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Native American celebration’s founder remembered

Judy Key (foreground left) talks to Jonesboro resident Kevin Baker and his mother, Virginia Baker, after the Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. Native American Heritage Celebration at Stately Oaks Plantation Saturday. Key's late husband, Ted, founded the event more than 30 years ago, and his contributions were recognized during the festivities.

Judy Key (foreground left) talks to Jonesboro resident Kevin Baker and his mother, Virginia Baker, after the Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. Native American Heritage Celebration at Stately Oaks Plantation Saturday. Key's late husband, Ted, founded the event more than 30 years ago, and his contributions were recognized during the festivities.

— Ted Key was not physically at Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc.’s Native American Heritage Celebration Saturday — but his spirit was felt — participants said.

Key, who founded the event more than 30 years ago, died last September. This was the first time the event has been held without him. However, as soon as visitors walked into the Bethel Schoolhouse at Stately Oaks Plantation, they were greeted by an old video of Key — in full Native American attire — playing the role of a Muscogee Indian welcoming visitors to his village.

Several participants spent the day reminiscing about Key and the impact he had on their lives.

At the end of the festivities, participants and visitors gathered for the dedication of the Ted Key Pavilion. Frank Hall, a Lakota Sioux who participated in the celebration, stood up and told attendees that he considered Key to be like a family member.

“I consider him my misu, my brother, and that’s how I refer to him,” Hall said.

Organizers said it was important for them to keep the Native American celebration going at Stately Oaks because they consider it part of Key’s legacy in Clayton County. The pavilion they dedicated in his memory is located next to school house and on the edge of a replica Creek Indian village Key built more than 30 years ago.

Historical Jonesboro volunteer Ray Muse said it was fitting to dedicate a part of the Stately Oaks property in Key’s memory since he put so much in to the site.

“None of this would be here if it wasn’t for Ted, so that’s why we’re going to dedicate this pavilion to him,” said Muse.

Debbie Lundell, one of this year’s organizers, echoed those sentiments as she broke down in tears while leading a prayer at the dedication ceremony.

“As we dedicate this memorial, we know Ted will continue to reside here in this place through all of his contributions and through all of the lives he enriched,” Lundell said.

Some of the reenactors who participated in the celebration said Key had an impact on their lives that stretched back to their childhoods.

Locust Grove resident Denis Byrd said he first got involved with the event in the early 1990’s when he was one of Key’s students at Adamson Middle School. He said his involvement dropped off when he went to college but came back in 2001.

Byrd gave the musket demonstrations at the celebration.

“It’s hard this year without Ted here because this was his baby,” said Byrd.

Jonesboro resident Kevin Baker said the annual event and Key’s contributions to preserving Clayton County’s Creek Indian history will be one way his spirit lives on. Baker is himself part Muscogee Indian and part Scottish-American.

“Ted Key was not native himself, but he was a native in spirit,” Baker said.

Key’s widow, Judy, attended the ceremony with their son, Michael, their grandchildren and his brother and sister-in-law. Judy Key it was hard to be at the event her husband founded because his death is still fresh for her.

But the events he helped establish for Historical Jonesboro, including the Native American celebration and an African-American history event, should continue because they are part of his legacy, she said.

“I am very proud and I was very blessed to be a part of his life, and I know how important Stately Oaks was to him,” Judy Key said. “It’s a wonderful thing to know his memory will continue, that his legacy will continue and that even those people who may come in the future who never knew him will look at that [pavilion] and want to know ‘Well tell me something about this person.’ ”

And, while many participants spent the day reminiscing about Key, many attendees got to learn about the Indian traditions and customs he was intent on preserving.

Jonesboro youth Katelyn Van Dyke became enthralled with a corn cob dart game which required her to through three corn cobs through a hoop.

“I could play this all day,” she exclaimed.

Van Dyke’s mother, Heather, said this was the first time they had attended the event although they had been to Stately Oaks several time sin the past. She said the educational aspect of the event was one of the reasons why she wanted to bring her daughter to it this year.

“There aren’t many things to do in the county, but this was something I could bring her to and she could have fun while learning about the county’s past at the same time,” Heather Van Dyke said.

Woodstock residents Kevin and Pale Callahan brought their 17-month old son, Kaysano, to the event. The Callahans are originally from Alaska and are members of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Aleut tribes. They moved to Georgia seven months ago and thought the celebration would be a good opportunity to learn about Georgia’s native tribes.

“We wanted to meet other Native Americans and see who lives here,” Kevin Callahan said.

The couple said they enjoyed themselves and their son got a Lakota Sioux blessing from Hall.

Even without Key around to guide them, several participants and Historical Jonesboro volunteers said they want to see the event continue every year so his vision to can continue to outlive him.

“I’m very very pleased that Native American day is continuing and they did not just kill it because Mr. Key passed,” Baker said. “Every person who is here volunteering is doing it out of the love and the drive that Mr. Key had for this thing. That very thing that drove him is what keeps bringing people back.”