Marilyn Toppins: A Servant Leader Through and Through

Marilyn Toppins

“Actions speak louder than words.”

“You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”

Those were just some of the values instilled in Marilyn Toppins by her mother, and they’re words she lives by to this day.

Frankly, if you’ve not seen Toppins working in Union County, you’re not paying attention. She and husband Wayne are retired now, but that’s not stopping Toppins from putting in as many volunteer hours as she can for organizations like Union County Business and Professional Association, Preservation Union County, the Union County Museum, and the Union County Heritage Festival.

“As far back as I can remember, since I was 11 or 12 years old, I’ve always been involved in something,” she said. “You’ve got to be involved in something that’s bigger than you are. That’s what citizenship in American and making people’s lives better is all about.”

Toppins joked that maybe she shouldn’t remind people that she’s “not from around here.”

“It’s going to ruin everything, because people are just now starting to think that I’m from Union County,” she said. “In the last seven or eight years or so, people are asking me, ‘You’re from Union County, right?’ And to me that was probably the greatest compliment that I’ve ever gotten.”

But all joking aside, Toppins hails from Knoxville, although she and Wayne have lived in their Mountain View Estates home in Plainview since 1972. She grew up in Norwood, attended Central High School and UT, where she and Wayne met in the computer programming department.

Toppins graduated with a major in history and minors in speech, English and secondary education. They moved to the Condon community, which would later become the town of Plainview, on April Fool’s Day. They wanted to find an affordable house with a yard and a country setting. They still live in the house today, a house built by former Union County Sheriff Earl Loy, and they raised two sons there, Jonathan and Jerry, now grown.

Soon, Toppins had a job teaching a 2nd and 3rd grade split with 33 students at Luttrell Elementary School. She stayed at Luttrell for 12 years. In her career with Union County Public Schools, she’s also been a special education teacher at the high school, an adult education teacher, middle school teacher, professional development coordinator and principal at Maynardville Elementary School. She even served as Director of Schools for a time.

She was also active in, and at one point president of, the Union County Educators Association, the teachers’ union. She said one of the great achievements of the union during her involvement was the graduated pay scale for teachers.

“Teachers in Union County never had a graduated pay scale until a group of us at UCEA sat down and wrote one,” Toppins said. “That was a real difference in Union County, and to this day it’s still going on. It made a major improvement in teachers’ lives, and it gave them something to really work for, more incentive to stay in Union County. We were losing teachers drastically, and it really did help to stop the movement. At one time, the lifetime earnings for a teacher in Union County surpassed Knox County.”

She also said she witnessed a change in “spirit” in Union County schools in the early 1990s.

“The people teaching in Union County in the early 1990s, there was a spirit that children just believed that they could take their Union County education and do whatever they wanted to with it,” she said. “Kids who never thought they would do anything more than work on a tobacco farm, and they went on to college and they have good, solid, paying jobs, and they have done really well. In that time frame, you saw the tobacco farms go away and people finding other kinds of work.”

Toppins was also active in government in the town of Plainview for many years. She signed the 1992 petition for incorporation, and she served on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for 10 years and as chair of the town’s planning commission.

In 1998, Plainview mayor Bill von Schipmann, known to neighbors and friends as “Von,” asked Toppins if she would run for alderman.

“It was the funniest thing,” she said. “I got in my car and drove to Knoxville, and I said, ‘Lord, if you really want me to run for this office, you’ve got to send me a sign.’ On my way back, I stopped at Midway IGA, and a person from Plainview asked me if I was going to run. Then I stopped at the Pit Stop and another person asked. I got in my car and I said, ‘Lord, that’s three in one day, so I guess I’m running.’”

Toppins said she and Wayne plan to stay in Plainview as long as they can.

“To me, it’s like heaven right here. Who can ask for a better place to live? (Plainview government is) so transparent, diverse and progressive. I could go on and on. It’s people who come up with ideas, and they really want to see those ideas be implemented, and they want to pay for them themselves. Government by itself is always so slow, but in Plainview it progresses. It really moves,” she said.

