Ninth Street Baptist to celebrate 90th anniversary

Ninth Street Baptist Church will celebrate its 90th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 27. The church will also celebrate homecoming on that day. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

Ninth Street Baptist Church, located at 310 Ninth St. in Erwin, will soon be celebrating a very special milestone.

The church will celebrate its 90th anniversary with a service and homecoming on Oct. 27. The event will kick off with the morning worship service at 11 a.m. There will be a meal and fellowship following the morning service.

According to Ninth Street Baptist Church Deacon Joey Lewis, the church has a rich tradition of service since it first opened its doors in 1929.

“In November of 1925, Ninth Street Baptist Mission was organized by First Baptist Church,” Lewis told The Erwin Record. “A.C. Sherwood was the pastor of First Baptist Church and his son James, who was just going into the ministry, was the speaker at Ninth Street.”

Ninth Street Mission became a church on Jan. 6, 1929, with the Reverend H. F. Wright serving as the first pastor.

“There were 63 charter members and the original Ninth Street Church building is the part of the church that faces Ninth Street and now houses the church office, pastor’s study, choir room and classrooms,” Lewis said. “The Women’s Missionary Society was very influential in creating the first church building, from purchasing a piano to securing the brick veneering for the building.”

According to Lewis, the first superintendent of Sunday School was Fred Booth, the first Sunday School secretary was Frank Tapp, the first church pianist was Pauline Brummett Keesecker, the first church pianist assistant was Bonnie Ford, the first church clerk was R.R. Elliott and the first choir director was Rice Adkins.

“Mr. Adkins’ daughters Ruby Erwin and Adrene Booth were charter members and his great granddaughter, Kim Fortune is a member today and Mr. Elliott is the father of J. Frank and Crawford Elliott, who were long time members of the church,” Lewis said.

Lewis acknowledged that the church did not grow much during the Great Depression and that Reverend Wright led his congregation during the bulk of the depression until October 1939. Reverend C. W. Hileman was then pastor until August 1941.

Ninth Street, which had already survived the Great Depression and World War I, was faced with another trying time in American history. World War II presented Ninth Street Baptist Church with another challenge and another chance to serve the community. According to Lewis, Ninth Street Baptist Church helped the community through various service projects.

“Reverend Robert H. Dills became the pastor in October of 1945 and served until May of 1950,” Lewis said. “With the war over Sunday truly became a day of rest and families wore there best clothing to attend service and God was in control of the church.”

The 1940s gave way for the 1950s and, according to Lewis, in 1950 Ninth Street Baptist Church opened up a new auditorium and classrooms under the leadership of Reverend Aden Childress. “At least 25 of the original charter members were still attending Ninth Street by 1951 – the church had really grown,” Lewis said. “From that growth, Ninth Street began a mission of its own in the 1950s, it was called Good Shepherd Baptist Church and it is still thriving today.”

In 1967, Ninth Street Baptist Church began to have their services broadcast monthly on the radio station WEMB. In 1975, WEMB started broadcasting Ninth Street weekly and continued to do so for many years.

“Not only did the radio pick up the services, but Ninth Street began its second mission church with Omega Baptist Church,” Lewis said. “Reverend Jack Daniels was the first pastor for Omega.”

In 1985, the church moved onto television dials as well.

“The Christmas Cantata under the direction of Mike Bernard was held on Dec. 22, 1985, and was televised on American Cable System’s channel 12,” Lewis said. “On Nov. 29, 1998 we began a live broadcast of our morning worship service on WXIS 103.9 and this continued for years.”

According to Lewis, over the years Ninth Street Baptist Church has provided the community with years of service.

“Six men have been ordained to the gospel ministry at Ninth Street. We have had 14 ministers serve the church and several interim pastors have served over the years,” Lewis said. “Many years have passed since 1925, but the purpose of Ninth Street Baptist Church has remained the same – we still serve the same God that we served then, and we still strive to be a light unto our community by allowing the love of God to shine through its members.”

Lewis acknowledged that giving back to the community is a huge part of what has allowed Ninth Street Baptist to survive and thrive for 90 years.

“We have always been a mission-minded church, we run free shuttles for attendees to the Apple Festival each year, including this year in which we took 850 passengers to the festival,” Lewis said. “For the past 20 years Ninth Street has sponsored the Thanksgiving meals for shut-ins and anyone else who needs a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day.”

Ninth Street Baptist Church also feeds the UCHS athletes regularly and is getting ready to hand out candy to local children for Halloween.

This anniversary event is free to the public and everyone is invited to come celebrate.

“We are expecting a big turnout. We’ve got all kinds of former staff members, pastors, youth ministers, choir members and many of the youth are coming back to celebrate,” Lewis said. “We have several members that will be recognized during the event; it is just going to be a really good day in the life of the church.”

Ninth Street Baptist has weekly Sunday School services that start each week at 9:45 a.m. and Sunday Services are held at 11 a.m. and Sunday evening services are held at 6 p.m. These services are open to the public

To learn more about the ways that Ninth Street Baptist Church gives back to the community or for more information about the church, please follow Ninth Street Baptist Church on Facebook or at

Blue Ridge Pottery draws fans to county for annual event

Doug and Kathy Fields, of Woodlawn, Virginia stand next to their collection of Blue Ridge Pottery during the 39th Blue Ridge Antique Pottery Annual Show and Sale. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Collectors from as far as California came to Unicoi County to visit with old friends and to swap historic works of art during the 39th Blue Ridge Antique Pottery Annual Show and Sale at Love Chapel Elementary on Oct. 3-5.

Blue Ridge Pottery was hand-painted by workers at Southern Potteries, Inc. in Erwin from 1917-1957. Although there is no date on the pieces, there is a way to get an idea of the age of the pottery.

“You can get an idea of the age of the pottery by looking at the designs of both the plates and the paint,” Jay Parker of Minneapolis, Minnesota said. “Some of the oldest pieces I have are from 1920.”

According to Parker, who also spoke with The Erwin Record during last year’s event, he has been working on a new wing of his collection.

“In my personal collection, I recently have been focusing on a specific design called ‘Countryside’,” Parker said.

Kathy Fields and her husband Doug Fields, from Woodlawn, Virginia, set up shop inside of the Love Chapel Elementary gym on Thursday, Oct. 3.

“The thing I love about these pieces is that they never painted the same pieces the same way, twice,” Doug Fields said. “You can tell the rookies from the experienced painters.”

According to Kathy Fields, the search for new pieces is what drives the collectors.

“We enjoy the search – we find our pieces at antique malls, flea markets, auctions and sometimes you get lucky and find a good deal at garage sales,” Kathy Fields said.

For the Fields, finding patterns that have not been discovered yet is the most thrilling part of the hunt.

“There have been several that we have found, that we actually got to name,” Kathy Fields said. “Sometimes you find a piece that is actually signed by the artist,” Doug Fields added.

Parker agreed with the Fields that the thrill of the hunt is what drives the collectors and motivates them to make the annual pilgrimage to Erwin.

“You never know what you will find out there,” Parker said. “I actually had someone call me about some interesting pieces that I bought and added to my collection.”

According to Parker, the trip to Erwin is one he waits all year for.

“I plan my vacation every year around this show,” he added. “I get to see old friends, see unusual pieces and just have a good time.”

First ‘sassy’ festival a success

The First Annual Sassafras Moon Festival held in downtown Erwin included speakers and vendor booths. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The First Annual Sassafras Moon Festival is officially in the books following a successful turnout at the Saturday, Sept. 7 event.

HERBalachia owner and Sassafras Moon Festival organizer, Michelle Bouton said she was blown away by the turnout.

“I was amazed at our turnout. I had originally set my goal for 20 vendors and 200 people and we ended up with 39 vendors and I was told over 1,000 people visited the festival,” Bouton said. “The vendors I spoke with were all thrilled with their sales, and the theme of the day seemed to be ‘I’ve found my tribe’.”

The Sassafras Moon Festival had perfect weather for the numerous speakers and attendees. “We were given perfect Unicoi County autumn weather, and we had nine speakers, and many of the venues had standing-room only,” Bouton said. “We counted 71 attendees at Erwin Outdoor Supply during our keynote speaker, Joe Hollis and his talk was on Southern Appalachian Herbalism: Past and Future.”

Hollis’ talk explained to those in attendance the importance of herbs and plants in the Appalachian Region.

“He pointed out that our area is considered the ‘cradle of herbalism’ in the U.S., as 70 percent of plants historically harvested for use in the herb trade come from this area, and this is why I feel herbalism can play a great role in the ‘placemaking’ of Unicoi County,” Bouton said. “It is something we are known for; we have a history and legacy of this, and can focus on it for our future. I would love for Erwin to become known for the amazing plants and resources we are blessed with here.”

