Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Jean Jennings
Interviewer: Anne Lea
Date: June 14, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Lea: This is June 14, 2003, and I am Anne Lea, and I am here with Jean Jennings in her kitchen as part of the Lyon College Regional Studies Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Okay, if you can just tell us where and when you were born.
Jennings: I was born in 1934, on September the 15th, and I was born in the next little county - Van Buren County - near Shirley.
Lea: Okay, and then is that where you were raised, too?
Jennings: I was raised just in that community, a community called Old Lexington, and married my husband [Tommy Simmons] then, and we had four children, and we moved into Mountain View in 1962 and lived here ever since and raised the family here.
Lea: Okay. So how did you get started with the whole folk music thing?
Jennings: Well, actually, my husband was wanting to play guitar; and he got acquainted with a couple of guys that lived in Mountain View, and they played, so he started having them come over to our house. And actually, in my family, my mother sang in a quartet, and I had some uncles that played fiddle and banjo and guitar, and I’d always sung a lot, but I didn’t have an instrument. And so we had an auto parts store here in Mountain View, and they would come over, and I would sing with them and everything, and I heard someone playing a dulcimer at a festival we went to, and I wanted one so bad. And a carpenter friend said “Well, if you can get me a picture I can make one.” So I got a picture from a library, and he made me a dulcimer, which I still have, and that’s what I learned to play on. And it was very crude, but then my daughter and I went to Silver Dollar City to play on weekends, and Lynn McSpadden was up there for his first weekend to be at Silver Dollar selling dulcimers - he had started making them at his dad’s home in Forrest City - so I ordered me one from him. And then in a couple of years he bought property and moved to Mountain View, and I started working for him, and I worked there for thirty years. And my daughter and husband and I performed at the old courthouse, playing up there - upstairs in the courtroom - every Friday night. We’d go up there and play and sing, and then when the Folk Center was built, we moved into the Folk Center.
Lea: Okay. So did you have anything to do with the Folk Festival or…?
Jennings: Folk Festival was very involved, and the early one . . . Of course they had one over at Blanchard back in ’41, or like Mr. Luther could probably give you that date, or Mr. Rainey. But the first one I went to was in ’62, the year we moved here, and then the next year we started performing on that and helping with it. It was held up at the old gym here in Mountain View and then they . . . Leo Rainey was involved in the crafts, and they set up tents and all outside and had craft booths, and we would have to go to Little Rock and rent chairs. We would rent chairs to go set up in the gym for the shows, and we always did two shows on Saturday. We’d do a matinee and one at night, and we did one on Friday night, and it was always packed - always had a big crowd - and that’s how the Folk Festival got started.
Lea: Let’s see.
Jennings: We were talking about the Folk Festival . . . and it was a big draw. Of course, that was the big event for the year, and so we were . . . At some points we couldn’t handle all the people that came in, but it was wonderful for the community. And we worked out then, and we had a parade of different floats, and we would have a theme, you know, and it was usually something about the older times in life, you know, and they would do floats. And the schools were involved then. The classes in school would do floats, and so we would have twenty-five to thirty floats in the parade, which was wonderful, and that really helped everything. Then they started decorating the windows with the theme, and they started giving prizes for that, you know, the best window decoration and for the old time theme or the best business decoration. It just kind of grew and grew. And then, of course, a lot of people said, “Well, when the Folk Center opens it will just kill the music if they move it over there.” But it didn’t kill the music. I mean, that’s what the Center’s there for, is to preserve and promote and let that be showcased. So it’s been a wonderful thing for the town.
Lea: So were you involved in any of the planning for the folk center?
Jennings: Well, my first husband - my first husband [Tommy Simmons] - was the manager over there when it opened, so yes, I was very involved. When they were trying to… John Opitz had the idea that if they could build a center here - he and Jimmy Driftwood talked about it, and they came up with . . . The politicians in Washington said, “Well, you have to have a reason.” And we needed a water supply here, so they put in and got a water supply. Then they worked hard, and it almost died several times - and my husband was mayor then - and they kept pushing and going, and Wilbur Mills was in the Senate then. And they kept pushing until they finally got it through, and some 80% grant and 20% loan that they had to pay back. And, of course, it belongs to the city, but Arkansas State Parks has a lease on it, and they have a hundred-year lease on the Folk Center. So, it’s . . . You know, it’s quite involved because, even after it was built, this company that was going to run it and operate it, they folded, and that’s when the politicians in Arkansas went to the governor and to the legislature and all, and that’s when they took over, you know, and bought it.