But, it is perhaps her volunteer work for which Toppins is best known. She’s currently board chair of the Union County Business and Professional Association and president of the Union County Heritage Festival, an event that draws thousands of visitors to Wilson Park each year. She’s served on the board of Leadership Union County and still helps out. She also volunteers with the Union County Museum and Preservation Union County, and helps Union County 4-H as a judge for their public speaking contests.
“I love to do those things,” she said, and she speculates that her volunteerism is part of what’s behind her acceptance as a bona fide Union Countian.

“It was many years before I could put a label on what I felt I needed to do, and that was servant leadership,” she said. “As people got to know me, some of my ideas may have seemed radical at first, but we just found more common ground. If we’re going to do something, it’s going to take work, and I’m willing to work, and that’s the way I’ve always done it. I’m committed, and I’ll see it through.”

Just as Toppins plans to stay at home in Plainview as long as she can, she’s also going to keep on volunteering in retirement as long as she can. She’s even picking up some new projects, like writing for

She invites anyone who wants to get involved in local volunteer opportunities to write her an email at

Who knows? Maybe you’ll get bitten by the servant leadership bug, too.



Making Notes

Making Notes

So you think you don't have enough memories to write your life story? You are wrong. They just need to be brought out to the here and now. There is an excellent way to do it, take notes. It will take time, but you will see results.

There is nothing to stop you from writing your memories down on a note pad or in an exercise book. But memories rarely arrive in chronological order and when you start writing your book of life stories, you will be forever flicking backwards and forwards through the pages trying to find the note that you want.

Who Were the Longhunters?

Who Were the Longhunters?

Robert Kato, a Longhunter reenactor, speaks at the June 9, 2018 meeting of the Nicholas Gibbs Historical Society.

Groups called Longhunters [18th century explorers and hunters] were the first to blaze the trails into the American wilderness across the United States. Elisha Wolfe led a group of Longhunters as early as 1761-1765.

Augustus and the Norris Reservior

Augustus and the Norris Reservior

Years before Harry Potter inspired older children to keep reading, Augustus inspired me, late in the primary grades, to keep reading. We were about the same age when we met at the school library. Eventually I grew up, but I never forgot him. In my imagination, he will always be out there somewhere on the Mississippi River with his kind, well meaning, but somewhat dysfunctional family.

Augustus' family not only lived in a houseboat on the river, but also lived off the river. What could be more exciting to an eight-year-old boy?

The Miracle of Plants

The Miracle of Plants

As an amateur naturalist I have a curiosity to know how things work. In college I once saw the chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis laid out on a large poster. This all-important method plants use to make food for themselves (and ultimately us) was incredibly long and complex. It is so complex that it’s tempting to simply say that plants bring in carbon dioxide and water, add sun energy, then a miracle happens and out comes oxygen and food. While there is truth there, let me elaborate on the miracle part.


Spine Osteoarthritis Patients and Those Under 65 More Likely to Use Opioids to Manage Pain

Spine Osteoarthritis Patients and Those Under 65 More Likely to Use Opioids to Manage Pain

A large percentage of patients with knee, hip and spine osteoarthritis use opioids to manage their chronic pain, especially those who are younger or have symptoms of depression, according to new research findings. Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most common joint disease affecting middle-aged and older people. It is characterized by progressive damage to the joint cartilage—the cushioning material at the end of long bones—and causes changes in the structures around the joint.

Milk and Cornbread

Milk and Cornbread

We all have that one special treat that we look forward to having. For me, it’s a tossup between something chocolate and somebody doing the laundry. My Mamaw Jo had a treat that I could never understand: milk and cornbread. In all fairness, I did try it, but I didn’t like it. For one thing, milk and I don’t get along.

