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.



Sweet Southern Tumbling grows in Maynardville

Breann Welch (second from left) of Sweet Southern Tumbling receives a small business loan check from Clinch Powell.

A Union County startup business got a big boost Feb. 15, as Sweet Southern Tumbling received a $10,000 check through the Clinch Powell Small Business Loan program funded by USDA Rural Development. Business owner Breann Welch has used the loan to upgrade to a larger space and purchase additional equipment, including a 42x42 cheer spring floor.

Gun Control?

Gun Control

On February 14, 2018 another tragedy took place at the hand of a psychopath with a gun. 14 students, on the cusp of life, and 3 teachers were brutally gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Landmark, FL, during school hours. Before the funerals could even take place, insensitive idiots on both sides of the gun control debate began running their mouths. Gun control is obviously a touchy and complicated issue; hence the reason that it has not been solved yet.

Finding Grandpa

Finding Grandpa

I’m by no means an expert genealogist/researcher, but I’m surely an experienced one! Frequently persons come to me for help in compiling a family history. I am glad to help as much as I can.

So often when I ask for a grandparent’s name I’m told, “I don’t know–I just always called him grandpa–or I just always called her grandma.” Now, where does one start? There are many ways. Here are just a few suggestions. It is my hope that these suggestions will be useful to students in their history projects:

Yours till Niagara Falls

Yours till Niagara Falls

“Yours till Niagara Falls” or is it “Yours till the Statue of Liberty sits down?” Maybe it's “Yours till the United States drinks Canada Dry.” Could it be “Yours till they feed the corn on your toes to the calves of your legs?” No, that doesn't sound very nice. I know. It's “Yours till the barn dances and the fire escapes.”

The Other Woman

domestic longhair Cat

Some people have pictures in their wallets or on their phones of the wives, children, grandchildren, etc. I have one picture of my wife in my wallet and maybe one of my stepson and me. I have several pictures on my phone of a special female who came into my life in May, 2009. It happened like this.

My wife was visiting the place where she lived before she married me, then as now occupied by her son and his girlfriend. One of the many cats that had been there had recently had kittens. The momma cat was run over by a car and died. No one knew where her kittens were.

The Bad Rap of Snake Oil

The Bad Rap of Snake Oil

I have a friend who told a humorous story about being in a meeting where someone was speaking of things that he knew to be untrue, downright bovine excreta. When he had taken all he could of it, he stood up, got up, slammed a dollar onto the table and cried out “gimme a bottle of that snake oil!” Snake oil is indeed a popular metaphor for anything being touted as true, but in reality is fraud. And those attempting to sell or convince you to accept something fraudulent are referred to as snake oil salesmen.


Litany of Shame

Litany of Shame

Whenever Mother and Dad had an argument, usually in bed at night, Mother had a litany of offenses Dad had been guilty of in the past. She never forgave him and she certainly never forgot. First on the list was when Dad punched Mother's brother, Uncle Johnny, in the nose and knocked him down. The second offense was the one I will now describe. Dad was officially listed as AWOL at the end of World War l. That sounds worse than what it was. I will explain.

Antichrist Among Us


Today we have much confusion in the Church about the word antichrist. However, when taken in context the scriptures are very plain about antichrist. The actual word “antichrist” is only mentioned 4-times in the Bible and all 4-times by the Apostle John. Just because the actual word is only used 4-times, does not lessen its importance, because the concept of "antichrist" is throughout the entire Bible.

Carnival Chili

Carnival Chili

Back in the 30's and the 40's small carnivals cross-crossed the country. It was before television and the Internet. Amusements were simpler back in the day. I'm not talking about the circus, just a carnival with some rides and a midway. They are gone forever.

I remember them. Dad allowed us one ride, a walk through the midway and a hot dog. What sights! What sounds! What smells! That was what childhood memories were made of. We went once.

Dolly Parton’s Stampede

Photo By User: (WT-shared) Emilyberton at wts wikivoyage

Dixie Stampede in Branson, MO, Myrtle Beach, SC and Pigeon Forge, TN has a new name…. Dolly Parton’s Stampede. There was much talk about a name change, but the reality hit home after observing the new signage in Pigeon Forge; all remembrances of the supposed offensive word “Dixie” have been removed. This decision was made and quickly implemented after an August, 2017 article was published. Dolly Parton has millions of fans, and many defend her by stating all the things she has done for literacy, her community and Sevier County during the 2016 fires.



Need A Ride To Church

Need A Ride To Church

Fellowship Christian Church located at 746 Tazewell Pike Luttrell TN 37779 will pickup anyone in the local area needing a ride to church. Call Sam at 865-607-3741 to schedule a ride.

Worship Services

Sunday School 10:00 AM
Sunday Worship Service 11:00 A.M
Sunday Evening Service 6:30 P.M
Wednesday Service 7:00 P.M

4H Outdoor Club

4H Outdoor Club

Join our NEW 4-H Outdoor Club! 6th – 12th graders join forces to experience hands on learning in ecology, environmental education, wildlife, forestry, resource management, and so much more!

