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Shopper Blog: Landmark sculpture welcomes visitors to beautiful GATOP Gardens on Riverside Drive

·34 min read

SOUTH KNOXILLE

Landmark sculpture welcomes visitors to beautiful GATOP Gardens on Riverside Drive

Ali James, Shopper News

It may have taken 2½ years, but the new landmark sculpture “Graft Knoxville” by notable Puerto Rican-born artist Edra Soto has at long last been revealed.

On May 6, Soto flew in from Chicago, where she lives and works, to meet with the media and project partners and view the completed sculpture.

Puerto-Rican born, Chicago-based artist, curator and educator Edra Soto visits the "Graft Knoxville" sculpture she designed on May 6, 2022 at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. “It is such an inspiring site; seeing the work here made me feel there is a connection to my homeland and to Chicago where I live,” said Soto. “It allowed me to unveil the cultural value of these seemingly simple patterns that appear in the homes of Puerto Rico.”
Puerto-Rican born, Chicago-based artist, curator and educator Edra Soto visits the "Graft Knoxville" sculpture she designed on May 6, 2022 at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. “It is such an inspiring site; seeing the work here made me feel there is a connection to my homeland and to Chicago where I live,” said Soto. “It allowed me to unveil the cultural value of these seemingly simple patterns that appear in the homes of Puerto Rico.”

“Graft Knoxville” is displayed in the former Morrow’s Quarry on the grounds of the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive. The arboretum will be open for select events.

The sculpture consists of three interrelated Corten steel bench sections and includes three polished white marble benches, cut from an abandoned block from the quarry site.

"Graft Knoxville," a new landmark sculpture at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. May 6, 2022. The sculpture consists of three interrelated Corten steel bench sections and includes three polished white marble benches.
"Graft Knoxville," a new landmark sculpture at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. May 6, 2022. The sculpture consists of three interrelated Corten steel bench sections and includes three polished white marble benches.

Soto’s “Graft Knoxville” project was curated and managed by Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts. In late 2019, Soto traveled with Tri-Star Arts to speak at the UT School of Art in Knoxville. Dr. Alan Solomon, who had the vision to create a beautiful garden in the former quarry, invited her to view potential sculpture sites on the grounds of the arboretum. (He named the garden GATOP for "God's Answer to Our Prayers.")

After selecting the site, Soto began working on the design.

"Graft Knoxville," a new landmark sculpture, includes three polished white marble benches cut from an abandoned block from the quarry site. University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center, May 6, 2022.
"Graft Knoxville," a new landmark sculpture, includes three polished white marble benches cut from an abandoned block from the quarry site. University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center, May 6, 2022.

“When they brought me to the site I thought about the materiality,” said Soto, who was inspired by the geometric designs of the rejas screens, 1950s breeze blocks and iron railings seen in Puerto Rico’s domestic architecture. “I thought of building a tower type structure that felt welcoming, so there are benches integrated into the structure,” she said.

Soto admitted to being overcome with emotion after seeing her design become reality.

Media and project partners were invited to view the new landmark sculpture by Edra Soto at the former Morrow’s Quarry at 2631 Riverside Drive that has been transformed into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. May 6, 2022.
Media and project partners were invited to view the new landmark sculpture by Edra Soto at the former Morrow’s Quarry at 2631 Riverside Drive that has been transformed into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. May 6, 2022.

“This is the way I imagined it,” she said. “I love that the material is common (here). I think the site is so unique from everything else with a natural circular shape that almost feels like a void and the trees are a natural frame. My intention is for it to be a welcoming space that is maybe unexpected.”

Soto is an artist, curator, educator, and co-director of the outdoor project space, The Franklin. In addition to exhibiting extensively at venues in New York and Chicago, Soto recently completed a large-scale public art commission titled Screenhouse, currently on view at Millennium Park in Chicago.

The former Morrow’s Quarry at 2631 Riverside Drive has been transformed into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. The arboretum will be open for select events. May 6, 2022.
The former Morrow’s Quarry at 2631 Riverside Drive has been transformed into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center. The arboretum will be open for select events. May 6, 2022.

“The collaboration started before the pandemic. It slowed down, but I never thought it would never happen,” said Soto. “I have done other sculptures with similar characteristics.

“What a great opportunity to create something specific to this place, this functional way to extend it to the public as a place for meditating, a place to sit and enjoy the site.”

Dr. Andrew J. Pulte (UT Department of Plant Sciences) makes opening remarks at the unveiling of the permanent sculpture "Graft Knoxville" at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022. Also pictured is Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts.
Dr. Andrew J. Pulte (UT Department of Plant Sciences) makes opening remarks at the unveiling of the permanent sculpture "Graft Knoxville" at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022. Also pictured is Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts.

Brandon Pace, Natalia Almonacid and Lauren Mullane-Searle of Sanders Pace Architecture visualized and conceptualized the design into architectural renderings. Maurice Mallia of Mallia Engineering Company then offered key engineering consultancy in response to the renderings.

Craig Gillam at the UT Fab Lab cut the steel modules using a state-of-the-art water jet cutter. The steel structure was then welded by Casey Fletcher.

Dr. Andrew J. Pulte (UT Department of Plant Sciences) talks to Dr. Alan Solomon as sculptor Edra Soto and Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts, look on at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022. “It is an educational resource, and to have a place that is quiet is critical. It is a very healing space,” said Solomon. “It is very hard to get so many people together. It was pro bono so everybody had to give.”
Dr. Andrew J. Pulte (UT Department of Plant Sciences) talks to Dr. Alan Solomon as sculptor Edra Soto and Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts, look on at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022. “It is an educational resource, and to have a place that is quiet is critical. It is a very healing space,” said Solomon. “It is very hard to get so many people together. It was pro bono so everybody had to give.”

