- [S106] The Mountain Press, 3 Apr 2008.
Thank you, Wilma Maples
By: BEN CANNON Staff Writer
April 03, 2008
SEVIERVILLE - Walters State Community College and the Tennessee Board of Regents honored Wilma Maples of Gatlinburg Tuesday for her support of the college.
After a luncheon provided by the school's Rel Maples Culinary Arts program - named for her late husband - Maples received with the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy.
The award is presented to individuals who demonstrate commitment, leadership and support for higher education in the state.
Donations from Maples and others paid for the first building on campus and the additional two buildings dedicated earlier this year. The Conner-Short Center houses the school's culinary arts and professional entertainment programs. Cates-Cutshaw Hall is an academic building with 13 classrooms, computer labs and offices for faculty and staff.
"Through her generosity and support, Mrs. Maples set the pace for a fund-raising campaign that has realized over $18 million in local contributions in support of the college's efforts to build a permanent campus site in Sevier County," Chancellor Charles Manning, who presides over colleges other than the University of Tennessee system, said.
Dr. Jack Campbell, president emeritus of Walters State, said Wilma Maples' donations were critical to the development of the Sevierville campus.
Maples said her willingness to "share" came from growing up in the Depression. From her parents, she learned the importance of helping others. She added that her marriage to Rel Maples, who with his new wife ran Gatlinburg Inn and restaurant, tripled the desire to help others.
"I did what I could," said Maples, who still works every day at the motel. "But there are a lot of other people that donated what they could, and I can't take credit for everything. This (campus) wouldn't be here if it wasn't for everyone's help."
The college opened its first building on the Old Newport Highway campus in 2000. Some 700 students were enrolled. Maples' donation was the largest from private individuals.
Enrollment has nearly doubled on the Sevier County campus in the last eight years.
"Higher education in Sevier County is more accessible than ever thanks to the vision and generosity of Mrs. Maples," said Wade McCamey, president of Walters State, whose main campus is in Morristown.
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 11 May 2008.
Spotlight on Walters State: Wilma Maples' donation kickstarted fundraising effort
By: STAN VOIT Editor
May 11, 2008
The thing she is proudest of at Walters State in Sevierville is the Rel Maples Institute for the Culinary Arts, the only one of its kind on a college campus in Tennessee.
"Rel would have liked that," Wilma Maples said.
And he would have liked his widow spending so much money to help the college. Her initial donation of $500,000 kick-started the drive to raise money to build the current campus. When it was time for two additional buildings, Maples came through with another $500,000. She also paid for the reflecting pool and fountain that are featured on the front of the campus, and she paid for the weather vane atop the main building.
Wilma Maples has contributed more than $1.4 million to the campus, which was built on donated land and has three buildings all paid for with local money.
"She is a great lady and person," former Walters State president Jack Campbell said, "who genuinely cares about this county and the people who live there."
Gatlinburg Inn opened in 1937, three years after Great Smoky Mountains National Park was chartered. Wilma and Rel married in 1937 and she immediately went to work at the motel, which then featured the finest dining in Sevier County.
"I enjoyed the restaurant and motel," she said. "I am an extrovert and outgoing."
Maples had been an employee in the national park for five summers. She was living in Oak Ridge when Rel Maples, then 48, asked the 30-year-old Wilma to marry him. They did that 53 years ago. He died in 1985.
When approached about making a donation in the drive to raise money for the Walters State campus, Maples didn't need much coaxing. But she also didn't want a hard sell either. Her CPA, the late Jim Hickman, showed her how to do it, and she gave the first of her donations.
"A lot of people gave," she said, noting Reese Ripatti donated the land. In 2000 the first building opened - Maples-Marshall Hall, named for Rel and Wilma Maples and Reese Marshall Ripatti.
Ruth Cutshaw and her sister, Jessie Cates, donated property to the college which sold for $2.4 million, and the college received bequests from Mary Ellen Conner (more than $1 million) and Clara Ann Short ($2 million). Cates-Cutshaw Hall and Conner-Short Center were dedicated earlier this year.
