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Shopper News blog: Residents make Vestal safer, more beautiful for Independence Day

The Knoxville News-Sentinel logoThe Knoxville News-Sentinel 6/30/2020 Ruth White, Knoxville News Sentinel
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a sign on the side of a building: The Vestal Gateway Park is the southern terminus for a trail that will extend from the Mary Vestal Greenway to Fort Dickerson. In 2000, the city took ownership of a nasty old gas station on the corner and tore it down. © Ali James/Shopper News The Vestal Gateway Park is the southern terminus for a trail that will extend from the Mary Vestal Greenway to Fort Dickerson. In 2000, the city took ownership of a nasty old gas station on the corner and tore it down.

SOUTH

Residents make Vestal safer, more beautiful for Independence Day

Ali James, Shopper News 

The Vestal Community Organization is proof that it’s not what you know, but who you know and what they know. A banner posted at 102 Ogle Ave., next to Goose Creek at the entrance to Sustainable Futures, brags about what makes their projects so successful, according to Eric Johnson, VCO president.

This year, VCO joined the City of Knoxville Office of Neighborhoods in its "Safer in Place" celebration of Independence Day and dedicated their current projects to the challenge, including: Goose Creek vegetation clearance between Ogle and West Blount Avenues, debris removal in the historic cemetery at Vestal United Methodist Church and reseeding of the wildflower meadow in Vestal Gateway Park.

“Vestal is a scrappy, low-income neighborhood; we don’t have the money and resources to dress up our homes,” said Johnson. “So, we said 'to heck with that’. We wanted to do something simple, and collectively, we are a community organization, not a group of houses.”

Adopting Goose Creek Greenway

“When we adopted it, you could not see the creek because of the invasive vegetation,” said Johnson, who works a day job at CAC as the South Knox Community resource coordinator and is a member of the City’s Neighborhood Advisory Council. “We were a bunch of 50-year-olds trying to get rid of it, until Commissioner Carson Dailey got the jail crew involved and took chainsaws to make the creek look pretty.”

Keep Knoxville Beautiful, the Aslan Foundation and Carol Evans from the Legacy Parks Foundation got involved to help fine-tune their strategy, provide the right tools and recommend the safest herbicide.

Planting native flowers and plants

a green plant in a forest: The Vestal Community Organization adopted the Goose Creek, between Ogle and West Blount Avenues, and cleared the vegetation and trash out so that the creek is now visible. June 25, 2020. © Ali James/Shopper News The Vestal Community Organization adopted the Goose Creek, between Ogle and West Blount Avenues, and cleared the vegetation and trash out so that the creek is now visible. June 25, 2020.

Gene Burr, a semi retired architect and urban planner, got involved with the VCO about four years ago. He designed the pavilion in the new-ish Vestal Gateway Park, and together with Joy Grissom, Vestal resident and co-founder of the Native Plant Rescue Squad, has been active in planting the wildflower meadow.

“We planted this meadow in Vestal Gateway Park about four years ago and we weren’t prepared for the rapid growth of the weeds. Weeds just took over the first time we got a few wildflowers,” said Burr. “Last year we decided to stage an all-out warfare on the weeds and reseeded on April 1 this year."

Burr said they were warned not to expect much the first year, but he has seen some Black-eyed Susans and is looking forward to seeing the meadow become a "colorful feature and backdrop" to whatever community activities they can attract to the park. The organization has also overseen the planting of coneflower, sunflower, ironweed, spiderwort, coreopsis, as well as a mix of Indian and switchgrass. And the Native Plant Rescue Squad will add some native plants ahead of the Fourth of July.

Uncovering the historic cemetery

Two months ago, Johnson started to clear the brush around the church, which had been forced to close due to a decrease in attendance. “I was deep in the brush when I came across a huge headstone of Fred Ray, who died in 1919, and was spooked,” he said. “I spent two hours removing the brush and uncovered over 30 headstones for people that died between 1918 and 1925.”

“Anything that we can do to help the church find a new use for its facility,” added Burr. "It’s a handsome historic church, and that is another reason we wanted to help clean it up, that’s why we selected these three projects to profile and give visibility “

"Probably the most significant thing about South Knoxville is that the neighborhoods are getting together to create a safer and more attractive community by engaging the homeless to reduce vagrancy and crime,” said Johnson. “We have taken over the parks and made improvements with permission from the city.”

a tree in a grassy yard: Two months ago, Vestal Community Organization president Eric Johnson cut back overgrowth to reveal more historic tombstones that date back 100 years. © Ali James/Shopper News Two months ago, Vestal Community Organization president Eric Johnson cut back overgrowth to reveal more historic tombstones that date back 100 years.

