Press Release from the Tennessee Artist’s Guild, Sept. 12, 2019:

Watertown, TN September 12, 2019 — Businesses and artists have come together to create a day to view visual arts and celebrate the season all around the city of Watertown on October 5, 2019.

The free event features several locations from artist studios and galleries to local businesses who will have at least one visual artist on site. Many of the locations have several artists whose work can be seen. Mediums range from paintings to fine crafts and the artists will be available for purchases or special commissions.

The time of the art walk will be 11 am to 6 pm on Saturday and will be complimented with live music by the Best Wurst Band and German style games at the gazebo. There will also be vendors at the pavilion near the rail road tracks.

Refreshments will be available. The event will support the Tennessee Artist’s Guild which is a non-profit dedicated to bringing opportunities to Watertown that feature visual artists, musicians, and theatrical performances.

Come to the Artizan Insurance and Gifts building at 214 Public Square to pick up a list of locations on the day of the event.

Visit www.tnartistsguild.org for more information or call Vickie Frazier at 615-697-5066.

Ralph’s Donut Shop a local Cookeville landmark for coffee, pastry and community

Cynthia and Mark Pullum operate what may be the sweetest spot in Putnam County. Ralph’s Donut Shop rolls out well over 5,000 yeast and cake donuts a day, which rounds out to about one-and-half million a year.

Five-year-old Charlotte knows exactly what she wants when she goes to Ralph’s. (Photo by Ken Beck.)

The wife-and-husband team has been the guardian of the legacy business for the past nine years, as they took the reins after the death of Cynthia’s father, the eponymous Ralph Smith who started it all.

The only downer about Cynthia and Mark’s success is that they rarely sample these delicious, deep-fried hunks of sweet dough.

Asked how many donuts he eats a day, with a smile on his face, Mark answered, “None. My wife doesn’t either. The donut shop is run by two diabetics. I might eat one a year.”

Nevertheless, they know about everything there is to know about donuts. Ralph’s Donut Shop was voted the best in Tennessee in a 2015 online “Donut Brawl” poll, and its glazed donut was selected one of best 25 donuts in America in 2016 by The Daily Meal.

Ralph and Evelyn Smith opened Ralph’s Donut Shop in September 1962 with only six stools. Today the sweet spot boasts 26 stools around two, long U-shaped counters and a small table that seats three. Ralph made the donuts, and Evelyn did the waitressing. This vintage photo rests on a shelf in the shop. Before the donut shop moved in, the building was home to Haskell Grogan’s grocery store and then a Greyhound bus station.

(Believe it or not, the average American is estimated to eat 31 donuts a year, while U.S. donut shops make more than 10 billion donuts annually.)

Much of the credit for the success goes back to Ralph, who was born in Carthage and grew up on a farm in the Smith County community of Buffalo Valley.

The World War II veteran and his wife, Evelyn, owned and operated the shop for 48 years, until Ralph’s death in 2010 at the age of 84.

Describing her dad, Cynthia said, “He was kind of gruff. He scared a lot of people with his voice, but he was jolly and loved to have fun. He was a big cut-up and loved to be the center of attention.”

She shared that their donut recipe was concocted by her father and Dallas Frazier, who also worked at the shop 48 years.

“My dad and Dallas came up with the recipe themselves. Dallas is every bit as important as Ralph,” said Cynthia.

Ralph and Evelyn sold their first donut in September 1962, and Ralph’s nephew, James Smith, was an eyewitness to the transaction.

“I can remember going up there the day they opened with my parents and my two aunts. One of the aunts said, ‘I want to be the first customer.’ She orders up a donut and a carton of milk, and it was less than a dollar. Ralph took that dollar bill and laid it on the counter beside the cash register and said, ‘That’s not going in the register.’ Later they had it framed and put on the wall,” said Smith, who lives in South Carthage.

“That place was a blowing and going back in the ’60s. Ralph and Evelyn put in some hours. A lot of the success was because of their willingness to work. Ralph was always smiling,” added Smith, noting that his uncle would not sell a donut over 24 hours old.

At first, the shop held only six stools for customers to sit in while they fueled up on donuts and coffee. In 1974, the couple remodeled the shop, and the result was 26 stools parked around two long U-shaped counters. Most mornings before 9 a.m. or so, it is not unusual for every seat to be filled.

From its inception until 1992, the donut shop operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nowadays it is open 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Nobody knows how many donuts have been produced here over 57 years, but Frazier, who also made and decorated cakes, takes a guess: “I’d say it’s up in millions or billions.”