Bouton said she was overwhelmed by all those that made Sassafras Moon Festival a reality.

“I am greatly appreciative to Jamie Rice and the Town of Erwin for their support and trust in me to pull this event off and for Union Street Taproom, Erwin Outdoor Supply and the Unicoi County Public Library, who were all very gracious in offering their space for our presentations throughout the day,” Bouton said. “The festival also would not have happened without a Placemaking grant from Central Appalachian Network, and assistance of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Many thanks to all these people and our great team of volunteers including HERBalachia graduates, Northeast Tennessee Master Gardeners, and Southern Appalachian Plant Society.”

With all the success of the First Annual Sassafras Moon Festival, Bouton is excited to see the event occur annually.

“We have already had many requests for this to be a yearly event, and I would love to see that happen,” Bouton said. “I will definitely need more assistance next year.”

According to Bouton, HERBalachia has workshops scheduled for this fall and registration is now open for our 7-weekend Herbalist Lifestyle Program, which will begin in March 2020.

HERBalachia’s next event will be Adventures in Plant Spirit Medicine and will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28. If you are interested in learning more about HERBalachia or attending their classes, please follow their Facebook page.

Erwin Apparel opens downtown

Erwin Apparel owner Amanda Wall, center, stands inside her new store with daugthers Lacey, left, and Jacey. The store is located in downtown Erwin at 224 North Main Ave. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Erwin officially has a new clothing retailer and just in time for back to school shopping as Erwin Apparel opened their doors at 224 North Main Ave., on Thursday, Aug. 8.

“We had a great opening day,” Erwin Apparel owner Amanda Wall said. “We had roughly 300 customers on opening day. Day two was just as promising – we had another hundred plus come through.”

The idea to open a clothing store came from a need that Wall saw in Erwin.

“I decided to open a clothing store when I could not find any school clothes for my children in Erwin,” Wall said. “Having to go out of here, in another county, was an inconvenience.”

According to Wall, Erwin Apparel has clothing options for the whole family.

“We have kid’s clothes, women’s clothes and unisex T-shirts,” Wall said. “After seeing what the customers are buying, we will be adding more options soon.”

Erwin Apparel offers sizes from small to plus sizes.

“We can go up to 4XL in women’s, and in unisex T-shirts we can make them up to 6XL,” Wall said. “If customers can’t find the design they like in their size, we can custom make them for the customer.”

According to Wall, Erwin Apparel also offers items other than clothing.

“We also do homemade soaps and candles,” she said.

Wall hopes that Erwin Apparel can become part of a growing list of local businesses that strengthen downtown Erwin.

“We are excited to be a part of the community, and we have already been in contact with other area businesses and we will take part in the First Friday Events in Downtown Erwin,” Wall said.

To see some of the designs offered at Erwin Apparel, please follow Erwin Apparel on Facebook or visit them at 224 North Main Ave., in Erwin. The store is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Deaderick releases latest book in “Lost Cove” series

Author Tom Deaderick recently released, “Flightspawn,” the fourth book in his “Lost Cove” series. The books are set in and around Erwin. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Authors have a way of taking their readers to new places and make those new places begin to seem familiar to the reader.

Author Tom Deaderick has created a very familiar setting for his “Lost Cove” series. The four-book series takes place in the present day and future Town of Erwin.

“I grew up reading Stephen King novels, and his books center around a fictional place called Castle Rock,” Deaderick told The Erwin Record. “I created a fictional world over existing locations in Erwin.”

Deaderick lives in Jonesborough with his wife Martha. According to Deaderick, he is influenced by his Christian faith while writing science fiction.

Deaderick’s “Lost Cove” series features four books. “Flightsuit” is the first book in the series. Originally released in 2013 it tells the story of a young, poor Appalachian boy who finds the remains of a spacesuit. The boy, named Leo, and others are led by the spacesuit on a collision course with alien entities.

“Flightpack” is the follow up to “Flightsuit.” “Flightpack” follows Leo as he has to go to Area 51 to retrieve a flightpack to make it back to space to win an epic battle.

In the third installment of the “Lost Cove” series, Deaderick jumps to a new character three years after the events of “Flightpack.” “The Lazarus Spear,” follows a man named Hogan as he discovers a spear that holds great power.

Deaderick who is an avid hiker and geocacher, hid two spears along the Appalachian Trail and left clues for his readers of how to find them.

“I had such a great response and so many made the trip to find the spears that I included many of them in the final book of the series,” Deaderick said.

Steven McDevitt, Charles McDevitt, Kathy Knowland, Pete Knowland, Charles DeVries, Dennis Atkins and Ruth Atkins all made it into “Flightspawn,” which is the fourth book in the “Lost Cove” series. The Atkins’ dog Toby made into the book as well.

“Flightspawn,” takes place in the future and monsters now roam the mountains of East Tennessee. A small group tries to free the people from the monsters.

All four books are available at While reading Deaderick’s books, you can check out for locations to points of interest from the stories. You can also learn more about Deaderick and his other stories at

Southeastern Autorama drives into town despite rain

Downpours did not dampen the spirit of the 59th Annual Southeasten Autorama held on Saturday, June 8, in downtown Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The rain did not keep the diehard automobile enthusiasts away from downtown Erwin on Saturday, June 8.

The 59th Annual Southeastern Autorama saw more than 100 unique automobiles spread across Main Avenue from an early model hearse on the corner of Tucker Street to a late model Chevrolet Corvette in the curve of Love Street.

Southeastern Autorama is a car club based in Unicoi County and is the oldest continually running car show in Tennessee since 1960. According to Southeastern Autorama member Keldon Clapp, Conrad Beam and Jim Hobbs created the club in 1960. The Southeastern Autorama Tennessee motto is simple.

“We are brothers and sisters driving, tinkering and talking about cars and trucks while preserving automotive history and helping our community,” Clapp said.

The 59th Annual Southeastern Autorama featured automobiles from a pair of Volkswagen Things to a Ford Model T. According to Southeastern Autorama member Joey Bailey, roughly 90 cars registered and more showed up during the event. Bailey and company handed out several awards to the top automobiles at the show.

“The Raymond Bailey Memorial Best Antique Award went to Doug Carrico of Kingsport for his 1965 Mercury Comet,” Bailey said. “The Best of Show Award, sponsored by Roy Lacey of Doolittle Auto Mart, went to Gerald Hensley of Erwin for his 1968 Chevy Camaro.”

The Autorama also featured a custom made motorcycle that belonged to a couple that made the trip down from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

According to Clapp, anything with an engine is always welcome to the annual car show. Besides having some of the most unique automobiles around, the Autorama featured several vendors that had everything from food to one-of-a-kind handmade crafts.

Even during the downpours on Saturday, the live music continued to fill the downtown from the courthouse steps. Those in attendance sought shelter during the patches of rain but continued to enjoy all of the sights, sounds and tastes of the annual event.

“We want to thank everyone for coming out, and a big thank you to our vendors,” Clapp said. “I’m already getting ready for next year; it’s going to be the 60th Annual Southeastern Autorama, so we need to make it special.”

Bailey also was thankful for the participants.

“We need to thank the car owners for braving the weather – without them we wouldn’t have a show,” Bailey said. “I would like to especially thank Mayor Doris Hensley, as well as Jamie Rice for their help, and the guys from the Town of Erwin who helped block the streets and clean up.”

For more information, updates or to learn how to join Southeastern Autorama Tennessee, follow Southeastern Autorama Tennessee on Facebook. The 60th Annual Southeastern Autorama will be held in downtown Erwin on June 6, 2020.

Rock Creek students shake it up at annual event

A student gives a New Year’s Eve toast to Edgar Rice and Caitlyn Edwards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Led by teacher Eleana Pate, the staff at Rock Creek Elementary School, hosted the First Annual Amazing Shake at the school on May 9.

The Amazing Shake is the brainchild of Ron Clark, founder of The Ron Clark Academy, who also hosts a National Amazing Shake competition. According to The Ron Clark Academy, The Amazing Shake is a competition that places an emphasis on teaching students manners, discipline, respect and professional conduct.

Prior to the competition, students learn the nuances of professional human interaction as they are taught skills such as how to give a proper handshake, how to “work a room,” how to give a successful interview and how to remain composed under pressure. The goal is to prepare students so that they are able to present themselves exceptionally well for opportunities.

In preparing for the event at Rock Creek, Pate reached out to more than 30 businesses and coworkers to give the students some real-life scenarios to test their skills.

The students were graded on a 10 point scale with a 10 being the top score. Pate was able to set up 32 stations and each student had a minute to make an impression on the judges.

“This is awesome,” Unicoi County Director of Schools John English said. “I’ve had some great arguments both ways.”

