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Appalfolks of America Celebrates 33 Years of Community Service!

Appalfolks of America Association (AAA), will celebrate 33 years of community service on Dec. 12, 2018. AAA is a non-profit organization based in Clifton Forge and founded by M. Ray Allen in 1985,

Over the years, Appalfolks has built its stellar reputation by helping Appalachian youth via its outreach programs, and in 2006, the University of Tennessee’s Press published Encyclopedia of Appalachia that recognizes the good work with Appalachian youth that Allen and Appalfolks have accomplished. Under the “Literature Section” on page 1084, the reader will find, “M. Ray Allen, a poet and Appalachian activist from Clifton Forge, Virginia, is a native of Martin, Kentucky, whose writing and teaching career led him to help Appalachian youth through literacy and the performing arts.”  The editors, Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell, continued, “A high school teacher since 1963, Allen is best known for his work as founding director of Appalfolks of America, a non-profit corporation that promotes drug-free living through its writing and performance programs.” In conclusion, the editors rendered, “Appalfolks owns and operates the historic Stonewall Theatre in Clifton Forge as a performance center for Appalachian youth.  Allen’s poems are widely published in literary arts magazines across the United States and in four book-length volumes.”

Allen, who continues to serve as president of Appalfolks, has completed a 41-year career as an educator.  He holds an MFA degree in Theater Arts from UCLA and his MA degree in secondary education from Morehead State University where he also earned his A.B. degree with a double major, English, and physical education.  During his career in education, he taught 11 subjects and served as head coach in five sports while teaching in Kentucky, Michigan, California and Virginia.  In 1991, he was inducted as the 80th member of the Morehead State University Alumni Hall of Fame for his literary achievements, work with Appalfolks and career as an educator.m“ Before the time the Encyclopedia of Appalachia was published,” Allen noted, “I had recommended to our board of directors that Appalfolks donate the theatre to the Town of Clifton Forge, something Appalfolks did in 2003 in exchange for a contract to continue having Appalfolks’ headquarters in the theatre while serving as a producer and presenter during the future of the theatre.”

Appalfolks raised the $5,600 for the historical appraisal of the theatre in 1991, and John Wayne Anderson, president of R-C Theatres in Reisterstown, Maryland, presented the keys to the theatre to Allen with WSLS Channel 10’s Star Link TV filming the presentation inside the theatre. The theatre had been appraised at $125,000, and Anderson presented the keys to the entire facility to Allen on behalf of Irwin R. Cohen, the owner who had changed the name from Masonic Theatre to the Stonewall Theatre in 1968, to honor General Stonewall Jackson.

Appalfolks formed the “Save the Stonewall Committee,” in 1992 and more than 100 volunteers were recruited to help restore the theatre from a twin-cinema to a performing arts facility that eventually featured a professional dance studio on the top floor and a fully functional stage with counterweight system for changing the scenery.  The balcony and auditorium seating accommodated 520, and the fully-air-conditioned theatre was remodeled to render the facility ADA compliant.  More than $200,000 worth of restoration improvements were made by Appalfolks, $25,000 to render the bathrooms ADA compliant.

A radio-a-thon was held, and $2,200 was raised to hire the Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center to conduct a study of the theatre in order to form a restoration plan that would respect the integrity of the historic features of the facility.  The elevator in the theatre today was placed in the exact location that the study recommended.   Appalfolks cooperated with the town by passing the study along to the Town of Clifton Forge’s choice to spearhead the restoration, the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation with the late John E. Hillert serving as its president.  The foundation continues to lease the facility from the town.

Allen recalled, “Thanks to a $130,000 matching grant from The Allegany Foundation that required Appalfolks to raise $39,000, Appalfolks and its many volunteers were able to restore the theatre to a performing arts facility that drew patrons to its programs from Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama.  The tour bus from Alabama brought 35 country music fans to our Virginia Opry that received a standing ovation.”

Prior to owning and operating the Historic Stonewall Theatre, Appalfolks earned a solid reputation in Southern Appalachia for accomplishing good work in the literary arts by conducting writers workshops that drew high school and college students to receive free instruction from professional writers, including the late Dr. Jim Wayne Miller, Denise Giardina, Judy Light Ayyildiz, Dr. Parks Lanier, Jr., the late Albert Stewart, the late Dr. Jack Justin Turner, Dr. Bob Henry Baber, and S. T. Allen.

Students from several school systems in Eastern Kentucky were bused in to attend Appalfolks’ Appalachian Writers’ workshops at Jenny Wiley State Park as part of the Kentucky Highlands Folk Festival.   Later on Appalfolks conducted writers’ workshops for students at Douthat State Park as part of Apple Day, an Appalachian celebration.

Appalfolks also owns and operates Mountain Empire Publications (MEP) that launched “The Appalachian Poetry Series” in 2013.  MEP has published three books of poetry in the series.

Additionally, Appalfolks founded the Alleghany Highlands Writers Workshop held by-monthly in conjunction with the Clifton Forge Public Library.   The workshop has served more than 50 writers over the years, and many guest authors have provided instruction, including the late Bob Campbell, Dr. Parks Lanier, Jr. and Judy Light Ayyildiz.