He recollected that his first day on the job, Ralph told him there was a little problem.

“Ralph said, ‘I’m working two types of donut mix. I cannot get a good one out. One’s too tough, and one’s too slack.’ I asked, ‘What are you mixing?’ He said, ‘Eighteen pound of each mix.’ I said, ‘Let’s mix nine pound of each dough and see how it comes out,’ and that’s what they’re running today,” said Frazier.

CHOCOLATE OR GLAZED? These are but two of 40 donut and pastry choices at Ralph’s Donut Shop, a Cookeville landmark that served its first donut 57 years ago. The donut shop has been operated by Ralph’s daughter, Cynthia, and her husband, Mark Pullum (seen here), for the past nine years. Ralph’s Donut Shop was voted the best in Tennessee in 2015 and its glazed donut named one of the best 25 donuts in America by The Daily Meal in 2016. (Photos by Ken Beck)

As for how Ralph entered the donut business, Cynthia shared the details.

“My mom’s brother, my uncle Bill Elam, had opened a donut shop in Dayton, Ohio, in 1960,” she said. Bill’s Donut Shop is in fact still in business, run by two of his children and now located in Centerville, Ohio.

“Mama and Dad went up to Ohio for seven months and learned how to make donuts. Then they came back, and he drove a gas truck for Apple Oil Company. They saved their money and opened in September of 1962,” she said. “I remember telling my dad when I was 8 years old I was ready to come to work, and he put me on a Coke case washing pans every Saturday.”

Mark did not get his hands into the dough until 2010, the year they married.

“I got plunged into it. My wife and her brother [Jimmy] inherited it. She called me and asked me if I would run it. I been here ever since,” Mark said.

Mark actually made his first visit to Ralph’s with his mother more than half a century ago  — literally before he was born. “She was eating donuts here when I was in the womb,” he said.

As a boy, Mark would come with his dad to town on Saturdays, and his father would give him a quarter and send him to get a donut. “I would buy a donut, and Ralph gave me my quarter back and would say, ‘Don’t tell your dad.’”

As for what it takes to make a great donut, the donut man said “patience and learning how to work with the dough.”

The shop, which employs a staff of 20, turns out 40 varieties of donuts and pastries. Their best-seller is the butter twist, followed by a tie between the apple fritters and lady fingers.

Cynthia holds a day job in the Putnam County clerk and master’s office, but works at the shop on Saturdays panning donuts and waitressing while Mark tends to farm chores.

She says the best thing about owning a donut shop is “watching somebody who has never had a donut before they take their first bite.”

About their tasty, doughy morsels, Mark said, “We just try to take our time and do it right. It’s all done by hand. Nothing has changed since it started. We’ve added a few things [to the menu], but otherwise it’s exactly the same as when Ralph was here.”

Retired donut guru Frazier explains that he had to bargain with Ralph before he was hired.

“I was working at a donut shop up the street, and he sent for me to come down there, and he wanted me to work for him. So I told him, ‘I got a job.’ He said, ‘Well, I need you.’ I said, ‘What do you pay?’ He said, ‘I can pay a dollar and a quarter an hour. I said, ‘Naw, I’m making that where I am. I have to have a dollar thirty anyway.’ He said, ‘I can’t pay that.’

“I started for the door, and Evelyn said, ‘You better call him back.’ He said, ‘I’ll pay you.’ I went to work for them about a week later.”

Donut maker Cletus Spivey, hoisting a batch of chocolate twists, is a third-generation employee at Ralph’s Donut Shop. His mother, Michelle, worked here 32 years and his grandfather worked here before he was born. (Photo by Ken Beck.)

On a typical morning, Cletus Spivey works with gusto in the kitchen making chocolate twists and cinnamon rolls. The Cookeville native clocks in between 1 and 2 a.m. and hits the ground running.

Spivey and his family have seen a lot of donuts come and go, too.

“I’m a third-generation employee,” he said. “My mama [Michelle] worked her for 32 years, and my grandfather Harry worked here before I was born.”

Dana Garrett of Bloomington Springs provides another veteran hand in the shop.

“I worked here 15 years ago for Ralph and then went to work at the car wash. Every time Cynthia came by she said, ‘Come back and work for us.’ I’ve been back about six months now.”

In her estimation, the old-fashion buttermilk donut is “the best by far,” she says. “I eat about two a day.”

The shop might be compared to the “Cheers” bar from the famed TV series, except Ralph’s regulars are hooked on donuts and coffee rather than beer and pretzels.

