by Craig Juntunen
Visiting Tupelo offered me an experience in Southern hospitality and human decency I won’t forget. The tour was originally designed with cities simply determined by market size. With a population of 45,000, Tupelo was never considered by our city selection criteria. In other words, Tupelo was too small.
After yesterday, I was reminded that the heartbeat and soul of a city is not defined by the population, but by the character of those that make up the population.
Once the tour itinerary was announced, I received a call out of the blue from Tom Velie of Tupelo. Tom is the president of New Beginnings Adoption and Family Services. Tom asked if I could give him a few minutes so he could explain why the STUCK Tour should include Tupelo.
Tom was compelling. In his voice I could hear something different, and I eagerly listened to what he had to say. It did not take long: I agreed to add Tupelo to the tour. I have made a some good decisions and some poor decisions relative to this tour, but adding Tupelo was one very good decision.
The volunteer team defined extra effort. They greeted us at 7:30 AM with fresh baked breads in hand. After the homemade breakfast, we all rode the bus to go church hopping, giving me the opportunity to deliver our message at three different services. It was a great way to communicate our ideas to hundreds of people in a short period of time. Previously, the only other hopping for me had been bar hopping, so church hopping was a new experience. More importantly, it underscored the extra effort in organizing a very special day and reinforced what I have now come to learn to be the Tupelo way.
The Tupelo way continued. We arrived at a hosted lunch with 40 to 50 community leaders taking time out of their Sunday to hear about our ambitions. There were a lot of other things every one of these interesting people could have chosen to do on a Sunday afternoon, but as leaders they cared enough to represent the community and out of respect they took the time to hear what I had to say.
The next step on the Tupelo way was an organized carnival for kids at the church where the film was to be shown. It was really fun for the kids, and also symbolized the beauty of a family activity,while promoting the screening of the film. Just one more example of the extra effort put forth by this amazing community.
Hundreds of people came out on a Sunday night to see STUCK. It was so gratifying and meaningful. After the Q&A and picture taking, many of us just hung around in the parking lot talking about what we are trying to accomplish. Everyone seemed so interested and willing to help. I can’t doubt their willingness to help, not after what I had experienced today.
The day was coming to an end. I had made mention of wanting to see the historical house Elvis was born in earlier in the day. It was just a passing comment. It was now 9:30 PM and 14 hours from when the Tupelo team arrived at the bus with breakfast. After this extended day and everything the team had done, most anyone else would have just shown us a map and pointed us in the right direction and gone home to call it a night.
Not in Tupelo. Tom and his wife Debbie, along with radio personality Lauren Kitchens, jumped on the bus and rode with us to make sure we found our way to the house. I ended a one-of-a-kind day at the house the King of Rock and Roll was born in. It was a fitting way to end the day.
From this day on, I will never consider Tupelo to be too small. Instead, Tupelo seems just about perfect to me.