Meetings are held twice a month: 1st Wednesday at the 4-H office & 2nd Monday at Paulette Elementary. For more information and to get involved email

Come to tomorrow’s meeting afterschool to get started. February 7 - 3:30-5pm

Union County Election Commission Meeting

Union County Election Commission

Union County Election Commission meets on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 2:30pm in room 101 of the Union County Courthouse to conduct election business which comes before the commission pursuant to its duties listed in, but not limited to TCA $2-12-116, and to conduct any other business that may come before the election commission at that time. Union County Election Commission, 901 Main Street, Suite 108, Maynardville, TN 37807, (865) 992-3471


Fred Carl King

Fred Carl King, age 90, passed away February 21, 2018 at Westmoreland Nursing Home and Rehab Center. Preceded in death by father Taylor King, mother Lona Brown King, son Stephen King, brother Eugene King, and sister Evelyn Whaley. Survivors include sister Pauline McManus, daughter Connie Jackson, sons Fredrick King (Chrissy), David King (Penny), grandchildren Kirsten King, Tyler King, Amber Welch, Todd King, and Gregory Jackson (Renee), several great grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews. Family will receive friends from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Estelle Loy

Estelle Ella Edmondson Loy of Maynardville, Tennessee, passed away Thursday, February 22, 2018 at the age of 104.

A native of Union County, Estelle was born in the Nave Hill community on January 8, 1914. She was a retired school teacher and received her teaching certification from Lincoln Memorial University. Estelle educated generations of families in the county, having taught first through eighth grades in a one-room schoolhouse in the Nave Hill and Hubbs Grove schools. She ended her 30 year-career at Maynardville Elementary School.

James (Frank) Edwards

James (Frank) Edwards, age 80, went to be with the Lord Thursday, February 22nd after a long illness. He enjoyed time with his family, especially his grandchildren and playing his guitar. He was a member and deacon of Bryams Fork Baptist Church.

Irene (Walker) Nelson

Irene (Walker) Nelson - age 83 of Halls passed away peacefully with her family at her side on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. She was a devoted wife, mother, sister, mamaw, aunt, and friend. She is now rejoicing in heaven alongside of her husband Arvel Marion Nelson, daughter Martha Nelson, grandson Jason Nelson, parents Andy and Cora Walker, brothers Glen Walker, Houlk Walker, Perry Walker, sisters Virgie Gabriel, Cecila Brantley, and Ethel Dennis. Her legacy lives on through her loving and devoted family: daughter Judy (David) Walton, sons Tommy (Marlene) Nelson and Jeff Nelson.

Scott Sparks

Scott Sparks, age 51, of Knoxville, TN, went to be with the Lord on Monday, February 19th, 2018. Scott earned his bachelors degree from the University of North Carolina, his masters degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and was a teacher at Karns High School. He was a former College Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, former Pastor at White Stone Church, and founding Pastor of The Grove Church. Scott's passion was leading people to Christ and walking along side them in their faith journey.

John Sterling Inklebarger

John Sterling Inklebarger, age 82, of Corryton, passed away Sunday, February 18, 2018. He was a member of Graveston Baptist Church. He owned his own trucking company hauling building materials until a tragic accident in 1973 that left him disabled. He loved traveling with family and spending time with his friends whittling and trading knives. He will always be remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

Frank Humphrey

Frank Humphrey, age 81, of Knoxville, TN, gained his angel wings on Sunday, February 18, 2018. He was preceded in death by: Wife: Ann Humphrey Father: Frank T. Humphrey Mother: Ella Hammock Brothers: Eddie, John and Larry Humphrey Sister: Francis Adams Son in Law: Bob Greene Survived by: Daughter: Vickie Greene, Son: Frank “Scott” and Rhonda Humphrey Granddaughter: Tiffany and Dale Coward Great Grandchildren: Dalacie and Kyle Coward Brother: Gary Humphrey, Sisters: Brenda Owen and Linda Brooks. Special Sister in Law: Judy Ogle, Special nephew and Niece: Joseph and Alexis Stafford.

Irene Wyrick Sherritze

Flossie Irene “Nanny” Sherritze-age 90 of Maynardville, born December 3, 1927 went to be with her Lord Sunday morning, February 18, 2018 at home. She was devoted to her family and her church. She was a member of Hines Creek Baptist Church in which she was instrumental in getting organized in the early 1950’s. Preceded in death by parents, Edgebert and Lucy Wyrick; husband, Charles “Rattler” Sherritze; daughter, Norma Faye Sherritze; brothers, Ralph, John, Fate, Jim, Ceba, Swann, J. Will and Earl Wyrick.

Austin Logan Knight

Austin Logan Knight, age 18 of Knoxville passed away February 17, 2018. He was in the class of 2018 at Halls High School, where he wrestled for 1 year and played football for 1 year, and had completed all of his requirements to graduate and started college at Roane State to become an EMT. He was a member of Lonsdale United Methodist Church. Austin loved to fish and hunt and was a member of the Children of the American Revolution.

Jackie Ray Campbell

Jackie Ray Campbell-age 70 of New Tazewell passed away Friday afternoon, February 16, 2019 at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. He was a member of Chittums Chapel Baptist Church and was a U. S. Army Veteran of the Vietnam War.

Survivors: sisters: Margie Stansberry and Nancy Harvey, both of New Tazewell.

Private memorial service will be held at a later date. In accordance with his wishes, he will be cremated. Arrangements by Cooke-Campbell Mortuary, Maynardville.

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