"Her initial contribution gave us hope," Campbell said of the money Maples donated. "I don't know who we would have gone to if she had said no. When she heard we were building two new buildings she came forward, without me asking, with another sizeable contribution."
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 9 Mar 2010.
Park gives tip of Stetson to honorary ranger
Longtime Great Smoky Mountains National Park supporter Wilma Maples is presented with a mounted Stetson for her contributions by Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson (Submitted)
NATIONAL PARK — Great Smoky Mountains National Park managers and Friends of the Smokies board members gathered recently to recognize long-time park supporter Wilma Maples of Gatlinburg as an honorary National Park Ranger.
Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson presented Maples with a mounted Stetson hat for her numerous contributions to support improvements to the Park, as well as support of the park’s staff and their families.
“Over the years, Mrs. Maples has stepped up on numerous occasions to help the park overcome a challenging situation and keep us moving forward,” Ditmanson said. “In 2005, we were ready to award a contract for the new Twin Creeks Science and Education Center, but the lowest bid received still exceeded the federal funding available. The Friends of the Smokies came forward to make up the shortfall, with a leadership gift from Wilma.
“She has been there for us on numerous other occasions. She helped create a Tremont endowment that allows less fortunate students to participate in hands-on, residential environmental education programs.
“She helped launch the Friends’ Trails Forever capital campaign to upgrade park trails, supported our Parks-as-Classrooms program, and helped establish a Smokies Employee and Alumni Association Scholarship Fund that provides college funds to children of park employees.”
In recognition of the park’s 75th anniversary in 2009, she presented the park with a 105-acre tract of land that adjoins Foothills Parkway right of way just west of the Spur.
Upon accepting her mounted hat, Maples said, “I have always thought that being named an honorary ranger is one of the nicest things that can happen to anyone.”
Maples is owner of the landmark Gatlinburg Inn, but she originally came to the Smokies from her native Loudon County in March 1943 to accept a three-year war service appointment as a clerk/stenographer to the chief ranger. She followed that appointment with a job at the Gatlinburg Inn where she met, and later married, its owner, Rel Maples.
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 3 Feb 2011.
Dining room at Walters State honors Maples
Walters State has named the dining room in the Conner-Short Center building on the Sevier County campus after Wilma Maples of Gatlinburg. The ceremony was held at the college on Tuesday. Pictured with Maples are Wade McCamey, left, president of Walters State; and Jack Campbell, president emeritus.
SEVIERVILLE — Walters State honored the many contributions of one of the college’s most generous benefactors by naming the dining room at the Sevier County Campus after businesswoman Wilma Maples of Gatlinburg.
The college held an unveiling ceremony on Tuesday to express its gratitude to Maples for her support of the Sevier County institution.
“Because of your steadfast commitment to improving the quality of life in your community and for your continuous support of the Walters State Sevier County Campus, the dining room at the Sevier County Campus will forever be known as the Mrs. Wilma Maples Mountain Rose Dining Room,” Jack E. Campbell, president emeritus of Walters State, said during the ceremony.
“I cannot think of anyone who deserves to be honored more than Mrs. Wilma Maples,” Campbell said.
The dining room is located in the Conner-Short Center building. “Mountain Rose” refers to the roses Maples grows at the Gatlinburg Inn, of which she is owner and manager.
She planted them in memory of her late husband, Rel Maples.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by Maples, several of her family and friends, Walters State President Wade McCamey and college staff and students.
Maples has been a leader and major donor in the development of the Sevier County campus. In 2000, the first building at the campus, Maples-Marshall Hall, opened and was named in honor of Maples and her husband Rel, and Reese Marshall Ripatti of Sevierville.
Walters State’s culinary arts program, the Rel Maples Institute for Culinary Arts, is named in honor of Maples’ husband, a pioneering Gatlinburg restaurateur and businessman.