Lea: You talked about all the people he said to talk about, so…Do you know anything about the Economic Development Administration and what they did in it?
Jennings: Well, I think they were involved in it. My husband traveled a lot, and there were several key people that worked on it, like Jimmy Driftwood, and then there was a group from our Chamber of Commerce. But yeah, I think they were involved in it.
Lea: What was the Advanced Projects Corporation?
Jennings: That was the company from New York, that first . . . They were going to own it and run it and everything. And their Advanced man came in here, and then the secretary of their company came in, but basically they just ran out of funds. Either they had to just let it go, and that’s when the state parks got involved.
Lea: So was it a good thing that the Arkansas State Parks were involved, or did ya’ll . . .?
Jennings: Well, I think it was. Of course it would be wonderful . . . There’s so much red tape with any government agency that it makes it hard for the manager at the center. You know, everything has to be approved through the central office, which, you know, that works fine. It just kind of ties his hands about doing things. But I think . . . Well, yes, I think it was good. I really think if they could get a private business to either buy the restaurant or lease it or something, it would make it a lot easier for them, because a restaurant food place is hard to operate. But right now they’re operating the whole thing, and their lodge does real well, and of course they need more people through the craft area through the day, and just more people in town. They’ve got a lot of weekend events that are established annually and that helps, because, like this weekend it’s the autoharp weekend, and there’s a hundred students taking the autoharp classes. And they have a tribute to Merle Travis weekend and that’s a big weekend-guitar. In April it’s the dulcimer jamboree, so . . . And then in the Fall they have the harvest festival that runs all through October, and there’s special events then. So they’ve got a lot of things set up, and they do them the same time each year, which is important. I really hate it, and of course they’re anxious to see how it works, but the traffic had . . . You know, it costs them the same amount of money to open up the Center, get all their craft people there, and have a music show and all of that, if they have 50 people through during the day and 50 at the show, as if they have 500 through. So, they have been studying it for the last . . . They had some company, and I can’t tell you . . . somewhere in Texas did a study and recommendation and, of course the manager had known they were going to have to cut some days in certain places, so what they did was to not open until Folk Festival in April, and they had been opening weekends the first of April. So they open up April - that’s the third weekend - and then you have your dulcimer jamboree the next weekend and get on into May . . . They do not open on Monday and Tuesday now. So, yeah, through May, and then the first of June they open up seven days a week, June and July, and then in August they go back to no Mondays and Tuesdays again, and in September no Monday and Tuesday. So they’re shortening the times they’re open, and . . . But if you look, other attractions do the same thing. You have to do that. But we hated to see that happen, because a lot of people don’t look at the brochure for sure, which they tell them, you know, “Always call.”
Lea: Then they show up and there’s nobody there.
Jennings: And then they’re disappointed.
Lea: So who was Ed Nantell?
Jennings: Ed Nantel was the front man that came down here from Advanced Projects, so he was here to oversee the project being built and everything. He stayed here for I don’t know how long - lived in a motel room - and he stayed here for the whole time. I guess he was here a year or something, since they were in the process of building. And he was the front man for Advanced Projects.
Lea: Yeah. Dr. Blevins said that he was kind of a controversial figure.
Jennings: Yeah, he was a strange personality, yeah. We made it okay with him because, like I said, my husband was the first manager up there, and he had to work with him all the time. He just had a real odd personality. And you know, of course we’d been around different people so much that it was not a big problem, but some of the locals didn’t like him, and . . . You know. He was pretty outspoken, but we made it fine with him, no problem. Of course the festival is still going. We had one in April, and I’m sure you’ve got a lot of stuff from Leo Rainey and Lynn McSpadden and all, were very involved in the craft part of the Folk Festival.
Lea: They are now or they were then?