English was hosting a station where students had a minute to debate either for or against school uniforms. Among other stations, Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson listened to students explain why Blue Lives Matter. Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey occupied a station where students must explain why it is important to vote.

“The students are doing great,” Bailey said. “We’ve had two 10s and two nines so far.”

At the Erwin Outdoor Supply station, students had to sell an item of their choosing from a backpack, sandals, or T-shirt.

“They have to sell us and explain why,” Erwin Outdoor Supply Owner Brandy Bevins said. “The students have given really good reasons why these products should sale.”

April Simmons was on hand from Clinchfield Federal Credit Union, where students had to write a check.

“We had quite a few 10s,” Simmons said.

Ballad Health Human Resources Director Brooke Graham had a station that asked a tough question,

“Why should I hire you?” Graham said.

Another station that gave the students trouble was the bed making station.

“It’s hard to make a bed from scratch in a minute,” Rock Creek librarian Gina Podvin said.

The scoring was as tough as the challenges themselves for the students.

“I haven’t given out any 10s, because no one is perfect,” Edgar Rice said at his New Year’s Eve toast station.

Some of the other stations included dealing with a disgruntled employee, handshakes, eye contact, small talk, and a Presidential talk.

“We may have some future candidates,” Erwin Kiwanis member and presidential talk host Bill Gaines said.

According to Pate, the students only had two weeks to practice.

“We hope to grow this into an annual event and to see if we can get community support to send these deserving students to nationals,” Pate said.

Coming in first place was Kaley Toney; second place was Emma Desmaris; and finishing third was Sydney Saldana.

Each year The Ron Clark Academy hosts a National Competition. According to The Ron Clark Academy, The Amazing Shake National Competition is open to any student in the fifth-eighth grade during the 2018-19 school year. Schools are encouraged to have local Amazing Shake competitions and to send their top performers to nationals.

Districts are also encouraged to conduct district-level competitions with the winners from local schools. District-level winners of the Amazing Shake receive a bye during the first round competitions in Atlanta. The number of students sent by a school or school district is up to their discretion.

If any businesses or community members wish to sponsor the winners, and help send them to nationals, please contact Rock Creek Elementary at 743-1648 and ask for Pate.

Blue Devil baseball team battles in losses

Kaleb Metcalf fires a pitch to home plate during the Blue Devils’ game with Wolcott High School. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School baseball team may have lost three games last week, but head coach Chad Gillis and his players didn’t go down without a fight.

The Blue Devils (10-13, 5-5) opened the week with a series against Elizabethton (19-5, 11-0), the top team in the Three Rivers Conference. The first game, a 6-2 victory by the Cyclones, was played at Elizabethton on Monday, April 15.

“I thought Keaton (Casey) pitched a great game tonight,” Gillis said. “He made great pitches in big situations and gave us opportunities to get easy outs. Making the easy out seemed to be a problem for us tonight. We had 6 defensive errors allowing 5 unearned runs.

Elizabethton took a 3-0 lead in the second. The Blue Devils came back to score 2 runs in the fourth inning.

“Keaton led off the inning with a double followed by a single from Caleb Crain,” Gillis said. “Brett Strother hits a double off the wall scoring both Casey and Crain. Brett then moves to third on a single by Drew Keasling. We could not get Brett across the plate to tie the game up.”

The fifth inning was the difference in the game as the Cyclones scored 3 additional runs.

“If we make a couple plays, we make this a much better game and give ourselves a chance to win,” Gillis said. “I am proud of Keaton’s effort tonight and he did exactly what we needed him to do on the mound.”

Casey (3-3) took the loss. He gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and had 6 strikeouts. He also had 1 hit in the game. Crain was 1-2 at the plate. Strother was 1-3 with 2 RBIs. Keasling was 1-2.

The Blue Devils and Cyclones squared off again on Tuesday, April 16 – this time in Erwin.

“We started the game out on a bad note, giving up 4 runs on two home runs in the first inning,” Gillis said. “Putting those runs up early really got them going.”

After the shaky start, the Blue Devils started playing better.

“Peyton (Whitson) and the rest of the team seemed to settle down some allowing only 3 runs for the rest of the game,” Gillis said. “I think Peyton battled and did a great job for 4-1/3 innings.  He ended the game with 10 strikeouts, which shows that he settled in only after a big inning.”

Kaleb Metcalf came on in relief later in the game, giving up no runs in 2-1/3 innings.

“Kaleb did a great job,” Gillis said.

Mistakes on defense have been costly for the Blue Devils.

“We are making it hard on ourselves when pitchers are getting ground balls, but we aren’t getting the putouts,” Gillis said. “Our defense will have to be a focus going into the district tournament. It’s hard to win games in our conference making those mistakes; it’s even harder when it’s against the top team in the state.”

The Cyclones won the game 7-0.

Whitson (4-2) took the loss. He gave up 7 hits, 7 runs and had 10 strikeouts. Ramon Avila, L.J. Mitchell and Robbie O’Dell each had one hit.

• • •

The Blue Devils hosted a tough opponent from the Northeast on Thursday, April 18, in Erwin as Wolcott High School from Connecticut visited the Valley Beautiful.

“I thought we battled both offensively and defensively, but we just couldn’t get a timely hit to put some runs across,” Gillis said. “It was good to see us come out and fight after a tough series against Elizabethton.”

Wolcott won the game 1-0.

Metcalf had a solid outing on the mound for the Blue Devils.

“I was proud of the way Kaleb threw in this one,” Gillis said. “This team was very comparable to Elizabethton. Kaleb, once again, kept them off balance with his breaking ball and spotting his fastball. He gets a lot of fly ball outs on his breaking ball. We cleaned it up defensively today, committing one throwing error, but that run didn’t score.”

Metcalf gave up 5 hits and 1 run in the loss.

• • •

The Blue Devils played a series with conference foe Johnson County on Monday, April 22, and Tuesday, April 23, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host David Crockett on Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m. and Madison County at noon on Saturday, April 27.

They will wrap up the regular season next week with a game at Dobyns-Bennett on Monday, April 26, and a game at Science Hill on Tuesday, April 30; both games are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Local pastor wins statewide weight loss award

John Edwards receives an award. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

In March, Pastor John Edwards and his wife Lori attended the TOPS Club Inc. SRD (State Recognition Days) in Murfreesboro where John was awarded the Division 1 men’s first place Weight Loss Award for 2018.

In 2018, John had a net weight loss of 44 pounds, the most loss of any Division 1 male TOPS member in Tennessee. TOPS club is divided into weight divisions for fairness in awards. Division 1 is for members with the highest weight. In the three years since the Unicoi County Chapter of TOPS was formed, John has lost a total of 81.6 pounds

When asked about his weight loss journey, John said, “I have struggled with weight my entire adult life. I weighed 175 pounds at graduation in 1987. By 2001 I had crossed 300 pounds and have not been under that since. I suffered a knee injury in high school and have suffered with osteoarthritis for over 20 years and for most of 2017 and 2018 I was forced to use a cane to walk, and I couldn’t participate in any activities with my family.

“My wife suffers with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. We have three grandsons and were missing out on all the fun that grandchildren bring,” Edwards continued. “We started our TOPS chapter through the church that I pastor because, in addition to our own health issues, we noticed a culture of unhealthy habits in our church, family, and community. Slowly, with the support and encouragement of our TOPS family, we began to learn how to make better, more healthy choices and began to see results.

“In 2018, my wife began the Keto lifestyle, and I joined her several months later,” Edwards continued. “The weight began to come off and we began to be more physically active. I stopped using my cane regularly in October 2018 and have not used it at all since December. I can walk when we shop now instead of riding the handicap carts, and I am able to wear clothes that had been gathering dust in my closet for years. An added, and surprising benefit of this program is that I find myself eating healthy foods that I would not have even considered 12 months ago (I am a very picky eater). I still have a long way to go, but with God’s help and the support of my TOPS family, the journey continues. By continuing my journey, I should be under 300 pounds before the end of 2019, and at my goal weight in early 2021, and I can look forward to a longer and more active life ahead.”

In 2016 Edwards, along with his wife, Lori, sister, Angela Shelton, church member Melody Hensley, and friend, Tracy Ollis, attended a meeting of TOPS Inc. in Johnson City. TOPS is an international weight loss club which emphasizes confidentiality and mutual support and accountability. The name, TOPS stands for “Taking Off Pounds Sensibly.” After attending two meetings of this club, the group decided to start a TOPS chapter in Unicoi County. The group chose TOPS Inc. over other successful weight loss programs for several reasons.

First, the cost. TOPS membership is very affordable, according to the group.

