The Sun Will Come Out…Smith County Playhouse presents debut musical “Annie” in March 2022

There’s a buzz and energy in Smith County as Smith County Playhouse (SCP) propels forward to bring back children’s theatre to the county with a planned musical to hit the stage of Smith County High School mid-March, 2022.

And, it appears the thirst for children’s theatre is alive and well as this children’s theatre organization fulfills its desire to teach students every aspect of theatre to help them be as well rounded as possible. The much- anticipated musical is “Annie” and is under the direction of JR Smith.

Smith said SCP is building on the success of those whom came before them and were passionate about theatre for all ages. This new organization is carrying on the tradition of Smith County High School’s after-school theatre program.

“Smith County High School has consistently had an active theatre program,” he said. “Our program could not thrive at the level it currently is without our past directors, including Marie Wiser, Connie Dyer, Bill Reece, and Dillon Reed.

It was Bill who really got the musical program going, and we owe a lot of what we’ll be doing to him. Many of our current volunteers either acted under or worked with Bill.”

And, it’s come full circle with this debut musical chosen by SCP. Smith took theatre from Reece at school and in the fourth grade played a role in “Annie”, directed by Reece in 2008. He was an apple seller in the homespun play. And,
something very special must have cemented at this young age because his wife played the role of Annie in this same play.

“Yes, I met my wife Allison while we were in the play together,” he said.
She was in fifth grade. Now, at age 23, Smith will direct “Annie” for SCP on the very stage he performed. It’s come full circle.

Smith now teaches Journalism and English at Smith County High School. He got the job after graduating Middle Tennessee State University. The school’s long-time theatre teacher is soon to retire and handed over her reins to Smith to take over the position.

Smith is the founder of SCP because he saw a real need to augment classes such as his theatre class, with true performance experience. “Putting together a large show such as Annie is so much better than solely book learning,” he said. “They really go hand in hand.”

He said Reece’s main focus was on acting and singing. “This is our goal, too,” Smith said. “However, we plan to build on this with having a main goal of our shows mostly being student-led with adult volunteers to oversee the students
in the various aspects of theatre.”

Smith chose “Annie” for their first musical based on the fun history of meeting his wife in the play. “But, also as we come out of the pandemic, this show is filled with hope and uplifting,” he explained. “We cannot go wrong with it.”

This first of SCP’s is supported by the Smith County School Board, as well as local businesses (Smith sold advertising), grants, and individuals. Already fundraising has garnered $23,000 so far. It allowed them to purchase two projectors and the system that works them, among other things to progress the play.

Auditions for this musical took place Nov. 15-17 in the Smith County High School. “We’re looking to have students represented from each school and homeschool community in the county,” said Smith.

The musical welcomed any student 2nd-12th grade in Smith County to fill both actors’ and backstage roles. As of mid-November, they already had students helping in set construction and soon will have students helping with costuming, painting, hair and makeup, sound and light design, and of course, on-stage acting.

Smith explained many of the students in Smith County have never crossed the county line. “In fact, of students I’ve talked to, many couldn’t describe what a musical was,” Smith said. “This is the only outlet a lot of our students have to explore their interest in theatre, whether it be acting, singing, dancing, or anything off-stage.

Aside from church plays, it is the only opportunity for children’s theatre in Smith County. When I’ve visited schools in preparation for the show, I’ve had so many students who have expressed interest in what we’re doing.”
So many kids want to be in front of and behind the stage, but didn’t know how to further that interest.

“By supporting our students, you will help grow their confidence and encourage their dreams,” said Smith. “You’ll also help develop their skill set-we can’t give students the latest technology without the funding to do so. Our
construction students are developing interpersonal communication skills. They are developing leadership skills. We are providing students with skills any future employer would be pleased with. Our students are passionate, and
every one of them-be it our performance students or those who prefer backstage-are ready to give it all they’ve got come March 2022.”

“Annie,” the musical, will be March 11-20, 2022 in the Smith County High School auditorium. It will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s in this time period. Friday and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. for a total of
six shows. Go to Smith County Playhouse on Facebook for the latest ticketing information.