Johnson said they have taken a hospitality approach to intervention, handing out cards that direct the homeless to where they can find a meal and perhaps ultimately seek treatment.

"Ten years ago, I got up in front of the city and said nobody loves us or respects us,” said Johnson. “With a greenway that goes nowhere, we asked for a simple grant to make improvements. People heard us and people with the knowledge – the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, the Aslan Foundation and Legacy Parks – said they would like to participate with us.

"We are just a scrappy neighborhood organization; they took over the leadership of the projects and make us look good.”

HALLS/FOUNTAIN CITY 

Gibbs Drive shows patriotic flair in city's July 4th contest

Ali James, Shopper News

Sam Mashburn, co-chair of the Gibbs Drive Historic Neighborhood Association, said residents are used to people stopping to look at their houses – particularly since the street is a real draw for trick-or-treaters every Halloween.

a large brick building with grass in front of a house: Fourth of July decorations on Gibbs Drive included fireworks garden decorations. © Ali James/Shopper News Fourth of July decorations on Gibbs Drive included fireworks garden decorations.

“We always warn new residents to go away for Halloween or buy a lot of candy,” laughed Mashburn. “We have literally had kids lining up down the block. It’s a wonderful place to be for Halloween.”

As the focus remains on the health and safety of the community, the City of Knoxville’s Office of Neighborhoods has come up with a novel challenge to celebrate Independence Day. The traditional Festival on the 4th has been canceled, so the city’s Office of Special Events has collaborated with them for a safer-in-place "Knoxville’s Neighborhood Trails of Red, White and Blue" challenge – a twist on the popular Dogwood Trails in the spring.

Neighborhoods such as Historic Gibbs Drive are invited to dress up, make signs and sit outside their homes 1-4 p.m. July 4. Judges and a caravan parade will drive through the preregistered neighborhoods around Knoxville and judge best decorated neighborhood, best overall patriotic spirit and best decorated object.

The city provided signage for the neighborhood entrances and a map of the participating neighborhoods online on the city’s website. Decorations should remain on display July 3-5, for anyone interested in taking a tour of the neighborhoods.

a sign in front of a tree: A vintage bike in this Gibbs Drive garden was decorated with a banner for the neighborhood challenge in honor of the Fourth of July, June 24, 2020. © Ali James/Shopper News A vintage bike in this Gibbs Drive garden was decorated with a banner for the neighborhood challenge in honor of the Fourth of July, June 24, 2020.

The Mashburn family moved to Gibbs Drive five years ago. “We used to be the newbies, but that has worn off,” said Mashburn. “There has been a lot of turnover on our street. Houses go real fast and lots of young families have moved in.”

Mashburn and co-chair Steve Muffler communicated with their neighbors via an email list and private Facebook group, encouraging them to coordinate if they wanted to participate in the red, white and blue-themed neighborhood challenge.

“We had a Christmas decorating challenge last year for the first time where we took pictures and had people vote in our Facebook group,” Mashburn said June 24. “We haven’t decorated for the Fourth of July to this extent before. (In previous years) I think every fourth house may have a flag out ... and this year it looks like every other house. At least 40-50% of people have already decorated.”

Since many of their neighbors are homebodies these days, Mashburn said there has been a real effort by owners to further improve landscaping and curb appeal.

The patriotic decorations on Gibbs Drive are traditional with the addition of mostly banners and flags, and a number of residents said they planned to decorate the weekend before the Fourth of July.

a close up of a flag: Flags and stars make for whimsical picket fence decorations in honor of the Fourth of July on Gibbs Drive, June 24, 2020. © Ali James/Shopper News Flags and stars make for whimsical picket fence decorations in honor of the Fourth of July on Gibbs Drive, June 24, 2020.

“There was some discussion about a parade before the coronavirus, but there is a great deal of hesitancy and people are generally concerned about doing things at a safe, social distance,” said Mashburn.

As for the success of the neighborhood challenge on Gibbs Drive, Mashburn said he is still curious, since it is the first time.

“If it turns out slightly good, we will learn from it and it’ll be even better next year,” he said. “It usually takes a few years to get people doing something like this. If this isn’t the biggest year I think we will still see it be an annual thing.”

View the full list and maps of neighborhoods participating here: https://knoxvilletn.gov/government/city_departments_offices/special_events/festival_on_the_4th.

NORTH/EAST

Teardrop trailers built for old-timey camping experience

Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News 

When camper trailer maker Richard Heishman talks about “tears” on the road, he doesn’t mean the kind you get from a flat tire, a malfunctioning electrical system or an overbooked KOA.

