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Sunday Stories

Unsung Heroes: The Trifecta of Volunteers

May 3rd, 2012 1:16 pm by Staff Report

By Marsha Salley

Dressed in their 1850s regalia, it could be said that Eleanor deNobriga, Billee Moore and Suzanne Burow share a certain style. Their ‘work clothes’ lean to floral prints in serviceable cotton, bonnets and work shoes - not something you’ll find on the red carpet but de rigueur for hanging out at the Exchange Place on Orebank Road in Kingsport.

The working farm has been listed on the National Register of Historical Places since the 1970s and the three ladies have been a constant presence at the site for nearly that long. Between them, they have logged 75 years of volunteer service at the Kingsport destination.

The three are good friends, as well as well co-volunteers, and they each bring their own individual talents to their positions. Suzanne, the other two insist, is the unofficial historian and author of a historical book on cemeteries.

"The Exchange Place is a living farm that represents life of the 1800s. We do things the way they did them in 1850," explains Suzanne. The site includes a garden with all manner of vegetables growing as well as heirloom flowers that can be purchased and replanted for home gardens. The animal population runs the gamut from "milking shorthorn cattle to Suffolk horses, and Tunis and Cotswald sheep," Burow adds.

The three laugh heartily at themselves and each other and share the knack for finishing each other’s sentences as people who have enjoyed long relationships often do.

While Eleanor is known for her excellent quilting skills, which the others don’t share, Billee says that the Exchange Place, like all farms, requires "everyone to do a little bit of everything."

Eleanor agrees and takes the compliment to her needle skills with a grain of salt. "You can be a beginner, but we have high standards. We’ve never turned anyone down, but we have taken out stitches," she says.

At 62 acres, the farm well exceeds the 50-acre state requirement that makes it a living farm, Suzanne informs me. As a tourist destination, it attracts individuals as well as school groups and tour buses. Billee once had to accompany Kingsport employees on a sales' trip to promote the region to tour bus services. That inspired her to develop a "hijacking" as she calls it.

"Some of our group, dressed in period costume, flag down one of the buses and insist that they need a man to marry off to a designated lady at the farm. It’s all been rehearsed ahead of time with everyone except the people in the tour group being in on it. But, of course, they can tell it’s all in fun... so we ‘kidnap’ one of the men and have a mock wedding complete with ‘flour’ girls who hold, not flowers but FLOUR - White Lily Flour," Billee explains. "We all have a silly streak and it just takes someone to bring it out," she laughs.

While it's great fun for the volunteers at the Exchange Place, its historical significance and educational benefits inspire Eleanor, Suzanne and Billee as well.

"It grows on you..." Suzanne sums up of their work. With barns, a smokehouse, a visitor's center, blacksmith shop and more, "there are so many opportunities to do what you're interested in. And we always have a good time," she adds.

The Exchange Place is open from May through October or by appointment. For information, call 423-288-6071.

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