How sweet it is! Heavenly Bites by Cora.

Cora Wyatt’s cases at Heavenly Bites by Cora in Lebanon are full to the brim with the most decadent, delicious, and down-right good goodies nearly every day of the week.

Wyatt’s second act involves cupcakes, cake pops, pies, cheesecakes, pretzel sticks, dozens of different kinds of dipped caramel apples, and cakes upon cakes. And much more.

A surgical nurse for 25 years (20 years in Cookeville) she got a real wild hair and moved herself alone to Lebanon and opened Heavenly Bites by Cora on Highway 109 North on July 6, 2019.

“I transferred for a job in Lebanon at what was then Tennova,” she said.

She moved to Lebanon in 2014 and was still a nurse there several years.

But, the fun and secret side of Wyatt was she is a fantastic baker.

“I made pumpkin rolls for children on the side as an emergency call nurse,” she recalled. “I was up all day waiting for the call and just decided to start baking.”

She gave away her scrumptious, secret recipe pumpkin rolls to co-workers and a buzz began.

“People told me I ought to sell them,” she said.

She sold pumpkin rolls out of her Spence Creek neighborhood for several years. It was her Grandma’s family recipe.

Her baking business morphed so much her fiancé, Tim Porter, bought her a place on 109 so she could bake with a business license. She concocted her confections in the back of the place.

In Oct. 2018 Porter built out the space to include an eventual storefront.

“Tim supported me the whole time,” said Wyatt, 52.

At first, Wyatt did all the baking herself because she’s persnickety about her recipes. Porter bakes as well. On a single day, they have 14 different varieties of fresh-made cupcakes from scratch and in the oven at 6 a.m. These aren’t your ordinary varieties though. Each are filled with deliciousness. Kids, and grownups as well, can pick out from four to six different types of cake pops. The ones at the local coffee shop pale in size and taste. There’s Keto, large and small pies, cookies, pretzel sticks and her dipped caramel apples go beyond plain caramel, but are dunked in triple chocolate and rolled in nuts.

“There are too many varieties to list,” Wyatt laughed.

Tim has joined her full time. Out of this world scones are behind her case, as well as cinnamon rolls the likes of blueberry and more.

“All my goodies are family recipes,” said Wyatt. “All tested and tried. Our cupcakes are gourmet with filling in them. Think hot fudge, cherries, Reese’s Pieces. They are twice the size of regular cupcakes.”

She said her delights are affordable.

“I want families to come back again and again,” Wyatt said.

Each day customers will find homemade cakes in about three varieties. And, she bakes special orders every day.

Customers eat up about 250 cake pops a week, German chocolate is the fav flavor for her cupcakes, and the strawberry shortcakes are requested on an hourly basis.

Pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate fudge pies are equally loved, as well as her blueberry crisp pie.

Now a bit of time into this  fun foray into the baking world, Wyatt has expanded to Cookeville.

“People were driving to Lebanon to get my desserts,” she said. “We opened the Cookeville store Jan. 9 as a storefront.”

Today both cupcake businesses are flourishing. Despite the pandemic. These days she has some help. Though she’s super woman, she can only bake so many cupcakes herself.

“Now I have four employees at my Lebanon store and two at my Cookeville store,” said Wyatt.

She pops up at both stores on a daily basis, and, still bakes.

Recently, there were about 29 different selections of delectables in her case on one day.

“In 2014, I came here alone and I learned to save,” she said. “Now I have a whole new career.”

Her decades in nursing gifted her with stamina and drive.

“I am my own boss now,” she said, smiling ear to ear.

She and Tim bought a houseboat recently on Center Hill Lake. They put the finishing touches on it and moved in mid-July.

And, this cupcake couple tied the knot in August. It was a destination wedding, just the two of them, in Hawaii.

“We can put our money into our bakeries!”

We bet they toasted the union with a cupcake!

‘Dr. Mike’ happy with ‘new normal’ eight years after stroke

After a surreal journey the past eight years, Mike Harris believes laughter is the best medicine.

Known as “Dr. Mike” of Mt. Juliet Animal Care Center by legions of friends, family and clients, this loved local vet asks Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa to tell him a joke every morning to start off his day.

