Knoxville artist Paris Woodhull is one of at least 10 women artists painting murals across Tennessee for the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Knoxville News Sentinel

What’s new in your community? Find out here at the Shopper-News blog. We’ll have updates on people, places, businesses, schools and sports in your community. Check back throughout the week.


Luke Akard hiked every trail in the Smokies, almost 900 miles. He’s 12.

John Shearer, Shopper News 

While many families have grown restless being stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the Akards of West Knoxville have taken the opposite route.

Kevin Akard and his 12-year-old son, Luke, have been outside, completing all of the roughly 800-900 miles of trails inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

They have literally taken the term “like father, like son” to a new and inspiring level.

Although the National Park Service does not keep records or tallies about such accomplishments, his father believes Luke might be about the youngest ever to complete the feat.

For the youngster, though, the multi-year journey was just as rewarding as the destination. “Just getting to spend time away from civilization and being able to get out and experience nature and have time with Dad was nice,” said Luke.

According to father Kevin, a mechanical engineering professor at Pellissippi State who developed an early interest in hiking in the Boy Scouts in Bristol, they started hiking together in the Smokies in 2012, not long after Luke turned 4.

“I thought it might be something he would be interested in and would give us time together,” he said.

However, he said they did not initially start with any goal in mind other than enjoyment. They actually were very sporadic the first few years and did not hike there in either 2014 or 2016.

After they began setting a goal of hiking somewhere in the Smokies once a month in 2018, they were on their way to covering some distance – and enjoying some accomplishments.     


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Through some multi-day hikes, they realized at the beginning of 2020 they were about two-thirds of the way to hiking all the trails. But they still did not think it was possible to achieve the goal this year.

That was in part because they had a spring break cruise planned with wife and mother, Kathy, to enjoy their other interest of scuba diving.

But then the pandemic began sweeping the country, and they realized they would have to traverse the countryside closer to home. However, even the outdoors was affected by the coronavirus, as the national park was closed for several weeks during the spring.

That did not dampen their enthusiasm, though. “When it reopened in May, we were there on the morning it reopened,” said Kevin.

They covered 161 miles in May through multiple day and overnight hikes, 70 in June and about 120 in July.

They saved the 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the park for last, finishing the five-day route from Fontana Dam at the south end to the Davenport Gap area – near where Interstate 40 crosses into North Carolina – on July 29.

For young Luke, reaching the completion point of an eight-year journey offered mixed emotions.

“It was happy but at the same time kind of sad,” said the youngster, who is entering seventh grade at West Valley Middle School and was featured in the Shopper News in 2018 for a patch he designed that won a trip to the International Space Station. “But when I got there, it was awesome.”

A representative of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 900 Miler Club for those who have completed all the trails told the family that they also don’t keep detailed information, but that she knew of only two teenagers who have completed it.

“We don’t know for certain, but we are pretty confident he is the youngest one to do it,” said Kevin.

Also along the way, almost as many memories as miles were secured. Besides all the breathtaking views, they also had their breaths taken away once when they realized a black bear had been outside their tent after they cooked and ate inside due to rain. They also saw plenty of birds, chipmunks and squirrels, and an occasional snake.

Luke said his favorite path was probably Old Settlers Trail between Gatlinburg and Cosby.

“It is pretty long but very flat for the Smokies, and before the park was made, there was a community there,” he said, adding that ruins of old houses and cabins are still visible.

As far as new goals, the father and son might look at going down into the water instead of up some mountains by scuba diving in all 50 states, even though the youngster has already set foot in all of them.

For that adventure, Luke is game once again. “I haven’t experienced a whole lot of scuba diving, so that would be fun,” he said.


Asian Auto Specialists is trifecta of auto mechanics

Nancy Anderson, Shopper News

 “Most places you can have it quick, cheap or done right. If you are lucky you get to pick two. At this place you pleasantly get all three. Punctuality, quality, and value,” wrote Scott Toomey in a Google review about Asian Auto Specialists at 7130 Oak Ridge Highway.