Jennings: They were when it was going. Now, basically, the Folk Center . . . That weekend they set up a tent up in town, and they run their shuttle, and they let people in free on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it’s sort of like a hospitality thing, so they run a shuttle and they’ll pick people up, take them up there, and they can look and everything, and then they’ll bring them back. So that’s a real good thing. And like for the parade, it’s evolved and got more organized, and I’ve worked on that committee for a long time, and on the music for the square, you know, having that going - I’ve worked on that for years and years. But they’ll have a chairperson for the parade, who sort of . . . And they have a committee - several people - and each one of them will take a project, like one will take the floats, you know, and make sure they’re organized and they’re going to have so many and do that. And, so it works out real well.
Lea: Everybody just kind of pitches in?
Jennings: Everybody pitches in. That’s right.
Lea: We were talking in class about the music, when they were deciding which music to play, and he said there was a big to-do about that.
Jennings: At the Center? Are you talking about at the Center?
Lea: I think so, yes.
Jennings: Yeah, because when we had the . . . Like we played on all the shows down in the gym, and it was all older stuff; and there was controversy. When the Center opened, they gave Jimmy Driftwood and the Rackensack group . . . They were going to do the music - contract it and do the music - and he was very difficult to work with. He wanted the auditorium named after him, and I truly believe that if he had acted differently that could have happened. I think it would have happened, because he did help a lot and did a lot of things, but he was just very demanding, and so they finally . . . He got where he wouldn’t work with them because they wouldn’t do what he wanted them to do, and so they finally just took the music back over, and he got mad and got a place out here on the highway - that is, Jimmy Driftwood’s barn . . .
Lea: Yeah, I saw that on the way out.
Jennings: . . . and was out there, but . . . He did a lot and, as I said, if he had been a little bit different personality and just, you know . . . Everything would have happened that he wanted to, but he had a big ego, and he wanted it the way he wanted it right now, you know. So there was a lot of controversy, and people . . . I worked at the dulcimer shop, like I said, for thirty years, and people - tourists - would come in, because it was in the news and all of that, and they would say they just thought it was awful the way he was treated and everything, and I would just always say, “Well, you’d have to know the whole story to understand,” because there was more involvement than just . . . But anyway, it’s all worked out, and of course they’ve named the road going to the Center . . . It’s the Jimmy Driftwood Parkway. And, of course, Jimmy’s dead, and Cleda, his wife, is in a nursing home in Fayetteville, but they still have . . . The Rackensack group bought from UCA - he’d given this barn to UCA in Conway - and they bought it back, and they are having shows there.
Lea: So it’s kind of in competition with the Folk Center now?
Jennings: Well, a little bit. In a way, it is. But it’s still another attraction for people when they come in. It’s no different than the shows - the other shows - you know. But you need more than just the Folk Center to keep people here a day or two, so . . .
Lea: Yeah. Who was Tommy Simmons and David Newbern? They were the Folk Center managers?
Jennings: Tommy Simmons was my first husband.
Lea: That’s right. Okay.
Jennings: Yeah, he was the first manager, and David Newbern was . . . There was three men. I forgot David’s title, because he’s a lawyer. He probably was in the accounting and all of that. And then Charles Sandage was another one; he was in charge of the music. But Tommy Simmons was the manager, and that was my first husband.
Lea: Well, Dr. Blevins said that a lot of the local people were opposed to the appointment of those two. Why was that?
Jennings: It was politics. It’s been a very . . . That’s very political. Not as bad now; boy, for the first ten, fifteen years it was open it was bad political. Friction and fighting and all of that. But it’s leveled out the last ten years, and it’s not so bad now. Yeah, David Newbern and Charles Sandage - well, Tommy too - they decided to send a man up from the central office to manage, and Jack Quaill came up and took over as manager, and my husband, Tommy, was put as a regional supervisor. He had several parts that he supervised. It was politics, you know. And you get that when you are dealing with government agencies and everything.
Lea: Well, did the firing of Jimmy Driftwood by Governor Bumpers help the political controversy any?
Jennings: Well it helped in that they were not having to . . . Because everyone was leaning over backwards trying to deal with him and satisfy him and get along and all. So, to that degree it helped, because they didn’t have to do that then. But it was . . . Here again, it was another thing of a lot of people felt he was mistreated, and he really, really was not.
Lea: Was it mostly people that weren’t local people that thought he was mistreated?
