Central Elementary at center of guitars for education distribution

John Thompson • Mar 21, 2017 at 11:05 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Now that 600 brand-new guitars are no longer being stored in an old factory building, the story can be told about Fender Musical Instruments Corp.’s support for education in Carter County and across Tennessee.

Like a lot of musical instrument manufacturers, Fender has echoed recent scientific and education research that shows children who are involved in music have better language and math ability, improved school grades and better college aptitude scores.

But Fender has done more than simply broadcast favorable information. The company recently donated a truckload of guitars and other musical equipment to schools.

Central Elementary School Principal Terry Morley said it all began a few years ago when he was discussing school needs with one of its benefactors, Janis Kyser of the Tennessee Center for Civic Learning and Engagement in Dunlap. Morley said his school and many others have worked with Kyser and her organization to promote civics education.

“I told her that if she came across any guitars, we could use a few,” Morley said. He did not expect the impact his request would make.

Recently, Fender was moving a large number of guitars and other musical equipment out of a warehouse in Los Angeles. Morley said Kyser got in touch with Fender and the company agreed to use the Tennessee Center for Civic Learning and Engagement’s nonprofit 501(c)3 status to donate the equipment it needed to move immediately to avoid paying additional rent.

Morley said a semi-trailer truck was quickly found and loaded to the limit by Fender. It then headed east to Carter County. Morley said the idea was to distribute 10 guitars to every elementary school and 15 to every high school that participated with the Center for Civic Learning.

But where could a truckload of guitars be stored until they could be distributed? Morley said the answer was provided by Charles Von Cannon, who operates an industry incubator in the former Bemberg Rayon plant in Elizabethton. Von Cannon said he had a suitable climate-controlled storage warehouse with 38,000 square feet and a suitable loading dock.

Von Cannon said he was pleased to provide the space for three or four weeks. He said he even made sure the warehouse was adequately heated to the needs of the guitars. “The extra heating bill was around $1,800,” Von Cannon said.

The storage area was taken care of, but Morley still needed to unload the truck. For that job, he recruited a few good friends. He said Dale Morley, Dewey Hill, Blake Dugger and Jordan Fenner were given sketchy instructions to come to the warehouse one Saturday morning, ready to go to work. Little did the men know they would be working until it got dark that night.

They spent the day unloading, sorting and storing guitars. As part of the sorting, the best and most unusual guitars were set aside. Morley had an idea to sustain the contribution the Fender Company had made by holding an auction for the best of the guitars.

There were some very nice and desirable guitars selected. One of the most desirable may be a Stratocaster which had been signed by the cast of the movie “La Bamba” during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The crew had told Fender to give the guitar to a worthy cause. “I guess Fender thought we were worthy enough,” Morley said.

These were not going to elementary schools and high schools. Morley planned to use them in an auction to obtain funds that could be used to provide new guitars in the future.

To make the guitars even more desirable, Dawn Taylor, one of the teachers at Central began contacting some top stars. “When I contacted them, I found them to be very nice and willing to help us,” Taylor said. Soon she had guitars signed by such stars as Rhonda Vincent and Rage.

Some of the other stars Taylor is working with include: Carrie Underwood, Patty Loveless, Josh Turner, Little River Band, Lady Antebellum and Chris Stapleton.

Morley said the auction will be held at Central Elementary School in May and will have an online element for fans who cannot get to the school.

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