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Lyon College Regional Studies Center

Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project

Interviewee: Elizabeth Warner
Interviewer: Laura Higginbottom

Date: June 13, 2003
Place: Mammoth Spring, Arkansas

Higginbottom: It's June 13, 2003, and I am Laura Higginbottom. I am here in Mrs. Warner's house in the living room as a part of the Lyon College Regional Study Center oral history project on the creation and development of the Ozark Folk Center. I am going to ask Mrs. Warner some questions about the Folk Center and . . . I want to ask you about the Committee of One Hundred and how it got started.

Warner: All right. It was organized in 1974 by Dr. Bessie Moore. Dr. Bessie Moore and Mrs. Betty Bumpers organized the Committee of One Hundred and chose one woman from each county - there are seventy-five counties - and twenty-five women at large. Therefore the one hundred women.

Higginbottom: Now I want to know about your herb garden, and the planning and development of the Ozark Folk Center, and just what the women did - kind of who were the main women in charge.

Warner: You mean of the development of the herb garden?

Higginbottom: Um hm.

Warner: All right. In 1977, Billy Jo Tatum and I decided to do a small herb cabin garden around the log cabin on the grounds. We worked at that for about three or four years, and then decided that we needed a much larger garden so that we could have herb seminars and appeal more to the public. By that time, Billy Jo was getting busy writing some of her books and eventually dropped out of the project, but I continued with it, and in 1986 we finished the garden, and Hillary Clinton was there to help us.

Higginbottom: So you didn't have a role in the planning and development of the Ozark Folk Center?

Warner: No. I did not come until after it was established.

Higginbottom: Okay, but you do know about it, so you can tell me about it?

Warner: Yes, Dr. Bessie Moore and Wilbur Mills, who was in Congress at that time, were instrumental in getting governmental funds to get the Folk Center started, and so just one thing after another happened. Then Dr. Bessie decided there needed to be a support group, and she chose the one hundred women, and so that's really how it got started.

Higginbottom: And the Committee of One Hundred was started because of . . .

Warner: Because of the Folk Center. Really, our sole role is raising funds for the Folk Center.

Higginbottom: And also for the development of the crafts.

Warner: Oh, yes - and all the crafts. And we spend anywhere from twenty to thirty thousand dollars a year, depending on what the Folk Center considers is the most helpful at that particular time, and that can be any of the crafts there: basket-making, candle-making, jewelry, or brooms.

Higginbottom: Do you know what role the town’s desire for a water and sewer system played in the development of the idea for a center?

Warner: I really don’t.

Higginbottom: All right. You said something about Wilbur D. Mills. Do you know him very well?

Warner: I knew him. Of course, he has been dead several years.

Higginbottom: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

Warner: But he was a very prominent figure in Congress and was able to get the funds for us, and the completion occurred in spring of 1973.

Higginbottom: I have a question for you. I don't know how much you were a part of the musical part of it.

Warner: Not really anything.

Higginbottom: Did you know Jimmy Driftwood?

Warner: I knew him, yes. And his wife.

Higginbottom: What did you think about them?

Warner: Oh, they were very, very interesting. In fact, on two occasions I had dinner out at their home with the Committee. It was just a great experience. He played and sang for us. Oh, and we ate an old fashioned country dinner.

Higginbottom: What did you eat?

Warner: Oh, dear! Corn bread and greens and beans, hominy - all the old country foods - and blackberry cobbler. When they brought it out it was a dishpan full of blackberry cobbler.

Higginbottom: Oh, my goodness! So you went out there two different times with the Committee of One Hundred. Well, that sounds pretty interesting.

Warner: In fact, I first met him shortly after the Center opened. He was playing at the Center at that time.

Higginbottom: Well, I'm not even sure if you know, but I know there was a little bit of controversy.

Warner: Yes, and I'm not sure I’m qualified to get into that, because that occurred before I became a member of the committee, and I've heard all kinds of things, but I would hesitate to try to explain that.

Higginbottom: I can understand that, yes.

Warner: And I think a lot of it had to do with Arkansas politics, so . . .

Higginbottom: Which we both know a lot about.

Warner: We both know a lot about that. Couldn’t help it.

Higginbottom: I'm just beginning to understand what it is about.

Warner: It’s interesting, to say the least.

Higginbottom: Do you know anything about the appointments of Tommy Simmons and David Newbern as Folk Center managers?

Warner: No, no. I really don't. I came on after Newbern and actually, Tommy Simmons was there when I became active, and also at the State Park at Mammoth Spring, was over that. I was also instrumental in helping get that park established, so I worked with Tommy Simmons there.

Higginbottom: You said you knew Governor Bumper’s wife. Tell me about her a little bit.

Warner: Well, she was already in Washington, D.C., by the time I became a member of the Committee of One Hundred, but often she came back to some of our meetings, and she happened to be at the first meeting I attended, so that was my first introduction to Betty Bumpers, and I have worked with her on various projects since then. She is a very pleasant woman and loves the Ozark Folk Center.