Jason S. Brown (UT sculpture program) and Dr. Andrew J. Pulte (UT Department of Plant Sciences), were involved in all levels of strategic planning and project coordination, according to Jobe. Pulte acquired the Corten steel that was cut into the requisite pattern shapes.

Josh Buchanan at the Tennessee Marble Company oversaw the cutting and polishing of the three marble benches. Doug Kennedy and his crew at Johnson Galyon Construction then prepared the site and secured the sculptures in place.

Artist Edra Soto, left, and Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts, at the unveiling of the "Graft Knoxville" sculpture at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022.
Artist Edra Soto, left, and Brian R. Jobe, director of Tri-Star Arts, at the unveiling of the "Graft Knoxville" sculpture at the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022.

“There is an other-worldly beauty in this rock,” said Jobe. “ ‘Graft Knoxville’ is the beautiful conclusion to a 2½ -year project, and Edra’s work can be a touchstone and hallmark of collaborative work in Knoxville. A hallmark. It holds the line between architecture, functional design sculpture and the shape of Knoxville. We are grateful for Edra’s vision.”

A path into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022.
A path into the University of Tennessee/GATOP Arboretum & Education Center at 2631 Riverside Drive on May 6, 2022.

The overgrown and abandoned site has been transformed into the front door of what is to come, according to Pulte. “It is a wonderful example of what we can do when we work together,” he said. “Vulcan gave us these 12 acres that we didn’t even know were here.”

FARRAGUT

Hardin Valley author starts series of 'relatable' children's faith books

Nancy Anderson, Shopper News

Children’s author Tonya Celeste Hobbs said writing her first book, Ruby and the Treasure Within, was much like birthing a child.

“I wanted to quit every day, but God kept sending me the words so I just kept writing,” said Hobbs.

Hardin Valley author Tonya Celeste Hobbs shows off her first book of a series at her home Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Hardin Valley author Tonya Celeste Hobbs shows off her first book of a series at her home Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

The book is a chapter book for kids 7 to 14. Hobbs said it’s an easy read and a great introduction to chapter books.

“My heart to create Ruby was to take the reader through the journey of discovering Jesus. Not in a pushy way, but in a fun way through the eyes of a child. The story of her journey is on a children’s level and has a little bit of my childhood in it as well,” said Hobbs.

The story is about the adventures of Ruby, a tomboy who likes to climb trees and sing. She meets an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who is humming “I’ll Fly Away,” a popular gospel song. Ruby begins to hum the song as well and then begins asking questions about Jesus.

Hobbs said what makes this book special is that it is so relatable to children and adults alike. Ruby is an inquisitive child, there’s a nurse, a construction worker, an Alzheimer’s patient, Ruby is bullied in school. There’s something relatable to everyone.

Children’s author Tonya Celeste Hobbs autographs each of her books purchased from her website. May 2022.
Children’s author Tonya Celeste Hobbs autographs each of her books purchased from her website. May 2022.

The book is the first in a series about the adventures of Ruby. It's published by Climbing Angel Publishing, which specializes in uplifting books and advocating for new writers.

“I don’t have a degree in writing, but I did attend a series of Zoom classes during the pandemic through my publisher that taught me to just start writing. Worry about the mechanics later, just get the story down on paper.

"Anyone can write a book; just write what you know and don’t give up.”

The book is illustrated by Hannah Warrick, a 25-year-old she met at church. “I saw some of her work and was just blown away. She’s a talented artist. I was so excited to work with her, but I think she got frustrated with me because I just couldn’t decide which pictures to use. They were all so amazing.”

Children’s author Tonya Celeste Hobbs works on notes for her new book in the Ruby series at her home in Hardin Valley Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Children’s author Tonya Celeste Hobbs works on notes for her new book in the Ruby series at her home in Hardin Valley Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

Ruby and the Treasure Within is available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Walmart. Autographed copies can be ordered through Hobbs’ website.

Hobbs lives in Hardin Valley with her husband of 25 years, David, and their three children. She said she will soon begin work on her second book, which will be about Ruby and her father.

Info: www.TonyaCelesteHobbs.com.

HALLS

Self-defense and biblical inspiration blend at Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City

Ali James, Shopper News

Todd and Janice Mills have been offering their Krav Maga classes at different locations for seven years.

What is Krav Maga? It was developed in the 1950s to train the Israeli army in hand-to-hand combat. It continues to evolve and is derived from a combination of techniques used in aikido, boxing, judo, karate, and wrestling.

Janice and Todd Mills opened Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City about a year ago and have since expanded their self-defense, specialty and strength and conditioning classes. The Battle Rock name is inspired by Psalm 144:1: "Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.’ “It is a guiding verse for us as a business and we learn to defend ourselves with our hands and feet,” said Todd Mills. “We do share the gospel in the class with students.”
May 10, 2022.
Janice and Todd Mills opened Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City about a year ago and have since expanded their self-defense, specialty and strength and conditioning classes. The Battle Rock name is inspired by Psalm 144:1: "Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.’ “It is a guiding verse for us as a business and we learn to defend ourselves with our hands and feet,” said Todd Mills. “We do share the gospel in the class with students.” May 10, 2022.

