The ongoing pandemic hit at precisely the worst time for the organizers of the Tammy Wynette Legacy Park (TWLP) in Tremont.
After years of struggling to stay solvent, a change in leadership and a solid plan for future fundraising seemed to have the taxpayer-funded hometown tribute to Tremont’s most famous citizen on solid ground.
Then along came COVID-19.
“I had nine months of music planned,” said Larry Cantrell, president of the TWLP Board of Directors. All of those live events, each of which would have provided funding for the TWLP through ticket and food sales, just vanished. Like “Crying in the Rain,” as Wynette might have put it.
Cantrell was more direct in his assessment:
“This thing’s killed us,” he said.
Even weeks after Gov. Tate Reeves lifted his order that shut down venues like TWLP in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Cantrell is hesitant to host live events again. That’s not because of a lack of desire, but a mix of caution and stark practicality.
“Everybody is afraid to do anything where there is a crowd,” he said. And if the TWLP were to implement social distancing measures to help ensure the safety of attendees, Cantrell doesn’t think attendance would be large enough to justify the cost of having an event.
“Right now, if we do anything, we can’t have enough people to make any money,” he said. “So, I’m frustrated.”
Private donations have kept the doors open and the lights on during the pandemic, but that can’t last, Cantrell said. The TWLP needs a consistent source of funds to stay alive.
“We’ve got to get the doors open,” he said. “We’re going to have to have a real plan, going forward, for raising money. Because right now, we’re just dead in the water.”
Yet, despite the challenges, Cantrell is optimistic about the future of TWLP. The board is planning a grand reopening for its annual Tammy Wynette Festival celebration, held on Labor Day weekend. It’s then they’ll unveil the newest and largest addition to their collection – the original gates from Tammy Wynette’s home in Nashville. Cantrell said they’re also planning new signage and further additions to the TWLP’s growing collection of Wynette memorabilia.
“When everybody comes to that thing on Labor Day, they’re going to see a new sign on the Tammy Wynette building, they’re going to see a new sign out by the street, and when they walk in, they’re going to see the official gates that she had,” he said. “It’s going to be a watershed [moment] for us.”