Higginbottom: In your opinion, do you think the Folk Center has been a positive or a negative for Mountain View and Stone County?

Warner: Oh, I think very positive.

Higginbottom: I agree.

Warner: In many, many ways.

Higginbottom: I wanted to ask you about some of the other women that you worked with. About Betty Stroud.

Warner: Yeah, I knew Betty Stroud when I was chairman of the Committee of One Hundred. I worked with her very closely on getting some of the antique things that we have acquired for the Folk Center. And she and her husband have contributed many antiques to the place. I thought it was a tragedy when she died.

Higginbottom: I don’t know when that happened.

Warner: In 1987. I was chairman of the Committee at that time, and that September and October were just terrible. We didn’t have the death of Betty at that time, but we had the administrator Bob von Kronemann died, and then Betty had died in the spring, and so things were rather mixed up there for a while.

Higginbottom: When were you the chairman?

Warner: I was twice chairman, in 1986 and 1987. That was when we dedicated the herb garden, in 1986. That was our sesquicentennial year

Higginbottom: I don’t know how much of a part your husband played in the Folk Center. Was he very interested in the folk center?

Warner: He was my helper. He was the most willing helper you ever found. He really loved it. We were always packing two vehicles, a pick-up truck and a car, to go over there for the various things I was involved in. In fact, there is a bench with his name on it sitting out in front of the administration building.

Higginbottom: What about Karen Lackey?

Warner: What do you want to know about her?

Higginbottom: Well, what was she involved in?

Warner: Very much involved in the Folk Center. She lived in Mountain View at the time. She no longer lives there, but . . . She was on the Parks and Tourism Commission for several years, and also was chairman twice of the Committee, and she’s still active.

Higginbottom: Well, how did the Committee of One Hundred work? Were there . . .

Warner: You mean officers?

Higginbottom: Yes.

Warner: Well, let’s see. There is a chairman and a vice chairman and, of course, the usual officers - treasurer, secretary, and that sort of thing - and committees. It’s committees that really do the work.

Higginbottom: So what types of committees did you have? Just depending on . . . ?

Warner: Well, when you mentioned Betty Stroud . . . The first year that I was chairman, I learned that several antiques - one was a guitar that belonged to one of the very early, early women musicians - was for sale, and we had no funds set aside for purchases of that sort. So as chairman I established a committee to raise funds for that and select things, and we were able to buy that guitar, so since then we’ve bought many, many antiques for the place.

Higginbottom: So basically the committees were just for various things?

Warner: Whatever the Folk Center needed that we could provide. We started out really very, very small. We have one big fundraiser a year and for many years it's been at the Rockefeller farm [Winrock] on Petit Jean Mountain. Will be again this year. Mrs. Rockefeller is a member of the Committee, and they have been very helpful, very supportive. It's a big, fun thing to go to.

Higginbottom: What do you do?

Warner: Well, the craftspeople come there and demonstrate, and the Rockefellers provide a barbeque dinner to wind up the affair .It's a beautiful setting. It is right up on top of the mountain on their farm. It's just a lot of fun to go there.

Higginbottom: I don't really have any more questions, but if there is anything you want to add, any stories that stick out in your mind, I would just love to hear anything about it.

Warner: Oh, dear. So many things have happened, I’m just trying to think of what would be interesting. You mentioned . . . Again, back to Betty Stroud and her husband. Even though Betty has been gone many years now, her husband is still very active, and so often, when I am over there, I will run into him. He has found something - usually it’s farm equipment or musical instruments or something like that - and so he will be up there checking it out.

Higginbottom: What is his name?

Warner: Robert Stroud. And . . . oh, another interesting thing - this involves the Strouds - very early in the Folk Center, a couple stopped at the Stroud's house in Desha and wanted to know if there was a motel or something there that they could stay in. They were interested in the folk center and wanted to volunteer some time up there, and so they got acquainted with the Strouds. These people were from Ontario, Canada - a man and his wife - and they said, “We have a guest cabin down on the river that was an early homestead in Mrs. Stroud 's family.” So, to make a long story short, they offered that cabin to them - it was a lovely thing; I’ve been there - and they stayed for six weeks and contributed their time doing whatever the Folk Center wanted them to do, and as a result of that, they have just become lifelong friends, and the woman from Ontario eventually became a member of the Committee.

Higginbottom: Well, how neat. Another name that I saw was Virginia Beavers

Warner: Virginia Beavers was a long-time treasurer of the Committee.

Higginbottom: So she had her hands full.

Warner: She had her hands full. She came in my first year as chairman and was just wonderful.

Higginbottom: So you worked very closely with her?

Warner: Uh huh. Eventually she had to drop out because of health problems with her husband.

Higginbottom: Where is she from?

Warner: Forrest City.

Higginbottom: What about Charlotte Smith?

Warner: Charlotte Smith from Marianna?

Higginbottom: I guess so.

Warner: She was secretary for a long time, and then she became inactive, and I think now she has dropped out.