“We felt that the program should not be expensive,” Edwards said.  “A person who is struggling with weight and health issues should not be excluded because of lack of funds. Our club should be easily accessible.”

Membership in TOPS only costs $32 a year to the international club and $5 a month to the local chapter.

Second, TOPS does not promote or encourage any specific nutritional plan, and they do not sell food. TOPS is, at its core, a support group. They encourage members to research, learn, consult with their physician, and find the program that works for them. Every member is required to submit a written weight goal from a physician. The “S” in TOPS stands for sensibly, so the TOPS goal is not only weight loss but improved health.

Third, confidentiality. For most people the number on the scale is a very private and often humiliating thing. The primary rule with TOPS is to maintain confidentiality always.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Edwards said. “We want them to know that they will never be judged. We will celebrate their successes with them and we will encourage them when they have struggled. A gain is not a failure; it is an opportunity to reevaluate and recommit to the goal of better health.”

Unicoi County TOPS started out of a desire to not only improve personal health and wellness, but also to be a support to others who struggle with weight issues. One club member said, “A person who has never struggled with their weight can not possibly understand how we feel. Just being in the room with friends who understand my struggle gives me the strength to keep going.”

Unicoi County TOPS TN 0625 meets every Tuesday at Erwin Church of God, 772 Rock Creek Road in Erwin. Confidential weigh-in is from 6-6:30 p.m. and the meeting is from 6:30-7:30 p.m. For more information, you can call the church at 743-9453, visit the TOPS website at, or visit the TOPS open house on Tuesday, May 7, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Erwin Church of God. The first meeting is free.

New friends, new skills: 4-H offers local Homeschool Club

Children in the Unicoi County 4-H Homeschool Club show off a project they completed earlier this year. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The new year brings a new schedule of opportunities for the youth of Unicoi County.

UT Extension and 4-H kicked off the new year on Jan. 3 with their monthly 4-H Homeschool Club meeting at the Buffalo Conference Room in the Town of Unicoi Visitors Center. The Homeschool Club program began in Unicoi County back in October.

“Although we have always offered our programs and 4-H events to the homeschool community, we began our first official 4-H Homeschool Club in October,” Unicoi County UT Extension 4-H Agent Rachel York told The Erwin Record. “The club is still growing. We have seen as high as 10-15 students at the meetings and we would love to see this number grow.”

Meetings are scheduled for Thursday, Mar. 7, Thursday, Apr. 4, and one for Thursday, May 2. All of these meetings will be held at 2 p.m. at the Buffalo Conference Room in the Town of Unicoi Visitors Center.

“Students do not need to pre-register to attend the 4-H Homeschool Club and are welcome to join us at any point in the year,” York said.

The students who attended the Jan. 3 meeting saw first hand what the 4-H Homeschool Club is all about.

“This month, we planted succulents and learned how to care for them properly,” York said of the activities.

The 4-H Homeschool Club offers so much more than just monthly meetings.

“We also offer our traditional 4-H contests such as public speaking, poster, bread baking and photography to homeschool families through this club,” York stated.

York has been serving the Unicoi County community for roughly five years now and has a passion for serving the county.

“I have worked in Unicoi County for almost five years and I love our community here,” York said. “Just to see our youth learn and grow is always exciting.”

Serving as the 4-H agent to the area, York gets to see the impact of the program here.

“It is also exciting to see how students become more confident over the years as they become more experienced in 4-H contests and activities, and to see the skills they develop as 4-Hers truly impact their confidence in social situations, as well as their goals and resume as they apply for college, and their involvement in the community,” York said.

The impact of 4-H is widespread and has opportunities for everyone.

“We try to offer a variety of programs that appeal to different interests,” York told The Erwin Record.

Some of the programs include various judging teams. There is livestock judging, outdoor meat cookery, life skills, consumer decision making and horse judging to name a few.

“We try to offer a variety of programs that appeal to different interests, and it is my hope that the 4-H Homeschool Club will be a way to involve the homeschool community in these other project areas, as well,” York said.

Currently,v 4-H is offered to every fourth through seventh grader in Unicoi County in addition to the 4-H Homeschool Club.

“The opportunity to socialize with new friends and learn new skills in a fun environment is very valuable for the students and it is something that I strive for as a 4-H agent,” York told The Erwin Record.

York and company are busy working hard just about every day prepping for numerous events and trips on the horizon starting with the Region Horse Bowl that will take place in Knoxville.

Another big annual event coming up is the Region Clover Bowl in Knoxville on Wednesday, May 15.

It’s not only the winter and spring months that provide great opportunities for the students to grow. The summer has numerous dates for fun for the students. On June 10-14, for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade, 4-H will hold its annual summer camp at Clyde Austin 4-H Camp in Greeneville.

To get a better idea of all the programs available for the youth of Unicoi County or to see a full schedule of upcoming events please check out the 4-H website at or contact York.

“Parents or youth can reach out to me directly at 735-1637 or by email at [email protected] if they have any questions about 4-H in Unicoi County,” York said.

Boone bringing band to perform at Unicoi County High School

Troy Boone, left, a Unicoi County High School graduate, will perform in Erwin again next month when his band Sideline takes to the UCHS auditorium stage. The concert is planned for Feb. 9. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County’s own Troy Boone will return home with the acclaimed bluegrass band “Sideline” on Saturday, Feb. 9, for a concert beginning at 6 p.m. in the Unicoi County High School auditorium.

Sideline is made up of Boone on mandolin, Steve Dilling on banjo, Jason Moore on upright bass, Skip Cherryholmes on guitar, Bailey Coe on guitar and Daniel Gleeson on fiddle.

Sideline is currently on tour, but Boone took time to speak with The Erwin Record about the homecoming show. Boone and company just stepped foot back on dry land, as their tour had taken them on a cruise.

“It was a blast, and really pretty,” Boone said. “We were able to enjoy the trip with family.”

Boone also explained what the homecoming meant to him.

“I grew up in Erwin, and every time I have a memory of playing music, it was in Erwin,” Boone told The Erwin Record.

The excitement of playing in front of his family and friends is evident in Boone.

“Anytime I get to come back to Erwin and play, it’s an absolute blast,” Boone said.

Sideline is currently touring more extensively than they have in the past.

“We have a west coast trip, a run in Canada, and we are actually going to Ireland this year,” Boone said. “I’m excited about that.”

Besides touring, the band is performing new music and working the new songs into their current set.

“We hit the studio this coming week,” Boone said. “We are working on a new record with new songs.”

Boone, who has been playing guitar since he was 7, didn’t pick up a mandolin until he was 17.

“I found my big brother Doug Boone’s mandolin and borrowed it and I got the bluegrass bug,” Boone said.

Opening up for Sideline on Feb. 9 will be the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil Bluegrass Boys and the UCHS Blue Belles. Tickets are available at the UCHS main office and are $15 dollars for adults and $5 dollars for children 5 and under.

“I hope people come out,” Boone said. “We will play something they will enjoy. … I appreciate all of the support I have received from Unicoi County, and God bless everybody.”

David Ramsey publishes book on Rocky Fork

The cover of David Ramsey’s new book. (Contributed image)

By Richard Rourk

This week local artist and conservationist David Ramsey released his new book entitled, “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild.” Ramsey’s story, much like his book, is one that is a long and interesting journey.

Ramsey is a Unicoi County native who grew up to appreciate the wild and untamed nature that makes up his birthplace. Back in 1996, Ramsey got word that the area of Rocky Fork was going to be bought with the intent to develop a resort. Knowing the importance of the land to the Appalachian region, Ramsey said he had to get involved. Upon moving back to the area that year, Ramsey teamed up with Ed Williams III to save Rocky Fork.

“Ed worked on saving the land from 1996 until he passed away in 2004,” Ramsey said.

It was a grueling battle that was almost won early on.

“There was a time in 1998 and again in 2000-2001 that the land was almost purchased by the (U.S.) Forest Service, but the deals fell through,” Ramsey told The Erwin Record.

In 2005, the timber company that owned the land almost sold the land to developers for $30 million, according to a report by The Valley Beautiful Beacon newspaper. Ramsey again had to do something to save the land, this time without the help of conservation pioneer Ed Williams III. “I jumped in with both feet,” Ramsey said of starting the fight back up.

Ramsey was able to team up with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) to rally the community to fight the sale.

“After many years working on it, in December of 2008 we got 10,000 acres saved as public land,” Ramsey said.

Roughly 8,000 acres were presented to the Cherokee National Forest and 2,000 acres went to the State of Tennessee and that land is what makes up Rocky Fork State Park. The land was purchased for $40 million.

“The lead organization that was with us was The Conservation Fund, who put up $20 million, and the rest of the funds came from the State of Tennessee, the federal government, and some private donors,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey was honored in 2011 with Field and Stream Magazine’s and Toyota’s Heroes of Conservation Award for his work.