Jennings: Yeah, a lot of people that knew him well understood what was going on and knew what was going on. But you know, he did a lot, and I’m glad they named the parkway after him and, you know, he helped a lot. But there were other people and men in this town that did a lot too. Because he kept telling us that it wouldn’t be there, he gave up a career in Nashville to stay here and do that and everything. And he had some big hits, you know, “Tennessee Stud” and “Battle of New Orleans,” and I don’t think he would have moved to Nashville, because he and Cleda loved the farm and everything. But he told people he gave that up to help build the Center and everything. But you know, there was just a lot going on. There was a lot of people with the Chamber of Commerce, and Buddy Lackey and the people on that board worked hard. And my husband was mayor and he worked really hard, and they would go . . . It would be about to die, and they would have to go to Dallas to meet with . . . And the Economic Development, they worked with them on trying to keep it alive.
Lea: So I guess you probably think the Folk Center was a positive thing for Mountain View.
Jennings: Oh, definitely. Yes, I do; I definitely do. If we didn’t have the Folk Center and Blanchard Caverns for visitation, because there would not be any of these extra shows going. There would not be all these extra motel rooms that have been built, and eating places that have opened, craft shops that are open. I don’t think they would be here, if we didn’t have the Folk Center. Because you have got to have . . . Anywhere you go, you’ve got to have a draw, and Blanchard Caverns is a draw, and the Folk Center is a draw. And for the first several years, the Folk Center - and the Caverns, too - needed more advertising, but they didn’t have the funds for it. Of course the folk Center is lumped into advertising with the other state parks, and it needs individual advertising, but there are just not funds for it, and Blanchard doesn’t have funds. But the first . . . And I know that because my husband was the manager. The first ten years it was open - especially the first five - we had groups of travel writers that would come in here because they were new things, see, and the travel writers would come in and tour and write stories. Because we entertained them at our house. We did that the first few years, and while he was manager, we might have people at our house two to three times a week at night, entertaining them. You know, you’re trying to make them enjoy and feel good about the place. And I’m saying that to say we got a lot of free publicity with them writing. And of course, as other new attractions came in and these were old after a while, and they just don’t write about them now, as much. But we got a lot of free publicity there the first ten to fifteen years.
Lea: Did you see anything negative with the creation of the Folk Center?
Jennings: I really didn’t. There were people who - as I said - they were really down, said, “Oh, it will kill the music. It won’t be the same over there as it is in the …”
Lea: They just wanted to keep it with the festival.
Jennings: The festival and then the Friday nights, see. How the music thing started on Friday nights, they started . . . When they decided to have a festival, they called Jimmy Driftwood, Leo Rainey - he was setting up crafts - and they decided if they had some music too that would be good. So Jimmy called a few friends that he knew and they started rehearsing in a doctor’s office. Well, on Friday nights, and so many came that they couldn’t do it there, so they got permission and went upstairs in the court house. And from people who were coming through, they would come up to listen, so that’s how that got started, and the court room would be packed with people on Friday nights. And, so it was a neat thing, and then they had . . . The Folk Festival went to the gym to have the shows there, and then the crafts up there outside the gym. And a lot of people really felt that it was going to ruin it to move it into the Folk Center, but it’s a way . . . And once a year was not . . . You had all your tourists in once a year, and you needed to spread that out, you know, and get more on a basis of having more come in every weekend if possible. So, no, I think the opening of the Folk Center was a positive thing for the community, and they do the crafts - you know, the cabin crafts - and the music that you do on the stage unless there’s guests come in, and they do . . . like we play over there. We played over there Tuesday night. And you can’t do anything that was written after 1941, so they have definite guidelines about the shows and their presentations. No, I think it’s a positive thing.
Lea: So. I can’t remember, what year did you say you first got involved with the festival?
Lea: 1962. So you were there when it first started.
Jennings: Yes, and I’ve been involved with it ever since.
Lea: So did you help get it started, too, then?
