on to talk about working on props and stuff together,” she said. “She called me a few days later and said she had a proposition for me.”

The shop owner wanted to sublease a space in the building, and she thought it would be perfect for Lewis. After Lewis and her husband viewed the studio space, they came to the same conclusion.

Once we saw it, it was a no-brainer, Lewis said.

“I wasn’t even looking,” Lewis said. “I really feel like this space was meant to be. It totally fell into our laps and I’m really glad it did. I’m really glad we randomly decided to come to Jonesborough on a Saturday afternoon and popped into the store.”

The studio, located at 123 East Main Street, has rich hardwood floors and windows shaded by ivy, and it is decorated with a whimsical touch. A divider made of old barn doors, tin from a barn roof, and storage shelves separates her space from the next. Since Lewis specializes in photographing children and families, toys are among her photo props.

“I’m not going to just grab my camera and stick it in your child’s face,” Lewis said. “I love to get down on the floor and play with the kids and pull out that emotion and pull out those genuine smiles and that laughter.”

Lewis prefers shots that show her clients’ personalities over just-sit-and-smile shots.

“I love being able to capture a child the way they are in that second,” Lewis said. “I’m a mom, so I know how quick everything goes. It just flies by. If I can kind of get a little glimpse of who that child is in a photograph, that’s something that can stick with that family forever.”

Lewis especially enjoys photographs that evoke emotion from parents.

“It’s really neat to see through the eyes of a parent and see what connects with them,” Lewis said. “That’s important. That’s what they have to pass down through generations.”

When families come in, Lewis tries to photograph them in action, interacting with one another and playing instead of just as a posed group.

“Come in and be yourself. Be your family. Your photo sessions cannot be any crazier and chaotic than my family photo sessions,” Lewis laughed.

Building relationships with clients is important, she said.

“There are some people who I did engagement pictures for who are now having babies,” she said, and those clients are now bringing their children to Lewis for photographs.

“I love following them through these different stages of their lives,” she said. “It’s an honor, really, and it’s neat to watch them grow up.”

There are a few pieces of advice that Lewis offers to her clients. The first is to print their photographs.

“I let people have their digital files from their pictures, but I always say, ‘Please let me help you get them in print and on your walls and in albums.’”

One day, Lewis said, those digital files will be gone.

Her second piece of advice: “Just do it.”

Don’t put off taking photos because you want to lose weight or because it doesn’t seem important, she said.

“You’ll want those photos later. I treasure my family photos.”

And most of all, Lewis said, have fun.

Just Jill Photography’s hours are by appointment only. To set up a session, you can contact Lewis at 423-202-4840, at, or through Facebook.

Merchant opens up travels to her curious customers

Janet Browning has traveled the world visiting with various tribes. She’s now inviting others to come along on the adventure.


If you have walked down Main Street, you’ve surely noticed the vibrant shop called Hands Around the World — where a cultural experience and a story tags along with each item sold.

Baskets woven by the Yekuana Tribe from Venezuela, hand carved turquoise placed in sterling silver rings from Peru and handmade nativity scenes from all areas of the world fill the store. Each item is created from artists in small villages from various regions of the world, each telling the story of that culture.

Janet Browning, owner of Hands Around the World, is a true traveler. Her story began in an Indian village deep in the Amazon where she met an artist selling his work. “It was a traditional sculpture, the one of a snake that is being caught by a bird.” Browning said. “The artist had a very detailed piece of art, almost to the grotesque point, with blood dripping down the fingernails of the bird and all that kind of stuff. But it was a wonderful work of art and I talked to him about it and ooed and awed.”

“This was a motif that a lot of people did so I found one that was simpler and more modern and I bought it. I saw his face when he saw me with the other one and it was obvious he was devastated. He just had it in his mind that I was going to come back and buy that from him. And it made me think how important that sell would have been to him.” Browning continued. “It made me think about how they probably sit there all day and sell little to nothing, ya know? So, I said to my daughter, “Someday, I would like to come back here and buy everything that someone’s made. I want to make a difference for that one person.” About six months later that is exactly what Browning did.