Maples also provided significant support for the recent campus expansion in which two new buildings, Cates-Cutshaw Hall and the Conner-Short Center, were built at the campus. She has also endowed scholarships and supported major projects to beautify the grounds of the Sevier County Campus.
In 2008, Maples was named a recipient of the Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy. The award recognizes individuals who demonstrate distinguished commitment, leadership and support for higher education in Tennessee.
“Mrs. Maples is truly a special person who cares deeply about ensuring that the citizens of Sevier and surrounding counties continue to prosper for generations to come,” said McCamey.
- [S112] Census, 1930.
Name: Wilma C Miller
Event Date: 1930
Event Place: District 3, Union, Tennessee
Marital Status: Single
Estimated Birth Year: 1924
Relationship to Head of Household: Daughter
Father's Birthplace: Tennessee
Mother's Birthplace: Tennessee
Enumeration District Number: 0006
Family Number: 31
Sheet Number and Letter: 2B
Line Number: 70
NARA Publication: T626, roll 2280
Film Number: 2342014
Digital Folder Number: 4547928
Image Number: 00457
Household Gender Age
Parent Robert E Miller M 45
Parent Nomoni I Miller F 44
Ruby C Miller F 21
Goldie C Miller F 19
Opal C Miller F 17
Bonnie C Miller F 15
Maud C Miller F 13
Winnie C Miller F 12
Dixie M Miller M 10
Edna C Miller F 9
Wilma C Miller F 6
Nemonia C Miller F 1
Foenery Beckwith M 42
- [S23] Atchley Funeral Home, (http://www.atchleyfuneralhome.com/), 30 Dec 2011.
Wilma Cook Miller Maples
May 25, 1923 - December 30, 2011
Birthplace: Union County, TN
Resided In: Gatlinburg Tennessee USA
Visitation: January 04, 2012
Service: January 05, 2012
Cemetery: White Oak Flats Cemetery
MAPLES, WILMA COOK MILLER – 88, of Gatlinburg, passed away Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 at her home, The Gatlinburg Inn. She was the operator of the inn, a prominent philanthropist and conservationist, and a beloved sister, aunt, friend and employer, widely known for her grace, generosity, strong opinions, and high standards and morals. She was born May 25, 1923, on Clinch River in Union County to Robert Eli “Dixie” Miller and Naomi Cook Miller, who raised her and 10 other children. Uprooted by the Norris Lake project, the farm family moved to the Martel area of Loudon County, where Wilma was graduated from Lenoir City High School. After attending Knoxville Business College, she became one of the first female employees of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, working in the headquarters, then at The Gatlinburg Inn and at Oak Ridge. In 1953, she received a surprise letter from the inn’s owner, Rel Maples, proposing marriage “out of the blue,” as she liked to recall. They married in 1954, and she became an active partner in Rel’s businesses, which had included building the inn in 1937, before the park opened, and founding the town’s first bank in the hotel lobby in 1950. They shared a strong work ethic, leased land for the Sky Lift, extensively remodeled the inn, and developed Hunter Hills Theater and the show “Chucky Jack” about Gov. John Sevier and the founding of Tennessee, then donated the theater to the University of Tennessee. World-famous entertainers performed at the theater and the inn, and songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote “Rocky Top” and other tunes in Room 388 and the David Crockett Tavern, a restaurant with fine food and linen tablecloths. The restaurant’s 1969 closure, on their belief that good help was hard to find as Gatlinburg’s tourism economy boomed, showed their high standards of operation. After Rel’s death in 1985, Wilma spent little time at the new home he had built for her on Cosby Road, with a grand view of the park, but she occasionally hosted Gatlinburg Garden Club events there. She made her home at the inn, to which she seemingly transferred the devotion she had given her husband, maintaining its character and distinction, exemplified by the rose garden she had planted for him. In her 58 years at 755 Parkway, she watched Gatlinburg evolve from a mountain-hollow hamlet with a few tourist-oriented businesses into a bustling, increasingly cosmopolitan entertainment center. Much of what she saw did not suit her, and she was not bashful in saying so. She became involved in preservation and conservation, was the leading individual donor to the Friends of the Smokies, a group dedicated to protecting America’s most-visited national park, and recently gave the park a nearby 105-acre tract to prevent