Jennings: Well, no, I wouldn’t say I helped. I just worked. I just worked, and we played music, my husband and daughter and I. We were a family group, and we played music and played on the shows, and I helped with whatever needed to be done. We would go set up those chairs. You know. Someone would go down with a big truck and get the chairs, and we would go up and set them all up, and I worked the ticket window to sell tickets. We would do a show in the afternoon and then one at night - on Saturday - and then we would have a show on Friday night. And I did that, and actually, you know, just worked in different areas, but more in the music area, and then when we started having the parades and all, I got involved in that and just different things. It takes a lot of people to put on some kind of an event, so we all worked.
Lea: I don’t think you said anything about Lloyd Westbrook. Who was he?
Jennings: Lloyd Westbrook lived here and he was the . . . what is that title, with the agricultural department? And he’s down in Conway now - works at the Chamber there, I think - but he worked hard. He was a good worker. There was a lot of good workers, that I probably can’t remember all their names. But Lloyd was, because he was connected with a federal agency, and he worked hard and was in the Chamber, and worked real hard. Buddy Lackey was another one that worked hard. Had the Chevrolet dealership here. He worked hard. Eddie Walker, who has a jewelry shop in town and was in the Chamber, worked hard. There was just . . . There was so many of them. And probably Leo Rainey and Edward Luther can give you more names, because I didn’t go to those meetings and all - my husband did. But those are just some that I remember that worked on the project.
Lea: The first festival, in 1963, I guess . . . Were people really surprised at how many people showed up?
Jennings: Yes, yes.
Lea: So there were a whole lot?
Jennings: There was a lot of them. Yeah, I don’t know if that was the year that they estimated a hundred thousand here. I forgot if that’s the year, or the next year. I can’t remember. But it came . . . It rained. I mean a downpour, and a lot of them were camped over in the forest, and then it flooded - because the water there comes up real quick - and washed a lot of their tents away, and all that. But, you know, through the ‘60s was the hippie era, and there was a lot of hippies that came because they loved the music, and you know, they enjoyed . . . and they liked to camp. So there was a lot of people came through.
Lea: Has the turnout gone up, or stayed the same?
Jennings: Well, actually it’s gone down.
Lea: It’s gone down since then?
Jennings: Yeah, they estimate now we get maybe 40,000 for the weekend, and that’s good because all the rooms are full, and you have a good crowd in town. But it’s not where . . . There was years there, before the Center opened and everything, that . . . I mean, you just couldn’t get around through town because there was too many people, because they were all here that one weekend. So it’s better.
Lea: I guess with the Folk Center it kind of made it smaller.
Jennings: It kind of spread it out, yeah. It does, because that was their one event in the year, you know, and I know for us personally, because we were musicians, a lot of our musician friends came in for that weekend. And so now it’s spread out, because there’s events going all year long, and that’s good.
Lea: Were any local people opposed to the idea of the festival?
Jennings: Well, there probably was some. I don’t think . . . I think a lot of them would say, “Well, it won’t work,” or - you know - that type thing, or “It just won’t ever work,” but I didn’t hear any open verbal comments against it. Now when the Folk Center opened, there was a lot of locals, even business people, that . . . They were against the Center. They said it took business, like the motels and eating places said that it’s gonna hurt us. And I said, “It won’t hurt you. It’ll only help you, because if they can come here . . .” and they said, “Yeah, but they’re gonna eat over there, and they’re gonna stay over there.” And I said, “Well, they may not eat over there every meal.” And I said, “They’re gonna buy gas while they’re here, they’re gonna come in shops, and they are going to buy things, you know.” And it took a good ten years to get that attitude turned around. Now the square looks good, and there’s businesses down there that the tourists like to go into, and so it’s turned around. Because there was a lot of businesses that the tourists would ask, “Well, what about this Folk Center?” and they’d say, “I don’t know anything about it.” They wouldn’t, you know, but that’s changed, and I’m really proud. I’m really proud.
Lea: So did the Festival change a lot over the first decade or the first couple decades?
