Retta Folsom is a big part of Paducah. Her many puppets are a treat for so many children at the McCracken County Public Library. Retta plays many instruments and teaches piano. She and her husband Chuck have been married for 62 years - Wow! iMeet this amazing woman who gives so much musically and artistically to our community.
Welcome to iMeet, Retta. It’s such a pleasure to introduce you. Tell us about yourself...
I was born in Henry County, Tennessee, in 1938, but moved to Lone Oak when I was two years old. I attended Lone Oak Schools and studied piano with Dr. James Woodard at (then) Murray State College. As a child, a nearby wooded area was my playground.
Our home was built by my dad and it was secluded at that time. So, I often say I had a privileged childhood, not that we were financially prosperous, but I had a lot of time to play in the woods and discover nature.
I didn’t have many toys, but thankfully much music and many books and the Carnegie library in Paducah. Those endeavors have been my life's pleasures and work! My parents introduced me to poetry and gardening - other lifelong passions!
Tell us about your family...
My husband Chuck and I fell in love with each other and classical music. We married at age 18. Our early lives together were filled with work, school, raising kids, listening to classical music and collecting “LP’s”. I had a great love for the piano - he loved loudspeakers. The first items we owned were a piano and a hi-fi stereo system which he built.
We have been married for 62 years - we have begun to think of ourselves as time travelers. We are enthusiastic about sharing classical music to anyone who will listen Ha! We have three children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. We love dogs, but cats fit our life style better these days and we have two of them.
When people think of McLib, you are often the first person they recall. Tell us about your journey there...
The Carnegie Library was my childhood Saturday destination. I loved the building, the chairs, the puppets, and the Anna Byrd Stewart Department! I joined the Paducah Public Library staff in 1972 to work in children's programming, having visited Story Time many times with our youngest son. Puppets had been an interest since elementary school, now I had opportunity to find uses for them.
You and Bob Dog are very popular with the kiddos. Why do you think that is?
Children have a natural affinity for puppets! I think they like Bob because he is simple - easy to relate to. He sings and talks, and just seems to be hilarious to kids. We have conversations and read books. It is a joy!
Bob also tap dances. In fact I have several barnyard animal puppets who tap dance. The percussion of the taps and the singing and puppet movements are just good rhythmical fun.
Tell us about some of your other puppets...
There have been hundreds! Some were handmade, some purchased, and many modified. Chuck and I have been to several cities to see shows. We participate and kept memberships in Puppeteers of America, and UNIMA. Our three children became excellent puppeteers as well.
We visited D.C in 1980 for the World Congress of Puppetry and met people from many countries. We learned much about other cultures and forms of puppetry. Four of my designs were exhibited at Georgetown University during that Congress of Puppetry. It was an enriching and enlightening experience.
How did you discover your ventriloquistical talents?
I developed ventriloquism from reading books and friends who were ventriloquists and practiced, practiced, practiced!
What did you do before joining McLib over 30 years ago?
My sojourn as a paid church musician started when I was 12 years old, and for the next 36 years, I played organ, piano, and conducted multiple choirs. I also began teaching piano as I studied it in 1960, and that continues to this day. The study of music can be unlimited in scope. Grateful for that!
Any plans to retire?
Hopefully, I will never retire from Story Times, puppetry, or piano teaching until I pass. These are not just occupations, they are avocations as well. Other people will make judgments as to whether I continue public work, but I will always construct puppets, write songs, and teach music. I have written three children's books and have four more waiting in the wings…eager to get to them.
Whats do you love most about your work?
Children's faces keep me going! I love, love, love them. Musical Story Time (MST), a collaboration with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra, McCracken County Public Library and all local schools, bring music and composers to life in a six-year curriculum. This has been a dream come true to develop and be involved in MST.
Is there a “worst” part of working with kids?
Worst is a word I do not use in connection with this occupation. Worst is when I observe people in society acting unkindly, hatefully, and with a false sense of entitlement toward public services. I believe that we are all in this endeavor of living together; therefore, it's easier for humans to have good lives if we practice the Golden Rule.
Simple to say, seemingly difficult to get a consensus on that! That's another reason I love the library so much, it serves all people and the list of offered services is awesome. Please check them out.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Visiting with immediate and extended family is top of my list - being with friends, also. In solitude, I like to play piano, ukulele, guitar, and harmonica - which was a gift from my dad.
Yoga asanas daily! Hiking, working in our yard. Petting our felines, - joy. Living in Paducah, there are so many activities to attend and I love going to PSO Concerts, Market House Theatre plays, Yeiser Art Center exhibits, Maiden Alley films, Carson Center programs. I love what TrYbe is doing. This group is amazing and I catch them when I can.
Watching or reading anything good that you'd like to share?
"The Tao of Willie" by Willie Nelson. Always watch Masterpiece Theatre on PBS and I love “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”!
What's the best vacation you've ever had and whats your “dream’ vacation?
I’ve taken several trips to north and south rims of Grand Canyon - amazing!
My dream vacation would be to hang out on Highway 80 in Kentucky visiting all the mom and pop stores and restaurants along the way. We enjoyed broader travel throughout our lives, now we like to be closer to home.