My Turn

Story published: 04-07-2010 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Please don't ask me to climb the stairs

By Willis Walker
Alderman, Town of Mtn. City

It has been a few years since I was a teenager, and I’m happy to say that I have never lost touch with young people or their energy. Can you imagine the thoughts that went through my mind when I was called upon to be the Johnson County adult leader to travel to Nashville with the Johnson County Delegation of high school students to the State 4-H Congress at the Sheraton in downtown Nashville? Mr. Rick Thomason and Ms Timbra Huffman of the UT Extension Office explained that it is hard to find volunteers, especially male volunteers. Since I have had numerous opportunities to tour around Nashville with a good friend while on trips for the Town of Mountain City, I had learned a lot first-hand about the city, the State Capitol building, and where some good restaurants can be found. Oh certainly, I was a little apprehensive about the responsibility of working with nearly 500 teenagers from all over the state of Tennessee. I had the personal responsibility of knowing the whereabouts of my own three from Johnson County, in addition to helping keep tabs with each young person. I called my girls, “my three W’s”, since each girl’s last name began with a “W.” Johnson County was represented by Mandy Wilcox, Chrysta Winters, and McKayla Walker. Oh yes, I’m a “W”, too. I suppose that made us four “W’s.”

Our trip began early on Sunday, March 28th as we drove to Jonesborough to meet up with the charter bus that would eventually arrive at the Nashville Sheraton on Union Street. As fate would have it, our bus was 15 minutes late, which delayed our start time. Twenty people boarded the bus in Jonesborough; eight more were picked up in Bulls Gap, 17 passengers boarded in Sevierville, and finally five more loaded in Harriman. Fifty young people and adults involved in the State 4-H Congress were now accounted for. We were on one of three buses from the Eastern Division of Tennessee. In spite of some rainy weather, and a little noise on the bus, we arrived in Nashville at 3PM Central Time (4PM Eastern). With a few stops, the entire trip only took a little more than five hours.

With the influx of approximately 500 quests for the night, needless to say, the hotel staff and 4-H volunteers were very busy getting room assignments, and preparing for the events to begin on Sunday evening. The Sheraton has four elevators, but one of those was out of service the entire time that we were there, and an additional one failed several times during our stay. You can imagine how it is when that many people need an elevator at the same time; you guessed it, “Head for the stairway”. My room was 1414, and I learned that I can climb all those flights of stairs to the 14th floor. My three girls from Johnson County were in 1702, three floors up. So, they had to do more climbing than I did, and sometimes they were in high-heeled shoes. Bless their hearts, they handled it well. Many of the group even had to drag their luggage up those stairs to their room; glad I missed that chore. My roommate, Dwayne Allen, father of three of the 4-H boys, was brave enough to carry his luggage up to our room on the 14th floor. Most of us did get a good physical workout during our Nashville trip.

The Sunday evening assembly featured many of the young people singing and entertaining at the War Memorial Auditorium as a part of the opening ceremony. I was amazed at the singing talent of these young people. Their dance and song routines were as perfect as any I have ever seen. You would have thought they had practiced for months to get it right. Curfew and bed check wrapped up the day around 12:45AM. As I walked the hallway as part of my adult duty, all the boys on my floor were tired and ready to sleep.

After a very busy schedule on Monday, I had time to take “my girls” over to the Capitol Building. We stopped in at Rep. Jason Mumpower’s office, House Speaker Kent Williams’ office, and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey’s office. While in the Capitol Building, I took advantage of the opportunity of taking the girls down to the first floor where the Governor’s office, State Treasurer’s office, State Comptroller’s office, and Secretary of State’s office. While on the first floor, the girls posed for a photo at the podium of the old State Supreme Court Chamber. As we prepared to exit the Capitol Building, Chrysta Winters indicated she was getting interested in Tennessee history. Or course, that was part of my objective.

For our Monday evening meal, I walked “my girls” down Commerce Street to Demos Restaurant. We enjoyed a very good meal, along with some other 4-H youth and adults who showed up there also. I have always said, if you have some spare time in Nashville and don’t go and at least see the Ryman Auditorium, you have wasted your time in Nashville. On our way back to the Sheraton, I told the girls we were going to walk down 5th Avenue so they could see one of the most historic places in all of Nashville, the Ryman Auditorium. As we approached the great structure which for many years was the home of the Grand Ole Opry, I remarked that it looks like a church. In fact, the Ryman is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” I took time to take a few quick photos of Mandy, Chrysta, and McKayla on the steps of the Ryman.