Jennings: It’s changed a lot, because now it’s hard to . . . We had a good parade this year - had, I think, about fifteen floats in it - but about . . . I guess it’s been about ten years ago, I think the teachers - because the students, they were having to work on those floats and everything, and I think the superintendent said that they were going to have to do them after school instead of during a class period - and the teachers didn’t want to do that. So they quit helping with the schools. Now I’ll have to say Rural Special School has never stopped. They always have a neat float in the parade. But the Mountain View School, which might have half a dozen in there from different classes, they pretty much dropped out, and that hurt, because . . . You know. And not all the businesses anymore - because it’s a job to do that - so a lot of the businesses have not been doing the floats. So it’s getting harder and harder to get a good parade, but I just think that comes with . . . You know, people wear out doing things. And I don’t know what they could come up with to take the place of it, because that’s a unique thing. So, I don’t know, maybe there’ll just be enough new people coming in that there’ll be some new enthusiasm, you know, to get the floats going.
Lea: So did the parade start whenever the festival started?
Jennings: Not that first year. I think it was the second or third year. Started with the parade and doing the window decorations and everything, yeah.
Lea: How do you feel about the . . . I know y’all are starting to grow out here, getting fast food places and stuff. Do you feel like that’s a good thing for the community?
Jennings: Well, yes, I do. I think what we need, really, is some attraction for, you know, the families that have younger children. We have riding trails and hiking trails, and now we have a bike trail, which is wonderful, and that’s going to be real popular and bring some young adults in. We have the White River for fishing, which is very popular. But we need something else, you know. We do not want to get the attractions and as big as Branson is. We don’t want that here. I think it would lose its flavor if we had that, but we do need something for the little kids. Now they enjoy the Center for a day - they have activities there - but you can’t get a family to come in and stay a week if their kids are not having something to do.
Lea: Okay. Well, I don’t think I have any more questions. Do you have anything else you want to add?
Jennings: Well, I think this is great that y’all are doing this project, and no, I’ve just always been positive about the Center being an asset, and Blanchard Caverns is an asset also, and I think if you drive around the square, that would never have looked like it does now had not the Center opened, even though initially the square and the businesses resented it. I think they finally realized that something had to be done and put down there so the tourists would come down there and look around, and that’s happened. And so I think it’s been a real positive thing, a real positive thing. And, like I said, there’s new lodging, there’s new eating places, and none of these places would have been here if that Center and Blanchard hadn’t opened. I truly believe that. So, it’s . . . You can drive through little towns that, like . . . Well, my husband is from Leslie, which is about forty miles from here, and it’s right on highway 65. But I mean, there’s hardly anything in the little town square there. They have a grocery store and a little old eating place, but there’s just not any, you know . . . Even with being on 65, they don’t have anything that they can stop people and keep them, and it’s . . . different. I wish we could get a better road in here - like from Batesville - that would be wonderful, to get a better road for people to come in on. But I think it’s great, and we have tourists that tell me they’ll be back after three or four years. Well, it’s growing. There’s new lodging and a new eating place and all, and I said, “Yes, but you know what the old saying is? ‘You can’t stay the same; you’re either going to go backwards or you’re going to grow,’” and I said, “I think the way we’re growing is a positive thing.” And I said, “To support these new businesses, eating places and the lodging and all, we’ve got to have more people in here.” That’s just a fact of life, you know. And I understand the people that want to keep it just the same, but I don’t think it can stay just the same and survive. So, I think the Center and Blanchard is a real positive asset to the community.
Lea: Do you think that the Folk Center is going to . . . I mean, do you think people are going to keep doing it and keep it alive?
Jennings: Well, it’s getting harder and harder. It really is. We’ve started, and you probably don’t even want this on here, but there’s a Committee of One Hundred that was formed when the Center was opened and I’m a member of that and have been for years now, but we’ve started a music roots program at the school, because I’m interested in music, and I’ve been pushing for this, and Bess Wolf - who is on the committee from Batesville - had been pushing for it, so that we have in place . . . They’re doing classes at Mountain View School, and in the string instruments, teaching them the fiddle and the dulcimer and the autoharp and the banjo. And so they’re doing that, and they’ve started the project at Rural Special, because it was going so well here. And the Committee of One Hundred helps fund this one in Mountain View, and in fact, we just appropriated money to buy instruments for the students, and that’s going really well, and we feel like that if we don’t do something like that, then as the older people die off . . . You’ve got to have some young people coming up doing that music. So we think that’s a positive program there. In fact, about three weeks ago the instructors brought their students over to the Center on a Thursday evening, and they did a concert, and . . . You know, not all of them are going to pursue it and stay with it, but they’re being exposed to it, and my feeling is that if you get half a dozen to a dozen that go ahead and get where they can perform and carry on, that it’s worth the effort.