its development. Her main focus was on education, supporting libraries, scholarships and local schools, at one point giving her nieces and nephews Encyclopedia Britannicas. At the Sevier County Campus of Walters State Community College, her philanthropy included creation of the nationally accredited Rel Maples Institute of Culinary Arts. No limited obituary can truly capture the generosity Wilma extended to worthy causes, or the love that she gave her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and extended family and friends, for whom she hosted annual reunions at the inn. “I wouldn’t change a thing about my life,” she told WBIR-TV at 87. “It’s like a fairy tale, almost.” Her survivors include two sisters, Bonnie Miller of Lenoir City and Naomi M. Barker of Dunlap; a brother, Glen A. Miller of Grand Junction, Colo.; and her beloved caregiver, Becky Creswell of Knoxville. Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, in the Wilma Maples Mountain Rose Dining Room at Walters State Community College in Sevierville, with the Rev. Ron Lukat officiating and burial in White Oak Flats Cemetery in Gatlinburg. Pallbearers will be employees of The Gatlinburg Inn. The family will receive visitors from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Atchley Funeral Home, 118 E. Main St., Sevierville, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Walters State. Those wishing to make memorial gifts to a charity of their choice are encouraged to notify the funeral home so that family and friends may be informed.(www.atchleyfuneralhome.com)
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 30 Dec 2011.
Wilma Maples remembered for generosity, support of good causes, lasting friendships
by DEREK HODGES
Maples was named an honorary Park Ranger after she donated land to the park. Superintendent Dale Ditmanson made the presentation. Maples was the largest single donor to Friends of the Smokies.
Maples received a special award of recognition from the Tennessee Board of Regents for her financial support of Walters State s Sevierville campus.
Wilma Maples with Lester McClain and John Rippetoe. The two were roommates when McClain became the first black football player at Tennessee and spent time at the Gatlinburg Inn 43 years ago.
Maples gets a signed copy of a book by Bill Landry, who often featured her in his "Heartland" TV series.
Maples, second from left, and Reese Ripatti at the naming of Maples-Marshall Hall at Walters State in Sevierville.
Maples was on hand in 2010 when the dining hall at Walters State was named for her. Walters State President Wade McCamey and former president Jack Campbell were also in attendance.
GATLINBURG — Though Wilma Maples has passed away, she has left her fingerprints on institutions throughout Sevier County and her mark on countless individuals who considered her an inspiration.
Through an endearing personality and a giving spirit that made her a major backer for a host of local organizations, particularly those related to education, Maples built up a long list of followers and friends. Her passing has left a void that many of those who were close to her equate to a death in their own families.
Maples had been left in poor health after a series of strokes, including one recently that forced her to be transported to the hospital from the culinary institute she founded and named for her husband at Walters State Community College's Sevier County Campus. In the end, the strong and independent Maples made the decision to leave the hospital for the rooms she shared with her husband Rel as she realized her time had come, friends have said.
"She was unable to eat or drink after her third stroke in the last several weeks," Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade of Sevierville said. "She was taken off a feeding tube at the hospital and was returned Tuesday to the inn under hospice care."
Maples still astounded the steady parade of friends who stopped by the inn to visit, as she simply squeezed their hands.
"It was amazing that, even though she had not had any kind of nourishment in several days, she was still able to respond to us in that way when Justice Wade and I went to see her Wednesday," Friends of the Smokies President Jim Hart said. "She was such a strong-willed and determined individual. That always impressed me and, I think, everyone who knew her."
Maples herself may have been prepared for her passing, but the friends and admirers she left behind certainly wish it had never come. Even in her last hours, they held out hope there might be some turnaround.