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the evening’s events at the War Memorial Auditorium, which consisted of the 2010 Awards Ceremony, and a special program of entertainment by the SoGo African Dance Ensemble from Vanderbilt University. Then, another late night Eastern Region meeting at the Sheraton wrapped up a long day. On this night, we did meet our curfew time of 11:30PM. My routine check of the boys to see that they were in their rooms, showed the each boy was tired and ready to sleep.

The 4-H members began voting for officers for the coming year to fill positions of Governor, Speaker of the Senate, and Speaker of the House. In final tabulation, Ben Riley of the Eastern Region was elected Governor, Rachel Wolters of the Central Region was elected Speaker of the Senate, and Polly Gregory of the Western Division was selected as Speaker of the House. Certainly it wasn’t planned this way, but it seems only fitting that each grand division of the state has a young person in the elected 4-H positions.

On Tuesday morning, two members from each region of the state competed in a 4-H History Bowl competition. Leland Statum of Channel 5 Nashville moderated the event. These six young people proved they knew a lot about the state of Tennessee. I was also pleased to know many of the answers. The game ended when one team scored 200 points. After a long list of questions and answers, the Eastern Region totaled 200 points, the Central Region scored 50 points, and the Western Region final tally was 0 points. The two young men from the Eastern Division made all East Tennesseans proud.

Tuesday afternoon was designated as a time for pleasure. Approximately 500 members of 4-H and the adult leaders were escorted by Nashville-Metro Police down the traffic lane of Church Street to 1st Avenue and then down the banks of the Cumberland River, which flows through Nashville. We boarded the riverboat known as the “General Jackson.” This is a large paddlewheel driven riverboat, with full sized theater-ballroom (Victorian Theater) for a large capacity crowd. Every young person appeared to enjoy walking the four levels of this giant riverboat. When entertainment time began, Tim Watson and Black Creek presented a fantastic show of country music and bluegrass music. Being a fan of bluegrass music, I certainly enjoyed the great banjo picking and familiar tunes. It was reassuring to notice the young 4-H members smiling and being entertained in a clean performance by this great county-bluegrass band. We spent over three hours floating down the Cumberland, and returned safely to the dock to walk back to the hotel. Again, Nashville-Metro Police gave us escort as we again walked the right hand lane of 1st Avenue, Church Street, and Capitol Boulevard. It was a beautiful warm day on the Cumberland River and around the city of Nashville.

Tuesday night wrapped up the 4-H Congress with a banquet and evening dance. I saw a lot of very tired 4-H members before they were finally allowed to board the elevators or climb the stairs back to their rooms around midnight. The great host of 4-H members settled down quickly for the final night’s rest. We were up around 6AM on Wednesday to clear out of our rooms and head home. Our bus left the Sheraton shortly after 8AM headed back to Jonesborough and all stops in between.

In summation, I was very impressed with the wonderful spirit and attitude of the young people who represented the Volunteer State at this year’s 4-H Congress. Observing these young people gave me a very good feeling about the leaders of tomorrow as they spoke of patriotism, respect for veterans, and a strong recognition of a creator God. Without a doubt, this host of young teenagers is the “cream of the crop” across this state, and I anticipate many of them becoming the elected people in their communities and in Nashville in the years ahead. It was a joy and an inspiration to be involved with them, and to be entrusted with their care and safety. Yes, it was an awesome responsibility, but one that I took seriously. I was among the adults who were being entrusted by parents and 4-H leaders to see that no harm came to any member of this group. I look back now and thank God for his protecting hand upon this great event and these young people. It was my pleasure to get acquainted with a large number of the youngsters and I hope to have opportunity to see many of them in the future. Who knows, maybe somewhere in time, I will be in the State Capitol Building and shake hands with the Governor, a Senator, or a Representative, and remember back to this day when that person was among the outstanding group who represented our state at the 2010 4-H Congress in Nashville. I just hope I don’t have to climb stairs to the 14th floor of a hotel ever again, but I can. As long as I have young people to inspire and encourage me, I will do well. Tennessee, you can be proud of these teenagers who have learned a lot about state government.