Every year on the fourth Thursday in June, Ye Olde Burlington Gang meets at Macedonia United Methodist Church on Holston Drive in East Knoxville.
Every year the group is a little grayer, and somewhat smaller, but they greet each other with big smiles and happy memories of Burlington, the once-bustling neighborhood where they grew up. They treat each other to a potluck dinner that always includes plenty of chicken, potato salad, beans, deviled eggs, cakes, pies and brownies.
And corn. This year’s dinner included at least five dishes of corn, not counting cornbread.
Every year, old friends reconnect and reminisce over the delicious food, and then there’s a short program, usually focused on the heyday of Burlington and its downtown. Jerry Hillard, who was re-elected president of the group Thursday night, read from a history of downtown Burlington this year.
But this time, the program wasn’t all eulogy. There was an injection of energy, a glimpse of the future of Burlington.
Keira Wyatt, executive director of Connect Ministries, spoke to the group about the energy building in Burlington. Thanks to support from the city of Knoxville and the East Tennessee Community Design Center and the efforts of community and business groups such as the Burlington Residents Association and the East Knoxville Business and Professional Association, Burlington has the opportunity to shine again, she said.
Through the “I Love Burlington” initiative, residents have given input on what they want to see happen in the area: a thriving business center; well-lighted, walkable sidewalks; green spaces. There is much to be done, but Wyatt said the community is devoted to the renovation, and she invited the Ye Olde Burlington Gang to join in the efforts.
As Wyatt spoke, audience members nodded their heads in approval. A revitalized Burlington seemed possible.
Perhaps next year, the gang will spend more time talking about the “new” than the “olde.” Optimism and fried chicken – sounds like a great menu.