“I feel like God chose this location,” Todd Mills said of the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym he opened with Janice and father Pete. “We hopped around fitting in around other people’s schedules.”

One of Mills’ students owned a building at 1318 Karnes Ave. with unused space that they cleaned up and opened a year ago with an expanded schedule of self-defense classes.

Krav Maga programs are eight weeks long at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10, 2022. Participants train through the various levels and are tested on the techniques they have learned.
Krav Maga programs are eight weeks long at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10, 2022. Participants train through the various levels and are tested on the techniques they have learned.

At Battle Rock Krav Maga, Mills said they take a three-pronged approach to self-defense. They develop hand-to-hand combat skills, integrate tool use and offer physical conditioning to build self-confidence for any situation.

“We have a few different things, but Krav Maga is our main focus,” said Todd Mills. “The first half hour is the fitness portion, followed by an hour of techniques and drills to see how the students progress.”

Todd Mills looks on as his father, Pete Mills, offers some instruction during a Krav Maga class at Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City on May 10, 2022. Pete Mills has over 50 years of experience in martial arts and has instructed people all over the world.
Todd Mills looks on as his father, Pete Mills, offers some instruction during a Krav Maga class at Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City on May 10, 2022. Pete Mills has over 50 years of experience in martial arts and has instructed people all over the world.

The Central High School graduate has been involved in martial arts his whole life, a passion his father instilled in him. “Grand Master” Pete Mills has been a Martial Arts Chief Instructor for over 50 years.

Janice works as a pediatric nurse practitioner at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in addition to teaching women-only self-defense and strength and conditioning classes, CPR, ED training and basic life support for health care providers.

Janice and Todd Mills, owners of the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, said they are constantly practicing and learning when it comes to Krav Maga. “Before we moved locations we were limited; when we found this space it gave us the desire to offer workouts and specialty courses,” said Janice Mills. “It has been really cool to grow that over time to reach more people.”
May 10, 2022.
Janice and Todd Mills, owners of the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, said they are constantly practicing and learning when it comes to Krav Maga. “Before we moved locations we were limited; when we found this space it gave us the desire to offer workouts and specialty courses,” said Janice Mills. “It has been really cool to grow that over time to reach more people.” May 10, 2022.

“I love it all, but the ladies-only classes are one of my favorites,” she said.

The Battle Rock name is inspired by Psalm 144:1: “Praise be to the Lord my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”

Bullyproof Kids class with Grand Master/Instructor Pete Mills at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.
Bullyproof Kids class with Grand Master/Instructor Pete Mills at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.

“Battle Rock is not about me, it is about the community of people, the fellowship,” said Todd Mills. “We travel and train together. One couple got married and we celebrated their wedding.”

The Millses have traveled to Israel to train at various holy sites and near the Dead Sea. They continue to travel to learn and train others.

Jewel, left, and Jasmine Dodgson at the women-only Krav Maga class at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.
Jewel, left, and Jasmine Dodgson at the women-only Krav Maga class at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.

“We grew and needed another facility,” said Janice Mills, who became intrigued by the practicality of Krav Maga six years ago after her husband took to it.

Battle Rock Krav Maga currently offers Krav Fit, Krav Maga Techniques, Advanced Krav Maga, Bullyproof Kids, as well as specialty classes Men’s Fight Club, Ladies Only Night, and Strength & Conditioning.

Tucker Mills, son of Janice and Todd Mills, dressed for Bullyproof Kids at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.
Tucker Mills, son of Janice and Todd Mills, dressed for Bullyproof Kids at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.

The Battle Rock gym classes accommodate everyone from the age of 5 to people in their 80s.

“Middle and high schoolers can train with adults,” said Todd Mills. “It is good to work with someone who is older and more mature. We had all fitness levels at a class last night and had a lady who had never done any exercise.”

Todd Mills talks with a group of children from Emerald Youth at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.
Todd Mills talks with a group of children from Emerald Youth at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym, Fountain City.

Bullyproof kids is a little more like a traditional karate class with lots of games like tag and volleyball.

“With kids you have to be unique, wrap it into a game and keep moving,” he said. “We teach them how to get someone off you.” Mills said they teach the Kids U program at UT and host participants of the Emerald Youth programs regularly at the gym.

Todd Mills, owner of Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, demonstrates a Krav Maga technique on May 10, 2022.
Todd Mills, owner of Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, demonstrates a Krav Maga technique on May 10, 2022.

The Iron Sharpens Iron classes are strength and conditioning based. “It is a way to get stronger along with self-defense,” said Todd Mills. "It is an afternoon class where we lift weights so we can be more functional.”

“I teach on the floor at least four days a week; I am afraid to quit,” said Pete Mills, who is 76. “I keep my reflexes up and free spar. Your reasons for taking classes change with age. I used to be involved in tournaments. As a senior, it is better for me to work on it for self-defense and the sport.”

Photos of Todd, Janice and Pete Mills’ travels to Israel on the wall at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10. The family has traveled all over the world to study Krav Maga and instruct others.
Photos of Todd, Janice and Pete Mills’ travels to Israel on the wall at the Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10. The family has traveled all over the world to study Krav Maga and instruct others.

Pete Mills has traveled all over the world to instruct others, including five visits to Russia.

Battle Rock Krav Maga offers corporate and private group training in specific defensive skills including active shooter, home invasion and prevention planning and tactical medical care.

Pistol training with laser targets at Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10, 2022.
Pistol training with laser targets at Battle Rock Krav Maga gym in Fountain City, May 10, 2022.

