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Safe Harbor reaps success with storyteller

Sometimes you have to go to plan B.

That was the case on a very rainy Sunday, when a much-anticipated fundraiser was forced to relocate from Nanny’s Fine Dining to the exhibit hall at the Butler County Fairgrounds.

Still, organizers managed to turn a “lemon” of a day into a feast for body and spirit alike, as a crowd gathered to eat, fellowship and laugh aloud at a gifted storyteller’s larger-than-life tales.

“I am so grateful to Richard Branum and the Butler County Fair Association for always having my back and providing me with a place to house this many people,” said Rebecca “Bec” Duncan of Nanny’s, who organized the event in memory of her sister, Nancy Duncan Blackmon. Blackmon was a longtime friend and supporter of The Children’s Advocacy Center, better known as Safe Harbor, the non-profit organization which serves children victimized by abuse and crime in Butler, Crenshaw and Lowndes counties.

“So many people really enjoyed it when Sean came and performed on Nanny’s front porch last year. So we knew we wanted to do it again. But we also wanted to have a fundraiser for a worthy cause that could serve as a memorial to our sister . . . and Nancy really valued what Safe Harbor does for the children in our community,” Duncan said. “It was a cause close to her heart for many years, and she also served on their board of directors . . . I believe she is smiling down on us right now.”

Safe Harbor director Kathy Smyth, who described Blackmon as not only a strong supporter of Safe Harbor but a “dear friend,” expressed her appreciation to Duncan and all those who volunteered to make the event a reality.

Before the afternoon’s live entertainment, attendees enjoyed a meal of Nanny’s famous chicken tenders, mac and cheese, green beans and a yeast roll with a slice of cake for dessert.

Duncan introduced opening act Steve Norman as “more than just Nancy’s boss at the probate office—he was her friend and she really loved Steve and his wife, Robin.”

Norman performed a number of tunes by country luminaries. He also played several songs by the old friend he described as “the second-best songwriter to come out of Butler County, with Hank Williams being the first”–Rock Killough. 

Dietrich then strapped on his guitar and climbed onto the flatbed trailer serving as a substitute for Nanny’s front porch. From there, he entertained the crowd for more than an hour, lacing his oft-hilarious “tall-ish” tales with warm, mellow renditions of hymns, folk songs and other tunes such as “Because He Lives,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “In the Garden,” often inviting the audience to sing along.

There were stories recalling his third-grade teacher (“She was only four-foot-nine, but with that beehive of hers, she stood over seven feet. She’d use steps to climb up on her desk and tower over us”). His best friend’s grandmother, Miss Myrtice (“Miss Myrtice had fluffy white hair, drove a Lincoln the size of a Waffle House and only listened to the Sunshine Singers and the Bill Gaither Trio on the radio. And Merle Haggard. I asked her why Merle Haggard? She said, ‘Because that Merle is a good-looking man’”). And there was the harrowing time Dietrich went for a simple trim before a speaking engagement in Birmingham, sneezed at the wrong time–and wound up with no eyebrows (except for the ones Dietrich’s stylist drew in with “Amber Dawn” lipstick in an attempt to match his red locks).

Following his performance, fans lined up to purchase copies of his books from Dietrich’s wife Jamie. They also took the opportunity to chat with the author, get their books signed and pose for photos with the affable Dietrich, who actually gave away several books to a fan who traveled all the way from Atlanta to the Camellia City to see him.

As the exhibit hall began to empty Sunday afternoon, a tired Duncan was sporting a broad smile.

“I’ve already had about six different people ask me when we are going to do this again,” she said. “I’m so glad everything turned out this well. And we are still taking donations to Safe Harbor in Nancy’s name.”