“She makes sure I laugh every day,” Mike said while at his home in Gladeville.

What happened to Mike, 67, on Sept. 11, 2013 was the furthest thing from a joke imaginable.

A few hours after a routine sinus surgery, Mike suffered an Ischemic stroke while recuperating at home. That type of stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked. Within minutes, the veterinarian’s 35-year fulltime career came to a screeching halt and he began a fight; first to live, and then to battle back to regain full speech, the use of his legs and some mobility.

His wife, Denise, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months previously and was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.

“The neurologist came to me and said Mike’s right side of the brain was devastated and the left side had irregularities,” she said.

Their daughter, Haley, was 12 at the time. They had a son, Drew. Denise said that day changed their lives and she put her cancer in the backseat.

“I was so caught up in keeping him alive I went into emergency mode the whole time,” she said. “Of course, I’d come back to the question of ‘why?’ He is such a good man. It’s devastating to watch your husband struggle.”

Brain surgery led to 30 days in the ICU and 120 days in the hospital. Then years of therapy. Both Mike and Denise fought off COVID-19 last June.

For years, clients and locals asked about Dr. Mike and how he was doing. If he was able to talk and walk? How is he recovering? The community missed Dr. Mike and he was rarely seen.

Life before the stroke

Mike was the first generation of his family who was not born in the log cabin on the family farm in Gladeville. Today he and Denise live in Gladeville, off Leeville Road. Haley is in college and Drew is in California in the music industry.

It was only logical Mike became a vet. He grew up on the farm where his father and grandfather ran a dairy. They then used it for beef cattle. Mike and his brother still run cattle today.

Following graduation from Auburn University’s veterinary school in 1978, he joined a vet practice in Austin, Texas. He came back home in 1982 and after a stint at Hermitage Animal Hospital, he opened his own practice on N. Mt. Juliet Road (Billy Goat Café now occupies that space).

In 1986, he built his animal care facility. He expanded three times before he sold the vet business to VCA in 2010 to spend more time with his family. He had been working 80-hour weeks for years. He had built the practice up to 15,000 clients, five other vets and 65 employees. At one point, it was not uncommon for him to treat 100 pets a day.

His deal was he could work there three years more to help with the transition. His clients begged him to stay.

He didn’t quite make it to finish that third year because of the stroke.

Journey back to ‘new normal’

When he woke from the brain surgery, he could barely speak, could not sit up and had no use of his left arm, and the other limbs were iffy.

“It was so frustrating, I was so scared but I had hope to get better,” Mike said. “As long as I could speak, I had to fight. I had my 12-year-old daughter, son and my wife.”

Denise said they were lucky enough to privately pay for his therapy and is taken aback when she thinks of those who can’t. Haley started a nonprofit called Healing Heads that raises money for those with brain injuries.

“After dealing with the fear and anxiety that comes with cancer, I was pretty emotionally numb when Mike had his stroke,” Denise said quietly. “It was simply a matter of survival at that point. In addition, there was so much support from our families and tons of support from his clients, friends, church family and the community in general.”

Mike said his lowest point was at first when he thought there was no hope to get better. He said his highest point was when after years of therapy he knew he could live a “semi-normal” life.

He hated therapy. He said therapists were strict.

Life’s new normal

One doctor told Denise that Mike would most likely never stand.

He can. He can walk with a cane short distances and uses a motorized chair around the house. He has no use of his left arm.  Mike’s mind is as sharp as ever and he remembers every surgical detail. Sometimes former clients call him for advice.

“One client who lives in Florida now called me at 1 a.m. and said her little Yorkie (a former patient) was having seizures,” said Mike. “She couldn’t get a vet at that time. I knew the sugar levels were low and causing the seizures and told her to give a teaspoon of white corn syrup. The seizures stopped within 30 minutes.”

Recently he talked a former client through the delivery of a goat.

He doesn’t want to go into part-time practice, though he has kept up his vet license. He also signs health certificate licenses for the FFA and 4H.

“I realize my limitations,” he said.