Gregory Iron sitting on a table: Artisan/craftsman/camper builder Richard Heishman of Tenspeed Tears considers his handmade teardrop campers to be heirlooms in the making. June 16, 2018. © Courtesy Tenspeed Tears Artisan/craftsman/camper builder Richard Heishman of Tenspeed Tears considers his handmade teardrop campers to be heirlooms in the making. June 16, 2018.

He means teardrop trailers – the only kind he builds, almost entirely by hand – for his business, Tenspeed Tears.

Around since the 1930s, teardrop campers became very popular after World War II. “There were a lot of spare parts!” says Heishman. Indeed, the familiar shiny exterior skins were usually made from the aluminum wings of bomber planes. In addition, says Heishman, people who’d grown accustomed to the scarcity of rationing were itching to be a bit footloose. “Now they’re finally able to find some normalcy – they’re able to travel. They don’t have buckets of money, but they’re able to be free, to roam around a little.”

Heishman, who details cars at Harper Auto Square, completed his first teardrop in 2013. “We took it to the Harper’s Cars and Coffee event. And it was crazy. People were really blown away by it – by the craftsmanship. I didn’t expect it. I thought ‘maybe I could do this.’”

Handmade details and much care go into making an heirloom teardrop trailer like this one, made by Richard Heishman of Tenspeed Tears. Nov. 9, 2019. © Courtesy Tenspeed Tears Handmade details and much care go into making an heirloom teardrop trailer like this one, made by Richard Heishman of Tenspeed Tears. Nov. 9, 2019.

He wanted to start the business without going into debt. A potential investor stepped up, asking, “How many of these could you crank out in a month?” Heishman hesitated. “I’m a cross between a creative and a manufacturer. For me, building one at a time and craftsmanship outweigh just getting them out there. That’s kind of odd in the entrepreneurial climate. And that’s OK for some people, but that was never really my intent. I wanted to focus on a really high-quality trailer.”

Heishman’s father and grandfather were builders. “I learned from looking over their shoulders. ‘Do it right or not at all.’ Building trailers is crazy because you have to be good at so many different things if you’re doing all the processes yourself. Woodworking, metal working, fabrication.” In his shop off Lovell Road, he tries to do as much of the work in-house as he can. “It’s the best way.”

To Heishman, these trailers are heirlooms, meant to last and to be passed down through a family for generations. And he’s a big fan of the smaller camper in general. “We went camping a couple of weeks ago and it seemed like the majority of the people you never saw. With teardrop camping you’re still spending most of your time outside.

a car parked in a parking lot: The first teardrop camper built by Richard Heishman. “When people see it in the parking lot,” he says, “they come and ask questions.” Nov. 9, 2019. © Courtesy Tenspeed Tears The first teardrop camper built by Richard Heishman. “When people see it in the parking lot,” he says, “they come and ask questions.” Nov. 9, 2019.

“And there’s a romance behind it. The door open, the hatch light on, a couple of glasses of wine, and a couple of people just taking a step back and breathing it all in. And they should be able to do it for a long time.”

You can find Tenspeed Tears – the name comes from Heishman’s past as a competitive cyclist – at themakercity.org/maker-directory/tenspeedtears-llc and tenspeedtears.onuniverse.com.

FARRAGUT

Volunteers fuel committees and boards

Margie Hagen, Shopper News

After Rose Ann Kile stepped down from the MPC on June 18, Mayor Ron Williams had a seat to fill, and on June 25 he announced the appointment of Michael Bellamy to take her place. Bellamy is no stranger to town business. The Farragut resident currently serves as the chair of the Tourism Committee and has his own law practice.

In a workshop prior to the regular meeting on June 25, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen reviewed applications for all committees and boards. Since incorporation in 1980, the Town has relied on volunteers to serve the community through civic engagement.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Ed McGimsey was named to the Stormwater Advisory Committee on June 25. After completing the Introduction to Farragut course last year, McGimsey wanted to get more involved and volunteered. He’s a realtor with Coldwell Banker, Wallace in Farragut. 2020 © submitted Ed McGimsey was named to the Stormwater Advisory Committee on June 25. After completing the Introduction to Farragut course last year, McGimsey wanted to get more involved and volunteered. He’s a realtor with Coldwell Banker, Wallace in Farragut. 2020

Over the years, some merged or were disbanded; currently there are 10 boards and committees. They operate under charters and bylaws that define duties and outline practices. BOMA re-evaluates them on a yearly basis, voting on membership and any proposed changes.