“I realized that this was such a great story and I received way too much credit for it, so I wanted all the organizations and individuals to get the credit they deserved,” Ramsey told The Erwin Record.

So in 2012, Ramsey began working on “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild.” The book takes readers on the adventure through the history of Rocky Fork.

“I think it is a terrific example of how different people can come together over a common goal, especially in a time of derision,” Ramsey explained.

You can get your copy of “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild” by going to On the home page, at the top of the page click on the purchase tab. On the purchase page, click on the Place Your Pre-Order tab in the upper middle of the page. Then click on the photo of the book cover in the upper left. On the next page click on “Rocky Fork book-19.95” at upper right. On the drop-down click on “View Cart” if you want to purchase the book & follow the usual purchasing steps. Click on “Register” if you want to receive info from time to time.

Ramsey will host a book launch at Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens on 121 Covered Bridge Lane in Unicoi on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 2 p.m. There will be live music from the Rocky Fork State Park rangers. Ramsey will be on hand to sign books and give a presentation of the story of his book, “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild.”

New manager begins tenure at Erwin National Fish Hatchery

West Virginia native Tyler Hern began his new job as the manager of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery in November. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery has a new manager who brings a mix of youth and experience with him to the position.

Tyler Hern is no stranger to fish and the importance of aquatic wildlife, as he grew up in Ravenswood, West Virginia. Hern spent his youth in Ravenswood fishing the Ohio River, which runs along the border of his hometown.

“I grew up right on the Ohio River and we fished all the time,” Hern told The Erwin Record. Hern’s parents exposed him to fishing at a young age and he hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve been pretty fishy from the beginning,” Hern joked.

Upon graduating high school, Hern attended Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. It was at Davis and Elkins that Hern received his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. Hern then got his master’s degree in Biology from Marshall University located in Huntington, West Virginia.

“I actually moved to Tennessee after that and lived in Cookeville for three years, then I moved to Cincinnati and did some work with Environmental Solutions and Innovations as a scuba diver,” Hern said.

Hern has been all over Appalachia with school and work and couldn’t see living anywhere else. “I’ve had offers from places like Maine and out west, but I don’t think I could ever leave Appalachia,” Hern said.

Hern returned to West Virginia and began working for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in White Sulphur Springs. While working at White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery, Hern learned about the Erwin National Fish Hatchery.

In June of 2016, White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery sustained more than $1.5 million in damages by a flood. The fish hatchery lost 15,000 adult rainbow trout broodstock and another 30,000 juvenile trout were exposed to floodwaters and potential viruses.

The fish hatchery was depopulated of all fish. There was an immediate need to repopulate more than 9.2 million trout eggs to restock the fish hatchery.

One of the major suppliers to help repopulate White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery was the Erwin National Fish Hatchery.

After spending more than four years at White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery, Hern was named manager of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery in November.

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery supports recreational fishing across the United States.

“We ship between 14-16 million fish eggs a year,” Hern said. “This is the second largest producing facility among the 70 fish hatcheries in the United States.”

The fish hatchery is more than just raising fish eggs. Currently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into ways to bring endangered species to this area.

“That’s one of the reasons I think I was chosen to work here, is looking at different ways to expand our reach at this hatchery,” Hern stated.

Looking to the future, Hern and his staff are charged with keeping three years worth of stock of fish eggs to be prepared in case of a disaster.

“The staff here is extremely talented, which makes my job easy,” Hern told The Erwin Record. Hern said his focus will be on biosecurity. The fish hatchery raceways are currently located outside of the main building and that can cause problems.

“That is something that I’m going to work on,” Hern said.

Hern is settling into the community just fine.

“The move wasn’t bad at all, I pack light,” Hern joked.

According to Hern, Erwin reminds him of his hometown of Ravenswood.

“I’m excited to be a part of this community and everyone has been so kind and welcoming,” Hern said.

Town events pay tribute to local veterans

Navy veteran Bob Wiggins and his wife, Patsy, enjoy the Veterans Day Lunch hosted by the Town of Unicoi. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Over the weekend the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi held special events to pay tribute to local veterans.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, more than 70 veterans came to the Unicoi Buffalo Conference Room in the Town of Unicoi Visitors Center to enjoy a lunch prepared in their honor.

The 7th annual Veterans Lunch was provided by the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Unicoi History Group. There were freshly made sandwiches, soups, cornbread, sides, and numerous desserts for veterans and anyone that came to celebrate and honor our local heroes.

The original Veterans Lunches were held at the Bogart-Bowman Cabin, but the event has recently moved to the Unicoi Buffalo Conference Room.

“We moved here because it was easier access for our local veterans,” Town of Unicoi History Chair Pat Lynch told The Erwin Record.

The veterans packed the conference room and enjoyed the homemade meal and the camaraderie.

“This is my first time taking part in the lunch at the conference room,” Bob Wiggins, a 30-year Navy veteran and local craftsman, said. “I went a few times when we did this at the cabin. I just enjoy getting out in the community.”

Wiggins was enjoying the lunch with his wife, Patsy. Another veteran enjoying the event was 42-year Army veteran and Department of Defense retiree Jack Gouge.

“I enjoyed my service and I would do it all over again, given the chance,” Gouge said.

Town of Unicoi Mayor and Army medic veteran Johnny Lynch was on hand to take part in the event.

“Every town needs to recognize their veterans,” Lynch exclaimed.

Army veteran Dennis Mull, who represents the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9, was on hand to speak to veterans about benefits that may be available to them. The DAV assists veterans that may have been injured or experienced health issues related to their service.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran that is in need of information for DAV, please visit


The Town of Erwin held its annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park next to Gentry Stadium.

“The Veterans Memorial Park has been around for 10 years and was funded by donations, it is important to remember our vets,” Army veteran Jack Gouge told The Erwin Record.

Bill Hensley started the ceremony off by acknowledging the floral spray that a local Girl Scout Troop donated to the park. The Unicoi County High School Air Force JROTC presented the colors, while Edgar Rice led the attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.   Reverend Craig Shelton led the invocation and Allan Foster sang the National Anthem.

Lou Thornberry was the keynote speaker. Thornberry acknowledged all the veterans in attendance by era. World War I was discussed as this was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“Veteran’s Day is on Nov. 11 to celebrate veterans, but it is also a day to celebrate peace,” Thornberry said.

According to Thornberry in 1917 Erwin was a “boom town.”

“They expected 30,000 people to fill Erwin and then something happened, and that was World War I,” Thornberry said.

For Unicoi County, there were 318 men in World War I. Of that number, 145 were born in Unicoi County. There were 123 born outside of Tennessee and the remaining 50 were born in Tennessee but outside of Unicoi County.

“These men gave their home post office addresses as their birthplace,” Thornberry said. According to the information Thornberry received from Tennessee State Library and Archives, of the 318 that served from Unicoi County, 10 were killed in World War I. There were 16 men from Unicoi County who were wounded during World War I.

Following Thornberry’s comments, Foster led the attendees in a rousing rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes addressed the crowd next and shared plans for work that needs to be done at the park.

“The roof on the building is faded and the monuments need updating,” Haynes said.

In the future, there will be a fundraiser for updates to Veterans Memorial Park. If you are interested in donating to the cause, please contact Terry Haynes, Bill Hensley, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely or Mayor Doris Hensley for more details.

County native receives award nomination for graphic design work

Unicoi County native Karen Key was recently nominated for an International Bluegrass Music Association award for her graphic design work. Key designed the album cover art for the album “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition.”
(Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Award shows like the Grammys, the Oscars and the Tonys celebrate success by artists. Many people who watch these award shows often dream of attending these events and being nominated for such an award.

For fans of bluegrass music, the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards (IBMAs) are the equivalent of the aforementioned awards. Recently, one of Erwin’s own was nominated for an IBMA Award.

Karen Key was nominated for her work on “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition.” Key was nominated in the “Best Graphic Design” category for her artwork for the album cover art. The artwork was inspired by the music and liner notes from the album itself.

“I went through all the liner notes and listened to the music to capture the feel of the artwork,” Key told The Erwin Record.

Upon listening to the music and reading the liner notes that were written by East Tennessee State University’s Ted Olson, who was nominated for a Grammy for the liner notes, Key was inspired.

“The hand lettering really evokes a certain feeling that is parallel to traditional ballads,” Key said of album’s artwork.

To assist with the artwork, Key worked with Michael Mullan, an illustrator based out of Vermont.

Being nominated was a huge deal for Key and her family.

“My husband, Andy, and I got all dressed up and attended the ceremony in Raleigh, North Carolina and it was a lot of fun,” Key said.