Blackberries and Dumplings

Blackberries and Dumplings

I spent my early years in Michigan. The last thirty years I have been here. If I had known how wonderful Tennessee was, I would have been here long ago. Don't fault me for being from Michigan. We all have to be from somewhere. I will try to keep the secret of how wonderful East Tennessee is. After all, there is only so much room for former Yankees down here.

Commission Approves 2019 Budget, No New Taxes

Union County Commission

Passing a budget and setting a tax rate in June has now become best practice in Union County. For two consecutive years, Ann Dyer, County Finance Director, and County Mayor Mike Williams have diligently worked with County Commission led by Chairman Gary England and the Budget and Finance Committee to complete the budget process before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. Their combined efforts have solidified the budget process into a transparent, accountable, and responsible fiscal practice that has set Union County on a course toward improvement and maybe even prosperity.

Cyn Taylor joins Authors Guild of Tennessee

Cyn Taylor

Local author Cyn Taylor was recently vetted by the Authors Guild of Tennessee and welcomed as a new member of the group in May.

A Knoxville native, Taylor writes Southern Contemporary Romantic Suspense staged in the Smoky Mountains and surrounding area. Smoky Mountain Mist is Taylor's first series. Blue Mountain Sky, Red Morning Glory and Dawn's Gray Light are the three books completing that series.



Prayer for Community Worship & Revival

This is an update of the information for the Luttrell Community Worship and Revival...
Several pastors from different churches are going to the worship site once a week to pray. We invite anyone who feels led to pray at the site to go anytime the Lord impresses on them to go there to pray. Please join us in prayer for the revival.
Dates to remember....

*Thursday, May 10th at 7 PM - Pastors and deacons pray at Luttrell Ball Field, the worship site.

*June 21 at 7 PM -Pastors and deacons pray at worship site

*Revival July 30, 31, and August 1 @ 7 PM

Meet-the-Candidates Tuesday, June 26 6PM-8PM

Dear Candidate:

Thank you for being a candidate for public office!

You are invited to participate in a Union County Meet-the-Candidates evening gathering on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, at 6 PM - 8PM at the Union County Senior Citizens Center.
This event is intended both to help our citizens cast an informed vote on August 2 (or earlier) and to help introduce you to your voters. Palm cards, written materials are welcome. (A surrogate for the candidate who cannot attend is welcome.)

Union County Board Of Education


The next regular workshop and meeting of the Union County Board of Education will be held on Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at Union County High School. The workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting immediately to follow.



1. Discuss School Trips

· None at Time of Publication

2. Budget Amendments and Transfers/Director’s Monthly Report—Ann Dyer

County Commission will meet in Special Called Session

County Commission will meet in Special Called Session

The County Commission will meet in Special Called Session on Thursday, June 28, at 7:00 to finalize the budget amendments and transfers of the current budget to facilitate the filing of the Annual Financial Report. The public is encouraged to attend.


Thursday, June 28 2018 – TIME 7:00 P.M.


Community Worship & Revival

On February 22, 2018, A Call To Prayer was made in the Luttrell Community. Several community pastor agreed to go back to their respective churches and call on their members to pray for the Lord to guide in an effort to unite our churches with a common goal of a Community Worship & Revival leading folks to Jesus the only begotten son of God.


Rev. Earl Ray Johnson

Reverend Earl Johnson – age 82 of Union County, went to his Heavenly home on June 19, 2018. He was a member of Ailor Dale Baptist Church and former pastor of several churches. Earl was a dedicated man of God with the strongest faith. He was always caring and giving to everyone, always putting others needs before his own. He will be sadly missed by all that were lucky enough to know him.

Edna Mae (Beeler) Shoffner

Edna Mae (Beeler) Shoffner, Age 97 of Sharps Chapel was born on November 23, 1920 and went home to be with the Lord on Monday, June 18, 2018 at her home surrounded by her family. She was a member of Oak Grove Primitive Baptist Church.
Edna is preceded in death by her loving Husband Charlie Shoffner. Daughter: Wanda Brown, Son: Tom Shoffner and Grand-Daughter Gabrielle Shoffner. Parents: Mack and Lennie Beeler. Brothers: Tommy, Otis, and Clarence Beeler. Sisters: Mert, Lelia, and Georgia.