Many other reviews added a fourth pillar, honesty.

“I’ve worked at five or six different shops over the years and I’ve seen the way people are overcharged or oversold on parts,” said owner Kenny Allison.

 “We don’t do that in this shop. Giving honest service is the only way I can sleep at night. We don’t have a service writer who is paid commission. It’s me and my word, which means a lot to me.

 “I want customers to come back. If you maintain your client base, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on advertising and you get to know people.”

“I don’t have people coming back to me saying they were overcharged or the repair wasn’t done correctly. That’s the last thing I want.”

Allison opened the shop April 1, 2019, and specializes in Asian imports. He said he does work on American cars too, but prefers not to work on European models.

“I’ve been working on all the imports for more than 33 years. European cars have gotten a lot more technical and require specialized tools. Imports are more straightforward.”

Allison said he tries to repair a car quickly.

“Scheduling is really hard, because you never know if the problem is as simple as a belt or as complicated as replacing an engine. It could take a couple of hours or three days, but we work hard to get the cars back out the door as soon as possible. It’s still got to be done right, so you do have to take your time and make sure of that.”

He said he doesn’t hold up small jobs in favor of the big expensive ones.

“If someone needs a belt or something simple, I don’t let that sit on my lot for days, I get that done quickly.”

He said it didn’t take long for the shop to see a fair amount of customers. He and his customers posted on social media, which seemed to do the trick.

“When I first opened, I did a lot of advertising, which did nothing. It really is all about reputation and word of mouth.”

The shop has two full-time mechanics, including Allison, and a shop assistant. While the sign on the door says the shop closes at 5:30 p.m., Allison finds himself staying late often.

He has big plans.

“I’d like to have five or six bays with mechanics for each. Someday I’d like to just work the office or maybe even not have to be here at all, just stop by and make sure things are going smoothly.”

Info: Contact Asian Auto Specialists at 865-240-3004.


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Ben Maney offers jazz to ease pandemic stress

Carol Z. Shane, Shopper News 

Fred “Mister” Rogers famously extended his mother’s advice, during times of crisis and fear, to his young viewers. He said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Ben Maney is a helper.

The Lincoln Park resident, who teaches piano at the Community School of the Arts, Green Magnet Academy and in his private studio, is well known in Knoxville as one of the city’s finest jazz pianists and composers.

He says he generally feels “extremely lucky” during this time of financial uncertainty. His wife, June Hopper, who investigates credit card fraud for TVA Credit Union, is able to work at home, and Maney has continued with almost all of his students in virtual lessons. Though he’s lost income from evening gigs – he’s a regular at The Bistro at the Bijou – he says he and Hopper are “pretty secure.”

But from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s been acutely aware that not all of his colleagues have fared so well.

“I noticed that there were professional musicians that I knew who were out in the cold, as well as other gig workers – restaurant and bar workers. And I was also starting to worry about some of my students – especially some that I had been working with at Green Magnet. I wanted to do something.”

So he did a virtual benefit concert. Then he did another. Maney donated the proceeds to his friends in need and to Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC).

He’s also released an album with local musician, composer and producer Matt Honkonen, who runs Pitchwire, a music production company. Available on Bandcamp, it’s called “A Space for Us.” All proceeds will benefit the Community School of the Arts, which provides after-school music and art lessons to underserved children and teens.

Now, six months after the start of the pandemic, Maney is concerned about the mood of the nation. “Something has changed,” he says.

“In the initial stage, I thought ‘maybe people will galvanize over this. Maybe we’ll all work together. It’s a virus; it’s not political; it affects everyone.’” But that hasn’t happened.

So Maney – whose humanitarian instinct is every bit as big as his talent – has decided to do another virtual concert. This time, it’s just for the joy of playing and lifting people’s spirits. Unlike the fundraisers, it’s free, though Maney won’t turn away tips. So everyone, near and far, can hear one of Knoxville’s jazz luminaries from the comfort of home.