Chuck Bradley, who serves as manager at the Gatlinburg Inn and has been friends with Maples for many years, knew Rel and Wilma from his earliest days; his family and the couple connected through a history of friendship. When he was old enough, he took a job working at the inn before moving on to other things, though he later returned after his retirement at the Maples' request.
"I started here when I was a sophomore in high school in 1967 as a bell hop. From there I worked as a bus boy, a waiter, a dishwasher, a janitor and did the front desk, which is where I ended up staying," Bradley recalled. "The Mapleses were always so good to me. At that time Gatlinburg shut down in the winter and I knew I needed a more permanent job. So I left to pursue other things and they told me if ever I'm back in the state, they'd have a place for me."
It took several decades but after jobs that included time as director of the state's unemployment office and a stint from 1992-95 as mayor of Gatlinburg, Bradley was ready to come back. Maples called him and asked him to come back to manage the business as she moved out of some of those roles.
"I came back as front office manager in 2009," Bradley said. "I was afraid things would be really different and I would have to adjust or change some things. I was surprised, though I probably shouldn't have been knowing Mrs. Maples, to find the operation was still exactly as it was when I left here 34 years before."
Bradley considers the Mapleses part of his family after all these years and said watching Wilma Maples' days come to an end has been "very tough."
Apparently the little woman with the big heart had a way of becoming family for many people she knew over the years.
"This is a sad time for all of us at Friends of the Smokies because we're not only losing a supporter and a friend, it feels like we've lost a member of our family," said Friends President Jim Hart. "She has been such a big part of everything we've done for as long as the Friends organization has been around."
Maples was actually the largest individual donor to the group, which works to preserve the national park. She made gifts through it that have helped add land to the park, restore trails and generally help others enjoy the beauty she saw in the mountains she loved. Her gifts also helped create the Parks as Classrooms initiative, which brings local schoolchildren into the Smokies for hands-on learning, and build the Twin Creeks Science Center.
In those projects, Maples showed the intersection between two of her greatest passions, the park and education. She believed education was the key to a good life and did much to promote it. She was one of the chief organizers in getting a campus of Walters State Community College in the campus, with the first building on that property, the Maples-Marshall Hall, bearing her family's name. She also endowed a new culinary institution there, helping build it a home that now bears her husband's name. Inside, however, is the Wilma Maples Mountain Rose Dining Room, dedicated to her honor for her support of the school and named for the 450 rose bushes she planted beside the Gatlinburg Inn for her husband.
"Because of your steadfast commitment to improving the quality of life in your community and for your continuous support of the Walters State Sevier County Campus, the dining room at the Sevier County Campus will forever be known as the Mrs. Wilma Maples Mountain Rose Dining Room,” Jack E. Campbell, president emeritus of Walters State, said during a ceremony just under a year ago. “I cannot think of anyone who deserves to be honored more than Mrs. Wilma Maples."
Maples and her husband endowed scholarships, helped local schools and generally did all they could to ensure Sevier County's children had access to education. After Rel Maples died in the mid-1980s, Wilma Maples supported projects to build new libraries in Gatlinburg and Sevierville.
She also worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of the area. She was a great supporter of the Gatlinburg Garden Club and, of course, the Smokies. It was her dedication to the park, to which she recently donated a large tract on Cove Mountain, that allowed her to build a friendship with Hart and nurtured one with Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade, who serves on the Board of Directors at Friends of the Smokies.
"I often heard her comment about the joy she derived from giving to a cause she deemed worthy, and occasionally heard her corresponding lament, 'It's almost a shame that some never experience the real joy of giving,'" Wade remembered. "It is perhaps appropriate that her last days on this earth are in the Christmas season. To paraphrase Churchill, she made a living by what she got, she made a life by what she gave."
Wade said the quiet Maples taught him many lessons that have loomed large in his own life, though the most important was that of the value of giving.