Krav Maga instructor Zack Cocrane leads the firearms certification four-week course, using a laser target system. “It is dry fire, the lasers are very safe,” said Cocrane.

“I want to help everybody that I can help; I’d love to get the word out,” said Todd Mills. “If they go to our website, they can find information to join now and it will send a link, but they are free to call also.”

WORDS OF FAITH

Responding with love in a mousetrap world

John Tirro, Shopper News

I’ve been thinking about discernment, in the sense of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Our world is so tempestuous, turbulent, and tumultuous — anxious and reactive — it’s like a grade school video, shown to teach chain reaction in nuclear fission.

John Tirro
John Tirro

A glass box is full of mousetraps, ready to spring, with a ping pong ball on each. A filmmaker gingerly drops an additional ball in the box. For a split second, only two or three spring, throwing themselves and their ping pong balls in the air. Then they land, and suddenly the box is an explosion of balls and traps, snapping and flying.

Our world is like that, people wound tight, ready to spring, triggered by the lightest contact — light as a ping pong ball — reacting with violent thoughts, words, and, all too often, action.

The past 90 columns or so, I’ve focused on the question, how do we unset our mousetrap selves? How do we unspring-load our hearts and minds? How do we help others do the same? How do we de-escalate? How do we cool down, in the midst of a heating planet?

No surprise, given that I’m a pastor, but I tend to see prayer, counseling, and worship — engagement with the symbolic landscape of our hearts as described in scripture, along with singing, silence, speaking, listening, movement, giving, and receiving — as key ways of turning from the world’s reactivity to God’s presence, wisdom, and love. These are two very different starting places: reactivity, which is largely fear-based, and love.

Thing is, it’s complex. Even in prayer and worship, we’re still part of the world. Folks get really disappointed that the church and its leaders aren’t perfect. Maybe it’s time to let go of that?

Something that’s helping me with this is an odd story from Acts. Paul and his friends are traveling, meeting people, and sharing what they’ve experienced, through Jesus, of a conversion in their hearts, from violence, to peace. Sometimes people respond, inviting them into their homes. Sometimes they react, beating them with sticks. They persist.

After a winding journey with several setbacks, Paul has a vision, “a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). When they get there, who is the man? Turns out to be a woman, Lydia, whose business is squeezing snails to make purple cloth.

This is not what Paul expected. It doesn’t match his vision. But his vision led to a beautiful encounter. There, outside the city, gathered with a small group worshiping the God of Israel, they meet. Out of this relationship, the church at Philippi, to whom Paul later wrote Philippians, is born.

What would it be like, to let our vision be imperfect, to follow where it leads, and to love who we find there?

John Tirro is pastor of music and campus ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Info: sjlcknox.org.

FARRAGUT

Popular S.A.I.L. instructor retires from Karns Senior Center

Nancy Anderson, Shopper News

It was a sad day for the folks at Karns Senior Center last Wednesday. Longtime Stay Active and Independent for Life (S.A.I.L.) instructor Debbie Harris retired, having given her best to the program since 2013.

“S.A.I.L. is our largest, most popular class. I know we will have new instructors, but Debbie will be missed. She’s the bright light in the room and she really believes in the program,” said center Coordinator Robyn Trostle.

S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris, right, receives applause from a room full of friends at her retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris, right, receives applause from a room full of friends at her retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

S.A.I.L. is more than an exercise class. While there are aerobics, static balance, upper and lower weights, and flexibility sessions, the class is about connection.

“We’ve all been through losses over the years,” said Harris. “The people in this class have come together to help each other overcome and endure sadness. We’ve all gotten quite close.”

S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris with Health Promotion Manager Cynthia Rockey at Harris’s retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris with Health Promotion Manager Cynthia Rockey at Harris’s retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Harris explained how she changed her life for the better by becoming a S.A.I.L. instructor.

“I was working at a credit union and I just wasn’t enjoying it. In walked this bubbly woman one day and I asked what was the secret to her good mood and she told me all about the class.

"I thought about it for a few months and decided it was something I wanted to do. Something I might be good at. I took the certification class and here I am nine years later.”

S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris wears a bittersweet smile leading her last class at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris wears a bittersweet smile leading her last class at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

A luncheon was held in Harris’ honor with class members bringing a dish. The table was filled with delicious foods — the most popular was pigs-in-a-blanket — and a beautiful farewell cake.

Many participants said they were going to eat a piece of cake even if they had to do two S.A.I.L. classes to burn it off.

Program directors Cynthia Rockey, the health promotion manager for the East Tennessee area Agency on Aging and Disability, was in attendance  with Rachel Frazier, public health educator for the Health Department.

Chris Calhoun made a scripture quilt for Debbie Harris’s retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Chris Calhoun made a scripture quilt for Debbie Harris’s retirement party at Karns Senior Center Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Frazier brought along a surprise for Harris — a proclamation from Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs declaring Wednesday, May 4, 2022 as Debbie Harris Day.

Rockey explained that the S.A.I.L. class first came to Knox County in 2009. It quickly became an anchor class in more than 16 senior centers across the county. The class is taught by certified volunteers.

S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris turns the tables on good friend Aggie Hankins by giving her a goodbye present at the retirement party held for Harris at the Karns Senior Center, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
S.A.I.L. instructor Debbie Harris turns the tables on good friend Aggie Hankins by giving her a goodbye present at the retirement party held for Harris at the Karns Senior Center, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

The pandemic put a stop to the classes when the senior centers closed, but with the help of a $3,000 grant, the class was able to go virtual.