About the early morning crowd, Mark said, “We have a lot of old guys cutting up, aggravating everybody. We try to have fun with the customers. The older customers are like family. I’ve got a lot of their phone numbers, and if one of them doesn’t come in after a few days, I call them.”

Mark said his favorite moments at work are when the youngsters come in. “When they look at that showcase and see sprinkled donuts, they just light up,” he said.

Meanwhile, some of his most loyal customers make pilgrimages to the shop from many miles and even many states away.

“I’ve got one lady who comes from Knoxville once a month and gets 14 dozen that she takes back to her office. And there’s a lady from New Hampshire who comes every Christmas. Last time she brought me maple syrup. She wants me to open a shop in New Hampshire,” said Mark, who has no plans to make donuts in New England.

Dallas Frazier, Ralph’s right-hand man across five decades, provides some final words. He
stops by the shop every now and then and admits, “Oh, yeah, I eat a donut, but I don’t pay for anything.”

Asked what made Ralph’s Donut Shop such a popular place, he answered, “It’s got to be the merchandise. If you make something bad, people are not gonna buy it, but if you got something that’s good, people will keep coming back. They do make a good donut.”

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Sept. 5, 2019:

Registration through September 8 for September 14-19 event

NASHVILLE – More than 275 cyclists from nearly 30 states will gather at Natchez Trace State Park and Montgomery Bell State Park on Sept. 14-19 for Tennessee State Parks’ annual Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee.

The 30th annual ride will guide riders through some of Tennessee’s most scenic and charming communities, including Huntingdon, Lexington, Parsons, Charlotte, and Kingston Springs.

Each day will feature out-and-back rides returning to stay overnight at Natchez Trace State Park and Montgomery Bell State Park. Riders will pass key attractions along the way including Mousetail Landing State Park, the historic Charlotte Courthouse Square, and Brown Creek Lake.

In addition to the ride, interpretive programs are held nightly that allow riders to explore the parks and learn skills from park rangers. Programs this year include a historic van tour of Montgomery Bell State Park, an introduction to primitive weapons, a birds of prey program, and more.

The ride is non-competitive and suitable for a range of skill levels. Riders can register for a one-, two-, three- or six-day ride through Sept. 8. Registration begins at $99 for a one-day trip and $599 for the full 331-mile trip. The fee includes a fully supported route, lodging at two state park campsites, hot showers, meals (breakfast and supper), live entertainment and interpretive programming as well as an event T-shirt. Cabin and RV campground lodging is also available for an additional fee.

The Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee is sponsored by Tennessee State Parks and benefits The Friends of Montgomery Bell State Park, The Friends of Natchez Trace State Park, The Friends of the Cumberland Trail, and the Tennessee State Park Rangers Association.

More information on the ride, including a map of the route and registration instructions, can be found at www.thebrat.org.

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Justin P. Wilson, Aug. 29, 2019:

Link: https://comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, working in close cooperation with Middle Tennessee State University Audit and Consulting Services, has completed an investigation of questionable activity within the MTSU Athletic Department.

The investigation began after Athletic Department officials first detected potential problems.

Investigators determined that a former associate athletic director charged $3,500 to his university purchasing card to buy 100 copies of “A Guide to Etiquette for Student Athletes.” At the time of the purchase, the associate athletic director was listed as one of two incorporators of the company that produced the guide, and he was identified on the corporate website as the chief operating officer.

The former associate athletic director told investigators he purchased the etiquette guides for the football team and denied any association with the company. Although more than half of the football team recalled receiving an etiquette guide, the athletic director, football coach, and director of football operations told investigators they did not know about this purchase.

Athletic department officials could not determine whether the purchase of the etiquette guide was in the Athletic Department’s best interest.

Additionally, investigators found that MTSU Athletic Department staff used the university’s purchase credit with a sports and fitness company to obtain at least $34,084 in athletic shoes and sports apparel for friends and family.

MTSU had a contract with a sports and fitness company that provided a specified amount of retail purchase credit that enabled coaches and athletic staff to obtain free apparel and other items. The contract stated the free products and apparel were “for use by (or in connection with) the Covered [athletic] Programs, clinics, camps, Coaches, Staff and such other purposes as UNIVERSITY and/or Director of Athletics may deem appropriate.”

The Athletic Department neither monitored nor tracked purchase credit orders to determine if they were made in accordance with the contract terms, or the university’s acceptable use practices.

The results of this investigation have been communicated with the Office of the District Attorney General of the 16th Judicial District.

MTSU officials have indicated they are establishing new practices and procedures to correct these issues.

To view the investigative report, go to: https://comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html