"Sometimes we just forget how nice it is to make a gift, especially if it's unexpected," he said. "She was a master at deriving joy from making a gift to those causes she cherished most. She lived a long live and she was strong in her religious beliefs. She walked the walk and talked the talk.
"I have no doubt her passage into heaven will follow a very brief conversation with St. Peter in which he will tell her, 'Well done.'"
It seems most everyone who knew Maples credits her with teaching them lessons they couldn't have done well without.
"I always came away from every interaction with her feeling like I had gained something and that I was richer for the experience," Hart said. "She had a clear idea of what she wanted for her area and how to achieve that. Her passing leaves a void, but it also leaves a legacy for a lot of us of giving to the things and organizations that matter."
Gatlinburg Special Events Coordinator George Hawkins called Maples "an inspiration for a lot of people.
"To see her live by the principles she has held all these times, she's really a hero," he said. "She taught me that you've got to keep the past, but you've got to move on at the same time."
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 31 Dec 2011.
From humble beginnings, Wilma Maples rose to become a force in business, charity
by DEREK HODGES
Wilma Maples died Friday at the age of 88.
GATLINBURG — A local legend who welcomed generations of visitors to the Smoky Mountains and was one of Sevier County's greatest patrons died Friday at the inn she helped build into an institution.
Wilma Maples had the kind of life in her 88 years that best-selling books are written about, from humble beginnings to a marriage proposal that came in the mail to rubbing elbows with celebrities. She ended her life in the Smoky Mountains she vowed never to leave, passing quietly in the apartment at the Gatlinburg Inn she once shared with her late husband.
Maples often seemed to be bragging when she would reminisce about her modest beginnings, getting a distant look on her face as she talked with what seemed to be an ever-present smile that made her eyes sparkle from behind silver-framed glasses. One of 11 children, she helped work on her parents' farm in Union County and laughed in later years as she recalled literally walking two miles in every kind of weather, including snow, to get the education her family put a premium on.
Her clan moved to Lenior City when she was in the eighth grade and she graduated from high school there before attending Knoxville Business College. After completing her studies, she got a job with Great Smoky Mountains National Park as assistant to J. Ross Eakin, the first superintendent. She was among the earliest employees of the new park, which was officially created in 1935. She often credited the post with helping nurture the seeds of her love for both the park itself and the hills of East Tennessee.
From there she took what would turn out to be a fortuitous job at the Gatlinburg Inn, which was then one of only a handful of lodging houses in the resort town that was filled with natural spaces and stores run by crafters. She would eventually leave that seasonal position for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, though she was brought back to Gatlinburg not long after by a letter from Rellie "Rel" Maples, her former boss. In it, the man 18 years her senior asked her to marry him "out of the blue," as she would often describe it. The message included promises of how her life would be if they did wed, including the vow she could sleep as late as she wanted. Wilma Maples would later laugh at the thought, saying Rel
She moved back to Gatlinburg for a courtship that ended with their marriage in 1954. That union lasted 31 years, ended by Rel Maples' death in 1985. The couple lived in the apartment at the inn for 25 years, with Wilma Maples planting a garden of 450 rose bushes for her husband that survives today. In 1975 they moved out of the hotel to a home they had built over the previous two and a half years.
Since Rel Maples' passing, Wilma Maples was most often found at the inn, staying in the apartment and welcoming a new generation of traveler as she worked seven days a week up until her health prohibited it. Even after she moved back to the Parkway property, she still hosted occasional fundraiser gatherings for groups like the Gatlinburg Garden Club at the home, with each an elegant affair planned in detail by Maples herself.
In her later years, Maples pined for the Gatlinburg she knew when she first came to the inn, begrudging the changes that made her little rose garden the last plot of green in downtown, as she both loved and hated to call it. While she welcomed the growth of the area as a destination for those looking for its beauty, she sometimes sparred with city leaders over what she saw as a lack of foresight in how the development was being done.