The class is held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to noon. Now that Harris retired, the class will be held only on Monday and Wednesday with a new instructor. Frazier and Rockey said they are searching for volunteers to lead the Friday class.

Info: www.knoxcounty.org/seniors/karns.php.

POWELL

Pet salon and 'spaw' was right step for ex-Dollywood dancer

Al Lesar, Shopper News

When her seven-year run as a singer/dancer at Dollywood ended in 1998, Joy Whitt had an idea of her next direction.

“I knew I wanted to work with animals,” said the 1989 Central High School graduate. “I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.”

After seven years as a singer/dancer at Dollywood, Joy Whitt has built a thriving pet salon business.
After seven years as a singer/dancer at Dollywood, Joy Whitt has built a thriving pet salon business.

Keeping them healthy? Making them look good?

“There were no (veterinary) tech classes in Knoxville at the time,” Whitt said. “So, I decided to go into grooming.”

Whitt took a measured approach into this new world of mutt maintenance. First the schooling, then a mentorship for four years.

When she felt ready, Whitt joined Butler Animal Clinic as its groomer in 2002. The time there prepared Whitt to take the leap into her own business: Joy’s Pet Salon and Spaw (5403 Western Ave., Suite 105).

Astro, Destiny Johnson's dog, is displaying all the vegan pet-safe dyes for an upcoming grooming show. She got a lot of attention.
Astro, Destiny Johnson's dog, is displaying all the vegan pet-safe dyes for an upcoming grooming show. She got a lot of attention.

“It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Whitt said of the venture that opened in 2010. “I knew I was ready to make the move.”

Luxury pet services available

Growth happened in a hurry thanks to referrals Whitt got from several vet clinics. It didn’t take long for her to add another groomer and take over the suite next to hers. Today, Whitt has seven other groomers besides herself and will make anywhere from 22 to 30 dogs (or cats) handsome or beautiful each day.

“I’ve seen dogs go from just pets to part of the family,” said Whitt. “It’s a harder job than most people think. Some folks think I play with puppies all day.”

Grooming starts at $60 for most dogs. What the owner wants done and the size of the dog will weigh into exactly what is charged.

Some of the luxury items offered at Joy’s Salon and Spaw include a 15-minute soak in a micro-bubble solution and warm water. It cleans out hair follicles and makes the skin able to absorb medicated shampoo that follows.

Harper Greene's Scottish Terrier got its first trim at Joy's Pet Salon & Spaw.
Harper Greene's Scottish Terrier got its first trim at Joy's Pet Salon & Spaw.

“It’s so relaxing that I don’t have trouble getting dogs to sit still in it,” Whitt said.

Other treatments include facials (yes, a facial for a dog), tooth brushing, painted toe nails and colored fur. What’s popular now is “booty bling,” where a rhinestone applique is attached to the hip with water soluble glue. Female dogs will leave with a bow and males with a bandanna.

Good ol' days

Whitt, who owns two French bulldogs, two golden retrievers, one Pomeranian and three cats (“The cats and dogs are divided by a baby gate”), still sings at her church and remembers the good ol’ days.

“Being at Dollywood was a great experience,” Whitt said. “We’d start in March and go all the way through New Year’s Day. Every day. We’d mainly sing country, but we did some '50s and '60s.”

She said her group traveled to perform at NASCAR races in Charlotte and Bristol, and also at an event in Washington, D.C., but the prospects of more travel led to her leaving.

She came away having rubbed elbows with several “A” list performers, as well as sharing a stage with Dolly Parton herself.

The staff at Joy's Pet Salon & Spaw enjoy their work. They are (back, from left) Brooke Williams with T-Bone, Taylor Chan, Christy Brown and Destiny Johnson with Astro. (Front, from left) Kenzie Walker with Boomer, Ceria Hall and Joy Whitt with GiGi. Belle Whitson is not pictured.
The staff at Joy's Pet Salon & Spaw enjoy their work. They are (back, from left) Brooke Williams with T-Bone, Taylor Chan, Christy Brown and Destiny Johnson with Astro. (Front, from left) Kenzie Walker with Boomer, Ceria Hall and Joy Whitt with GiGi. Belle Whitson is not pictured.

“She was everything you expect her to be — so nice and fun,” Whitt said. “You knew she was in the building before you saw her. You could smell her. She had a perfume that was made just for her.”

With a room full of yelping happy pups, Whitt can smile at the journey she’s had.

“This is a rewarding job,” she said, not the least bit hesitant about leaving her singing career in the past.

More: Who made Tennessee basketball trip to Europe in 1997 so memorable? | Mike Strange

BEARDEN

Friends' balloon business takes off

John Shearer, Shopper News

Ashley Reed’s and Colleen Martin’s lives could be likened to balloons being set free the way they both landed in Knoxville for college and in the adventurous way they decided to start their own business together.

The Balloon Garden specializes in balloon-related gifts and displays for customers’ or their families’ special occasions.

Colleen Martin, left, and Ashley Reed pose with some of the balloons used in their Bearden business, The Balloon Garden.
Colleen Martin, left, and Ashley Reed pose with some of the balloons used in their Bearden business, The Balloon Garden.

After it was started on almost a whim during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the two and their staff have been so busy putting helium in the various balloons that they have been happily trying to come up for oxygen and catch their own breaths.

“It’s been great,” said Reed. “Honestly, we didn’t know. We didn’t have big plans.”

After keeping all the supplies and equipment at Martin’s garage, the two neighbors have recently opened a storefront location in a small shopping plaza at 5301 Kingston Pike in Bearden.

