As a journalist, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people from all walks of life: a tarot card reader in a college town, a Republican party chairman in the Midwest who refuses to fly, and a small town tour guide with a fascination for Greek mythology and ancient architecture.
I’m very privileged to have an occupation that not only allows me to expand my worldview, but also encourages me to explore how different people’s values manifest themselves in the homes they build, the jobs they do, the groups they belong to, and the ways they interact with others—especially me, an outsider with more questions than answers and a member of the media, which is always one of the institutions people trust least.
This month, I sat down with Steve and Wanda Turner whom I’m coining as the “hosts of Hickman County.”
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my nearly 30 years on earth, but never have I had an interview end in an exchange of peach cobbler for an azalea until this one.
Wanda told me, “it’s just how we do things around here.”
After spending the better part of an afternoon with Wanda and her husband, Steve, I can tell you that her simple statement sums up the couple’s life mission and legacy—to expose everyone they come into contact with to everything good in life including a close relationship with nature, a caring and kindly teacher, and the gift of hearing song performed passionately.
Wanda raises Boer/Nubian crossbred goats. The Turner's 27-year-old horse, Possum, watches over their herd of 7 goats. | Gabrielle Reed
A little bit more about Steve and Wanda
Steve and Wanda have lived in or around Hickman County their entire lives.
As a child Steve would ride along in his father’s taxi cab, picking up fares in their rural town.
Most Saturdays this would lead them to the local tavern, where the owner often beckoned for Steve to come in and sing a tune.
It was a running joke between Steve’s parents that “the boy” made more than his dad did with a microphone in his hand.
Steve’s childhood and teenage years brought many opportunities to grow his career in the music industry, and he made a habit of seizing them. He won nearly every talent show in middle Tennessee, got his first job as a radio host at ten years old, and sang alongside such legendary acts as Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys.
As a young man, Steve even performed alongside Minnie Pearl’s sister who accompanied him on piano. Fun fact: Minnie had a photo of him and her sister hanging up in one of the rooms of her home in Nashville.
Wanda, contrastingly, is a farm girl to her core. She credits her relentless work ethic to the many hours spent planting crops and tending to animals—rain or shine—on the large parcel of farmland her grandparents bought in 1918 located in Possum Hollow in the Nunnelly area.
One of her fondest memories is sitting on her daddy’s lap while he let her hold the steering wheel of his tractor.
Steve enlisted in the Air Force after high school, at one point holding clearance to work with nuclear weapons.
But when it came time to decide whether to continue his service or return home, he drove the old Route 66 back to Centerville to resume his radio career.
One day while catching up with old buddies, he asked if there were any pretty girls still in town and they flipped open a yearbook.
Steve’s finger landed on Wanda’s picture and he said “Boys, I’m in love. I’m going to marry that girl.”
The next day he called her from the radio station, keeping her on the line as he transitioned from one song to the next. Impressing a woman is hard, but he felt his most confident operating a broadcast console. He worked for that same radio station for nearly 60 years, and owned it for much of that time.
“Radio has been in my life since I met him,” Wanda said.
And farming has been a part of Steve’s life since he met her.
“Every July 4th, we didn’t celebrate,” Steve recalls. “We dug potatoes.”
Wanda’s parents are in Heaven now and the farm she and Steve live on was recently given the distinction of being named a TN Century Farm—a designation delivered through a government-university partnership in Tennessee stating that a farm has been owned by the same family for at least 100 years.
Steve still performs as a member of the Grinders Switch Ensemble, a volunteer country band that entertains listeners at the local chamber of commerce every Saturday morning during a live radio program called The Grinders Switch Hour. He sold the radio station last year.
They’re both in retirement now, although if you ask Steve he’d tell you Wanda keeps him busy on the farm. The Turners’ tale reminds us that we have so much to learn from others who have tread a path before. Their determination to live out their passions of music and farming should be an inspiration to us all who believe we can make a living and a difference away from the chaos of the city.
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