Janet Browning is also the woman behind the Hands Around the World shop located in downtown Jonesborough.

Browning bought a great big hippie van and began traveling all across the southeast — and broke down all across the southeast.

She was living her dream by selling items bought while traveling to numerous exotic locations.

Continuing this tradition, Browning then opened Hands Around the World in 2001. Now, she is expanding Hands Around the World by offering travel experiences to the public.

Using her expertise, Browning plans the entire trip for you but also allows flexibility. It will give the opportunity to spend a day with a local family, see how they live and what their life is like.

“You can go to these islands and it is real touristy.” Browning said. “They make boats out of reeds that you can ride on and such. But I told one of my guides I wanted to go to an Island where it wasn’t like that. I just want a family that lives a little away and see how they fish, gather reeds, make things with the reeds, and all about how they live. We came back with a real knowledge of those people.” The trips are designed to give a true taste of that culture- delve into it and truly experience it.

“Typically, you’re the tourist and there’s the people —I want to mesh those. My business lets me do that,” Browning said. “The most rewarding part is going back and visiting the same people.”

Browning believes travel changes people for the better because they’re not just seeing the American point of view. She strives to honor cultures that are disappearing and to provide people with an outlook on tradition and unique ways of life.

Just a few of the destinations Browning has on the list for the future will be Nepal and Tibet in August, Spain, Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Panama, New Zealand, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and even perhaps an African Safari.

On top of it all, Browning is an accomplished artist. You can stop in Hands Around the World on Main Street and see some of her work or sign up for her class charcoal portrait class at the McKinney center for the fall.

If you would like more information on taking a trip call Janet at 423-737-1496, email her at, or stop by our shop, Hands Around the World at 111 East Main St., Jonesborough.

Or be a part of Janet’s story by taking one of her Charcoal Portraits From Photography Class or joining in on one of the Beading workshops at the McKinney Center. For more information contact Theresa Hammons at or call 423-753-0562.

Local farmer plows up memories of simpler time

It was about 50 years ago that Paul Armentrout would take his father’s old Farmall tractor, cutting through pastures and down a quiet country road to his neighbor and lifelong friend Robert Shanks’ house.

Back in those days, Armentrout would sit on a fence post watching local farmers cut hay with the most eye-catching tractors Armentrout had ever seen. But now on most blistering hot day summer days, Armentrout can 

still be found, sitting on a tractor while his old friend, Shanks, chats with anyone who stops by—including a Herald & Tribune reporter—about their love for tractors and memories of yesteryear in East Tennessee.

“When I was a little boy, (Shanks’) dad and another fella farmed on the farm that joined us. My brother and I would sit on a fence post and watch them work with those old tractors. Well, they were new tractors then,” Armentrout said, laughing at the memory. “In fact, Robert and I used to take tractors down to each other’s houses and play on Sunday afternoons.”

Now just down the road from where those memories took place, Armentrout is living that young farm boy’s dream, cutting hay on a 1946 Farmall M tractor from his childhood that he’s now putting to good use.

“I love to operate them and see them work—that’s what they were designed for,” Armentrout said. “I just like to hear them run. Growing up on a small farm, we just had a small tractor. I still have the only tractor my dad ever owned which was a little Farmall 100,” Armentrout said. “I don’t know, just being a farm boy (sparked an interest in tractors). Not much else to do. That was our entertainment I guess.”

In addition to Armentrout’s old family tractor, he owns a Farmall M and a 1948 Farmall H. A few years ago, the Washington County native found the two antique tractors on a whim—and for a reasonable price as the man selling the tractors was prepared to junk the antique farm equipment.

“By driving them back in the early ‘60s, you had a fond memory of that particular tractor,” Armentrout explained. “In fact, I was on my way to South Carolina to look at a Farmall 300. My daughter lived in North Carolina at the time and we had stopped in to see her on the way and my brother called me about the advertisement in the farm bureau paper. I didn’t even go on to look at the 300 because I really wanted the M model and a H model even more so and was probably going to get the both of them for less than what I would have paid for the 300.”