Lea: So what exactly was the Committee of One Hundred? I’ve heard about that.
Jennings: The Committee of One Hundred was formed by Dr. Bessie Moore, who felt like there needed to be a support group. She was very active in getting the Center, very active, and she formed this committee, and there was to be one member from every - there are 75 counties in the state - one member from each county, one woman who was a worker and influential and all of that. And then twenty-five associates. And that’s how it was formed. And they did one fund raiser each year, and we’re doing one this year in September, and it will be up at Petit Jean at Winrock Farms. And we usually raise seventeen thousand to twenty thousand dollars. And they set up a budget. The Folk Center will turn in a request. They’ve helped fund the herb gardens and all up there that are beautiful. And Tina, they’ve sent her different places to learn more things. They’ve help fund the resource library down there with new computers and all of that. They’ve just done . . . They helped fund some of the apprentice programs out on the grounds, either in music or in the crafts, and they pay for that to be done. So, they’re just a support group for the Center. That’s the only reason they exist.
Lea: And is it all women then?
Jennings: It’s all women. Well, there are some men that are honorary members. Like one of the founders, her husband . . . She died, and her husband is an honorary member, because he helps . . . He’s found lots of stuff to go in the Center, pieces that they need in the buildings or for displays, so he works very hard for it. But basically the memberships is women. And of course, honorary is always the governor’s wife, and Mrs. Clinton was an honorary member. Blanche Lincoln is an honorary member. So that type thing, and Lisenne Rockefeller is an honorary member. So . . . But it’s a support group for the Folk Center, and that’s all they do is work toward helping the Center.
Lea: So were you . . . You said that there were members from the 75 different counties. Were you from a county, or were you one of the associates?
Jennings: I was from the county here. And we have two members, actually . . . No, no; she’s a member at large. Because in their bylaws it says you can have members at large if you want to. You can have as many associates . . . We have three associates from here. And I’m a member, and Janice is member at large.
Lea: Janice who?
Jennings: Janice Sutton.
Jennings: And, in fact, we’re going to a luncheon at the governor’s mansion Tuesday, and this is an annual event that we have there. And then, like I said, the fundraiser will be in September at Winrock. And then in October - the end of October - is our fall workshop, and that’s when they encourage all the ladies to come up here for the weekend, and we have different things. I’ve helped with the fall workshop three times, I guess. And you meet and decide different things, like we had them out here last year for a picking. You know, we played music and had a heavy hors d'oeuvre meal for them, and they’ll be doing different things, you know. And one year we had them to decorate grapevine wreaths for the Center so it’d help decorate for Christmas. So it’s just different things that can help the Center.
Lea: So are most of the original members still there, or . . .?
Jennings: There are still several, but a lot of them have either died or dropped out, and we have several new members. And that’s good, because you need new ideas and new workers and all of that. But there’s still a lot that’s been on there a long time.
Lea: Okay, well . . .
Jennings: You think that’s it?
Lea: Yeah, I think so, unless you have anything else.
Jennings: I can’t think of anything. I think, as I said, I certainly and have always said that the Folk Center and Blanchard Cavern is a positive thing for our community - for the county too, so I’m grateful we have it, and I think it’s a good thing. And the Folk Festival is a good thing. It’s another event. And I think the fact that the Folk Center . . . The Folk Festival is another event I meant to say. But I think the Folk Center establishing special events during the season and having them the same time every year . . . I think that’s good. Because it’s proving that . . . Because people plan their vacation early and, if they know this year that - like the autoharp event is this weekend - and they want to go to that, or they want to go to the classes, then they know to plan for their vacation, and I think that’s a real good help. And we’ve got the Grandpa Jones Tribute coming up Labor Day weekend, and that’s a big event, draws a lot of people in. So, you know, they’re getting a lot of things going, and they just need more publicity, and hopefully it’ll happen. But I’m certainly . . . I certainly think it’s a positive thing for the Center to be here.
Lea: Okay. Well, if that’s all you’ve got . . .
Lea: Well, thank you very much.
Jennings: You’re welcome, Anne.