While attending the awards show, Key witnessed bluegrass history being made.

“We got to see Ricky Skaggs and the Kentucky Thunder get inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and perform with Marty Stuart, that was the highlight,” Key said.

The nomination shows IBMA’s commitment to the arts.

“It was truly such an honor to be nominated for an IBMA amongst other talented designers, and I’m thrilled this association is recognizing graphic design as a category, as it often gets overlooked,” Key said.

In a visual world, imagery sells.

“We make these albums look beautiful before the consumer hears one note of the music, and I’m happy to have been a part of that recognition,” Key said.

The IBMA nomination isn’t Key’s first nomination or award.

“I’ve won two Public Lands Alliance awards for our biannual newsletter, Bearpaw and Smokies Life magazine,” Key stated.

The Public Lands Alliance Awards hold a special place in Key’s heart.

“This was exciting because we were up against products from the other big guys – Yellowstone and Yosemite,” Key said.

Becoming a graphic artist was the result of a change in major while attending college for Key. Key joined her sister, Sharon, at the University of Tennessee to follow in her sister’s footsteps. According to Key, her sister was preparing to make lots of money upon graduating with a degree in industrial engineering.

“I like math and science and she’s gonna be making a lot of money, sounds like a good major to me,” Key said of following her sister’s lead.

Key quickly reevaluated her options.

“Well, after my first semester my GPA was a 2.0 and not because I didn’t study or partied too much, I was actually spending all-nighters in the library and really working hard, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me,” Key said.

Key was at a crossroads and needed to decide what she wanted to do long term.

“I knew that I loved art, but didn’t want to major in painting or drawing, so my mom suggested graphic design as an option,” she said.

It was after Key signed up for the graphic design program that she realized she had made the right decision.

“As soon as I got into the program, I knew it was where I belonged, this was my calling and these were my people,” Key said of the graphic design program.

Upon graduating in 2006, Key found herself working for a public relations firm in Knoxville, but soon found her current employer.

“I was wearing a suit every day and working on gas station advertisements, so when I saw the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) job become available, I jumped on the opportunity,” Key said.

According to Key, GSMA is a nonprofit organization that supports Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s scientific, historical and interpretive activities by providing educational products and services to park visitors. Key feels she is making a difference with her current employer.

“It feels like I’m using my skills for the prosperity of an amazing place, and I love the idea of communicating to park visitors, so they can pass down their appreciation and knowledge of the natural world to their loved ones,” Key said of working with GSMA.

Growing up in Unicoi County proved to be a motivator in Key’s artistic style.

“I’m quite certain I got this job because my style is very much inspired by where I grew up,” she said.

To say Unicoi County had an impact on Key’s career would be an understatement.

“I think it’s no coincidence that our house was about five minutes from the Cherokee National Forest and now I am working in the most visited national park in the country,” Key said.

For those interested in graphic design from Unicoi County, Key has some sound advice.

“Start with paper, always, you can literally buy a logo on the Internet for $10, but the work and idea aren’t there,” Key said.

If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, Key has a suggestion.

“If I’m stuck or can’t think of a good idea, I lace up my hiking boots and that always helps, for someone who lives in Unicoi County you should be inspired by all the beauty that surrounds you,” Key said.

Although her career and life keeps her in Seymour, Tennessee, Key often makes it back to Erwin.

“I make it back several times a year, as my parents, two grandmothers (one of which my daughter Violet is named after), and lots of family and friends still live there and I really enjoy visiting,” Key told The Erwin Record.

Key’s sister also finds time to go back home as well.

“My sister Sharon sells handmade jewelry at the Apple Festival, a hobby she’s picked up outside of her industrial engineering career, so I try to make it back for that,” Key said.

Key just finished designing a really popular book by David Brill, “Into the Mist: Tales of Death Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” According to Key the book is a very interesting read. Key stays busy with many projects going on currently.

“I’m currently working on designing Butterflies and Moths of the Smokies field guide that will probably come out just in time for butterfly season next year,” Key said.

Key also oversees the design and production of the park newspaper, Smokies Guide, that comes out four times a year. Throughout the year, Key works on designing some of the stories for that Smokies Life magazine that is mailed twice a year as one of many GSMA member benefits. It can also be purchased in visitor centers and online, with sales helping support Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are interested, you can become a member of GSMA at

Much like the artwork of Karen Key, Erwin is being recognized.

“I love seeing the growth Erwin’s making with the farmer’s market, Union Street Taproom, Erwin Outdoor Supply and NOLI,” Key said.

Key went on to acknowledge that it is an exciting time to be from a small town.

“Erwin will always have a special place in my heart,” she said.

Along with Erwin, Key recognizes others that inspire her.

“I’d like to acknowledge my biggest fans, husband Andy, daughter Violet and my parents, Greg and Susie Swinehart, who you’ll probably find driving around Erwin looking for some stadium lights to go to any Unicoi County High School sporting event they can support,” Key said.

‘Grand’ climb: Local team reaches summit

A group of six hikers and three guides climbed Grand Teton Mountain in Wyoming during August. The hikers included Dave Cronshaw, Randy Shackleford, Nick Banks, Dean Poling, Ben Banks and Scott Averill. The guides were Benja Glatz, Smith Maddrex and Matt Floyd. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

On Aug. 8, several local men accomplished something most have not been able to – reaching the summit of Grand Teton Mountain in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

For Dean Poling, mountain climbing came from a simple invitation by a former coworker at Nuclear Fuel Services. The two men climbed Mount Rainer in 2007 and Poling has been climbing ever since.

The group has now grown to approximately 10 different guys. They have climbed Mount Rainier twice, Mount Whitney twice, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Shasta.

Weather is one of the major concerns when it comes to mountain climbing and the August climb up Grand Teton was no different.

“In the summertime there is great concern for thunderstorms; fortunately for us, the weather cooperated,” Poling said.

The group plans these western trips between late July and early August to try to avoid the weather. Other issues besides the elevation and weather conditions include loose rocks that cause slippage. Another danger while climbing consists of climbers above you kicking out loose rocks.

“You have to watch out for the guy above you, the guy below you and yourself all at the same time,” Poling said.

Plans for the Grand Teton trip started about three years ago. Randy Shackleford picked this mountain to climb. In 2016, the attempt was cut short before they even started. Tragedy struck when one of the tour guides with another group lost his life from a fall. The group decided that in two years they would return and conquer the mountain.

“I got involved in climbing two days before our attempt at the Grand Teton,” Dave Cronshaw said. “I grew up in New Hampshire, moved to Tennessee in 1978, then moved to Utah in 2003, so I’ve been in or around the mountains my entire life. I’ve done a lot of hiking and backpacking including some scrambling but never any climbing.”

The group consisted of seven members to start with, but one member had to back out due to injury.

“Our seventh guy couldn’t make it because of his ankle, but he got to fish in some beautiful spots,” Poling said. “He also was there to greet us with celebratory drinks when we came down off the mountain.”

The six-man crew that climbed Grand Teton in August included retired NFS Vice President of Operations Dave Cronshaw, NFS Nuclear Safety and Licensing Manager Randy Shackleford, NFS Quality Engineer Nick Banks, BWXT System Administrator Dean Poling, Nick’s brother Ben Banks, and Scott Averill. Assisting the group were three tour guides – Benja Glatz, Smith Maddrex and Matt Floyd.

To climb a mountain as tough as Grand Teton, you need to go to climbing school. The group went through Exum Mountain Guides. Exum Mountain Guides has been taking tours through Grand Teton for over 80 years. Day one, you learn all the knots and basic skills.

“We began learning belaying techniques, climbing techniques, rope handling, communication and basic mountaineering,” Nick Banks said.

On day two, you began to climb in real conditions.

“The staff can end your trip if they feel you will not make it and the thing that stood out with the guides and school there, they let your team learn hands on,” said Poling.

Once training was complete, it took a solid day of climbing to get to the base camp, which is roughly 11,000 feet above sea level.

“That was an intense hike,” Poling said of the trip to base camp.

To get to the base camp, it took roughly six hours to climb. The crew started out day one at 10 a.m. and reached base camp around 4 p.m. At the base camp, there is enough sleep space for 12 people. Water can be boiled while at the base camp. According to Poling, sleep was difficult because of the close quarters.

Preparing your diet is crucial for the climb. They encourage you to eat high calorie, high energy foods and foods you like for the first day, to keep you energized. On day two, due to the higher elevation, your food source is shifted to dehydrated foods.

To begin their trek from the base camp up the mountain, the crew got up at 3 a.m. and hit the trail at 4 a.m. They reached the summit at 8 or 9 a.m. The summit is roughly 13,775 feet above sea level.