Though he started as a young boy dreaming of driving the farm equipment of his youth, Armentrout later joined the Air Force as a airframe and repair technician during the Vietnam War. Later he went on to work as a computer and program analyst, but eventually, he was led back to his roots of farming on the land he grew up on.

“It’s just basically a hobby, something you really enjoy and you missed it working on computers,” he said. “They’re very different. Working with computers, you come home and you have a mental fatigue. And where you work on the farm, you usually come home with a physical fatigue. A good night’s sleep with cure that, but a lot of the mental stuff you carry to bed with you. You’re laid up for hours trying to figure out how to solve this problem. It’s a different type of way of thinking about things when you try to relax.”

Now he’s ready to relax and work as a “hobby farmer” in the one place he always wanted to come back to, East Tennessee.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve had the privilege to see every state in the union including, Alaska and Hawaii, I’ve been to Europe three times and I’ve been to South America once and there’s no place like East Tennessee,” Armentrout said. “I’ve been on three different foreign mission trips and the first one I went on was in Venezuela. I was actually in homes that you could go to the dump and get the material to build everything that they had in their house. That’s how poor those people were—but the most loving people I’d ever met in my life. They took little figurines off of the walls of their house to give to me as a going away present. You hated to take them but you didn’t want to refuse them because you knew it would hurt their feelings.

“We’ve been so blessed in this country but it has changed so much in the last few years in the negative way that it’s scary for raising children and grandchildren today.”

In that hay field on Bob Shanks Road, Shanks shared a memory of standing in that very same field to see a red double-wing airplane zip through the field writing “Coca-Cola” in the clouds like you see on the bottles today. For Armentrout, that same road has seen many changes—from generation to generation.

“I can remember my dad talking about running to see the first car that came up the road. So that’s quite a bit of change isn’t it?” Armentrout said, laughing. “Between two generations, you go from seeing an automobile to putting the man on the moon.”

Today with all the world’s changes, above all else, Armentrout fondly remembers the memories he with his family in a simpler day in age that seems to have been swept away by time.

“You sit down as a family and you ate your meals together,” Armentrout recalled. “Now we’re just hitting and missing and trying to grab something to eat and families aren’t together like they were going up on the farm. Those are things that I really cherish. My mother and dad have been dead for 17 years and it’s just constantly, every week I’m having memories of the wonderful things we did together. At the time you didn’t appreciate it that much. But now you look back on it and oh, it was a wonderful way of life.”

But his love for the country life, farming and his East Tennessee home doesn’t end with Armentrout—now he had a grandson who is embarking on similar farm adventures—with his grandfather’s same love for tractors in tow.

“My grandson’s been out all morning with me on the old H tractor just loving it and enjoying it. He loves tractors I believe more than I did,” Armentrout said. “It brings back memories.”

Quilters thread old with new

Quilters Bette Mullersman (left) and Anita Smythe (right) look over the guild’s work on the quilt.


Staff Writer

It took over 200 hours to quilt, more than 15 sets of hands to do everything from designing to ironing, and four people to hold up the colossal quilt that seemed to swamp the members of the Old Town Quilter’s Guild in guild member Anita Smythe’s living room for the Herald & Tribune photo-op.

The guild made the quilt as part of the group’s annual quilting challenge and the proceeds from the quilt, which will be on display and up for sale at the Visitor’s Center during the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, will benefit the Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association.

“We thought tying into that (storytelling) would really help to promote Jonesborough,to create awareness for quilting and that it isn’t just traditional,” Smythe said. “I think that’s another thing. You’re displaying something that has a traditional pattern but certainly is not traditional in the execution of it.”

Though the practice of quilting has been around since about 3400 B.C. and in the United States since the settlement of the New World, many associate quilting with the Appalachian region and the old-time quilters who pass down their hand-sewn patchwork from generation to generation. But now, the Old Town Quilters Guild is ready to take that traditional method and add a slightly modern twist.

