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Full house for ‘Mark Twain’s America’

“It’s all about the stories….listening to what the old folks have to say and passing those stories down to the next generation…that’s what it’s all about.”

The words of Mark Twain rang true as actor Will Stutts brought the acclaimed author to life on stage at the Luverne United Methodist Church Dei Center on March 9.

The special evening was the culmination of the “Big Read: Alabama Reads” program, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts. Both the Luverne and the Brantley Public Libraries have been working together for the last four months on different projects and programs, all of which led up to the “Mark Twain’s America” dinner/theatre performance.

“It was such a wonderful performance, something that has never been done in Crenshaw County before, to my knowledge,” Kathryn Tomlin, Luverne Public Library Director, said. “And we can’t even begin to say enough about the meal and the entire dinner experience—it was just grand.”

Sandy Walker and a host of volunteers served a delicious baked chicken meal, complete with twice-baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, and rolls.

“I’ve heard such great things about this (event) from everyone who attended—right down to the beautiful fishing pole dessert! This was a wonderful way to celebrate the ‘Big Read’ and to celebrate a really unique individual’s life and storytelling talents,“ Leann Perdue said.

The evening’s dessert, a white cake with vanilla icing, was topped off with a chocolate fish attached to the end of a “fishing pole”.

“I am still amazed at how Mrs. Sandy did that dessert,” Mike Jones, Luverne Public Library Board Chairman, said, smiling. “She did a fantastic job with the whole meal.”

After the dinner, Jones recognized elected officials who were present, including Rep. Charles Newton and his wife Jan, as well as many others, including the Brantley and Luverne Library Board members. He also thanked Tomlin, Brantley Library Director Davina Mount, and Luverne Library Assistant Director Regina Grayson for everything they had done to help put the event together.

“We appreciate everyone who came out tonight not only to enjoy a big taste of culture, but also to support both of our local libraries,” Jones said.

Stutts, who will be 61 later this year, astonished patrons with his performance of the elderly Mark Twain.

“When he first came out, I was afraid he wouldn’t make it up the stairs—he seemed so feeble,” Pat Davis said.

However, the lively Stutts did something that evening that he does not normally do—he “stepped out of character” after the performance.

“Alabama is home to me and it always will be,” he told the packed audience. “And as many shows as I have done over the last 40 years, I have to tell you that you, the people of Crenshaw County, are the salt of the earth….Everyone here has been so gracious and kind and helpful to me while I’ve been here, and it just makes me so proud to be able to say I’m from Alabama.”

The Luverne and Brantley Public Libraries would like to extend a special thank you to First Citizens Bank of Luverne and Dollar General for financial donations, to Rev. Ken Jackson and Morgan Wilhm and the LUMC Dei Center for the use of their facilities, to Sandy Walker for the meal, and to all of the schools, administrators, parents, and students who have played such a large role in making the “Big Read” program a success.

“We are definitely looking forward to doing this again next year,” Tomlin said.