Students from as far away as Harrisonburg, VA were bused in to the Historic Stonewall Theatre to attend drama productions by such art presenters as Lime Kiln Arts, Theatre IV, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet.  Allen recalled, “Appalfolks paid Lime Kiln Arts $6,000 to present Stonewall Country, a musical written by composers: Don Baker, Robin Williams and Linda Williams, and students from area high schools were bused in on General Stonewall Jackson’s birthday to experience the production that dealt with the War Between the States in general and General Stonewall Jackson’s involvement in particular.”

Appalfolks conducted a creative writing program at Augusta Correctional Center prior to receiving the Historic Stonewall Theatre.  Also, the non-profit corporation organized and held The Mountain Heritage Festival at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College that drew thousands of festival attendees for two years.  The festival featured Appalfolks’ writers’ workshops, arts and crafts, musical programs, a Civil War encampment, a wagon trail from Millboro, sporting events such as tennis tournaments, Little League pitching clinic conducted by Al Worthington, and various vendors.

Allen remembered, “The banjo picking contest in the Moomaw Center drew a standing-room-only crowd, and Appalfolks awarded legendary Tex McGuire of the Del Rio Cowboys a lifetime achievement award for his contributions in the field of country music.”

Appalfolks formed an arts/education partnership with Lime Kiln Arts, and dozens of Lime Kiln Arts’ productions were booked by Appalfolks at elementary schools such as Sharon, Boiling Spring, Falling Springs, and Callaghan.  Also, Appalfolks booked numerous drama productions in at Alleghany High School, ones from Theatre IV and Lime Kiln Arts.  Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters appeared on stage in Hodnett Hall at Alleghany High School as an Appalfolks presentation.

The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce recruited Allen to write a play concerning Mad Ann Bailey as part of the “Celebration of the 250 Anniversary of the Alleghany Highlands.”  The two-act-drama Allen wrote is entitled The Life and Times of Mad Ann Bailey, and it was performed twice in the Historic Stonewall Theatre and once at Alleghany High School by Appalfolks’ Clifton Forge Players.  Allen also directed the play that featured Dick Magnifico, the Clifton Forge Town Manager, as one of the Indians.  The play received a favorable review in the Lexington Gazette.

Prior to Appalfolks’ receiving the Historic Stonewall Theatre, Appalfolks teamed with Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) to form the first literacy organization in the Alleghany Highlands, and the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors designated Appalfolks and TAP as the official literacy organizations for the Alleghany Highlands.  Allen remarked, “I recall setting up one room in the Historic Stonewall Theatre as a literacy center where I instructed a gentleman in his 60’s to read although he could only identify ten words when we started.” The student progressed by developing his reading ability to test on a third-grade level before he purchased a reading device that helped him continue to develop his reading skills.

Appalfolks helped TAP secure a $29,000 grant for its GED program, held a fund-raiser at the theatre for the Alleghany Highlands Literacy Program, planned and conducted a literacy dollar campaign that raised needed funds, and held a benefit for TAP that raised $500 after TAP’s building in Roanoke burned.  Over the years Appalfolks has held more than 30 benefits for needy individuals and for such organizations as the 9/11 Fund, Clifton Forge Little League, Clifton Forge Public Library and the Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic.

The Virginia General Assembly passed Resolution 397 in 2017 to commend The Virginia Opry for presenting 25 consecutive years of country music shows in the Alleghany Highlands.  Founded by Appalfolks, The Virginia Opry made its debut in October 1992, drawing more than 200 patrons to the Historic Stonewall Theatre.  Under the direction of H. Ray Tucker, The Virginia Opry continued to draw country music fans from as far west as Charleston, West Virginia and as far east as Richmond.  After Tucker retired from his directorship, Jim Tippy, who had served as an opry director in Texas, accepted the directorship.  Following Tippy’s tenure, Denny Tincher, the local radio station’s owner, filled the role.

Such nationally prominent guests and bands as the late Dan Seals, The Lonesome River Band, The Freight Hoppers, Lime Kiln Arts’s troupe performing songs from Stonewall Country, The Farm Hands and Bob Campbell whose Bob Campbell and the Coachmen concert set an attendance record at the Historic Stonewall Theatre in 1996 by drawing 510 country music fans to the theatre, a show that helped Appalfolks sell more than $36,000 worth of tickets for the season. Allen noted, “The late Bob Campbell, who was one of six entertainers to tour with The Statler Brothers as one of that famous quartet, helped Appalfolks by serving as director of both the Opry of the Virginias and the Virginia Junior Opry.”

The Virginia Junior Opry served youth from 11 Virginia counties, and guest vocalists from as far away as Virginia Beach traveled to Clifton Forge to perform with Campbell who joined in with the troupe as a guitarist and vocalist.  Colton Berry, a performer with the Virginia Junior Opry for two performance seasons, appeared on American Idol as a Top Ten Contestant.

