The weather did not deter the spirit, or even the comfort, of those gathered under the newly-erected pavilion on the grounds of the Reece Farm. It was a day of celebrating and rejoicing. The cool mountain breezes vied and won over the intense rays of the sun, and everyone present knew they were experiencing history—even making it—by being a participant at the first annual meeting of the Society to be held on the Reece grounds.
I heard from participants, “This is a miracle!” And so it was, as earthly projects go, to have come so far in only nine years since the initial organizational meeting of the Society in 2003. The stated purpose of the Byron Herbert Reece Society reads: “to preserve, perpetuate, and promote the literary and cultural legacy of the Georgia mountain poet/novelist, Byron Herbert Reece. In addition to enhancing both knowledge of and appreciation for his writings, efforts will be made to honor his way of life, with particular emphasis on his love of nature and his attachment to farming.” (from membership brochure).
And the miracle of Saturday, June 4, 2011, lay in the fact that we were meeting at the Reece Farm and Heritage Center, still a work-in-progress, but far enough along to be able to see and celebrate the restoration of the Reece family home as the Welcome Center, his writing studio, Mulberry Hall (in progress), the barn and corncrib and other out buildings, a parking lot, pedestrian trails, and the open-air pavilion under which we met down the former cornfield a ways from the house.
At the helm of this nine-year effort Dr. John Kay, first chairman of the Society, and his wife Patti of Young Harris were honored with an engraved plaque thanking them for their selfless and intensive volunteer service during these nine initial years. We all joined in a hearty and rousing “thank you!” At the head of every noble endeavor is a leader who is inspired with a vision, the ability to lead others, and the skill of promoting without being dictatorial. And Dr. John Kay has provided that consistent and quiet leadership, supported always by Patti who shares the same ideals and dreams of the purposes of the Reece Society. We salute and thank them.
Saturday’s event on the farm also featured as our program guests, Dr. Jim Clark and Friends, who have recorded a dozen Reece poems on disk entitled in Reece’s own lines, “The Service of Song.” This professor of Southern Literature and Writer-in-Residence at Barton College at Wilson, NC sang and played his instrument as he and Terry Phillips, guitarist, of Nashville and Katy Adams, guitarist and harmony singer, of Greensboro thrilled us with five renditions from “The Service of Song,” the words of which are Reece’s poems: “I Go by Way of Rust and Flame,” “The Stay at Home,” “Lest the Lonesome Bird,” “Monochord” (a Petrarchan sonnet), and “Mountain Fiddler.” This last poem was included in our packet as a laminated bookmark for us to take home, read and enjoy at leisure.
Prominent in the progress has been chairman of the Reece Farm and Development Committee, Mr. Fleming Weaver who has headed the effort in plans and progress of the restoration and buildings. In his presentation, he gave special credit to Architect Garland Reynolds who designed the complex and gave his time and expertise free of charge to the Society.
Bringing greetings were Mr. George Berry, former chairman of the Georgia Department of Tourism and Trade, who, in his remarks, stated that some remarked it would be a “cold day” when the Reece Center would be developed, but that it is a “hot day” (namely June 4 when we were meeting at the site) for the bold project honoring Reece, for he, his works and his memory are at the heart of the project. Dr. Ron Roach, vice-chairman of the Society, brought greetings from Young Harris College and stated that Reece can hardly be thought of apart from his association with the college and poet-in-residence/teacher there. Nephew of the poet, Terry Reece, in words akin in spirit to those of his uncle, remembered as a child being with his mother, Lorena Duckworth Reece, and his siblings Tommy, June and Connie (a baby on a blanket) in the very spot of the pavilion as they hoed the field of corn that grew where the pavilion now stands. He spoke of the rhythm and flow of Wolf Creek that meanders through the farm and of the majestic hills that form the backdrop of the Reece farm. He thanked the Society for preserving the site for posterity.
Some of the other projects of the Society in its nine-year history have been “Reece in the Schools,” headed by chairman Carol Knight. Present to read her poem was the 2011 winner of the youth poetry contest, as well as Valerie Nieman, poet and novelist, winner in the adult division, who read her poem, “Apocrypha,” introduced by contest chairman Rosemary Royston who coordinated the first poetry contest.
Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, was prevented by another obligation from being present. His contributions were noted by Chairman Kay, who read a letter of commendation from Mr. Paris for the hard work and progress made to date on the Center, as well as the recent work of Winkler & Winkler, local contractors, who brought the project from a near-standstill when the original contractor could not continue with the project.
After lunch under the tent, served by Sodexo of Young Harris College, tours of the facility arranged by Fleming Weaver and his committee, completed the full and celebratory day. Groups formed at the barn and corncrib, and especially at Mulberry Hall, the restored writing studio Reece built for himself after he erected the “new” home for his parents (now the welcome center). At Mulberry Hall, about-to-be Eagle Scout Tucker Knight calmly and confidently explained why he had chosen restoration of the interior of Mulberry Hall as his project.
Present was Karen Deem, partner in Deem-Loureiro Productions Inc., who headed “Vocies…Finding Byron Herbert Reece,” the video recently aired on Georgia Public Television and now in nomination for an Emmy Award in the category of educational and documentary films. Ms. Deem is working on interpretive educational signs that will be on display about the farm site. Present also were Dr. Bettie Sellers of Young Harris College and Dr. Helen Lewis, a retired Appalachian Studies professor, who headed the interviews for “The Bitter Berry with Friends,” remembrances from people who knew Reece. Mr. and Mrs. John Pentecost were recognized. This couple has donated their extensive collection of Appalachian farm and home tools and household implements to the Society for display at the site.
Since 2003 much progress has been made toward “preserving, perpetuating and promoting the literary and cultural legacy of Byron Herbert Reece.” Highway 129 from the old courthouse in Blairsville to the top of Neel Gap is now the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Highway, by act of the Georgia Legislature. I, for one, am grateful that I signed on as a charter member of the Society nine years ago in 2003. Go to the Society’s website to keep abreast of progress. In the future (not for a while, for more work is in process) plan to visit the Reece Farm and Heritage Center, or better still, find out how you can help in this bold project. And if you haven’t yet read works of this mountain farmer/poet, find his four books of poetry and two novels and become a fan of this literary genius and his works.
What a great day of celebration was June 4, 2011!
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 9, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.