Major Attraction For 15 Years
Festival Was Organized
By The Berea Lions Club
Note: Dr. David B. Settles of Georgetown, Scott County, Kentucky,
has written this manuscript, about a very famous series of country
music homecoming festivals, which he started when he was president
of the Berea Lions Club in 1950. The festival attracted thousands
of people from surrounding states and brought International Lions'
dignitaries. Dr. Settles is the only surviving member of the
Lions group that organized and produed the festival. He has had
several articles, letters, and pictures published in The Kentucky
David B. Settles - 2008
an amateur musician and singer when I was a young boy. I learned
to play ukulele, mandolin, guitar, bass fiddle, and the piano.
My brother, Paul, and I were the regular gospel singers at the
Middleburg and Liberty Baptist churches in Casey County, Kentucky,
where our father was pastor (see photo on page 62 in the April
2007 issue of The Kentucky Explorer). My interest in country
music came naturally.
When I moved to Berea in 1950 as a young doctor of optometry,
I was delighted to learn that Berea had produced several famous
country music artists, and that some of the Renfro Valley stars
I immediately thought about the possibility of getting all of
the stars together for a Berea Country Music Homecoming Festival
honoring our hometown stars and stars from Renfro Valley who
resided in Berea.
Ramblers recorded a radio show for WRVK, Renfro Valley, in the
living room of David B. Settles with a wire recorder, ca. 1950.
L-R: Lead guitarist, Darrel Edister; steel guitarist, Billy Ray,
deceased; singer, Betty Foley Cummins (Red Foley's daughter),
deceased; singer, Harold French, deceased; rhythm guitarist,
David B. Settles; bass player, name unknown; Begley Sisters Trio:
Jewell Robinson, deceased; Sue Begley; and Janet Begley.
I was elected president of the Berea Lions Club in 1951.
Following the adjournment of the first meeting of my tenure as
president, I asked Jim Bentley and John Bill Allen to meet with
me at a small restaurant on Short Street where I approached them
with the idea of such a Homecoming Festival.
The new Berea Rubber Plant was scheduled to open in August, so
we discussed how we could celebrate the two occasions together.
We presented the idea to the membership at the next meeting.
The idea was enthusiastically approved, so we formed committees
and started to work on a two-day festival to include a talent-hunt
show on the first evening which brought forth highly-talented
amateurs, several of whom later had successful careers in the
country music field.
Among those invited to return home for the big occasion were
Red Foley of the Grand Ole Opry; Ernie Lee Cornelison of WLW
Cincinnati; Jimmy Skinner and Ray Lunsford from WCKY and WLW;
Bill and Hazel Haley of St. Louis (Hazel was one of the Texas
Blue Bonnets); Roland Gaines and the Knox Range Riders; The Coon
Creek Girls (Rosa Foley, Minnie Ledford, and Lily May Pennington);
Slim Miller; Bradley Kinkaid, President of WWSO, Springfield,
Ohio; Jerry Byrd; Old Joe Clark; Grandpa Jones; Stringbean; and
the hottest instrumental guitarist of the time, Billy Keith Williams
of St. Louis.
Club District Governor, Dr. David Settles, waited on Past International
Presidents Finis Davis and Monroe Nute at the Indian Fort Theatre,
Berea College Forest, Berea, Kentucky. This was all part of the
Berea Homecoming Festival which was founded by the Berea Lions
Club in 1951.
It still amazes me that the idea I presented to Jim and John
Bill would develop into an annual celebration that attracted
people from many surrounding states, including many of the Lions
International's highest dignitaries. On one occasion, we had
the international president, the immediate past international
president, three international directors, four past international
directors, a district governor (me), and several past district
governors at an afternoon cookout prior to the evening show held
at the spacious outdoor Indian Fort Theater. Very few civic clubs
in the world have attracted so much attention, and we didn't
dream that the Homecoming would become an annual event featuring
our homecoming stars, most of the Nashville stars, and Pat Boone
who was Red Foley's son-in-law.
Let me digress back to the planning and development of the first
The dates for the celebration were set for August 28th and 29th,
1951. I was designated as general chairman, coordinating several
other committees. The activities were to get under way with an
open house at the Berea Rubber Company followed by a family picnic
and softball game at the new Berea Memorial Park in the afternoon.
I was very proud of the park and served as the first chairman
of the park committee and the swimming pool committee which built
Berea's first city pool.
was at its best during the Berea Homecoming Festival created
by Lion David Settles when he was president of the Berea Lions
Club. The annual three-day event ran for 15 seasons, 1951-1966.
Exiting the Indian Fort Theater stage was Red Foley while Ernie
Lee Cornelison entertained the crowd.
A talent-hunt show was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Phelps
Stokes Chapel. The three top winners would perform with the stars
on the big show on Wednesday evening. The ticket committee set
the price of admission at $1 per person for each show. The money
would cover expenses and some charitable work.
Albert Sweazy, chairman of the beauty queen committee announced
that any club or organization could sponsor contestants between
the ages of 15 and 25.
Gilmer Wilson was chairman of the parade committee that designated
positions of the stars, visiting dignitaries, and the beauty
queen. Cotton Foley, Red Foley's brother and husband of Rosa
Foley of the Coon Creek girls, was also the local Ford dealer
and owned a collection of Model-T and Model A Fords to be used
in the parade.
