Pope Concession workers fill plates at church dinner
Pope's Concessions rolled into Clinton on Thursday April 25th for the Spring Chicken Festival on the court square. The colorful rides, concession stands and supporting vans and trailers were parked on a back street sprawling into the parking lot of the Clinton First United Methodist Church. This is their fourth year at the Chicken Festival.
The first year's parking spread caused disruptions in the church's Wednesday after school program, Quest. That year there was a squabble. Quest leaders were taken by surprise by the arrival. The program that uses church buses and parent pick up was turned on its side. Children could see the enticing rides, but couldn't get any closer to the unassembled attractions.
The carnival needs significant portions of church property for the rides that are big attractions for children and their families, the main targets of concessionaires.
Below, a chair ride on the grass in front of the church picnic pavilion.
Church members remembered their response that year to the concessionaires with a wince. Then they decided their greeting was less than Christlike. The next year, hospitality and as with any Southern gathering, fried chicken was on the menu for the visitors.
This is the third year concessionaires have been greeted with smiles and a hot meal served by church members.
This year, the troupe was treated to a fried chicken dinner in the Young Center. They lined up at the steps of the church community center and waited patiently for the invitation to come in. Inside, there was a scramble to get that last hash brown casserole on the serving table. That done, the greetings and chow line began.
Concession workers dug into the buffet meal, sitting their weary selves down at round tables decorated with checkered cloths and children's thank you pictures. This is the third year that Pope's workers have been welcomed to Clinton with a supper meal their first evening in town. Seventeen workers came to supper this year.
At right, Pastor John Varden in blue shirt visits with workers.
Dustin Whiston, Eric Lake'Omnea, AJ Marshall and Heather Lawton sitting together at a round table have come from different points of the compass to their new jobs. Dustin, a native of Greeneville Tennessee, has been with Pope's for twenty one years. He works as a supervisor. Eric was born in Hawaii, lived in Arizona as a child. He migrated to Tennessee and is in his second year as a cook. His specialty is fried anything. He urged trying the fried Oreo cookies. Others at the table suggested the fried Twinkies.
AJ Marshall is in his second year. He operates the Whiz ride. Heather is a native of New Jersey but her family moved to Ohio when her father's health declined. All at the table expressed loving their jobs. "It's like a family." Eric said. The other workers laughed and agreed that like any family, the small troupe have their share of differences. But every day and every place brings something new. It's part of the reason they like the work.
According to Petrina Pope, Pope's Concessions is a family owned company that began in 1924 Her husband, James Roy Pope, is named after the founder of the company. The first James Roy Pope started out with one novelty stand of balloons. Then he added a carousel. When his son joined the company, they added amusement rides. Petrina said that her mother in law, Jane, at seventy seven, is still active in the company. "She does something every day."
At left: Jessica Dostin and Petrina Pope. Pope's Concessions travels around the South, going as far south as Mississippi and Alabama. Most of their appearances are in Tennessee and Kentucky. James Pope who now leads the company serves as booking agent. They have more requests than time to fill them. "Sometimes, we have to say no." Petrina said.
Their year starts in the spring and continues until winter. The repair shop behind their home in Greeneville gets very busy in the off season. Festivals throughout the South require different attractions and different work hours. One of the biggest regional events is the Tennessee Obion County Fair. Jessica said that in Tennessee, customers line up for corn dogs. The Teapot Festival in Humboldt Tennessee, home of the world's largest tea pot collection, is another stop on their summer circuit.
When asked if the towns blend together after awhile, Dustin said that each town is unique. "You can go ten miles in either direction and the people are different. Some are really nice. Some are not." Petrina said that they love their jobs because they make people happy. Rain or shine.
Pope's Concessions pulled out of Clinton in the wee hours of Saturday night. Home to Greeneville for a short rest before starting over again.
Below: one of the carnival rides rests on a playground belonging to First Methodist. Other rides and booths stretch down closed streets.
James Roy Pope
202 Church St.
Greenfield, TN 38230