Kids get shoes, school supplies — and smiles!

Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League, just prior to start of the event.

About 6,000 people packed Caswell Park on Saturday for the Knoxville Area Urban League’s annual “Shoes for School” event, which provided local children with new shoes and school supplies and connected families with valuable community resources. The back-to-school bash — in its 20th year — was presented by sponsors Covenant Health, Pilot Company and TVA.

Knox County students stocked up on items before returning to school today. With the help of community partners, the Knoxville Area Urban League doubled the number of children who received shoes compared to 2021. Nearly 1,700 pairs were distributed to students who pre-qualified with local nonprofits, and the organization estimates that more than 3,000 picked up school supplies.

“We are grateful to our sponsors, booth sponsors, non-profit partners and community for helping us make the 20th anniversary of Shoes for School bigger and better than ever,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “This event isn’t just about shoes – it’s about breaking down any financial barriers for parents so their students can start the school year on the right foot with school supplies and confidence.” Continue reading

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Terrible trophy yields good idea!

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, left, with Rebecca and Jon Rysewyk at a reception in his honor last week.

It’s gotten to be an old — and, frankly, kind of boring — joke among Leadership Knoxville graduates that their class was “the best class ever.” Going into its 33rd class starting later this month, the venerable leadership training organization has more than 1,300 graduates.

One of the classes — the class of 2010 — has taken the “best class ever” gag to a new level. They’ve  purchased a God-awful humongous trophy which they bestow to a lucky (?) member of their class who comes up with a good idea for a class project. Last week, retiring school board member and local Realtor Virginia Babb took home the monstrosity for coming up with the idea of holding a reception in honor of one of their class members, Jon Rysewyk, who recently was named superintendent of Knox County Schools.

The very nice event actually was a good idea. Held at the Knoxville Museum of Art, which is helmed by executive director David Butler, another member of the Leadership Knoxville Class of 2010, it attracted a crowd of about 60 well-wishers, most of whom were not members of the class. Continue reading

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Elegant evening at Annandale was not a gamble

Homeowner Holli McCray with Knox Heritage Board President Jeff Wilke.

It was hot as blazes for the second of Knox Heritage’s three Summer Supper fundraisers this season, but the food, drinks and camaraderie were awesome.

And there was good music and an interesting restored house. It featured a fantastic poker room, which had been offered as an enticement to convince the professional gambler husband of the household to live in the suburbs instead of moving downtown, as he was wont to do. How often do you hear that? In any case, it was a win-win! For the urban-inclined husband, who got his gambling dream room, and for his suburb-loving wife, who got her house in one of Knoxville’s great neighborhoods. I love it when a plan comes together!

Annandale, as the Lakemoor Hills landmark is called, actually was the name of the previous home on the property. Built in 1919 by David and Sue Chapman, it was destroyed by fire in 1933. Today’s house was built in 1940 and was designed by famed local architects BarberMcMurry. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 7 Comments

What to buy an 80-year-old minister for his birthday?

Rev. Harold Middlebrook, right, poses with JB Smiley Jr. Smiley is a Memphis City Councilmember and gubernatorial candidate.

Rev. Harold Middlebrook, a beloved Knoxville minister who was an icon of the civil rights movement, turned 80 earlier this month and his friends and family threw him a party. Daughter LaKenya Middlebrook, the city of Knoxville’s community safety director, was point person.

Held on a Saturday night at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Knoxville, it turned out to be terrific. We were lucky enough to be invited, but what, we wondered, would be an appropriate birthday gift? Wine was out, of course. And we didn’t want to buy clothes or anything too personal. We weren’t sure what books he’d already read. Hmm.

We were stumped, but we finally found a great solution. More on that later.

Rev. Middlebrook is a longtime friend of mine. I covered him when I came to Knoxville as a newspaper reporter in the early ’80s and I’ve been honored to serve with him for many years on the board of the Knoxville Area Urban League. He is wise and he is kind. He’s also generous with his time, and he puts a lot of effort into making Knoxville — and the country — a better place. Right now, he is a little disappointed, as he expressed in this article that ran last year in the News Sentinel. Continue reading

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New Police Chief Paul Noel calls Knoxville ‘a great city’ but is surprised by magnitude of homeless problem

Knoxville Police Chief Paul Noel speaking last night to a gathering in West Knoxville hosted by two City Council members.

Knoxville’s new police chief, Paul Noel, had been on the job just five weeks and two days when he attended a community “meet and greet” gathering last night at All Occasions Party Rentals on Middlebrook Pike. But he seemed totally comfortable in his new hometown.

