Monday, December 8, 2014

The Legend of Miss Kay Ends Quietly

Miss Kay: The legend
Kay Wilkins--the legendary Miss Kay--died today and a couple of generations of mountain kids will deeply morn her passing.

Miss Kay was the square dance coach at Cranberry High and later Avery High School in Avery County, N.C., and was the pattern for the coach in my novel CLOG! She was the best coach in any sport I ever knew, and I have been around sports--17 years professionally--all my life.

The details of her funeral, tentatively set for Thursday, have not been released. My suspicion would be that it will be held in her beloved Avery County, perhaps at the high school she so dearly loved.

Miss Kay, who must have been near 90 when she died, was a native of Plumtree, N.C., who went away to school after finishing at Cranberry High, but was never gone for long. Miss Kay became the square dance coach at Cranberry in the late 1940s and built an incredible dynasty at the tiny school--about 300 kids in four grades--that won eight state and three national championships.

I finished high school at Cranberry in 1964 and had a class--sociology--with Miss Kay.

She dominated the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville in the 1950s and 1960s, winning its Old Smokey trophy over and over. That was one of the most prestigious competitions in the U.S. then and it remains so.

Miss Kay didn't just teach the kids to dance; she taught them how to live. She took them to foreign countries, to exotic cities and had the team as a guest on the national TV show "Hee-Haw" several times when it was a Top 10 hit.

I talked to Miss Kay while she was in the nursing home where she died in Marion, N.C., for a piece I did for Blue Ridge Country magazine (here) titled "The Ballad of Miss Kay." She was bright and sharp and delighted to hear from me. I had no idea she would even remember me, but she did.

The story I wrote won an international award and led to the book. Somehow just about anything Miss Kay touched won something important, including, and especially, the hearts of those who loved her.

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