State park celebrates retirement of first employee

Published 6:37 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Laughter mixed with some tears Tuesday afternoon as Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park celebrated the retirement of the park’s first employee Johnnie Pilk.
Park staff hosted a special celebration at the park Tuesday afternoon, which was attended by officials with other Tennessee State Parks, local leaders, and community leaders.
Pilk began her career with the Tennessee State Parks on July 1, 1976, when Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park opened its doors. Since that time, Pilk has served as the park’s secretary, which includes a wide variety of duties aimed at keeping the park operating smoothly.
During Tuesday’s celebration, other park staffers shared some of their memories of her as well as some good-natured joking. Her co-workers also thought of ways to keep Pilk around and involved with the park.
Over the years, Pilk said the only role she would not take on at the park is performing in public. This subject was brought up during Tuesday’s Party.
Sycamore Shoals Historic Interpreter Chad Bogart serves as the Colonel for the Watauga Regiment of the North Carolina Militia, which is the park’s living history group. On Tuesday, Bogart said being in charge of the militia granted him a certain authority.
“Johnnie, we want to make you an honorary member of the militia,” Bogart said.
Bogart then presented Pilk with a gift of period clothing, which he said she could use to take part in the living history events at the park since she would have more free time following her retirement.
Bogart was not the only park employee to have a special gift for Pilk.
“Since you are going to have all this free time on your hands we have a volunteer application for you,” Park Maintenance Supervisor Mark Garrison told Pilk.
Park Manager Jennifer Bauer said her gift went hand-in-hand with Bogart’s.
“We thought you’d like to use your new close for the Liberty drama,” Bauer said.
Bauer presented Pilk with an audition application to perform in this year’s production of Liberty!, which the park hosts each July, as well as a copy of this year’s script for the drama so she can begin studying for her role.
“We have all the hard parts filled out, so all you have to do is sign it,” Bauer said.
Park Ranger Jason Davis also had a gift for Pilk related to her service to the park — a telephone.
“If you call the park you hear a particular voice… the voice of Johnnie Pilk,” Davis said. “It’s a comforting voice, a voice of reassurance that everything is going to be alright. And, if you don’t get that voice you’re going to ask for Johnnie.”
Those in attendance shared in the laughter as the park employees presented Pilk with these unique gifts.
Following the humorous presents, Pilk’s co-workers presented her with their real gifts, which included a trip to Hot Springs, N.C., and an annual pass to Biltmore Estate.
Bauer used three words to describe Pilk and her service to the park: dedication, professionalism, and sincerity.
“You have loved this place so much, and it has meant so much to you,” Bauer said. “You are to all of us a dear friend. You aren’t just an employee, you’re our friend, and you’re our family.”
Bauer presented Pilk with a special proclamation by the Tennessee General Assembly recognizing her for 40 years of “uncommon devotion” and dedicated service to the park as well as a special certificate from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam honoring her for her service.
“It takes a lot of words, perhaps more words than we’ve got, to describe how special Johnnie is,” Bauer said as she began to read the proclamation to those in attendance.
When Pilk addressed those present, she thanked them for their love and support of her over the years.
“This is just a huge honor for me,” Pilk said. “I didn’t realize I had so many friends. You all have always been such a blessing to me. I will miss you.”
“I love this park,” she continued. “It means so much to me personally and to this community.”

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