Meet the Locals: Knoxville

Tec Petaja
by Allison Glock - Tennessee - August/September 2012

Tennessee Valley Authorities: Five Knoxvillians doing honest work 

More on Knoxville:
>Knoxville's Sweet Tune 
>Where to Eat & Drink
>What to See & Do
>Photos from the story

Colleen Cruze
A spunky, punky farmer’s daughter prone to pairing gingham dresses and vintage aprons, handing out shots of chocolate milk, and bathing in buttermilk, Colleen Cruze looks like she fell out of a Disney movie. It would surprise no one in Knoxville if sparrows began circling her head, tying ribbons in her hair. Also not surprisingly, this storybook princess just happens to make the best organic ice cream going (under her family label, Cruze Farm Girl), but in unexpected flavors like kale and lemon custard. She markets her wares from her spiffy farm truck staffed by other adorable dairy maidens so upbeat and sweet they make Drew Barrymore look like Cruella de Vil.

Red Hickey
The voice of seminal local station WDVX and thus the voice of Knoxville, Red Hickey would stand out even if she didn’t sound like a sultry fever dream of country honey and PBR. Never without fire-engine hair, crinolines, and ornate cowboy boots, Hickey has a face for Broadway. Thank goodness she settled for radio, bringing her musical history chops and passion for all things redneck (including an enviable Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia collection) to WDVX’s world-famous Blue Plate Special—a live show of bluegrass, Americana, classic country, Western swing, folk, and gospel that airs downtown on the lunch hour free of charge. “If I haven’t found the perfect job for a gal like me,” Hickey says, “then grits ain’t groceries.”

Scott Miller
Singer, songwriter, and now host of Scruffy City Roots (a weekly concert and chat show exploring East Tennessee’s role in American music), Scott Miller tells stories better than most novelists. His intuitive lyrics hide universal heartbreak behind humor. (“When you dance with him, I see losers win.”) His empathy is unsurpassed. He bestows dignity on the dirt, elevates our pettiest concerns to poetry. He writes songs about football that make you weep. He makes himself an everyman when he is anything but. A single listen reveals how Miller is exceptional, with a delivery so piercing and true you hardly notice how thoroughly you’ve been shot through. See him sing live once, and you’ll never feel lonely again.

Ellen Turner &
 Helen Ashe
Growing up in the thirties and forties, the twins Helen and Ellen Ashe went without electricity and running water. Even so, “my daddy taught us not to take the last piece of bread from the table,” Helen says. “Somebody may come by that’s hungry.” After graduating from nursing school, they noticed how many patients in Knoxville lacked food and basic resources. Helen says it struck her she should do something to help. The Love Kitchen opened in 1986 in a church basement. They served twenty-two meals that day. Since then they have provided more than a million complimentary meals to those in need, distributing two thousand plates a week from their community center’s kitchen, the majority of them delivered to elderly shut-ins and those with debilitating illnesses. “At first they see hope in our eyes,” says Helen, who is now eighty-four. “But we want them to see hope through their own eyes.”