First you learn and then you’ll teachJakob Dylan, American Singer/Songwriter
About that bright, bright light
Making its way
On up the mountain night and day
And you’ll get tired and you’ll get weak
But you won’t abandon your masterpiece
Now there’s a light making its way
On up the mountain night and day
And you’ll go down and you’ll go deep
But you won’t surrender your masterpiece
You won’t surrender your masterpiece
You will deliver your masterpiece
My sister Lisa delivered her masterpiece. She sought and created community and natural beauty wherever she was, and for all of her 63 years she lived within a few miles across the river from Downtown Knoxville in South Knoxville. Most of our ancestors go back a few hundred years in this area that used to be farmland outside the city limits. And Lisa married Rocky Stanley whose forebears have farmed and/or grown plants on the same land since the early 1800s. The Davenport-Stanley farm is now also home to Stanley’s Greenhouse which was started in 1955, by Rocky’s parents Charles and Mary Kathryn–where Lisa joyously worked for around 25 years.
After their marriage, when Lisa was 18 years old and Rocky was 19, Rocky’s parents, helped them buy a home in the most desirable residential area in South Knoxville: Island Home. When the area was developed for residential housing a hundred years ago it was named Island Home Park.
According to the Knoxville History Project, led by its executive director, Knoxville historian and writer Jack Neely, Island Home gets its name from a small island down the river from downtown Knoxville. The land was originally owned by Moses White, son of Knoxville’s founder James White, who sold it to Col. Thomas Williams. There was a small island just down the river from Knoxville which became known as “Williams Island”.
Quite a few colorful characters and well-connected folk lived in Island Home from its beginnings, including the man that Col. Williams eventually sold the land to: Perez Dickinson. A relative of one of the most influential of American poets Emily Dickinson, and a native of New England, Perez originally came South to teach at Hampden Sydney Academy, a boy’s school that originally opened in 1817. The academy had several iterations and at one time was combined with East Tennessee University, the institution that would eventually become the University of Tennessee.
During the Civil War, Dickinson found himself on the wrong side when Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861 to join the Confederacy. Tennessee was the last state to secede (and the first to rejoin the Union) but tensions ran high in East Tennessee with loyalties splitting families, businesses being confiscated from Union sympathizers, and some men leaving the state to muster in Kentucky to fight for the Union. Although he was said to be a slave owner himself, Dickinson was a strong proponent of the Union and eventually left Tennessee.
After Dickinson died, his pastoral riverside property passed to his son, then, several other owners before it was laid out as a planned community by the Island Home Park Community in 1911. By 1922, the neighborhood had 44 homes, and more were built throughout that decade.
Just past the entrance to the Island Home neighborhood, is a circular green space where, beginning around 1912, electric trolley cars turned around before making their way back to downtown. According to Knoxville Area Transit (KAT), the last trolley car made its run in Knoxville in 1947. A few years ago, along with help from her daughter Abby (shown in photos above), who lives on Island Home Boulevard, Lisa added plants, trees, and shrubs to the Trolley Turnaround site.
Professionals and civic leaders of Knoxville have lived in Island Home ever since. Their numbers included the physician Frank Faulkner, who not only was the head athletic trainer for the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team in 1928, but delivered our father, Roy Rotha Allen, when he was born in April 1935.
When we were young, Mama and Daddy had close friends who lived on Island Home Boulevard just down the street from Tennessee School for the Deaf that was relocated to the area in 1924 from its former location downtown. Many of our classmates in school lived in Island Home, and we had playdates with them. One of our high school teachers, Rose Mary Pressley, and her family owned the house that would become Lisa and Rocky’s home in 1988.
Our parents were also friends with Tom Jr. and Grace Parkhill (photo below) who lived on Island Home Avenue. Tom Jr. became a nationally known hybridizer of tall-bearded irises since his wife Grace was particularly fond of their flowers. Lisa and I played Barbies with their daughter Beth, and Tom III, Lisa, and I were in a high school production of the play”Tom Jones”. Lisa (shown rehearsing in the photo below right) was Sophie, the leading lady, but we all knew it was Tom that would be the one who would take his skills to the next level.
In 1989 Tom Parkhill founded the Tennessee Stage Company, a 501c(3) theater company providing local actors with professional opportunities. Tom remains TSC’s founding artistic director, and the company operates with the guiding motto typical of Tom’s wit: “Elvis is our co-pilot”.