“Many people think of quilts as very traditional in appearance,” guild member and project committee co-chair Bette Mullersman said. “They know about their grandmother’s flower garden quilt or their grandmother’s wedding ring quilt, but they don’t often see more contemporary fabrics used in traditional patterns.”

Bette Mullersman explains the pattern and fabrics used on the quilt.

In fact, the quilt dons a “hunter’s star” pattern which inspired the quilt’s name, “Stars Over Jonesborough”. It’s also a boutique quilt, which means it’s the same pattern on the front and the back so there is no “wrong” side.

Though the quilt offers a traditional pattern and technique, Smythe chose less traditional, fall-colored hues in honor of the town’s festival taking place in October. The style of quilt isn’t the only part of the project that rides the line between modern and traditional, however; Smythe said one of her favorite parts of the guild is the range in the group’s skill levels.

“It’s very inspirational to get together with people from various levels because we have everyone from beginners to advanced, prize-winning quilters,” Smythe explained. “I started when I was a kid making doll clothes. Then I was making people clothes for myself and then for my kids. But then I got to the point where I wasn’t happy with what I was making. Because I still wanted to sew, so quilting was the next step. Plus, just the history behind it really intrigues me and the colors basically. I love the colors.”

Meanwhile, Mullersman said it’s the freedom she finds in the skill-level and quilting style variance that keeps her coming back and wanting to share the word about the group.

“I think that’s the benefit of being in a guild is that you have people who are doing all kinds of things,” Mullersman said. “And if you want to try it, everybody’s helpful and willing to teach you and stand by you and share new techniques and even old techniques that still work. For me, it’s refreshing and inspirational like Anita said. I feel accepted even though I do different things. My quilts are really not like this. They scream colors.

“It really is a combination of a lot of people’s generosity.”

Guild member (and helpful neighbor who came right over to Smythe’s house after a phone call saying Smythe needed help holding the quilt up for a photo) Carolyn Walsh is another quilter who has witnessed the generosity of the group. Walsh said knowing how to thread a machine was  the extent of her quilting knowledge when she joined the group, but now, quilting lets her express her personality.

“I’m a rule follower. I always wanted to be a rebel but I never was,” Walsh said. “And with quilting, you have to follow those rules. If it says stay in that quarter-inch line, you stay in that quarter-inch line. And I can do that. But when it works out, it’s like, “Ah, okay! I can do this.”

Now that the quilt is complete, the project seems to have worked out for the guild, but for some guild members, the project isn’t complete until someone finally buys the star-laden quilt that will be up for sale in October.

“The goal isn’t just to finish it. The goal is to sell it,” Smythe said. ”It’s not finished yet until it’s actually sold. That’s part of the process.”

Though the quilt could go to someone in town or a visitor from anywhere in the world, the purchaser will always have a reminder of where the sewn blanket was made.

“It’s so perfect. If someone does come in for storytelling, or maybe it’s someone from Jonesborough, on the back of the quilt it has a picture of the courthouse and it says who made it and that it’s from Jonesborough,” Walsh said. “So they’ll always have a reference of a part of Jonesborough in their house. So it’s very cool.”

The guild—which is similar to their quilt in that all their pieces and personalities and modern-meets-traditional style all came together to form one group and quilt—are now ready for that final step of displaying the hand-crafted blanket. And as with most specially made items, the attachment and appreciation is something the members have certainly considered.

“My hope is for someone just to appreciate it. People are like, ‘Oh that’s a nice blanket. Okay, I’ll take it.’ But it’s different. If the person can’t appreciate it, I don’t want their money. If they can’t look at it and say, ‘Oh look how perfect that line is all the way across’—mine probably wouldn’t be yet” Walsh said, laughing, “but this one is. This one is perfect. As long as they appreciate it and realize that took a lot of time.”