Currently, Appalfolks has founded the New “Old School” Junior Virginia Opry that features two bands.  Crossing County Lines, a group made up of four male musicians and vocalists ages 16-22, recently returned from Nashville where the string quartet performed in the Commodore Grille and recorded five songs for its first CD that features three of the group’s original compositions. The other band is comprised of three male string instrument musicians and vocalists and one female musician and vocalist.  The ages of the band range from 12 to 14.  The group chose its own name, The Appalachian Pickers.  Both bands have opened for The Virginia Opry at the Historic Masonic Theatre.

STARS (Theatrical Artists Revue & Showcase) will complete its 22nd performance season on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 3:00 p.m. on stage at the Historic Masonic Theatre where the troupe of 21 performers who face mental or physical challenges will continue to build on the accomplishments of the first STARS’ troupe that made its debut as an Appalfolks production 22 years ago.  In 2006 Appalfolks filmed a documentary film entitled “STARS” that won a Bronze Telly, a national award for excellence in documentary filmmaking.  Vivian Pendleton, Sharon Walthall, Charlie Mick, Paula Crance, and Sonya Kimberlin Romanello have served as STARS’ directors over the years, and more than 30 performers with STARS have graced the stage for Appalfolks as one of its most beneficial outreach programs.

According to Allen, December 12 will be the kick off for a year-long celebration with for completing 33 years of community service work that has had a positive impact on the lives of many, both young and old, in the three target states of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.  “Friends of Appalfolks are invited to the Buckhorne Country Store and Campground on Douthat Road on December 12 to help me celebrate by enjoying some free ice cream and Appalfolks’ birthday cake,” Allen remarked.

Appalfolks has designated three STARS productions and three Virginia Opry shows to be staged at the Historic Masonic Theatre in 2019.  Those six base shows are required via Appalfolks’ contract with the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation. Allen observed, “Our board of directors have approved three STARS’ productions and three Virginia Opry shows to be held on stage at the Historic Masonic Theatre in 2019, and our organization continues to schedule other shows at other venues.”

Currently, David B. Davis, a resident of Clifton Forge whose law firm is in Covington, serves as chairman of the board.  Harry J. Newman, a CPA from Covington, is the treasurer.  Bruce D. Olson, a teacher at DSLCC, is vice-president and Anmarie Herald, an assistant manager at the Buckhorne Country Store and Campground who resides in Clifton Forge, holds the office of secretary.

Other Appalfolks’ board members are Alene Wilcher, a resident of Clifton Forge; Jane Goldberg, from Iron Gate who resides in Cliftondale Park; Paula Crance, director of STARS who resides in Clifton Forge and Jerry Jefferies, Jr., a resident of Covington who is the drummer for Moonshine Express.

Appalfolks productions have been staged at The Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, Jenny Wiley State Park’s Amphitheatre, the Dandelion Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Douthat State Park’s Amphitheatre, Buckhorne Country Store and Campground’s stage,  the Rockingham County Fair, Washington & Lee University, Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista, Robert E. Lee High School, Turner Ashby High School, Alleghany High School, Clifton Middle School, Masonic Amphitheatre and the Historic Masonic Theatre.  

Appalfolks has scheduled two of its 2019 Virginia Opry shows to feature the Moonshine Express Band, a local band that has been performing in the Alleghany Highlands for three decades including one performance for Appalfolks at the Historic Stonewall Theatre.  Billy Fury, founder of the band, will perform with Bink Jenkins, Frank Alfred, Tim Clifton and Jerry Jeffries, Jr., who has performed as a drummer for The Virginia Opry.  The band will open Appalfolks’ 2019 season by releasing its new CD at the “Be My Sweetheart Show.”

Jana Allen, actress and vocalist who has appeared in several movies and on TV, has accepted the role of vocalist and emcee for The Virginia Opry, a duty she will share with Marc Whitney, a guitarist and vocalist who is the grandson of Tucker.  Charlotte Ivy, Ambassador of Country Music for The Virginia Opry and a vocalist and guitarist member of The Virginia Opry will continue to perform as the Virginia Opry’s “Token Texan.”

Jana got her start as a sixth grader by performing at the Historic Stonewall Theatre in a play her father, Ray, wrote.  The first play to be performed by the Stonewall Players, “A Musical Tribute to the Railroad” featured a choir of retired railroad men from the Alleghany Highlands performing with the nine members of The Stonewall Players, the first drama group to perform in the theatre following its grand reopening in May of 1992 when The Announcers performed a free concert that was attended by Congressman Bob Goodlatte.

Crossing County Lines and The Appalachian Pickers are set to open for two of the three Virginia Opry shows approved by Appalfolks for 2019 at the theatre.  The dates will be announced once contracts with the Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation are signed.

Keith Bryant will be featured in one of the three Virginia Opry’s shows at the Historic Masonic Theatre.  Ray remarked, “The Virginia Opry will present its first showcase ever in that an entire show will be held to showcase the talent of a single Virginian.”

Allen concluded, “Our 2019 schedule will be released as soon as possible along with the dates of special celebration events that will highlight Appalfolks’ achievement of completing 33 years of helping others lead a better life here in Southern Appalachia.”      

– HashtagWV #108. December 2018

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