Checkers and Scrabble are his favorites. Chess?

Until recently he thought Chess was just too slow. But recently, he began to play.

Denise said he and a friend can play up to 13 rounds of checkers in one sitting. She plays Scrabble with her husband a couple times a day. She said he’s remarkable at it considering his vision in one eye is compromised.

Progress continues every day. Mike said he’s done with formal therapy and good with where he’s at now. Denise said Mike has never been a bad patient.

Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats later and eight years of fight, the retired vet has found peace with a simpler life.

“I’m a 67-year-old man,” he said. “I am now at my happy place.”


Ophthalmologist Eyes the Future

When Dr. Bill Schenk was in college his two best friends were blind. One from a congenital disease and the other from an accident.

Looking back now after 39 years as an ophthalmologist, Schenk reflects and said these two friends, plus a job that got him through college related to helping the blind, were the impetus to choosing a path in this field.

Schenk is an ophthalmology specialist in Lebanon and after nearly four decades in practice, retired July 1 of this year. “It’s been great and I have no regrets on my decision to retire,” he said.

He lives just three blocks from Vanderbilt Eye Institute where he leaves in “good hands” a practice he’s built for so many years. His long-time practice, Lebanon Eye Associates, merged with Vanderbilt in 2011, he said.

Schenk is married to Linda, who works with the Wilson County teen court. They have three grown children; Lindsey, 37, Allie, 35 and Collin 31.

Schenk was born in Houston, Texas, and lived there until age 10. He then moved to Kansas for four years and went to high school, college, and medical school in Nebraska. He graduated with honors from the University College of Medicine in 1981.

“When I was in college I worked fulltime and went to night school,” he explained.
His job was at The Library for the Blind, which services the visually impaired.
“One half of them were blind,” Schenk said.

He said during this part of his life journey two of his closest friends were blind.
It was at this time he formulated his career path. “I became empathetic from knowing them and their perspectives,” he recalled. “It was from then on I wanted to improve sight and restore the blind.”

He was in his early 20s when he had this life-altering revelation. Part of his job was going to the University of Nebraska (right next door) where he recorded volunteer readers so those without sight could enjoy books.

“At first it was reel to reel,” he said thinking back. Then it went to cassettes, CDs, and now volunteer reading and audiobooks are online.

One of his best friends was born blind and the other was 16 and in an auto accident with four others where he thought the car was going to plunge down an embankment from an overcorrection. He jumped out before the car was corrected and it was he who made the fall, hit his head and lost his sight.

One of the friends was an athlete and Schenk remembers they worked out together and jogged in tandem through the park, connected and directing with a bandana.

Schenk and Linda met during a snowstorm. “We were at a racquetball court and my friend couldn’t show up and Bill and I started talking,” Linda said. “He asked me out on a date.”

The romantic first connection during a snowstorm solidified to years of marriage.

Schenk’s first practice was his own on Park Ave. in 1985, in Lebanon.
“I had two employees, someone who worked in classifieds and saw my want ad, and, my brother who we trained,” he said.

After three years they were so busy he got a partner and moved to his second location, also in Lebanon, at 1616 West Main. He eventually worked with several other ophthalmologists, and optometrists, and was the first practice in Tennessee that offered both optometry services and ophthalmology services.

In 1998 Schenk built Lebanon Eye Associates and by 2005 had 10 eye doctors and 70 employees. He merged with Vanderbilt Eye Institute in 2011 and the rest is history. “I enjoyed working with Vanderbilt for nine years,” he

Additionally, this practical entrepreneur doctor continues ownership of the building he built that also has Wilson County Eye Surgery Center he implemented. This continued ownership will augment retirement funds, he noted.

Schenk turned 67 in September and said he decided to retire about a year ago. He held off retirement long enough to feel confident he would leave highly trained providers in his absence. Dr. Jessica Mather is essential in this sense of ease and in July he felt it was time to “pass the torch.”

Their long-desired plans for retirement (Linda still works with Christmas For All and Wilson County teen court) was to find a place to retreat for their beloved sports of windsurfing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, and snorkeling. It’s in the Caribbean, and part of the Netherlands called Bonaire Island.