“Well you know, it’s hard (selling it),” Mullersman said. “It’s interesting, I’m ready to sell it because I know it’s going for a really great cause. I did it for that reason. It’s interesting how you do get attached. But I think because it’s been a group effort to meet specific goals, it’s easier. It’s much easier because it’s a combination of all of our work.”

“The person who purchases the quilt, I think there’s going to be several motivations. Knowing that the money is going to be used for the food pantry, a local charity, I think stimulates people to let go of their money,” Mullersman said. “And to know that they’re contributing to a Jonesborough charity and then they’re taking home something that they’re going to use and enjoy. That’s a good feeling all around.”

The quilt will be on display and for sale throughout the festival on October 6-8 in Jonesborough.

Artists share passion for recreating life’s reflections


Two local artists will be showcasing their work this summer at Jonesborough’s McKinney Center, but don’t be surprised if you’ve heard their names before.

Caroline Tomko, former director of the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center before she retired years ago, and Richie Hayward, whose name has come to be linked locally with a renewed intererest in aerial photography, will both be featured at the Mary B. Program for the Arts second second show of its Artist Exhibition Series.

The exhibition will be open and free to the public starting with the Opening Reception on Friday, June 9, at 6 p.m. It will run through July 21.

The McKinney Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

When Artist Carolyn Tomko was growing up up in eastern Virginia, where summer days are hot and humid, one of her favorite things to do as a child was to create mud pies for family, friends, dolls and pets.

It wasn’t enough to just create them, she had to find berries, rocks and even bugs to enhance their beauty.

Years later, when Tomko had a young family, creating tea sets and animals out of Play Dough were some of her favorite family play times.

It therefore seemed only natural to make a full circle and play in clay after retiring from the Town of Jonesborough nine years ago.

One of the beauties of this stage of her life, Tomko said, is the ability to create beautiful pottery that is fired and can last for generations. She loves creating hand-crafted characters such as animals, Santas, gnomes, snowmen, angels and nativities.   

Making houses for birds is always a fun challenge. Pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns are great fall creations. Yard art, wall pockets, tree art and wall decorations are also a joy to create, she said.

Creating usable pottery such as platters and plates is another passion.  It is not enough for her to create a platter, she also adds birds, nests, flowers, or even an animal.

“Almost every day is a ‘clay day,’ ” Tomko said — and she now feels a need to show and sell some of her work. She is not interested in a new career, she said.  She just wants to have fun creating, making new friends, and enjoying old ones.

Like Tomko, Hayward was a later edition to Jonesborough.

After 30 years in law enforcement in South Florida, he retired here, where he has resumed his passion for outdoor and wildlife photography.

In 2005, Hayward made the jump to digital photography and opened a whole adventure in making images. Since then, he has traveled from Katmai National Park photographing brown bears, to South Africa on photo safaris. Richie also traveled extensively across the United States photographing everything from wildlife, scenic and old rusting cars and truck-rusting relics.

Hayward describes his work as, “eclectic”.

His passion, in addition to giving a fresh look to the ordinary, is to spotlight endangered species of wildlife, especially those in Africa such as the much-poached rhino and elephant species. He has been up close and personal with these possible -to-be-extinct creatures. Hayward also likes to share his images via Facebook, digital gallery and community presentations.

According to Director of the McKinney Center Theresa Hammons, “Ritchie Hayward and Carolyn Tomko have something in common. They both interpret the natural environment around them through their artwork. Whether Ritchie is in Africa or Arizona, he captures the beauty and power of nature through his photography. Carolyn’s love for the natural world and the spiritual world is so delicately expressed in her ceramic birds, lily pads, angels and nativities. They both approach their art with passion and reverence for the world around them which is truly moving and inspiring.”

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

ISC takes storytelling magic to the Pentagon

Rotary Peace Fellow Kiran Sirah speaks about telling the story of peace during general session 8. International Assembly, San Diego, California, USA, 22 January 2015.



International Storytelling Center President Kiran Singh Sirah is on the road again for storytelling; this time with the surprising task of sharing the value of Appalachian’s oldest art with the Pentagon.

