Olivia Denton

Olivia Denton, Marina Manager; Bristol, VA:

"I grew up in Denton’s Valley, which is in Sullivan County, Tennessee, technically a part of Bristol, Tennessee.

I grew up as the oldest of four kids. My momma and daddy have been married for forty years. We grew up on a small farm. We always had either cows or pigs, or both. From the time I can remember, we grew up outdoors in the garden and raising tobacco. Play time was spent in the creek, running through the woods, building forts and building dams. We grew up knowing how to work, and how to work hard, and how to play, and how to play hard and knowing the joy and value of family. 

So what makes [Appalachia] special to me [more] than anything is because of where I grew up, and the limited means of my family growing up. We spent most of our time together as kids, my siblings and I. My family was always together. We learned very quickly that we would depend on each other above anybody else and that I always would be able to depend on them no matter what. I think that is a unique thing in growing up this way and in growing up in this area. I know other families that grew up the same way, and then beyond that family unit, you could depend on other families that were like you. It is a sense of not only a very compact and close family unit, but then a very compact and close community as well.

Appalachian people are very honest and are a very talented type of people. I think we are misunderstood, and some of our nuances are mistaken as lack of intellect. But definitely I think that is a misconception. There are a lot of talents and a lot of down home common sense that is characteristic of Appalachian culture, but we get very misunderstood.

[Media Portrayal] Just because of the way I talk, they’re gonna expect me to be as dumb as a brick. But that’s not true. Many of the smartest people I have ever known, if they go away from here they are going be expected to be unintelligent just because of how we speak. I think how we speak is very unique and I think it sounds great and when you walk away from here, people always want to hear it. But the media does tend to look for a way to portray us in that misconception. They look for those of the Appalachian culture who may almost concrete that misconception. But. the media’s job is to attract the listeners and viewers and they do that by being sensational.

I get homesick [when I vacation]. I get homesick! I wouldn’t call myself well-traveled, but I would call myself traveled. I have been in Mexico; I have been in the Upper North East, United States. I have been into Canada and spent some time in L.A. My best friend and I grew up here from sixth grade on, and were raised very similarly and the track of her life took her all over the country and she has lived in many different places and I have visited her. I always enjoy going to see different places and seeing how different people live. I‘ve never wanted to go and stay away. I always wanted to come home. I love it here. It is a relief, almost. to get home.

I would say in a lot of ways I’m still a hillbilly. I think it’s just a way of being. People call you country. I grew up being known as a mountain kid more so than a hillbilly. I just think there are characteristics of that; things that are important and things that are not important to you. I am not real concerned about clothing, or I am not real concerned about having my nails painted, but by the same token I am real concerned about family and I am real concerned about hard work and I am real concerned that people perceive me as being honest and trustworthy and determined. 

I think it is more how I want my characteristic and my personality winds up being perceived. As a mountain kid, what that really means to me is just that those things that were ingrained in me as a kid that are still there. I was taught the value of family that they are a priority, and the value of God and church and the places that those things have in your life and that those are still there. I can dress up and go sit down and eat with a dignitary and do just fine, but my heart and spirit is still a mountain kid.

I am very much into fitness. I go to the gym five or six days a week. I got very deeply involved in nutrition and working out and, you know, part of being a mountain kid, and part of being a country girl, is you eat that way and eventually that tells on you. So I went to work on that. 

I like anything with a motor. Growing up, I always liked cars and I always liked motorcycles and those kind of things. As an adult, I spend time with my toys. I have a big old jacked up Jeep that I like to run around in, and I have a souped up Mustang that I really enjoy and I ride a motorcycle. 

I grew up watching my dad race motorcycles. He always had one, and he was always taking us kids for a ride with him on one. That’s how I got interested in motorcycles, and to this day, he loves ‘em. He has a couple of Harleys, himself. My momma had her own motorcycle and rode it as a sixteen year old rather than a car. I think it’s just something about growing up around it that made me interested in it. What kept me interested in it, to me, it’s a freedom thing. You ride a motorcycle, and if [you] ride it up here in those mountains, and when you go around those curves, it’s a freedom thing. You feel like you are flying and dancing at the same time. On a motorcycle, you are completely alone if you want to be. You stick your helmet on, you can put music in or not put music in and you are in nothing but your head and that’s a lot of times a relief.

One of my brothers has a ‘57 Chevy that he’s been working on, restoring for a lot of years and eventually, he’ll get it done. My other brother, he is all the time building some sort of Jeep or Samurai just to go out and get in the mud. Both of my brothers are interested [in cars] but not my sister so much.
Primarily, the first thing I would say is, don’t listen to the way that I talk, listen to what I say.

My momma had been sick for a long time; she has had problems for as long as I can remember. It is heartbreaking to watch a parent to not be in good health. My mamaw passed away a few years ago and I was very close with her and I miss her every day. She was part of who ingrained all that in me. You know, I wish she was here to see me now.

She was feisty. That was probably the best word to describe her. If she got a knock at the door and didn’t know who she was expecting, she would meet them with a shotgun and she wasn’t afraid to run them off with it. She was the epitome of independence. My grandfather who would have been her husband, passed away before I ever even was born. She had a son with Down’s syndrome that she took care of until the day that he passed away. And she did it by herself. Like I said, she just was the epitome of courage and independence and determination. 

Her name was Flossie Martin. She taught us how to make biscuits. She was a lot of fun. At the same time, she didn’t allow a great amount of nonsense. She wasn’t great on whoopin’ us but, like for example, if I spent the night with her, if I wouldn’t stay in the bed she’d tell me some ghost story about a ghost being under the bed, to make sure I’d stay in the bed. So, she had her ways of making sure that you did what you were supposed to do.

My story probably is not anything uncommon; a lot of people have to start over in life repeatedly. My family grew up as a construction family. My dad has always worked in construction and he started his own company back in ’96 and both my brothers and I worked for him. I worked full time for him for fourteen years and figured I always would. 

Then, of course, everybody is probably familiar with the housing market crash that occurred a few years ago. A good deal of what I did for him was involved in housing. So when that housing bubble burst, my job with my family then had to go. No longer was the company able to support a fulltime Office person/Residential Project Manager. So I had to start completely over. 

I did a few things on my own. I owned a couple of businesses during that point and I have climbed back up to here, to the Marina. I feel like that is a huge accomplishment to go from basically being laid off and changing careers almost completely and now being here, managing this beautiful place.

The Marina has over 600 slips. There is the rental of the slips to the clientele. We also have a ships store that I manage which is more of a retail type of activity. I’m also involved in managing the restaurant that we have down here. It’s a big customer service business and we are down here right on South Holston Lake year round. I get the best of both worlds. I get to use my talents that I’ve developed over time in management and also be outside in the mountains. 

For a mountain girl it is the perfect setup."