Terry Morrow: Dolly Parton comes home to accept major award but not the credit for it

Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker, left, reads a proclamation recognizing Dollywood receiving The Liseberg Applause Award Friday, May. 6, 2011 as Dolly Parton celebrates on the stage at Dollywood.

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Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker, left, reads a proclamation recognizing Dollywood receiving The Liseberg Applause Award Friday, May. 6, 2011 as Dolly Parton celebrates on the stage at Dollywood.

PIGEON FORGE — Gov. Bill Haslam declared today “Dollywood Applause Award Day” for a top industry honor the theme park recently earned.

Dolly Parton returned to Dollywood on today to celebrate the award, which is an international achievement given to a theme park for general and overall excellence — everything from theming to shows to cleanliness.

“It must mean we are doing something right after 25 years,” Parton joked of the award during an interview. “We have a wonderful group of people making (visiting Dollywood) a wonderful experience for people around the world.

“I get to go out front and take the applause when it’s really other people doing all the work.”

Parton invited VIPs from around Sevier County to join her in a presentation to note the award. Though the award may not have an impact on the bottom line — getting visitors to pass through Dollywood’s turnstiles — it will certainly act as a morale booster for the thousands who work there.

Parton is well aware that Dollywood has the support of the community and a real team effort in place when she’s not around. “I do believe that any successful business starts from the top and works its way down,” she said.

“It’s not just me at the top. I am just one of the people. (The employees) do feel like it’s a family (around here). It’s a community, and they kind of get into that.”

Parton also took time to recognize the work of veteran employee Barbara Joines, who is retiring as general manager after this season. Parton sang “I Will Always Love You” to a tearful Joines and gave her a trip to Europe to see Parton in concert.

“She’s the mother of Dollywood,” Parton told the audience. “She leads by example and by heart.”

In other Dolly happenings from the day:

-- During the gathering for the award, Parton premiered a new song — the up-tempo “Shine Like The Sun” — from her forthcoming CD “Better Day,” coming this summer.

-- Parton will be back around these parts in July when she performs at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time in 26 years. Around 85 percent of the 9,000 tickets have been sold. More seats will be made available if the current ticket supply are scooped up.

-- Decked out in black leather pants, knee-high boots and a snug jacket, Parton, who kept a tissue in her boot after she wiped her nose, told one reporter of her hectic schedule this year: "I just don't have time to get old!"

-- The annual homecoming parade celebrating Parton is set for tonight in Pigeon Forge. Parton will ride in a mock crop duster plane from which she'll wave to the crowd.

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