“This is a project that has been in the works for a while,” Sirah said of the Washington, D.C.-based event being held this week. “It’s actually a collaboration between ISC and 40 other government, academic and other participating organizations.

“It relates to storytelling and peace building.”

Sirah will act as one of three keynote speakers who will help frame the two-day symposium. ISC, along with frequent collaborator the Alliance for Peacebuilding, also worked together in the early stages to format the event.

“Ultimately this helps bring together many think-tank agencies,” Sirah explained.

Participating organizations include many branches of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics and Laboratory, George Mason University-Center for the Study of Narrative and Conflict Resolution, Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the U.S. Institute of Peace, just to name a few.

“These are people from the top,” Sirah stressed. And his message  to these global thinkers is one he continues to share every time he leaves Jonesborough.

“I want more and more people to realize that storytelling goes way beyond entertainment,” he said. “It’s the most powerful tool to connect  and create communities peace i the world. We may be a town of 5,000 people, we actually have an art form that can literally change the world,”

Though he believes Jonesborough may hold the key, stories and conflict resolution have always been something of a personnel quest for Sirah. It actually began the day he transformed being bullied on a playground as a youth into a position of power as he began to share his family stories and his pride in that family.

Kiran has also already used this age-old art in such locations at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he has been called upon to share his knowledge of peace-building techniques with commanders and eventually their troops.

“We are all seeking the same thing,” Sirah said. “We all want to be loved. We all want to feel like we belong in the world.

Never, as yet, has the world known a conflict-free existence, he admits.

“We can’t know what peace looks like,” Kiran said.

But through the power of shared stories, he said, it is something we can all envision. And Sirah is convinced ISC and Jonesborough will be at the forefront of that coming revolution.

Take anything and make it into something


Ask someone about themselves and you will get a half-truth.

Ask someone about a close friend and you will find a whole truth with a great story tagging along.

McKinney Center art teacher Larke Foster began chuckling when asked to describe her coworker and close friend Sharon Squibb. “Wakadoodle,” Foster said, laughing. “No, three words to describe Sharon…” Before Foster could give a description, she told of a road trip they recently took to D.C., the story contained more of the two laughing than anything else.

Squibb and Foster have been a helping hand in growing the McKinney Center since the beginning. They were two of the original committee members and began their summer camp program before the McKinney Center building was even in place. They first taught summer camp at the Methodist church annex.

“We’ve really been tied to this building from the beginning.” Said Foster. “We’ve been here fighting about where the sinks are gonna be, where to put things and planning the curriculum.”

As they began to dive deeper into their past experiences, seeping with passion and determination Foster shared her story as an art teacher. “Watauga County hired me straight out of college — green as grass. I didn’t know what I was doing. Just big eyes, thinking I’m going to save the world.”

Foster and Squibb began laughing knowing what comes next. “One of my classes was seriously in a dungeon. They had a plank to go down to it, it’s where the boiler room was. The janitor put a little table down there for us and the kids would walk over this plank. I mean, to this day I can’t believe they actually had me teaching in that room.” Lark explains reminiscing on her past experience.

Foster continued with another story of teaching art in the mountains of North Carolina. “Oh my gosh, the kids would come and they would smell like a fire place. It was a really really rural school. I walked in the school and I asked about the budget. The principal said how about fifty bucks? Hahaha fifty bucks,” Foster laughed.

“I would steal supplies from Blowing Rock and take them to the other school because they didn’t have anything. My truck was full of paper and paint, it was the only way you could do it -— yah know! Art teachers will take anything and make it into something.” At this point, Squibb is nodding in agreement and laughing along with Foster at this age old story for any art teacher.

Squibb began to flip though student pieces from her print making class and discussing what she loves about teaching beginners. “I’m giving them skills that sometimes they are surprised with. Anything I’m teaching can be done beyond the class room We give them a taste of what’s out there.”

Be a part of Sharon Squibb and Larke Foster’s story by joining them for Summer Camp at the McKinney Center June 5th – 9th.

For more information contact Theresa Hammons at 423.753.0562 or