Teresa Ann Greer

Teresa Ann Greer, age 44, of Maryville, TN passed away peacefully on June 16, 2018. Preceded in death by mother Judith Ann Greer. Survived by children, Courtney Ann Thomas and fiancé Brandon Yeaman, Justin Joe Bradburn, and Madison Ann Bradburn; father Bobby Joe and wife Deborah; grandchildren John Mason and Eli Blane.

James Paul Myers, Jr.

James Paul Myers, Jr. age 70 of Knoxville, passed away June 15, 2018. James was a Vietnam veteran. He was of the Baptist faith and pastored many churches in his life. Preceded in death by wife Janet Myers; parents James P. Myers, Sr. and Juanita Myers; sister Helen Wrinkle. Survived by sons Jay Lloyd Myers and Stephen Myers; very special brother David Myers; several nieces and nephews. Family will receive friends 6:00p.m.-8:00p.m. Wednesday June 20, 2018 at Mynatt Funeral Home Fountain City Chapel with service to follow, Rev. Clyde Lakin and Eddie Myers officiating.

Anna Mae Shelby Davis

Anna Mae Shelby Davis-age 78 of New Tazewell passed away Friday morning, June 15, 2018 at U. T. Medical Center following a long illness. She was a member of Raccoon Valley Baptist Church. Preceded in death by daughter, Kathy Ann Davis; parents, Jim and Louella Shelby; brothers, Willis Shelby, Troy Milton Shelby; sisters, Grace Shoffner and Viola Shelby.

Gary Lynn Anderson, Sr.

Gary Lynn Anderson, Sr.-age 72 of Luttrell passed away Thursday morning, June 14, 2018 at U. T. Medical Center. He was preceded in death by parents, Rev. Frank J. and Mildred (Hundley) Anderson; brothers, Robert (Bob) Anderson, Paul Anderson; sister, Cheryl Tyson; grandson, James Thompson; great-grandson, Skyler McClure.

Betty Jane Patterson

Betty Jane Patterson-age 91 of Maynardville passed away Sunday morning, June 10, 2018 at Beverly Park Place, Knoxville. She was a member of First United Methodist Church of Sevierville. She also enjoyed square dancing and was a member of Good Times Square Dance Club. Preceded in death by her husband, Clinton Patterson, Sr. in 1998; three sisters, Dorothy, Jean and Alla.

Beulah E. "Gose" Walters

Beulah Elizabeth Gose Walters-age 99 of Luttrell passed away Tuesday morning, June 12, 2018 at U. T. Medical Center. She was a member of Little Flat Creek Baptist Church. Beulah was a retired Post Master of the Luttrell Post Office with 30 years of service. She was preceded in death by husband, Tom Walters; parents, John and Lora Gose; sisters, Hazel Chandler, Bonnie Lawson; infant brother, Leon Gose; grandchildren, Karen Seymour and Tony Walters.

Earnest Ray Norris

Earnest Ray Norris – age 80 of Knoxville, went to his Heavenly home on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. He was a member of Grace Baptist Church in Halls. Ray was saved on May 17, 1975 at Milan Baptist Church in Maynardville and served as a radio minister for several years.

Maria Elaine McMurray

Maria Elaine McMurray – age 71 of Maynardville, went home to be with the Lord on Friday, June 8, 2018. She was a member of the Northwest Baptist Church.

Elaine is survived by her husband of 45 years, Jim McMurray; daughters, Tara (Duane) Brown and Julie DeMarcus; son, Scott (Maria) Blatemore; grandsons, Tyler Allen and Jared Blatemore; sister, Teresa Helton; and several nieces and nephews.

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