“We visited there some times and it’s the best place to windsurf with consistent high winds,” Schenk noted. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on these plans because of mandates.

So now, the couple bike, kayak, and paddleboard. Schenk works out two to three hours a day. He said he got his love of water activities as a child because his father ran a YMCA camp and he spent his summers there, and also in
California enjoying the ocean. This couple said they will continue their
travels and plan to soon white water raft in Maryland because it’s safe to drive there.

Through his long practice, Schenk estimates he’s conducted about 25,000
cataract and glaucoma surgeries, and about 10,000 laser surgeries. He’s treated tens of thousands of patients. When he first started, it took about an hour and a half to conduct cataract surgery and today it’s about 10 minutes.

And while those many surgeries and helping those with sight problems have
come full circle from his decision to carve a successful career dealing with the eyes, he said it’s been a fun path to travel and now he can slow down a bit and pursue a new kind of fun – enjoying his family and nature. The couple has already conquered places like remote islands, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Seattle, among so many other places. No doubt, they have made a long
list of upcoming explorations during retirement.

Toppled trees ‘turned’ into heirlooms

Jennifer Rowland Sheppard’s mom, Sue, started dating Jennifer’s dad in 1968. That courtship lasted 10 years before marriage.

He loved farming and he ran cattle,” Sue said from her daughter’s home in Timber Ridge during quarantine. “There was a beautiful, big Oak tree there and we would meet under the tree before we were married.”

  • From fallen tree to custom wood bowl, Bruce turns loss into artwork with help from his lathe

When it was lunchtime, she’d take her future husband, Albert, lunch to the massive tree that graced the family farm on Tuckers Gap Road in Lebanon.

“We’d sit under the tree on the truck tailgate and eat lunch,” she remembers.

Albert passed, 10 years ago, this October. Majestic in size and form, through the decades it was known as “the tree.”

“After we married, it was the meeting place,” Sue said. “He would call and ask what I had for lunch and say, ‘meet me at the tree.’”

Everyone knew which tree it was. The mighty Oak commanded the respect it de-served, smack dab in a big hayfield.

“It was a gorgeous tree,” recalls Sue.

“Beautiful and humongous. After the grands came along, it was their meeting place as well.”

Sue reckons the tree must be 100 years old, or more. Through the seasons, this family had picnics, get-togethers, sunny day siestas and more under the tree that sidles up to a narrow gravel road that goes deep into the farm.

Jennifer got engaged to husband Micah under this tree. Their daughter, Maggie Grace, turned 2 April 11.

For over a century, this tree stood tall and took many hits when storms were restless, and winds were high. Its roots were deep, and they held strong.

The March 3, EF-3 tornado’s winds upwards of 136 miles per hour were simply too much for this aged and mighty Oak. Her roots let go and she toppled to the ground in what was likely a graceful and dignified bow.

The original family farmhouse, built in the late 1880’s, also took a huge hit from the ferocious winds. The ceilings caved in, as did the ancient chicken coop, outhouse, and smokehouse. It is futile to repair the house, but they will salvage the large logs, for keepsakes. A barn was demolished.

But it’s the Oak tree still laying in the field that puts collective daggers in the hearts of this family. The uprooted tree’s naked roots are exposed and reach as high as a tall man.

Jennifer was determined to somehow capture the tree’s integrity and memories. She heard about a Mt. Juliet woodworker, Bruce Humphrey, who makes boxes and bowls out of family trees that are down. When the March 3 tornado blew down stately, timeworn, family mascot trees across our region he reached out to families to say he could do something “small” for them. For these families, this gesture and token of empathy is not “small” but huge.

“It’s the least I can do,” he said from his workshop on Benders Ferry Road. “They are beautiful, a memento, some-thing of beauty that will last a lifetime or more.”

He thought the process of being gifted with a bowl made from the wood of a once living family favorite would “ease the process” for them.” It’s the overall process that runs deeper than an old tree’s roots but encompasses a gamut of feelings.

And, they are gifts from him.

“When it comes down to it,” said Bruce. “If no bowls are made by me, these ancient trees would be no more than fire-wood. I can’t let that happen.”