That devotion to the ways of the past led her to preserve the Gatlinburg Inn in a state that made the late-1930s construction seem to be stuck in a time warp. An alpine-inspired sign — devoid of the neon that illumines many other Parkway properties — remains out front, floral wallpaper decorates the lobby and wood-paneled walls fill the rooms. Rules that now seem antiquated also endure there, including ones mandated by Mrs. Maples that unmarried couples not share a room, motorcycles not enter the parking lot and dogs just plain stay off the property. Guests were also forbidden from bringing their own food into their rooms.
There is considerable history to the place where pictures of celebrities, some of them standing with Maples, adorn the walls as guests walk in. There are local tales, like the stretch in the mid-1940s when the city offices were located there, the fact the city's first national bank and dentist's office got their starts there, and the basement space where the area's first large press newspaper — a predecessor of The Mountain Press — was printed.
Then there is the national and worldwide renown. The inn became a stopping-off point for celebrities, including those who performed at Hunter Hills Theater. Rel Maples mortgaged all his property to build that venue, which became the first facility of its kind in Gatlinburg and is credited by many as leading the way in making the area a destination for entertainment. For many years it hosted the outdoor drama “Chucky Jack: the Story of Tennessee,” for which Wilma Maples and other Gatlinburg-area ladies sewed the costumes in the basement of the Gatlinburg Inn. Maples is also credited with doing promotion, landscaping, housing, business management and other behind-the scenes work on the show.
Maples would often host the stars who came to perform at Hunter Hills. She remembered proudly cooking for the likes of Liberace, whom she said loved her southern food, and rolled out the welcome mat for First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Dinah Shore bedded down there, as did Tennessee Ernie Ford and J.C. Penney, who founded the department store that shares his name.
Room 388 of the inn hosted Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967 over the couple days when they penned the song "Rocky Top," a tune that became a state song of Tennessee and the fight song of its flagship university. Meanwhile, the inn itself was featured in the 1970 Ingrid Bergman film "A Walk in the Spring Rain."
For many years the lodge also was home to the most celebrated restaurant in the city, with the eatery at the Gatlinburg Inn a destination for many visitors to the area and the Sunday dinner location of choice for plenty of local residents. Throughout its run, Maples oversaw operations at the restaurant, from the kitchen to the dining table. She always insisted on polite and efficient service from all employees, her friends have said.
The future of the inn, which is now closed for the winter season, is in some doubt with Maples' passing. The property is held in a family trust in Rel Maples' name that is controlled by Knoxville attorney Bill Davis. Maples herself wondered to friends if any of her beneficiaries will have an interest in keeping the hotel open after her passing, though so far there is no official decision on that.
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 6 Jan 2012.
‘Goodbye to a wonderful lady’: ‘Grande dame of Gatlinburg,’ laid to rest
by DEREK HODGES
Portraits of Wilma Maples by herself and with her husband, Rel Maples, were on display at her funeral on Thursday at Walters State Community College.
Mourners pay their respects to Wilma Maples.
The whole of the more than one hour of eulogies, memories and stories at Wilma Maples' funeral could be summed up in seven words, it seemed: They don't make them like her anymore.
Offered during the service, as unassuming as Maples herself, were the type of praise every person certainly hopes will be said of them at their death. Those who spoke struggled to find enough adjectives big enough to describe a woman who had an immeasurable impact on the world around her and those in it.
The memorial gathering was held in the space at Walters State Community College's (WSCC) Sevier County Campus that bears her name, inside the culinary institute named for her husband. The Wilma Maples Mountain Rose Dining Room was filled with the fragrant perfume of hundreds of roses that filled a host of flower arrangements around her casket. In rows of padded chairs set up for the occassion were as many family, friends and others who came to remember a woman called the "grande dame of Gatlinburg."
"We should all feel blessed that during our lives, we had the pleasure of knowing Wilma Maples," former WSCC President Jack Campbell said. "I'm sure that all of us here today realize Wilma Maples was truly an amazing lady. Wilma loved her community and she loved the people who lived and worked here. She wanted to do everything she could to improve the lives of the people who live in this area."