In the descent down from the summit, the crew reached base camp around noon or 1 p.m. From the summit back down to base camp took roughly 4 hours. The group made it back to the bottom at 5 p.m.

The route the group took is called the Owens-Spalding Route. The rating of Grand Teton was 5.4.

“The five is the most difficult on the scale of 1-5,” Poling said. “It means that even the most skilled mountaineer would need tools to climb this mountain.”

The .4 is on a scale of .1-.15. So for an advanced climber, it was a relatively easy climb. “It’s not bad for some Erwin boys,” Poling said.

The experience was life-changing. For Nick and Ben, they got to spend quality time together, which was important since it’s been four years since they lost their father. It can also be difficult to leave loved ones at home that are concerned about your safety.

“I have a wife that is very understanding,” Poling, whose wife is also a climber, said.

Poling isn’t the only one with a significant other that is understanding.

“I got a chance to facetime my girlfriend on the summit and was happy to share the moment with her,” Nick Banks said. “She was at work and I think the sight of me basically on the side of a mountain overlooking a glacier maybe caught her off guard.”

Training plays a huge factor in mountain climbing and you have to train months in advance. Cardio is vital in preparing for a climb. Due to the elevation, breathing can be difficult.

“Once you get past 8,000 feet you can start to feel it,” Poling said.

The group plans to begin training soon after they pick their next trip. Nick and Ben Banks utilized all the local nature trails to incorporate into their training. Poling often hikes the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail to help with his already rigorous training. Cronshaw had no formal mountain climbing experience, but he has hiked throughout his life, including hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

“I honestly wanted to compare the fatigue we experienced with parts of my Marine Corps career,” said Nick Banks.

Shackleford summed it up by stating, “the fitter you are, the more you can just go out there and enjoy it. You don’t struggle as much.”

For Poling, this was his eighth climb.

This was the first climb for Cronshaw who reflected, “it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I think the guys that did it developed a bond between us that is hard to describe. We were a team.”

For the Banks brothers, this was also their first climb. Nick Banks expressed what the climb meant to him personally.

“Grand Teton was a challenge and will forever hold a spot in my soul. I was happy my brother was with me. I was happy our team became a family,” Nick said. “I felt blessed knowing that with all the hustle and bustle going on in the world, the mountain didn’t care. It would be there for the next million years. There is comfort in knowing that it stood there, ready for the next generation to climb and see its beauty.”

The group plans on meeting up sometime in November to discuss the next climb.

“Some in the group has expressed a desire to go to Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa next year, but that one would be expensive,” Poling said.

Wiseman’s to celebrate 50 years in business

Wiseman’s owner Denise Farner stands in front of a display inside the store which has served this area for 50 years. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

According to the recent data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 21 percent of small businesses survive 20 years. Roughly 49 percent of new businesses fail within the first 5 years.

Scientists at the Sante Fe Institute in New Mexico have come up with a theory of how long a business will last. The number the study provides is 10 years. The average business, no matter what they are selling, will last 10 years.

However, Wiseman’s store, which is located in the Town of Unicoi is not average.

Wiseman’s first opened its doors for business back in 1965. The business owners were Jeff and Arnold Wiseman. According to their website, they wanted to showcase brands that were as tough and hardworking as the families and farmers they served in East Tennessee.

The Wisemans sold the company in 1989 to the Farner family, the same family that owns Johnny’s Shoes. Johnny’s Shoes was founded in 1967 with the same hardworking families and farmers in mind. According to their website, most people couldn’t afford to give up on a good pair of shoes in those days so they took them to Johnny’s Shoes for repairs. This is a service still offered today inside of Wiseman’s.

Shoe repair is just one of many reasons shoppers go to Wiseman’s. The selection is very diverse in selection and sizes.

“Our sizes run from a men’s 30-60 in store,” said owner Denise Farner Webb. “Our selection is huge and vast in varieties and sizes.”

The store itself could be described as huge and vast.

“The store is 14,000 square feet of shopping experience,” Webb also said.

Customer service is a key component to Wiseman’s success.

“Our customers are special,” Webb said. “Without them, we would not be here.”

The focus on customer service for the family-owned Wiseman’s is paramount.

“We pride ourselves on taking care of our customers,” Webb said. “We want our customers to be lifelong customers. We want them to tell their family and friends to come.”

The customers feel the same way towards Wiseman’s.

“Wiseman’s is a very unique store that has been very influential to Unicoi,” said Town of Unicoi Communications & Programs Director and Wiseman’s customer Ashley Cavender.

A 50-year anniversary celebration will be held at Wiseman’s on Saturday, Oct. 6, beginning at 9 a.m. There will be a sidewalk sale and food available by Bite Food Truck. There will be live entertainment by Justin Crider at 2 p.m. WXBQ will be on location with prizes. Wiseman’s will also have a free drawing for brand name giveaways including pairs of Timberland Boots, Keen Footwear, and pairs of Wrangler Jeans.

In addition to the store celebrating more than 50 years of service for both Wiseman’s and Johnny’s Shoes, this event will be a grand reopening as the store has recently been remodeled.

“We put down new floors and added some new spaces to the store,” Webb said.

For more information please, check out Wiseman’s Facebook page. Wiseman’s is open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Friday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 1-6 p.m.

Fair recounts decades of service as flight attendant

Carol Fair has spent 55 years as a flight attendant and has received several awards for her service. Above, she holds a book on the History of Piedmont Airlines in which she is featured. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

While some may travel by air more than others, it is rare to find someone who has done it with regularity for more than 50 years. Right here in East Tennessee resides someone who has spent 55 years traveling through the skies and she shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Carol Fair has been from London, Kentucky, to London, England – and everywhere in between – and has been doing what she loves since 1963, even though it wasn’t what she planned originally.

“I tried to get a job at the bank, but the gatekeeper refused my application because my name was in the wrong place,” Fair recently told The Erwin Record.

Prior to applying at the bank, Fair worked as a babysitter. When her father found out that she did not get the job at the bank he told her to “get your best dress on and come on.” She thought he was sending her away. It was then that he took her to the airport to get a job working behind the counter.

The gentleman at the airport asked her what skills she had, and when she listed them, he stopped her at making coffee. He told her there is a flight leaving in a bit to go to Winston-Salem, go talk to Jim Bradley and get a job with Piedmont Airlines as a stewardess.

Already her aviation family was growing. She glows proudly when speaking of her aviation family, which included Erwin native Charlotte Jones-Rynders. Rushing to fill out the application, Fair asked Sluder how to spell stewardess, and he responded, “I don’t know, just put down hostess.”

So, according to Fair, “Piedmont hired a hostess that day, not a stewardess.” Little did she know that this day would change the rest of her life.

“I was dating someone and was going to get married,” Fair said.

She had planned to work six months and make her money and return home. While away, she realized that the relationship would not work out. Even if she wanted to get married, during this time in history she could not be married and continue to fly.

“The stewards could be married and have children, but stewardesses were not allowed to,” Fair recounted.

She did find love later on and they patiently waited for the law to change so they could get married. She had five very happy and loving years with her husband, Kenneth Dean Fair, who passed away in 1975. Fair had no children and did not wish to remarry, so she decided to remain in flight.

Fair flew for Piedmont for 25 years and then became part of the U.S. Air family once they bought out Piedmont. From there, U.S. Air became U.S. Airways. During this time, the London flight was sold to British Airways.

“It took three years to pick up another international route, so some crews flew for British Airways,” Fair said. “That was fun.”

She flew on Piedmont’s historic inaugural flight from Charlotte to London. It was at this time she won one of her numerous awards, which was the Bronze Award for Leadership as Cabin Service Director.

Other awards she has accrued over the years include the Golden Wings Smile Award and the Piedmont Hall of Fame award. She has also been inducted into both the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.

Fair has made numerous friends over the years from the famous to the infamous. One such encounter was with legendary actress and icon Elizabeth Taylor.

“I never asked for an autograph from passengers before, but she was my hero,” Fair said. “I just happened to have my book on Tutankhamun’s Treasure on that flight, so I slipped her the book to look at with a note stashed inside, and she signed it.”

One of the most challenging times of her career came on Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, Fair was on a flight coming back to the United States from London.

“It was a beautiful sunny day and in the cockpit we heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” she recounted. “I thought, ‘How did that happen?’ It was so clear that day. Then we heard about the second one.”

The staff stepped into action. Their plane was grounded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there ended up being 42 jumbo jets, nose to tail on the tarmac grounded. The passengers and staff were forced to remain on the plane for 12 hours. Upon exiting the plane, they could only take what they had on and their carry-on bag. All of their luggage remained at the airport.