Jars of colored balloons waiting to be filled sit in The Balloon Garden store in Bearden on May 10, 2022.
Jars of colored balloons waiting to be filled sit in The Balloon Garden store in Bearden on May 10, 2022.

According to Reed and some information found on the business’ website, Martin and Reed came to the University of Tennessee from Memphis and Nashville, respectively, but became good friends as neighbors with children.

Martin had opened a business called Little Hoot Designs for children, while Reed was in medical sales. When the pandemic kept people from being able to meet in person, Reed ordered a mega balloon arrangement for her Alabama sister-in-law, who had planned a baby shower.

That started the two thinking that they could open a business like that in Knoxville, so they tried a drive-by birthday balloon party for their children, and it proved to be a hit. They put a notice about their new business being formed on Instagram in late May 2020, and suddenly they started getting orders. As a result, sales started climbing like a balloon accidentally let loose.

Ashley Reed, left, and Colleen Martin have seen their Balloon Garden business take off in Bearden.
Ashley Reed, left, and Colleen Martin have seen their Balloon Garden business take off in Bearden.

Reed said they specialize in 3-foot mega balloons and offer plenty of other accessories and other specialty balloons for momentous occasions, which can range from birthdays to weddings to graduations or other happy moments. Based on some of the photos on their Instagram site, they try to be creative.

She added that they have been so busy during this graduation season that they have had to stop taking orders, although customers can stop by and purchase grab-and-go items to set up their own displays. It is a service they offer year-round, with advice and suggestions.

Party supplies to go along with the celebration are also sold.

The Balloon Garden’s new location is in the shopping center at 5301 Kingston Pike. Shown May 10, 2022.
The Balloon Garden’s new location is in the shopping center at 5301 Kingston Pike. Shown May 10, 2022.

With countless jars of the slowly biodegradable latex balloons in various colors and other displays, a young crafts hobbyist might get almost as excited inside the store as Willie Wonka in the chocolate factory.

Reed said she and Martin share many of the same administrative duties as co-owners, although she sometimes works more on scheduling and ordering, while Martin focuses on social media. They also usually take turns being at the store so they can also be with their children.

Colleen Martin focuses on social media at The Balloon Garden on May 10, 2022.
Colleen Martin focuses on social media at The Balloon Garden on May 10, 2022.

"It’s a good balance,” said Reed, adding that they also have a staff of eight employees.

For a business that started during the life-altering early days of the pandemic, a thriving concern has been quite a reward for the two.

“We’ve been very pleased with how the business has grown,” Reed added. “We never expected how busy we would be.”

NORTH KNOXVILLE

SEEED Knox celebrates its first solar house

Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News

Scott Noethen, who has run Appalachian Renewable Resources for 12 years, knows a lot about providing solar energy for homes in Tennessee.

Recently, he and his crew were involved in a very special project: SEEED Knox’s first solar home, located on Texas Avenue. The ribbon cutting and open house was held on Friday, May 6.

SEEED, which  stands for Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development, is a nonprofit founded in 2009 with a focus on creating and sustaining jobs for Knoxville’s urban youth, as well as making clean energy technologies available to low income residents.

Its co-founder, Stan Johnson, says that home ownership is one of the cornerstones of a life above the poverty line, and much of the crew on each build comes from SEEED itself.

Stan Johnson, SEEED Executive Director and Founder, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.
Stan Johnson, SEEED Executive Director and Founder, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.

“We train our students on the whole build. We’re not only trying to help the homeowners become independent and build generational wealth, we’re also teaching the young people to find future jobs.”

Development coordinator and CFO Laurel Bowen has been with the organization since its beginning. She said, “The young people who envisioned SEEED wanted to build solar houses, and such a house represents the realization of a dream in the making since we first started.

No utility bills

“We’re hoping that it’s going be a net zero house. No utility bills; in fact they might make some money. How that’s going to tie in, we don’t know.”

The house is connected to the grid, and the excess electricity generated by solar is stored in a battery pack. “We’re going to be monitoring the electric bills to see what it’ll be doing for the residents’ bottom line.”

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and 3rd District Councilwoman Seema Singh join SEEED members to cut the ceremonial ribbon to a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and 3rd District Councilwoman Seema Singh join SEEED members to cut the ceremonial ribbon to a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.

With KUB now advertising that solar-generated electricity will supply 20 percent of its load by the end of 2023, Bowen thinks that solar energy’s time has come in East Tennessee. And as a grant writer for SEEED, she’s done her research on the optimal types of renewable resources in each area of the country.

“In the midwest, it’s wind. But where we live, because of the high amount of sunny days that we get, solar is the best renewable energy source that we have.”

JD Jackson, SEEED Chief Operating Officer, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.
JD Jackson, SEEED Chief Operating Officer, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.

Noethen confirms that solar energy provides the same level of comfort that homeowners have become accustomed to, and the panels will eventually pay themselves off.

“You’re paying for all of the electricity you’ll ever use; it’s essentially cheaper than paying your bill for the rest of your life. It offsets a significant cost burden that you’d have to pay on a monthly basis.”

Solo Taylor, who helped build the home with SEEED, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.
Solo Taylor, who helped build the home with SEEED, speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.

And, Noethen says, with the extra solar energy stored in the battery pack, homeowners can feel comfortable for a period of time even if the grid goes down.