Bruce likes to go out to the downed trees to choose the best piece of wood to work with. In addition to Jennifer’s gorgeous bowl made of Oak [one of the trickier woods to hone], Bruce has crafted different sized bowls from Walnut, Maple, Cherry, and other types of wood. All are one of a kind, with different gradations of colors and veining.

He shared a picture of his very first turned bowl.

“At that time, I thought it was pretty great,” he said.

“Looking at this picture, the walls are too thick.”

Turning wood is a rather new hobby for Bruce. He works full time. Several years ago, after work, he found himself “falling down in front of the TV and so bored.”

“I went to the University of YouTube,” he said with a laugh. “I was too stupid to be scared of losing fingers.”

He thinks that first bowl ended up the burn pile. If he didn’t burn some, his workshop and home would be inundated with the beautiful pieces.

“I look back at them as from my ‘youth period,’” he said.  Many of the bowls are literal works of art, and, some can be used for decoration and even fruit bowls. These recent, heartfelt pieces of wood gifted to grateful tornado victims are some of his favorites. He also sells bowls made from treasured trees that have finished their time on earth to non-tornado victims.

The Rowlands recently received a memorial bowl from Bruce to help them remember the mighty Oak that was their meeting place for generations.

The bowl’s home is at Jennifer’s right now. Her mom dreamed of a rocking chair made from her favorite tree, so she can sit in it and remember. The bowl is the perfect piece and now an irreplaceable family heirloom.

Sue always said no matter what, this Oak would be pre-served and never taken down by man. She said only if the hand of God took it down, could she live with it.

“And, it was an act of God,” she said. “The bowl is absolutely beautiful. My new grandbaby never got to meet Pa Albert, but she has this bowl that represents many of his memories. It gives us comfort.”

This grandma said she’s yet to go down and see the toppled tree.

“Too many memories,” she said. “I’ve not been able to go back there. I have not done it yet. It’ll break my heart.”

To see Bruce’s works, go to or on Facebook.


Kristy Oakley has painted her magic in Mt. Juliet. To say her fingerprints – brush strokes – crisscross Wilson County is a mammoth understatement.

Though just 5’2” tall, she sure paints big. Her broad strokes are enormous, but she manages to get in exquisite detail.
A well-known muralist, with signature murals in Donelson, Nashville, the YMCA, and some other places, Kristy, 49, took her large strokes to Mt. Juliet last June on Jennifer Osborne’s office building near City Hall.

Continue reading “MAKING BLANK WALLS TALK”

Christmas All Year in Mt Juliet

A long-kept secret was finally revealed late summer when Judd Sellars announced Christmas Place was to be constructed on three acres in the planned Sellars Station development on North Mt Juliet Road.

At the groundbreaking, Santa Claus made his grand entrance with a “ho ho ho” atop a Mt. Juliet fire engine with nearly 100 well-wishers there to welcome Christmas Place owners Toby and Karen Barnes, along with co-owners daughter, Kristin, and son-in-law, Mark Jackson.
Projected opening is summer 2020, just in time to lead into the holiday season.

It’s a $3 million investment that will make Mt. Juliet a destination place and sister store to the south’s largest Christmas store, The Incredible Christmas Place, owned by the same family, already open at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

“We are so honored to be here in Mt. Juliet,” Barnes said at the groundbreaking. “We feel so lucky to be embraced and now Mt. Juliet and all around here can celebrate Christmas 365 days a year.”
Barnes is semi-retired now and Kristen is CEO of the company. And while this 12,000-square-foot centerpiece will highlight Mt. Juliet for years to come, the original The Incredible Christmas Place had 12 million visitors in just one week this past summer.
“They came to us,” said Sellars. “It was between Mt. Juliet and Brentwood. I know Mt. Juliet will embrace the Christmas theme and we are so family-oriented. They saw my Sellars Park (built in 2014) development and loved the old-world-looking brick. They want to replicate that for their store.”
The site plan calls for five lanes for tourist buses and about 65 parking places.