When Tom found the leading lady of his life, Laura Regis, they were married on Knoxville’s Market Square right in the middle of the highly popular Rossini Festival benefitting Knoxville Opera. The marketplace where the Stanley family once sold its flowers and plants, hosted the marriage of Tom and Laura (above center) on April 23, 2016. Their touching wedding in the midst of the cacophony of a local street festival was one of the most perfect weddings I have ever had the privilege to attend. After their nuptials, Tom and Laura made their home in the only home Tom Parkhill has ever lived in, which was a few streets over and up the hill from Lisa and Rocky Stanley.
Lisa fervently believed there was no other place to live in the world than Island Home. Having lived in Fort Worth; Morristown, Tennessee; and West and North Knoxville, I found there were a few spots on Earth that were inhabitable besides South Knoxville.
In the past few days, I have come to understand more fully why my sister was rooted so deeply in the soil of Island Home. It was the people of Island Home, her neighbors. When we walked through the neighborhood together, Lisa knew who lived in every home. She knew how long they lived there, what they did for a living, where their children went to school, and how they changed their home or garden since they moved in.
When Lisa was diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer in fall 2019, her community rallied around her and over the next few years left gifts, flowers, and food on her front porch. As she endured radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy, her spirit was indomitable, but her body weakened, and the cancer continued to spread.
When Lisa passed away on June 19, 2022, a few of her neighbors decided to celebrate her life in a tangible way. Wayne and Carolyn Williams, Lisa’s neighbors since 1977, put their heads together with Joni Morabito and Mitzi Congleton, and came up with a plan. Wayne, a talented woodworker, built a beautifully crafted bench out of pine and ash, created a raised bed of pebbles to anchor the bench to the site, and added a plaque that reads:
Lisa Diane Allen Stanley
Mitzi, a sought-after portrait artist, painted a sign that reads: Lisa’s Garden. They decided to place the bench underneath a dogwood tree, Lisa’s favorite tree, facing the river.
When the garden bench and sign were finished, her neighbors invited us to a special family unveiling of Lisa’s Garden on September 16, 2022, the night before the official dedication for the entire neighborhood the next evening.
Tears came to my eyes when I saw Wayne’s handiwork and Mitzi’s sign officially dedicating this public space of Island Home as a garden celebrating Lisa’s life. Her neighbors’ generosity was overwhelming, but so perfectly Lisa. The next night I was delighted to see Tommy Smith, who represents the First District on Knoxville’s City Council. He lives in Island Home with his family and does a fantastic job for our city. It was also a pleasure to see Debbie Billings, former owner of Graphic Creations, who another neighbor of Lisa’s, who built her business with integrity, professionalism, and kindness.
Lisa’s passion was Stanley’s Greenhouse, but when she had a few moments away from the greenhouse, Lisa worked in her home garden. She favored pink cleome (photo below right), her Edgeworthia bush, panolas (a cross between pansies and violas), pansies, violas, hydrangeas, and a contorted willow (below center right) that she planted along her fence line in the backyard. This tree has quite a story.
Lisa gave birth to her first child, Zachary (called Zach), in 1985, however, when she tried to have a second child, she found it difficult to get pregnant. After many interventions failed to produce the desired result, Lisa stopped fertility treatments and, to her surprise and great joy, found that she was pregnant again. When Lisa gave birth to Abigale (known as Abby), in August 1995, my husband Kurt and I gave her a dozen yellow roses with a small branch from a contorted willow tree in the center. Of course, being Lisa, she decided to root the willow branch and when it was big enough, she planted it in her backyard. Now, 27 years later, the willow that was once a floral decoration, is a 30 foot-tall tree.
Just as she always did, Lisa took something rather insignificant and grew it into a powerful statement of natural beauty that can be enjoyed up close as well as from afar. Similarly Lisa created a sense of community with tangible gifts to her neighbors and neighborhood, but also gifts of her spirit. She inspired many people to share her passion and grow their own gardens. She shared her enthusiasm with her customers, neighbors, friends, and family. She was an original.
Kurt and I were watching a British crime drama called Silent Witness the other night and one of the main characters, Leo, quoted a line from British poet and novelist Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”:
What will survive of us is love.Philip Larkin, “An Arundel Tomb” written in 1956, included in the book “The Whitsun Weddings“, published 1964
From Lisa’s love of Rocky came their children Zach and Abby, and from Lisa’s love of the natural world and her love of people around her came the sense of community that she created so effortlessly. That communal spirit between the natural world and humankind continues in Lisa’s Garden in Island Home. She continues to bring people together even after she is no longer physically with us. Her love goes on. Lisa never abandoned her masterpiece.
// Anna ~ 9/25/2022