“I’ve been working with Stan on these types of projects for seven or eight years now. I feel like this one really has a lot more wheels to it; it’s more sustainable than the other ones were. It’s an exciting project: finding blighted properties on the tax rolls and building brand new extra-efficient homes that are designed to minimize environmental impact.”

Project Manager Jerome Johnson speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.
Project Manager Jerome Johnson speaks during a ceremony of a SEEED solar home at 1122 Texas Ave. in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 6, 2022. The solar powered home features three bedrooms and energy efficient technology and amenities.

With SEEED’s next solar house planned for Fern Street, Bowen hopes that people will be taking notice.

“Solar’s not just some weird thing that they do elsewhere. It’s something we can do right here in Knoxville.”

BEARDEN

University of Tennessee Torchbearer Aruha Khan saw early the need for equity in healthcare

John Shearer, Shopper News

When L&N STEM Academy graduate Aruha Khan was 10 years old and visiting New York, she was shocked to learn that her brother, Danial, had taken ill from dehydration while they were visiting the busy Times Square area.

She began panicking and, although he was soon able to recover with a brief rest and some fluids, that started her thinking at a young age about healthcare. She even began wondering whether every family, regardless of income, would be able to be helped properly in a medical emergency or time of need.

UT Torchbearer Aruha Khan during a study abroad semester in Greece, 2019. (photo taken with self-timer)
UT Torchbearer Aruha Khan during a study abroad semester in Greece, 2019. (photo taken with self-timer)

“I was really worried as a 10-year-old,” she said. “I don’t think any kind of child needs to worry about something like that.”

The experience during the sightseeing trip suddenly helped her see a future career path, too. Now, she is finishing up at the University of Tennessee this spring with plans to eventually go to medical school and practice medicine, including as the field relates to the area of patient equity and equality.

In fact, she has already founded the Student Advocates for Medicine in Politics and was in a meeting in the Student Union in late March when she saw another scene that shocked her. But this was startling in a good sort of way.

Khan learned when she saw members of the UT Chancellor’s Cabinet walk in with balloons, a cake and flowers that she was one of only 10 graduating seniors to be named a prestigious Torchbearer. Considered the highest undergraduate honor that UT gives, it highlights graduates who embody the Volunteer spirit through their commitment to service, outstanding leadership, and academic achievement.

“I was not expecting it. I had no idea they were coming in,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was great. I was going through so many emotions at the time.”

And as the initial shock wore off and she has had some time to reflect on the recognition, the daughter of Shah and Seema Khan considers it a humbling honor. Thinking about the previous Torchbearer recipients and the high bar they set, she looks at it as an opportunity to inspire future students as well.

“It’s more of a legacy than an award from the way I look at it,” she said of joining Hardin Valley Academy graduate Simon Jolly as the only Knoxville area students to be named Torchbearers this year. “I’m hoping to use the title to uplift students and encourage them to be the best they can be.”

UT Torchbearer Aruha Khan during a study abroad semester in Greece, 2019. (photo taken with self-timer)
UT Torchbearer Aruha Khan during a study abroad semester in Greece, 2019. (photo taken with self-timer)

Khan has been pushing for excellence for herself since her days at L&N, where she was the school’s salutatorian. Her family has lived in both Farragut and East Knoxville, but she wanted to have more of a STEM focus on the sciences and math and had heard a lot of good comments about L&N.

“I wanted to try something a little different,” she said. “I’m really thankful I went there.”

Knowing she likely wanted to follow a medical path at UT but also realizing how much the business side can become involved due to insurance costs and other factors, she has studied economics and finance along with the biological sciences.

Although she is still trying to figure out her career path, she hopes to have a medical practice that in some way helps aid lower-income residents, who might have access to primary care but not specialty care.

Her resume is already almost as detailed as that of someone who has been in the medical field for several decades. In fact, about the only thing not full in her life, she joked, has been sleep, which she has sacrificed to pursue her passions.

Her extracurricular activities at UT have also included leadership positions in the American Medical Student Association, the Honors Student Advisory Council, and the Alpha Epsilon Delta honor society. Outside school, she has also worked with the Shifa Medical Clinic and Remote Area Medical.

“I love staying busy and love having a bigger impact on the community,” she said.

She has also worked as a clinical researcher at Genesis Neuroscience Clinic in Dowell Springs with those with cognitive and dementia disorders. Rather than go straight into professional school, where she hopes to pursue both a medical degree and MBA, she plans to continue there as the lead medical assistant and researcher for a year.

She said minority populations are historically underrepresented in the research related to cognitive disorders, and she hopes to work to improve that.

But for now, this student who enjoys travel and photography in her spare time is simply going to cherish her years at UT, where she said her professors have been very friendly and supportive.

“UT has been great,” she said, admitting she was initially not sure she wanted to attend there. “I’ve had an opportunity to do so much.”

POWELL

Patti Bounds leaves school board after 8 years

Al Lesar, Shopper News

Experience gained in 25 years as a teacher carried Patti Bounds through two terms on the Knox County School Board.

When she walks away this summer after eight years, she’ll leave behind a legacy of caring and conviction.

“I made it a point to listen to everyone,” Bounds said. “My votes always had what was best for the teachers and students in mind.

“With all my decisions and my votes, I had to follow my heart. I believe in being true to the person you are.”

Bounds said her decision to step away from the public arena had roots in that philosophy.

“I’m someone who believes in term limits,” she said, though the school board has no term limits. “If I didn’t get out, I’d be a hypocrite.”

Tangible success

It can be hard to quantify the impact a school board representative might have on a district. In Bounds’ case, she started with a tangible measurement.