Higginbottom: Was she secretary while you were chairman?

Warner: Yes.

Higginbottom: So you worked pretty closely with . . .

Warner: With a number of these women, and its interesting how long they stay in. They really stay in until health gets them down.

Higginbottom: So are you still pretty much involved?

Warner: I am very much involved. I am on the Folk Culture Commission and . . .

Higginbottom: What does that involve?

Warner: This is the group that was formed when the Folk Center was formed, and it’s actually the governing board.

Higginbottom: So you make pretty much all the big decisions?

Warner: Yeah, or approve the things. Now, Parks and Tourism, really, does all the work, but we have to approve everything.

Higginbottom: Well, if you can't think of anything else . . .

Warner: I was just trying to . . . Oh! Well, I want to tell you something that has come as a result of my involvement with the herb garden there. One reason I pushed it so hard was that I wanted to be able to bring people from other states there. As a result, we now have two two-day seminars a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, and we bring in internationally-known speakers, and we have anywhere from sixty to seventy people there for the two day seminar. We start that out with an herb dinner on Thursday evening preceding the next two days, and we usually have about a hundred people for that. So I thought you might like to see these. This is the most recent program for it, and this is last fall, and this one is a year ago in the spring. I am going to let you take these. So it will give you some idea.

Higginbottom: How did you get interested in herbs?

Warner: It is really very, very interesting. I've always been interested in gardens and planting and that sort of thing. But I was in Washington, D.C, back in 1970 with my husband and we were staying at the Watergate Inn, the famous Watergate Inn, just before things happened. Anyhow, we had a suite, and I thought, “This time I am going to read in bed.” We had breakfast sent to our room, and I got the Washington Post, a great big thick paper, and got myself all propped up with pillows and opened that paper up, and as I flipped it open, it opened double-page to the national herb garden at the national cathedral. And all about herbs, pictures and everything. I was out of the bed so fast, got dressed, took a cab to the national cathedral and spent most of the day there.

Higginbottom: Oh, it's beautiful, isn't it?

Warner: It is beautiful! And they had a greenhouse and a man in charge of it, so I bought plants and flew home with all those plants.

Higginbottom: And from then you've just been . . .

Warner: And from then on it just . . . It started.

Higginbottom: That’s great.

Warner: But also, I wanted to show you. We are in this book, Southern Herb Growing. I got this in the year I was . . . Double-page spread of our herb garden as it was in 1986.

Higginbottom: Oh, my goodness. And this is in the . . .

Warner: Southern Herb Growing.

Higginbottom: Oh, this is just beautiful, a two-page layout. And that’s exactly how it looks.

Warner: Uh, huh. Now, let's see which one of the cabins . . . This cabin, now, was replaced by the one that is there now, and the one there now is really a very old cabin. It’s called the Shannon Cabin, and it was taken down log by log and replaced on that spot so you hardly know the difference. Anyhow it has been . . . What is it? 1977 to now, twenty-what? Twenty-six years. And they have gone so fast.

Higginbottom: How did you get interested in the Folk Center?

Warner: Well, I went over when it first opened, and I loved it then, but later - that was in the summer - later I went back in October - along toward the end of October - and it was one of those beautiful, sort of sweet, sad days at the end of the season. And it had rained, so the ground was still wet, and even the leaves were dripping off the trees, and the red and gold leaves - the color in Mountain View is just magnificent in October - anyhow, they were falling down just like snowflakes, and I rode the tram from the parking lot up to the entrance of the Folk Center, and they were playing some haunting music on the intercom - which they do at the Folk Center, so you hear this in the background - and I walked through that building out onto the grounds, and it was so beautiful and so peaceful, and here were all these old crafts. And I thought, “This is where I want to spend some time.” And that started me, and so I'm still at it.

Higginbottom: And you’ve been hooked ever since?

Warner: I’ve been hooked ever since. But it was just a combination of things. It was . . . you know, the music, the setting, I guess the time of year or something, but . . . To hear that music wafting over the hills . . . And it was just a revelation to me, so I got active right away, and I'm still at it.

Higginbottom: It was a very . . . It can hook you, that place. I can tell.

Warner: It can hook you. It really can.

Higginbottom: Just being there that one time . . .

Warner: Um hm. But if you can visualize that setting . . .

Higginbottom: Absolutely. That is beautiful.

Warner: And the staff there, when they were running around in their costumes . . . You know, they all wear the Victorian style clothing, and that's another thing we didn't talk about - that era that the Folk Center represents is up until 1940. The late Victorian era to 1940. In other words, they don't play any music that was written later than 1940.

Higginbottom: I had heard that from Dr. Blevins.

Warner: That has caused a lot of controversy, because younger people want something else. But I think if they stop that, people can go to Branson and all kinds of places for other types of music, but getting the music and the crafts and . . . It’s the whole setting there that appeals.

Higginbottom: I agree. It would be different if . . .

Warner: It would be entirely different, and I think people would stop coming. So anyhow, that's how things stand right now over there.

Higginbottom: Thank you.

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