The Board of Plumbing & Gas/Mechanical Examiners, Board of Zoning Appeals and Visual Resources Review Board seek members with some technical expertise and/or related experience. The Stormwater Advisory Committee looks for qualified volunteers with related interests such as maintaining oversight and improving water quality.

Others like the Museum Committee want to enlist volunteers with a genuine interest in Farragut history. Many members have been involved for decades and have watched as the Town “grew up,” some even donating historical items for display. Note: the museum is temporarily closed until is it deemed safe to reopen.

The Arts and Beautification Committee combined membership last year. Traditionally the committee coordinates seasonal decorations, holds art exhibits and presents yearly beautification awards. This year those awards will likely be given for holiday decorations.

The Parks and Athletics Council plays an important role, recommending development of recreational facilities, park policies, and athletic field allocations. Members have been active in advocating for the McFee Park expansion.

Established last year, the Tourism/Visitor Advisory Board promotes Visit Farragut and works to identify opportunities that will bring business to town. Focused on retail, dining and lodging, the board agreed to increase the number of lodging representatives from one to three.

Work was well underway at McFee Park after an April groundbreaking to begin mass grading for the new perimeter road and recreational facilities. April 2020 © MARGIE HAGEN/SHOPPER NEWS Work was well underway at McFee Park after an April groundbreaking to begin mass grading for the new perimeter road and recreational facilities. April 2020

Perhaps one of the most important is the Education Relations Committee. Established in 2009, its purpose is to more closely connect the town with our schools and student activities. Vice Mayor Louise Povlin is a strong supporter and advocates for involving PTA groups and school officials in promoting and celebrating achievements, youth leadership and community service.

Said Williams: “We want to recruit people who can be involved and hands-on.” Learn more at townoffarragut.org.

Starting July 1, town meetings will be held in person at the community center. Masks will be required, and social distancing will be enforced. The meetings will still be broadcast on community channels and available later on YouTube.

OPINION

Big move won’t be easy as pie

Leslie Snow, Shopper News columnist

I make it sound easy. I say things like, “We’ll sell the house as-is, pack up the few things you want to keep, and have a big estate sale. Then I’ll drive you, Dad, and those two semi-feral cats to Knoxville and we’ll all live happily ever after together.”

My mom laughs and puts on the breaks. “You’re moving too fast!” she says. I remind her that we’ve been talking about the move for years, and that’s true, but she never really considered it until my sister Laurie passed away in May. Now she’s faced with a grim reality; her house is too big, and my dad’s dementia is getting worse. And without family in town, she’s alone in a way she’s never been before.

I think she would be happier in Tennessee and I tell her so. I could see her every day and help ease her burdens. I could go to doctor appointments with her and run to the store when she runs out of bananas or coffee. I could help her find someplace to volunteer so she’d feel part of the community. She could see her kids and grandkids more. She could play with her great-grandchildren when Jordan and Joe come to town. I list everything I have to offer, and I don’t play fair. 

Playfully and sweetly, I try to get my mother to see what she’s missing in Knoxville.

I take a picture of my back yard and send it to her with a caption that reads, “If you lived in Tennessee you could be having a cookout here this evening.” I take a picture of my dinner plate and text it to her. “We’re having grilled salmon and a chilled asparagus salad tonight. Wish you were here!” I tempt her with pictures of my new puppy, Buttercup. I entice her with photographs of all the breads, cakes, and pies I’ve been baking during the pandemic. “Here’s the lemon chess pie I made this afternoon,” I texted earlier today. “Isn’t lemon pie your favorite?”

When she texts me back, she tells me I’m a brat and that she loves me. I see her reply as a sign that all the pressure I’m applying is finally working. My mom is starting to believe there is a life waiting for her here. All she has to do is say, “Yes, I’ll move to Knoxville.”

But sometimes after she calls me a brat, I think about what I’m asking of her. My mom has never lived anywhere but Cleveland, Ohio. My parents’ house is 15 minutes away from the house my mother lived in as a child. Her closest friends all live nearby, even if they’re in assisted living facilities now. She knows where everything is; she’s developed relationships with her doctors. Life is familiar and constant even if it’s hard.

I’m asking my mother, at 87, to give up all of that for a chance at a better life, with me, 500 miles away. I keep picturing the moment when she walks out of the house she loves for the last time. I imagine pulling out of the driveway, the cats crying in the back seat, my mother crying in the front seat, my dad blissfully unaware. It will be the hardest thing she’s ever done. I’m convinced there’s joy to be found here for my mother, but it won’t be easy. Even if there’s lemon pie and a sweet puppy waiting for her.

Leslie Snow may be reached at snow column@aol.com.

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Shopper News blog: Residents make Vestal safer, more beautiful for Independence Day

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