When asked about how the passengers handled the delay, Fair responded, “the passengers were wonderful. We ended up having to stay in Nova Scotia for several days. Upon leaving, the passengers gave a standing ovation for the crew.”

Only one passenger refused to travel back on the flight. After being stranded for five days the courageous crew and passengers flew back home. While stranded in Nova Scotia the airline staff watched the events unfold. Many of the employees from United had friends and family that were on the flights that hit the World Trade Center towers, so according to Fair, “you cried with them, you felt the impact too. It was really a hard time for everybody.”

Fair has been a lifelong advocate for women’s rights, as well as the rights for aviation workers. She fights hard for her aviation family and speaks out against any injustices she sees. Her fight for women has brought major change to not just the aviation industry, but to all aspects of American life. Fair uses her status to give speeches and raise awareness of aviation history.

Fair currently resides in Johnson City with her partner of many years, Felix Guignard. When she is not spending time listening to her accomplished partner’s piano playing, she stills flies three days a month. She only works on the non-stop European flights. This is a far cry from her days where she would have to make 22 landings in one day.

The aircrafts have changed over the years as well. They have gotten bigger and faster, but she still speaks fondly of the smaller DC-3.

“That is my baby, I still do fundraisers for my DC-3,” Fair said.

One interesting story she had about the flights on the DC-3 was in regards to the air conditioning. She said those flights could be hot in the summer, so the pilot would open a window in the cockpit and the crew would open a vent in the back of the plane to achieve a breeze.

“That was your air conditioning,” Fair joked.

So if you board a flight to Europe you may just be lucky enough to notice a wild, untamed, and welcoming personality on board with you. The type of personality that embodies the spirit of East Tennessee. It is then you will know that you are flying with family, you are flying with Carol Dobyns Fair.

‘Just a blessing’: Cunningham, employees travel to Guatemala for medical mission trip

Dr. Jason Cunningham and members of his staff traveled to Guatemala this summer for a medical mission trip. (Contributed photo)

By Kendal Groner

Employees from Cunningham Dental in Erwin were among those who volunteered their time for a recent mission trip to Guatemala that provided access to dental and medical care to more than 1,000 individuals from the village of Rincon De Pacaya.

Jason Cunningham, a local dentist who in 2010 permanently joined the longstanding dental practice his father established, along with Amy Clouse, a dental assistant from Cunningham Dental, were both able to attend the trip that was organized by Cunningham’s Church, Central Baptist Church of Johnson City.

“It was just a blessing and I can’t wait to go back next year,” Clouse said. “We stayed a week and there was so much more we could have done to help.”

Cunningham and Clouse were among the team of dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, physicians and medical students who graciously volunteered their time and services for the trip that took place from June 10-16, barely a week after the deadly eruption of the volcano Fuego that claimed more than 100 lives.

The group stayed at Camp Calvary, which was created by the Christ-centered ministry known as Clubhouse. With financial assistance from the Calvary Baptist of Shreveport, Louisiana, and Cunningham’s church, the camp was built to not only serve as a home base for U.S. mission teams, but to also provide training for local pastors and Guatemalan teens to work in local villages with the end goal of starting new churches in the area.

“It’s got a bunkhouse for men, one for women, and then there are two cabins for the volunteers who stay all summer,” Cunningham said about the camp.

Cunningham said the camp was also equipped with a main cafeteria, kitchen area, church area and a basketball court, in addition to the medical/dental clinic and pharmacy. In the village of Rincon De Pacaya where the camp is located, the village members are often unable to receive basic medical or dental care due to their isolation and lack of transportation to the country’s capital, Guatemala City.

“For many people it’s the only time they get to see a dentist … that was surprising to me, and of course, that place is about a 90-minute drive from the capital,” said Cunningham.

According to the website of the Clubhouse Ministries, the average family in the village makes less than $50 per month, and many children are not afforded the luxury of receiving an education; instead must stay at home where they learn to farm.

During the one week trip, between medical and dental, the group saw more than 1,000 patients, who would walk 45 minutes to two hours just to get to the clinic.

“We would open around eight in the morning and when we got opened they were already waiting to get into the clinic,” Clouse said.

The group worked in the tiresome heat for about 12 hours a day in order to ensure that they saw every patient.

“I saw more patients in one week than I have ever seen up here, and I have two busy offices,” Cunningham said. “They had to cut them off every day and tell them to come back the next day. If there were 30 hours in a day we might have seen more people.”

As far as dental work goes, patients were seen for everything from routine teeth cleaning to more restorative work such as fillings. Thanks to a portable machine, Clouse said they were also able to take X-rays.

“We were even able to do a root canal, and there were lots of extractions,” she said. “We’re the only ones they see, they won’t see more until hopefully we go back next year.”

Even after being seen for something as routine as a teeth cleaning, Clouse and Cunningham said the patients expressed intense gratitude and often times even hugged them.

Cunningham also recalled a medical student who attended the trip and was able to diagnose two infants with severe cases of pneumonia.

“They would have died within a few days if they hadn’t gotten antibiotics,” he said.

A preacher from the church was present to witness and pray with those from the village, many of whom Clouse said accepted Christ into their hearts as a result of the trip. A vacation bible school was organized for the local children, who had the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities.

“Everybody that came in, the preacher talked to them as they would leave, and we spoke with some people as well through interpreters,” Cunningham said.

In addition to providing medical and dental care, the mission group also had the opportunity to go out into individual’s homes where they provided them with beds, a luxury only a few can afford, with many people sleeping on nothing but dirt floors. They also provided the people of the village with solar lights and water filters, much-needed necessities due to the difficulty of accessing clean water in the area.

“It was something to see, and it makes you think what we take advantage of every day,” Clouse said. “It’s unreal what little they have yet they’re all still so happy with smiles on their faces.”

Cunningham was also surprised to see their modest homes, which were typically composed of nothing more than corrugated steel roofing and plywood walls.

“It’s a far cry from what we have here … obviously, they are very grateful to see us,” said Cunningham. “They’re lucky if they have lights or lamps … the poorest people in East Tennessee are much better off than they would be down there.”

One particularly touching event that Clouse recalled involved a young boy, whom she felt compelled to give her tennis shoes to due to the fact that his were so worn and barely usable.

“You would have thought I gave him a million dollars,” she said.

Both Cunningham and Clouse were quick to respond in saying that the trip was truly a memorable experience that they hope to have the opportunity to take again. Cunningham added that the camp itself is well set up for the mission work, and although there are a few missions that provide medical care throughout the year, there is only one trip that provides dental care.

“There’s plenty of other room for people to come in and do it,” Cunningham said. “It’s always a cool experience to get to go to new places.”

“If you have the opportunity to go, I highly recommend it,” added Clouse. “The other employees that work here we say to get your passports and go with us … it took me two or three weeks to even come down from the high I was on of getting to see those patients and how grateful they were.”

McLain joins Lighthouse Baptist Church

Aaron McLain recently became the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church on Zane Whitson Drive. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

If you have attended church at Lighthouse Baptist Church on 2539 Zane Whitson Drive lately you will notice a new pastor.

Pastor Aaron McLain is bringing a new message to the congregation. He recently told The Erwin Record that he hopes to have more leadership from within the church to spread the message.

McLain’s vision for the church involves growing the church going forward, in both numbers and in spiritual strength. One of the ways they are reaching out into the community is through the youth.

McLain stressed the importance of transportation in order to be able to go out and pick up those who may not have the means to get to church. The church currently has two full-sized vans to bring in those who may not be able to drive.

Another program being utilized to reach the youth, is the church’s affiliation with the Awana Club. The church holds weekly Awana Club meetings on Wednesdays from 6:40 p.m. until 8 p.m. There is also a service for adults on Wednesdays starting at 6:40 p.m.

McLain also said he hopes to one day build onto the beautiful church and expand. One expansion he is eyeing in the future is an addition of a gym on site to help grow the church.

Like most Christians,  McLain said he had a calling. It came when he was younger and his family was doing mission work in Mexico. The Lord has been in control ever since, McLain said.

Not only is McLain the full-time pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church, he is also a full-time devoted husband to Maria. He is a father to Ellie, Kaleb, Micah and Korbyn. In addition, he is  a high school Spanish teacher at David Crockett High School and currently has a bus route.

When asked how he does it all, he responds, “It’s not me doing it, I’m being led.”

Bringing in the lost is a major area of concern for McLain. He said he hopes to reach those who do not know God. He also envisions one day the possibility of offering an afternoon service for the Spanish-speaking community. It’s ideas like these that give McLain hope that big things are on the horizon for Lighthouse Baptist Church.

If you have the opportunity, drop by one of their Wednesday evening services or visit Sunday School, which begins at 10 a.m. You can also attend their Sunday Service starting at 11 a.m.