Kristen said part of the footprint will be a four-story bell tower that can play holiday music year-round.
Actual work on the project began in November.
“The project is going fantastic,” Kristen told Wilson Living. “We are finalizing all the plans and should begin construction in the next couple of weeks. We are so excited to see the ground move.”
Kristen said they are in full swing of this Christmas season in Pigeon Forge.
“We have already begun buying, planning and constructing displays for the new store,” she added. “We have an amazing product selection and themes planned and cannot wait to unveil it next year.”
Spokesperson for the Christmas Place, Chad Nether-land, told Wilson Living the store planned for Mt. Juliet will be a smaller version than the massive store in Pigeon Forge (at 40,000 square feet and in its 34th year).
“But in itself, it [Mt. Juliet store] will be a regional draw as well,” he said. “It’s such a cute town and a great paring withdraws from Metro Nashville and way be-yond.”
Netherland said it’s so important to note the two Christmas stores are family owned and operated.
“Mt. Juliet is near and dear to their hearts,” he noted.
“This Mt. Juliet store may not have as much as the one in Pigeon Forge, but it will still have the same variety of Christmas trees, ornaments and all things Christmas from head to toe. All the best of the best. One hundred percent Christmas.”
And while they will include seasonal nods, the focus is the merriment of the Christmas season.
What’s unique to the Christmas Place is they have design teams on hand to customize wreaths, garlands and anything one can imagine. And they ship everywhere.
“I guess the takeaway is that everyone loves Christ-mas and our store is not like your typical home-goods type store,” Netherland said. “It’s unique and is an ‘experience’ and people wander through and pick up great themes and ideas to replicate at their homes. We create one of a kind displays and rooms and layouts.”
To say it’s elaborate would be an understatement. The bell tower at Pigeon Forge and planned for Mt. Juliet’s store, is designed after a German village.
“We will bring a little of that to Mt. Juliet,” said Netherland.
Additionally, there are future projects for Mt. Juliet, Sellars revealed.
In Pigeon Forge, there’s an Inn at Christmas Place. And, more land is acquired by Sellars, so you never know! Other endeavors are in the works.

AR Workshop

A Mt. Juliet mother-daughter duo have joined forces to give all of us a chance to get our DIY juices flowing. To say it was a God thing puts it mildly. Both very spiritually minded, it was only natural mom Tina Pressley and daughter Haley Jones put their heads together – to be together – in a joint business venture.

They have recently opened an oasis for wanna be…gonna be…do-it-your selfers who just want to create original one-of-a-kind projects in a Zen environment with no pressures and tons of tools to simply create.

Right in the heart of Mt. Juliet.

Haley searched and applied for this franchise and got an automatic yes, said Tina.

They opened AR Workshop on March 16.

Think DIY art studio meshed with a very cool boutique. It’s the best of both worlds for those who want a wonderful escape to create fun gifts, special signs, and, while there, peruse a boutique full of enchanting items.

“God opened the door for us,” said mom Tina. “We wanted to work together and people have been gracious and supportive.”

“It has always been a dream of ours to work together, but we really had no idea what that might look like,” Tina said. “We had discussed every kind of business we could think of from real estate to clothing boutiques but something kept taking us back to the concept of a DIY-type business in general, but specifically AR Workshop. As longtime Wilson County residents, we were well aware of the need for some type of entertainment that would appeal to a broad age range and interests.”

They are the perfect pair, this mom and daughter. Haley is a 2014 graduate of Mt. Juliet Christian Academy and Cumberland University, where she received her master’s degree in business administration last year.

Tina is a longtime Wilson County resident and has worked as development director for Mt. Juliet Christian Academy for 15 years. She will step down from this job to focus full time on AR Workshop.

Tina’s dad, and Haley’s papa, Ken Stilts, was a much-revered businessman in Mt. Juliet and was Tina’s mentor. “This business was right up our alley,” said Tina.

She laughs out loud to say she’s not the craftiest person in the world. And, perhaps worse! Whereas her daughter is on point. They mesh their attributes to make the business run right. And, since they opened, it’s been a huge hit in Mt. Juliet with ongoing classes, workshops, and projects non-stop for people who just want to DIY.