Everything went smoothly. Carolyn Van Winkle won the homecoming
queen title. The talent-hunt winners were Bobby Ballard, Johnny
King, and a quartet of two harmonica players, Paul Griffith and
Carl Morgan, accompanied by Charles Durham and a Mr. Whitehead
At the matinee performance on Wednesday, Foster "Pap"
Adams, editor of The Berea Citizen, welcomed the stars and introduced
them. Then followed a program such as had never been seen in
Berea. Later in the show, "Pap" presented to the entertainers
framed "City Of Berea" Citations of Appreciation. He
was assisted by Berea's mayor, John L. Gay, and the homecoming
queen. Hand woven stoles and ties from Churchill weavers were
also presented to the stars.
Bill Haley and his wife, Hazel, one of the Texas Blue Bonnets,
were first on the program, singing individually and together.
Roland Gaines and super guitarist, Billy Keith Williams, from
KMOX in St. Louis followed the Haleys.
Ernie Lee Cornelison displayed his ability to keep things moving
with his songs and jokes. He sang several favorites and was considered
to be one of the top performers.
Jimmy Skinner, song writer and singer, was accompanied by Ray
Lunsford of Brod-head. They were accompanied on several numbers
by Preston McDaniels on the bass fiddle.
named stars were Bereans by birth but the Renfro Valley folks
who were honored by Berea were Bereans by choice. They were introduced
by John Lair. Slim Miller kept not only the audience laughing
but also displayed his talent on the fiddle. The Coon Creek Girls
sang several songs and Jerry Byrd sang a song accompanied by
the Coon Creek Girls.
Red Foley was the last performer on the program. He sang several
requests and several numbers for which he was famous for such
as Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy. Red brought with him the Jordanaires
Quartet and his background musicians from his show on the Grand
Ole Opry. Red agreed with all the other stars that the Homecoming
Festival should be an annual affair.
The second Homecoming Festival was held in Indian Fort Theater,
which was totally packed for all of the two day performances.
Red Foley brought his son-in-law, Pat Boone, as a guest entertainer.
Other guests included Grandpa Jones and Ramona, Stringbean, Anita
Carter, Old Joe Clark, Pete Stamper, and Skeeter Davis.
Skeeter called me on the morning of the star performance shows
and asked if she could be on the show. I told her to come on
down. She drove from northern Kentucky to my home and spent her
time there waiting for the matinee. At the two shows, she got
with the Nashville stars and was soon in Nashville creating another
successful career. Her first claim to fame was with the Davis
Sisters, but this show which came to a tragic end with the death
of one of the group.
Starting with the third Homecoming in 1953, we invited a different
Nashville star to wrap up the shows as the last act. The invitations
were enthusiastically accepted by most of them, and they arrived
in their busses filled with other performers and background musicians.
Since the Homecoming had become a famous civic project, the performers
donated their time and talents.
The most gratifying thing that came to me from the festival was
the formation of the Renfro Ramblers from winners of the talent-hunt
shows. I got the group a daily radio show on WRVK, Renfro Valley,
and they filled in on the Saturday Night Barn Dance when John
Lair's performers were out of town. I wrote, directed, and was
master of ceremonies for the show. I also sometimes played guitar
or bass and sang in a quartet. I drove many miles each month
selling commercial time for the shows. I also booked shows for
them in schools and clubs to give them further experience and
One winner of the talent-hunt show who was not a member of the
Ramblers was a Berea College student by the name of Billy Ed
Wheeler, who was a singer and song-writer. He later went to Nashville
and did well. On the evening of July 15, 2000, I watched the
country music's top 100 duets show on CMT. Billy Ed's song, I'm
Going To Jackson, written many years ago came in fourth in the
The talent that was discovered on the talent hunt show was amazing.
Gene Slone from Jackson County, Darryl Edister from Berea, and
Rudolph Thomas of Springfield were instrumental guitarists who
had the amazing talents of Billy Keith Williams. Gean Slone went
on to Nashville to a very successful career playing lead guitar
for Don Gibson, George Hamilton, and Skeeter Davis. He is now
retired and lives in Ormond Beach, Florida. He recently called
me to talk about the old times. He told me about the money he
made in Nashville. My only reply was something like, "You
certainly could not have made that kind of money in Jackson County."
Red Foley had two daughters, Shirley and Betty. Shirley married
Pat Boone, and Betty married Bentley Cummins who later owned
a multi-million dollar chain of restaurants. Betty was a member
of the Renfro Ramblers who later had her own show on WLW Cincinnati.
She also sometimes sang with the Coon Creek Girls.
Renfro Rambler membership fluctuated, but the regulars included
Harold French, a highly talented singer, and the Begley Sisters
Trio (Jewel Robinson, Sue, and Janet Begley), Billy Ray, steel
guitar player from Lancaster; plus many others who sat in with
the group from time to time.
Time passes on and so do people. The entertainers passed away
one by one. Even members of the Ramblers began passing on. Some
were Harold French, Betty Foley, Rudy Thomas, Jewell Robinson,
and Billy Ray. With this speedy attrition, the festival continued
for a period of 15 years and came to a natural end.
I am the only survivor of the Lions Club group that put this
fabulous celebration together. I am 84 years old and I am truly
B. Settles, 105 Coveside Court, Georgetown, KY 40324, shares
these photos with our readers.
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