“Our government is in shambles and it’s failing people,” says Maney. “It’s hard to live in this pressure chamber and find places to decompress.” He hopes his concert will provide that. “We’re all trying to navigate through this.”

You can hear “A Solo Performance by Ben Maney” on Facebook Live at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14. Go to for more info. Buy the album “A Space for Us” at


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Dog trainer starts business to help others

Al Lesar, Shopper News 

After more than a dozen tries, Carolyn Duffey knew it was right. She had found the connection she sought.

Duffey, who moved to Powell from south Texas more than three years ago, suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder that stemmed from an abusive relationship. She was in search of a service dog that would help her deal with the tough times. Two years ago, she was scouring area animal rescues until she found Ayah.

“The day I met her, I knew she was the right one,” Duffey said. “We just had an instant connection.”

At the time, Ayah was a 6-month-old Mountain Cur pup, looking a lot like a bulldog.

“I was looking for an older dog, but when it’s right, it’s right,” she said.

Duffey and Ayah went through a year of training. The results have been impressive.

“We can go to a restaurant now and she’ll quietly sit under the table,” Duffey said. “That wasn’t always the case. It’s nice to have people who knew her before come up to me and say how well behaved she is.”

Duffey has turned the experience she had with Ayah into a business of her own. In June she started Duffey’s Dog Training, which is available for any dog but can specialize in PTSD service dogs.

Like a toddler   

Not long ago, Duffey said she was cooking dinner when she felt a panic attack coming on. She turned off the stove and went to her room to lie down. As always, Ayah followed.

“She saw me lie down and she knew something was wrong,” Duffey said. “She went to me, then she went to my husband (in another room) and barked, went back to me, then went to my husband and barked. He finally came.”

Duffey said the bond between her and Ayah is strong.

“She’s like a toddler. Wherever I go, she goes. If I put my hands over my face, she’ll come up to me and put her face in mine. She understands when I’m having a tough time.”

While in a shoe store recently, Duffey said there were several young boys doing what young boys do. Ayah completely ignored the commotion and stayed right by Duffey’s side, which is a quantum leap from the limited focus she had had just months earlier.

“Ayah is a sensitive dog,” Duffey said. “You can tell the progress she’s made.”

Be positive   

If there’s one noise that dogs don’t like to hear, it’s coins rattling around in a tin can.

That’s something Duffey uses to get her client’s attention during a training session. She doesn’t overuse the tool, but it helps get the point across.

Duffey said that while in Texas her daughter adopted a “street dog” that was running in a pack. They used the tin can method and it worked on a puppy that was a blank slate.

“You shake the can, then in a firm voice you say ‘no’ about the behavior you don’t want,” she said. “After a while, all I had to do was pick up the can and the behavior stopped.

“The important thing is to be positive most of the time with treats and praise. You’ll get to the point where the dog will want the praise more than the treats. They want to please you.”

For more information about Duffey’s Dog Training call 361-343-2199.


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House plants going mobile with neighborhood delivery

Ali James, Shopper News

Mobile plant sales are the next popular thing and we are here for it. Rather than set up at a weekly farmer’s market, Greg Blankenship, owner of Gregory’s Greenhouse Productions, is selling his plants at Pratt’s Country Market and setting up shop in neighborhoods.

“Thankfully, COVID-19 has not really hurt the horticultural industry as people always need a few veggies and herbs or a lovely house plant,” said Blankenship. “It’s definitely been a challenge with not doing the Farmers Market downtown this year – the traffic of tourism and locals is down. But, to be more mobile than before, I feel very blessed to be able to continue my business as I have all these years.”

Gregory’s Greenhouse offers three different services. “I wholesale through Pratt’s, Willow Ridge Garden Center and Mayo’s Garden Center,” he said. “I do direct sales through pop-up plant sales, and color change-outs/installs for the City of Knoxville and several businesses and apartment complexes around town.”