“This makes me feel like I can do crafts,” Tina said with a laugh. They are 23 years and 53 years. “I see myself in her,” said mom. “It’s about patience and grace,” Tina said she’s the idea person and her daughter implements. “Haley is the nuts and bolts of this business,” she said.

The 1,350-square foot oasis is ready for anyone who wants to create.

“We are more than just signs, which are awesome,” said Tina.

There are also wood projects, chunky knit blankets, and specialty classes, with literally thousands of projects to create.

“I don’t think many people get to say they are business partners with their mom, but I am one of the few who can!” said Haley.

“Mom has always been my very best friend so it only made sense that we would start a business together. She is incredibly talented in all that she does and extremely giving, loving and a whole lot of fun! Working next to my mom is very rewarding and has given me a front row seat to see how amazing she really is as a mom, a person and now a business owner. I am extremely proud to work next to her every single day and although very hard work, there is no one else I’d rather be on this journey with!”

“We have never looked back, there is an internal peace for both of us,” said Tina.

AR Workshop works in four steps. First, participants choose a class based on the project they would like to make and then the day and time they’d like to attend. Second, participants book a seat at the workshop, choose their project, design and give them design-specific personalization. Groups or individuals can book workshops. Third, participants show up for the workshop, where the tools, materials and step-by-step instructions are provided. Finally, participants take home their finished projects.

“We look forward to offering something fun for all ages and interests, including those who do not really consider themselves the DIYer,” Haley said. “Anyone who knows Tina knows she is not exactly the most creative person, and she completes the projects with great ease all while having fun. This is a place for all groups, ages, men and women, those who do not know anything about DIY and the most experienced crafter. Along with our wonderful workshops of wood projects, chunky knit blankets, and specialty classes, we also offer retail for gifts, home decor, jewelry and more.”

Check it out at 1984 Providence Parkway, Mt Juliet, TN 37122 (615) 212-5676

River City Ball 2019

On a night like no other in Smith County, River City Ball hosted their second annual event on Saturday, May 11.

This second fundraiser raised money for worthy causes with the extra bonus of a great night out with friends in the beautiful venue of Main Street in Carthage, under the stars on the lawn of one of the most historic courthouses in Tennessee.

River City Ball planning committee member Erika Ebel said the non-profit organization was inspired by the famous Phoenix Ball in Lebanon.

“We wanted something similar for Smith County,” she said. “We wanted to raise money for causes and have it be fun and classy. Our original idea was to have the ball on the bridge, but our courthouse is a gorgeous backdrop and one of the originals in Tennessee.”

This year’s event was black-tie and for ages 21 and up.
“Attendees were encouraged to wear a masquerade-ball-type mask,” said Ebel. She explained the River City Ball began last year with proceeds benefiting a special cause and local scholarships to seniors at each of the county’s high schools.

“Last year a portion of the proceeds benefited the Carthage Junction Depot restoration project,” said Ebel.

This year a portion of the proceeds will benefit Smith County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and county high schools.

“There are a lot of needs in Smith County,” said Ebel. “There are a lot of worthy causes, different causes.”

The board chose CASA because of the great need in the county and how much good the organization does for local children, explained Ebel. “We like to find organizations that do good and this recognition and donation will be a good vehicle for CASA, as well as raise awareness for what they do,” she noted.

On the night of the Ball, the historic court-house lawn and Main Street were transformed with a Phantom of the Opera type vibe. The big beautiful trees on the lawn were the backdrop for tents, a dance floor, lighting.

Guests walked a carpet and the band Naughahydes provided a mix of rock and bluesy music. There were silent as well as live auctions to keep the entertainment going all night.

The event was designed for guests to explore and move around the venue with a photographer on site for candids and vignettes where people posed throughout the evening.

Two Fat Men catered the linen table cloth dinner with dessert showcased with delicious strawberries donated by Catesa Farms. Think cheesecake and strawberry brus-chetta. Many sponsors including Citizens Bank supported the event and their cause.

The night was a marvelous success in the hopes of helping CASA in Smith County continue with their good works. And we can’t wait until next year!