Maples did that through contributions to a long list of organizations, from colleges to organizations for children to Friends of the Smokies, for which she was the largest individual donor. That giving is to be her greatest legacy and not just because it has meant she grudgingly allowed her name to be posted by some of those she supported, David Cross said in speaking for the family.
"A philanthropist, by the definition of the word, has a love of humanity," Cross said. "There can be no better description of Aunt Wilma than that she was someone who loved humanity. You don't know how much Wilma Maples has actually done not just here, but all over Sevier County and East Tennessee."
To a one, all those who spoke told of the many lessons they learned from Maples, though Cross was the only one to undertake the effort of trying to document the education he was given at the feet of the woman who died Dec. 28 at the age of 88. His list was far from comprehensive, he cautioned, but included gems like:
Be true to yourself and your principles.
Don't eat buffets unless you're the first in line.
Quality costs more, but there's a reason.
Motorcycles and nice hotels don't mix real well.
Don't compromise your standards just because everyone else does.
Purple goes great with gray hair. (The folio printed with her obituary handed out at the service was adorned with a purple-clad Maples smiling from a rocking chair at the Gatlinburg Inn, which she helped run for 58 years.)
Try to avoid dealing with people who are in business only for the money.
Stop and smell the roses.
Roses were a theme for the memorial, from the name of the room to the arrangements. It was so because roses held a special place in Maples' life. She planted 450 of them at the inn for her husband Rel Maples and tended them until her death, proud but also sad they became the "last patch of green in downtown," as she called them.
Those who took the rostrum spoke of her disappointment at some of the ways Gatlinburg has changed, recalling how she and her husband fought to see the city "develop right," as Cross put it. Though she sometimes butted heads with officials, she still loved her community, with the stubborn insistence on reserved progress born of the love she developed for the Gatlinburg she first came to in the 1940s.
Also recalled Thursday afternoon was Maples' quiet sense of humor, which was reflected in some of the list items Cross shared and in a story Campbell recounted. He had invited her to a special meal at the local campus, for which she was one of the first donors, and when the event had ended, Maples went for her purse. She meant to leave a tip, she explained, though Campbell protested.
"This would be like if I had invited you to my home for dinner and you tried to leave a tip," he said.
"It may be your house," she quipped in reply, "but it's got my name on it."
During his comments, Cross jokingly asked a hotel worker how many unmarried couples trying to rent a single room he had to tell he didn't have space. Maples had a policy that sort of arrangement wouldn't be allowed at her establishment, one of many vestiges of the past she refused to let go of.
"I spent our slow time going over and talking to her," explained Jim Whaley, an employee at the inn. "I couldn't understand some of the ways we had to do things at the desk. I knew the old ways and I didn't mind them, I just couldn't figure out why we stuck with that. Then one day a man came in and told me his parents stayed at the inn a long time ago. I said, 'Well, do you know the date?' He told me and I said, 'What were there names?' I was able to find where they had signed the book and he was so delighted to see that."
Though some who are well-off give big in public to win recognition but offer no such generosity to their employees, Maples was a different breed, nearly the complete opposite. She made her contributions quietly and showed love to those who worked for her, Whaley said.
"She certainly loved that Galtinburg Inn, that wonderful old place," he said. "I think all us employees were probably her children in her eyes. I came to the conclusion that she loved us all like children."
Eileen Lester, another Gatlinburg Inn worker, agreed.
"She was a kind and generous lady," she said. "She was more than an employer, more like family. She will be greatly missed. On behalf of the employees, I want to say goodbye to a wonderful lady. May God bless."
And so the little girl from Millers Ferry, Tenn., who lived what she called a "fairy tale life" and died a legend was remembered by a crowd that shared laughter and tears in the poignant ceremony. They left with a charge from Cross.
"It's up to us now to carry on her legacy of helping others and giving any way that we can."