He told the 40 or so folks gathered there as the guests of Councilmembers Lynne Fugate and Janet Testerman that the biggest surprise for him after moving from New Orleans was the magnitude of the homeless and vagrancy problem here.

He has told his officers to enforce the laws against violators of “public order” — such as urinating in public — but not to immediately enforce the new state “felony homeless law” that makes it punishable by up to six years in prison for people to camp on public property.

“Homelessness is not a crime. It’s a public health issue,” Chief Noel said. “Police play a role. But we are not going to arrest ourselves into a solution. You should call the police if you see someone committing a public order crime.” Continue reading

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Grooving at the Maple Grove

Dr. Bill and Laura Pippin enjoying the afternoon. They own Marble City Dentistry and Facial Esthetics in downtown Knoxville and are big supporters of the KJO.

There are few things more relaxing on an early Sunday evening than gathering with friends in a beautiful location, sipping wine, snacking on appetizers and listening to live jazz music. That’s why the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s “Jazz and Cocktails” fundraiser is so successful each year.

This event has found a home at the beautifully restored Maple Grove Estate, a historic 10,000-square-foot house located on 15.5 acres at 8800 Westland Drive. The owners, Roland and Karen Shankles, lovingly restored the property in 2018 for use as a wedding and event center. But it’s also a great venue for jazz in the afternoon.

The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra launches its new season next month with the unveiling of the new “NXT GEN series,” an outreach to engage young musicians to produce and perform jazz music in order to ensure the future success of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. The regular “Big Band” concerts start in October with a champagne reception for subscribers. And the popular “Live at Lucille’s” series, taped before a live audience at East Tennessee PBS, is on sale now, as well. The KJO also will present free concerts every Tuesday in September on the outdoor stage in Market Square downtown. These folks are busy! Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Historic preservation, Knoxville, Music, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Tom Jester: ‘Call me when you’re serious.’

Tom Jester and Jenny Hines at an event at the Tennessee Theatre in 2012.

Ad man Tom Jester’s business card had a drawing of a jester’s hat on it. The slogan on the card? “Call me when you’re serious.” I always loved that.

Jester’s celebration of life was held last week and it was everything — and more than — we expected. It was hilarious and profane and moving. I think he would have loved it.

Jester passed away March 13 after a long, debilitating illness. His wife, Jenny Hines, put the affair together and perfectly captured the sometimes lovable, sometimes rascally nature of his zany and intense personality. Much of it was “R” rated.

Held at RiverView Family Farm — a working cattle operation — the wake was really a party with his friends from far and wide providing the music and the commentary that had us all laughing and crying. WBIR-TV veteran Steve Dean and Jester’s friend Mike Parish put together a video montage and Dean showed a vintage edition of the “The Heartland Series” featuring Jester. Continue reading

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Lakeshore Park Picnic powers back

More than 350 people spent an idyllic evening at Lakeshore Park’s HGTV Overlook last Saturday at one of the most relaxing, low-key fundraisers the town has ever seen.

Can you think of a better picnic venue? Or more cooperative weather?

About 135 pre-packed picnic baskets filled with the delicious wares of 15 different vendors were sold (each basket fed two) and another 100 general admission passes admitted those who wanted to bring their own dinners. Continue reading

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Everywhere you look: a place to have fun

University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd puts his hospitality where his heart is. He and his wife, Jenny, donated a dinner for eight at their personal residence to be auctioned off at the recent UT Gardens Gala to benefit the UT Gardens. (You can see a report on that fun evening here.)

From left, sitting, Jenny and Randy Boyd, Melissa White and Gabriel Bolas; back row, from left, Joey Creswell, Janet Testerman, me, Alan Carmichael, Doug White and Tarah Bolas.

In fact, at the urging of ace auctioneer Bear Stephenson, they agreed to sell TWO of the private dinners. Lucky for me and my friend Janet Testerman, we were high bidders for one of the dinners. So we grabbed our spouses and two other fun couples and headed to the Boyds’ last weekend. Continue reading

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Knoxvillians noshing in New York!

Margie Nichols at Marea, a Michelin Star Italian eatery that we just loved.

We went to New York and we ate like we were in Europe. I swear. Every restaurant we booked was either French or Italian. I’m not complaining, mind you. Just observing.

It was all by choice, after all. Normally, when we go to New York City, we try to discover some great new places. But, since this annual trip that we take with the Clarence Brown Theatre group had been postponed two years, we had a hankering to visit some of our old favorites. They just happened to be Continental in style.

If you’d like to read about the plays we saw, click here for the previous post. This post will cover our non-theater adventures, including a museum, jazz — and food, food, food! (Don’t read this if you are hungry!) Continue reading

Filed under: Food, Travel | 9 Comments