Helping Ukraine from a garden in Knoxville

Dr. Marek Pienkowski displays an elaborate Ukrainian cake that was a door prize at the gala.

It was an extraordinary evening recently at the Knoxville Botanical Garden with moving music and a delicious — and unique — dinner. But the most special thing of all was the purpose. It was a fundraiser organized by Dr. Marek Pienkowski to benefit Doctors Without Borders’ work in war-ravaged Ukraine.

The gala evening raised more than $26,000 for the effort and featured music and food from the Ukrainian nation. Also on tap: an auction of works by artists of the region.

Ukraine’s official colors — blue and yellow — and its trademark sunflowers in the centerpieces made it hard to forget the purpose of the gathering. Musicians — several from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra — were conducted by James Fellenbaum, director of operas at the University of Tennessee and resident conductor of the Knoxville Symphony. Food was by Rosa’s Catering which put together the meal using special advice from Olena Korotych, an award-winning scientist and instructor at the University of Tennessee who hails from Ukraine. Continue reading

Filed under: Art, Events, Food, Music | 3 Comments

Marblegate Farm perfect site for Tremont event

Donna and Bill Cobble own Marblegate Farm, located on a peninsula that was the site of a train derailment that resulted in huge chunks of raw marble being dumped on the site.

Sometimes an event and its location are a perfect match. That was the case recently when the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont held its annual fundraiser at Marblegate Farm in Friendsville, Tennessee.

It’s not the first time this event has been held there. But it’s the first time we’ve been to it at this site. (We attended it when it was held at Lakeshore Park several years ago.)

I was, frankly, blown away with the beauty of Marblegate Farm. It’s no wonder that, as owner Donna Cobble told me, they already have 72 weddings on their books this year.

Marblegate is located on 200 acres of farmland with 8,500 feet of waterfront. And, since the Institute at Tremont is all about “connecting people with nature,” you couldn’t pick a better location.

Tremont, located in the Walker Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, currently is engaged in raising money for a second campus that will expand the educational offerings of the more than 50-year-old institute. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Music | 6 Comments

World’s Fair celebration mimics the real World’s Fair — a great party followed by a stormy aftermath

1982 World’s Fair President Bo Roberts, left, with former Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree, center, and Duane Grieve, executive director of the East Tennessee Community Design Center.

Forty years ago, I was a reporter for The Knoxville Journal. I covered business and city government, which meant, of course, that in 1982, I covered the World’s Fair.

The World’s Fair claims to have had 11 million visitors. That’s actually 11 million “visits.” I was at least 120 of those visits, as I was assigned to cover something there almost every day.

At the invitation of our great friends Duane and Marsha Grieve, we “returned” to the World’s Fair earlier this month as the East Tennessee Community Design Center, where Duane is executive director, hosted a very festive celebration of the World’s Fair — 40 years in the rear-view mirror.

The event was held on a sweltering Wednesday at the Amphitheater at World’s Fair Park. Our clever host cunningly commandeered a table directly in front of a “Big Ass Fan” — I swear, that’s really the name of it! And we enjoyed great live music, food from around the world and a short presentation featuring former Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree and World’s Fair President Bo Roberts. Continue reading

Filed under: Events, Knoxville | 9 Comments

Even after Selma, a call for new guardians

JoAnne Bland, noted civil rights leader, hugs a young girl who had presented her with roses. She said the youngster was about the age that she was when she was getting arrested in Selma, Alabama. “Thank you for everything you WILL do,” Bland said to her and some other children in attendance.

Noted civil rights pioneer JoAnne Bland was in Knoxville last week and I’m so glad I got to see her. She was at the historic Tennessee Theatre as part of Beck Cultural Exchange Center’sEighth of August” celebration. The event also featured the showing of “After Selma,” a documentary about the suppression of voting rights today in America.

Bland, from Selma, Alabama, was arrested 13 times by the time she was 11 years old for participating in acts of civil disobedience. Her prime motivation, she told the audience, was that she just wanted to sit at a lunch counter and eat ice cream. She saw the white kids doing it. And she just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to, as well.

She also participated as a child in the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the nationally televised police attacks that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” She says she will never forget the sound of a woman’s head hitting the pavement after she was struck down with a billy club by a policeman on horseback. Or her 14-year-old sister’s blood dripping on her face as she lay in the backseat of a car in her sister’s lap after fainting. The gashes on her sister’s head as the result of police clubbing that day required 37 stitches. Continue reading

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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

Filed under: Downtown, Knoxville, Media | 5 Comments

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

Filed under: Events, Knoxville, Politics | 3 Comments

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