Just when Blankenship was about to drop part of his wholesale focus, it has taken off. “We have done really well with our spring and summer crops. I have sold probably five rotations of herbs and vegetables and flowers as well; that’s people’s comfort zone,” he said. “Even during the Depression, it was people’s go-to, and now people are staying home longer, there is always a great footprint or business model for horticulture.”

Pratt’s Country Store owner Perry Pratt and Blankenship are old high school buddies and have teamed up to sell Gregory’s Greenhouse plants and to serve as a pickup location for special orders.

“I grow a lot of stuff for him wholesale,” said Blankenship, who stops by Pratt’s two or three times a week to replenish the display and drop off special orders. “People contact me for specialty items, and I accept (contactless) payment through Venmo.”

Gregory’s Greenhouse also offers a range of tropical plants, which include anything for inside the house such as succulents, citrus trees, mixed pots, and fiddle leaf plants.

“Since I’m not doing the farmers market I am changing and tweaking what I normally do,” he said. “I’m not dropping anything, just changing the box of crayons I’m using. I think a lot of businesses are not surviving because they are unwilling to think outside of the box and a lot of people are scared. You just have to go and do your thing and be smart about it.”

Blankenship said he started his company as a dogwood nursery in 1991. Since then he has built 6,000 square feet of greenhouse space behind his Fountain City home and learned how to grow many different types of plants.

While Blankenship is busy getting ready for the fall, he is taking bookings for his mobile pop-up sales in neighborhoods and apartment complexes. Pop-up event availability is announced on his Facebook page, and he takes bookings via messenger and phone.

At the moment, he is filling his truck with tropical plants, including lemon, Calamondin (miniature orange) and Meyer lemon, which are getting ready to bloom.

“By mid-September, think anything fall with pansies, mums and ornamental peppers,” he said. “Then in late September and October I will have a truck full of pumpkins, gourds and baskets.”

Gregory’s Greenhouse Productions also does seasonal decorating and can install fall display packages for $300, $600 or $800.

“I am busier now that I was last year,” said Blankenship, who has taken the opportunity to hire more staff. “I have two trucks; one will make deliveries and do pop-up sales, and the other will do installs.”

Blankenship shared his tips for budding gardeners. “I always tell people every plant – indoor, cactus, or garden plants – need to be watered well and then you let them dry out,” he said. “Water houseplants and wait a week; you may have to water a plant daily if it’s on a hot patio. If it’s not green, it’s not happy; you may need to feed it as well.”

Another tip is to “talk to your plants.”

“The carbon dioxide helps your plant grow,” he said.



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More: What’s safe for young music students in 2020? Meet ‘Dr. G’ and the animation band


Dog Daze splashes into town

Margie Hagen, Shopper News 

Farragut is going to the dogs again, and now Dog Daze will have even more dogs vying for awards. The nationally sanctioned canine aquatics event attracts competitors from around the region and this year will draw from an even bigger pool of dock-diving dogs.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many spring tournaments were canceled, so participation in Dog Daze has ramped up. Winners of Speed Retrieve, Big Wave, Extreme Vertical and Iron Dog categories will earn points to qualify for the 2020 World Championship competition in October. There will be over 300 jumps with 150 dogs, and registration is sold out.

Dog Daze is free and open to the public, running Aug. 14-16 at Village Green Shopping Center on Kingston Pike. Food and drinks will be available under the festival tent, and local vendors will be set up for shopping.

If you think your dogs might like to try dock diving, bring them out to the “pooch plunge” 4-7 p.m. Aug. 14. Sponsored by the K9 Center of East Tennessee, it’s an opportunity for novice dogs to test the water, and it’s free. No registration is needed, but you might want to bring a towel.

