Baskin finds a way to play despite pandemic obstacles

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, South Knox

Sara Baskin loves adventures, and she loves to travel. Both of those activities have been sidelined over the past few months.

“I get to go to Publix every once in a while; Walgreens; the farmers market at New Harvest Park,” Baskin says. “A lot of times I don’t get out of the car, but I get to go.”

The South Knoxvillian likes the Publix at University Commons because it’s “so clean, nice and polite. And they wear masks, and they don’t bug you.”

But the trek to the far end of the Cumberland Avenue Strip holds no comparison to her more far-flung journeys.

“There’s a big world out there to see,” she says enthusiastically.

Baskin has visited all 50 states and most continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia. Antarctica is her missing link.

Not bad for a pioneering kindergarten teacher who grew up in East Knoxville (graduating from East High) and first moved to South Knoxville with her parents when she was attending the University of Tennessee. After some time away from her hometown, she lived in Fountain City and reared her only son there, then moved back to South Knoxville to live with her aging parents as their caregiver until they passed away. For the past eight years, the widow has lived in a condominium in the South Woodlawn neighborhood.

Sara Baskin plays at the SWNA Night Out in 2013. (File photo by Betsy Pickle)

Baskin, born in 1944, retired from teaching about 20 years ago (she doesn’t keep track of dates) and immediately started checking things off her “list.” In addition to travel, she had music as a priority. She started piano lessons at an early age and always had a piano in her teaching classroom. She also played for groups at church; she is a longtime member of First Baptist downtown and sings with the Golden Notes choir (in normal times).

But she picked up a new instrument after retiring. At a friend’s suggestion, she went to hear old-time musicians play at a community center in Walland. Enjoying the performance, she decided, “This is more fun than anything I’ve ever seen.”

As she watched the bass player, she had another thought: “I can do that.”

“That was Friday. I got on the phone Saturday morning, and by Saturday night I had a bass and a teacher and started taking lessons. … It has been a wonderful treat to do this.”

Baskin is widely known throughout SoKno from performing at nursing homes, churches and community centers. In recent years, she has played weekly at Boyd’s Jig & Reel in the Old City. It’s been hard on her and her friends during the pandemic, but this summer, they’ve been able to get together more. They played at Ijams Nature Center last Friday, and they’ll be at the UT Gardens at 10 a.m. Thursday.

“We try to play once a week,” she says. “I call a bunch of people, and they come if they can. It’s not a performance or anything.”

The group calls itself 6-Foot-Five – keeping the five players six feet apart. Some nights they can be found playing in the parking lot at Woodlawn Christian Church.

“We’re playing for us because we miss it so much,” Baskin says.

She has been on the board of the South Woodlawn Neighborhood Association practically since she moved in.

“I was always interested in what was going on,” she says. “They kept talking about Baker Creek and the Urban Wilderness. I had invested a lot into Ijams when I was a schoolteacher. I got involved when it was in that little green house, with a few trails and a few gardens. I raised money to build their first fish tanks through my teachers’ sorority.”

South Woodlawn was the first neighborhood in the city to be designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

“I’m just so proud that all of this has come together. We’ll be the envy of the state before this is over with.”

Baskin and SWNA have been working hard to get a new dog park in SoKno – preferably at Sam Duff Park – through a grant program offered by Randy and Jenny Boyd. Randy Boyd announced last week that one of the 10 new dog parks will be in 37920, but Baskin doesn’t know where yet.

“Even if we don’t win the Boyd grant, maybe we could at least get a dog run in there.”

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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