With a district that covers Powell and Halls and includes nine schools, Bounds has been seated while five of those schools experienced significant renovations. She was especially pleased with the improvements made on Adrian Burnett Elementary.

7th District board member Patti Bounds listens during a Board of Education meeting at the City-County Building in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, April 30, 2021. The board met to debate if the school system would require face masks for the upcoming school year to combat the spread of COVID-19.
7th District board member Patti Bounds listens during a Board of Education meeting at the City-County Building in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, April 30, 2021. The board met to debate if the school system would require face masks for the upcoming school year to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“Work on Adrian Burnett had been unfulfilled for 40 years,” she said. “It’s a school in a sweet, little community. I was thrilled they made the improvements and didn’t have to relocate “

Beyond the construction work, the challenge of education has been difficult throughout the pandemic. Before COVID struck, Bounds said she would regularly visit all her schools and immerse herself in whatever needed to be done – from reading to kindergarten classes to folding letters for envelopes. Restrictions kept the doors closed.

“We had some good initiatives in place that got put on hold by COVID,” she said. “The impact (the pandemic) had on student learning has been significant. The mental and emotional health of students is important. So many are fragile.”

Simple advice

Once she walks away, Bounds said she won’t miss the gazillion meetings and phone calls she has every day. It will make more time for her and her husband to spend with their 15 grandkids.

But there are some critical issues that will need attention by whichever of the three candidates for her position wins the election.

“The public is behind technical and career education,” she said. “I’d like to see (enhancing that program) go forward.

Time with her grandchildren will be a new priority for Patti Bounds.
Time with her grandchildren will be a new priority for Patti Bounds.

“This district continues to grow, but it’s getting harder and harder to find teachers. We’ve had a lot of veteran teachers leave. We lose a lot of institutional knowledge when they go.”

The advice she has for the person who fills her seat is simple.

“Be available, but stand firm on what you believe,” Bounds said. “Do what you feel is best for the children. There are a lot of voices coming at you.

“There’s no more passionate constituency than parents. The school board is the government agency that hears directly from them. We’re out in the public. We’re very visible.

One of Patti Bounds' favorite parts of being a school board member is being able to see students she taught in kindergarten graduate from high school. Here, she shares a moment with former students (from left) Andy Cofer, Emma Cummings and Beth Karns.
One of Patti Bounds' favorite parts of being a school board member is being able to see students she taught in kindergarten graduate from high school. Here, she shares a moment with former students (from left) Andy Cofer, Emma Cummings and Beth Karns.

“It’s important to be ready to help a parent one-on-one.”

Bounds will have one last opportunity to be on the stage at high school graduations in Powell and Halls and shake the hands of students she taught in kindergarten.

“I taught them as kindergarten babies,” she said. “Now, they’re going out into the world.”

OPINION

Facial cues reveal the truth

Leslie Snow, Shopper News

You can tell a lot from a person’s face.

You can read their expressions to catch a glimpse into their thoughts. You can tell by their eyes if they like you. You can tell by their smile if they think you’re funny. You can study the shape of their mouth to know if they’re angry or tense.

Some people try to mask their thoughts, but most of the time, I’m pretty good at reading facial expressions.

And that’s how I know that I’m weird.

Not frighteningly weird, not call the police weird, but odd nonetheless.

Twice this week, in the course of doing something that felt completely normal to me, I read the expressions of strangers and concluded that my behavior is outside the norm in ways I don’t always recognize in the moment.

Like the day I went to buy shampoo in one of those big-box beauty stores where there are hundreds of choices. Those stores can be overwhelming sometimes, so I thought I would ask a knowledgeable salesperson to steer me toward a fabulous shampoo that would make my hair infinitely more fabulous.

The nice sales lady with the perfectly coiffed hair asked what I want my shampoo to accomplish. And I responded, “I want it to clean my hair.”

That’s when I knew I had committed a faux pas. It was clear from her expression that my response was the equivalent of going to Tiffany’s and asking for cubic zirconia instead of diamonds.

“Yes, I understand that,” she said with a patient smile, “but what problem do you want it to solve?” It seemed like she was asking a lot from a simple bottle of shampoo, but I was willing to play along.

I wasn’t trying to be funny when I replied, “Well, I want my hair to be less dirty after I wash it.” When she looked confused, I added, “I don’t want it to be too flat or too puffy. I don’t want it to be frizzy or dry. I just want it to be clean.”

With her words she responded, “No one has ever asked me for shampoo that just cleans before.” But with her face she said, “I’ve got a weird one in aisle seven.”

Then there was the nice man I talked to on my afternoon walk. He asked why I didn’t have my Great Dane, Buttercup, with me and I said too much.

I should have replied “I already took her on a walk” and left it at that. But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “I saw a piece of driftwood that I liked and brought this backpack with me to retrieve it.”

And there I was reading his facial expressions and discovering that driftwood retrieval isn’t actually a thing. Or maybe the real problem was all the talk of driftwood retrieval combined with my rambling explanation of why I was carrying a backpack. It’s hard to be sure.

But what was crystal clear, from the way he cocked his head and screwed up his mouth, was that he thought I was peculiar. And that he’s never been a big fan of water-soaked wood or backpack conversations.

Being able to read facial expressions is a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to see a warm look that says, “I like you. We could be friends.”

But every once in a while, a face confirms something I prefer to ignore but have always known. I’m a little strange.

Oh well. As long as my hair is clean and my driftwood collection is growing, I’m OK with that.

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

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