Trish Isbell, owner of the K9 Center in West Knoxville, introduces dogs to water in her facility’s large salt water pool. “We teach dogs how to swim and to jump from our dock,” she said. Find out more about the full service doggie daycare and training at

Sponsor Smoky Mountain Dock Dogs Club will have members on hand to give expert advice and assist during the pooch plunge. Find the complete schedule at

And special thanks to First Utility District for their donation of water, 27,000 gallons to be exact. “We couldn’t do this without their support,” said Farragut Business Alliance Executive Director Steve Krempasky.

In other town news, Austin Strobel was introduced on July 16 as the new student representative for the Municipal Planning Commission. Explaining why he sought the volunteer position, Strobel said, “It’s an interesting time to be a youth representative now with the Town Center and 5G being discussed.”

The rising junior attends Farragut High School and plans to go to UT, studying civil engineering and business. The experience he’ll gain on the planning commission will complement his educational goals.

Strobel excels in academics, with geography, history and Spanish being favorite subjects. He has competed in the International Geography Bee for the past two years and will do it again online later this year. As a member of Youth Leadership Knoxville class of 2021, he’ll be involved in projects for school and the community. Welcome, and thanks for serving.


Football brings back happy memories

Leslie Snow, Shopper News

When I was growing up, we had two Sunday traditions and I loved them both. We had a big family brunch, and we had NFL football. Most weekends, the two traditions overlapped. Sitting around the dining room table, nibbling on pumpernickel bagels schmeared with cream cheese and lox, I’d listen to the adults argue about the Cleveland Browns.

“We can’t protect the quarterback,” my father would contend. “How can we score if he doesn’t have time to throw!” My Uncle Sandy, happy to take the bait, was sure the problem was the quarterback. “He has plenty of time to throw. He just keeps throwing interceptions!” he’d exclaim through a mouthful of pickled herring.

I’d listen to those heated exchanges, wide-eyed and entertained, but I was always more interested in the game than the arguments. I loved watching football with my family. Everyone at brunch was invited to stay and watch, as long as they donned the appropriate game-day attire.

There were Cleveland Browns sweatshirts and ballcaps, Browns scarfs, blankets, and even Browns earrings. Dressed head to toe in orange and brown, we’d gather around the TV to ride the roller coaster of emotions that comes from watching and loving a team with a long tradition of losing.

My mom would get so tense she couldn’t sit still. She’d pace around the living room, hands clutched together, chanting “please score, please score.” And when we did score, my father would jump to his feet and shout, “hot diggity!” There would be high-fives all around. 

Even though my family is spread out across the country now, we still watch football together, only we do it virtually. Every Sunday during the NFL season, we start a group text that begins with “Here we go Brownies!” and ends with “Wait until next year.” We’re passionate fans but we’ve grown accustomed to losing.

The last few days, I’ve been thinking about those Sunday afternoons watching football. They’re good memories and I’ve used them to remind my mother of all the things she can have when she and my dad move to Tennessee.

When my mother stresses about the monumental task of packing up and leaving Cleveland, I remind her that I’ll be there to help her. When she worries about finding new doctors and relocating her slightly feral cats, I promise we’ll take one step at a time and solve each problem that arises. And on an afternoon when she was hand-wringing about finding new caregivers for my father, I pulled out the memory of those days long ago when we dressed in orange and brown and cheered for our wonderful, terrible team together.

“Just think, Mom,” I said over the phone. “We can have brunch together every Sunday, just like we used to. And when 1 o’clock rolls around, we can put on our sweatshirts and cheer for the Browns. Dad can complain about the offense, I’ll argue that it’s the defense. We can yell and debate and eat chicken wings. And when the game is over, we can lick our wounds, and agree to do it all again the following Sunday.”

Something clicked for her then; my words made a difference. Instead of talking about the move with dread, she started talking about it with joy. For the first time, she could picture herself here. She could picture herself pacing around my living room, pleading for a touchdown.

“Hot diggity!” My parents are excited about moving to Knoxville.

Leslie Snow may be reached at snow


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