Jo Ann McKinney
by Paula Bean
Do you know these people? Calamity Clinker, Peggy Lou Sneed, Abigail Nightingale, Masquaw, Clariee, Rose, or 1st Sargent? What about Babe, as her husband called her; Jody, her nickname in high school; or Mother as her only child, Debbie, calls her?
Did you answer no? Well, you are totally wrong. They are all Jo Ann McKinney!
These are not criminal aliases but her roles in plays, dinner shows, or re-enactments. You see, Jo Ann is a singer, actor, re-enactor, former insurance worker, and a member of Middle Cross Baptist Church.
But, let’s start at the very beginning to learn more about Jo Ann. She was born to John and Anna Mae Rawlston. John, was a deacon and he sang at church. Maybe that’s where Jo Ann got her talent! Anna Mae was a stay-at-home Christian mom. Jo Ann had two brothers and two sisters. Judy and Garry are deceased and Joel lives in Ringgold and Carol in Fayetteville, Georgia.
Jo Ann was born in Chattanooga and lived in North Chattanooga as a child. She attended Normal Park Grammar School, Northside Junior High School, and Chattanooga High School. “I was saved when I was 10-years-old at a revival at Northside Baptist Church in North Chattanooga. “I attended Northside Baptist Church for about 20 years.
“My childhood memories are all great,” Jo Ann tells us. “I had a Christian mother and father. The thing that impressed me most was that they never said a cross word or argued in front of their children. If they had problems, we never knew it.”
Jo Ann says they were always active in Sunday School and church and Wednesday night church, as well as Baptist Training Union (like Sunday school only it was held Sunday night before the regular service). “We also attended two weeks of Vacation Bible School in the summer and revival meetings every time they had revival.”
Jo Ann started work in 1956 and married Larry McKinney in 1958. He passed away in 1996. They have one daughter, Debbie McKinney, who is a registered nurse and works for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Like her mother, Debbie, has the acting bug and a good singing voice.
“The first time I sang at church with my husband, Larry, I kept my eyes closed,” she recalls. “Larry asked me why my eyes were closed and I told him, if I couldn’t see the people, then I wouldn’t be nervous!”
Jo Ann worked for 43 years in the insurance business at the same desk, same job at Provident (name changed to Healthsource and Cigna).
Jo Ann was a staff person for the Boy Scouts of America at Camp Skymont from 1980-1985. “In the early 60’s my husband was approached about being a Scout Leader for the Boy Scouts,” say Jo Ann. “He had been an Eagle Scout himself so he said he would give it a try.” The old Eagle Scout oath states, “I will give back to scouting more than it has given me.” Women were admitted to the Boy Scouts in the mid-60’s and Jo Ann joined as an Associate Advisor. She has accrued many awards throughout her more than 40-year tenure in the Boy Scouts of America.
Larry and Jo Ann had high school age boys and girls in their post, and, as an activity, they took up re-enacting. “We would pay for a school bus and we took around 30 young people on about 20 weekend trips a year to re-enact both the Revolutionary War and Civil War. “Since about 2010 I have been active on a Civil War cannon crew,” says Jo Ann.
In the 70’s they were attending Stuart Heights Baptist Church, which had programs for the girls called GA’s (Girls Auxiliary) and programs for boys called RA’s (Royal Ambassadors). Jo Ann was the leader of the GA’s for several years.
Jo Ann says, “In the 80’s I went to DeFuniak Springs, Florida for a week-long course to learn to be in charge of the shooting range at Skymont Scout Reservation for summer camp. I served in different leadership capacities at Skymont for five years.” She was also on staff at three National Boy Scout Jamborees running the Hunter Safety Course. “We remained in scouting until Larry passed away in 1996,” Jo Ann says. “I stopped then, except for some time cooking at the Order of the Arrow events.”
All this time Larry was working full-time for the Chattanooga Fire Department. “Larry retired from fire department in 1986. But, he couldn’t stand being idle, so he got a job at Silver Dollar City,” says Jo Ann. “I drove up to see him on weekends, so I got a job as Carrie Nation in the Saloon Show (no alcoholic) on the weekends.” She performed in the Saloon Show for three years and at the Hampton Dinner Theater for more than seven years.
In 1997 Jo Ann went to see a show at the Vaudeville Café and she was hooked on another adventure. “You would not believe that until I started acting, I was a very quiet, shy person, and did not make friends easily. Acting gave me a chance to be someone other than myself for one night each week. I love doing improve with the audience.”
She met with a group of people that did Single Action Shooting in 1998 and found that she liked that, too. She participated in this for a few years, working with her daughter, Debbie.
“Around 2000, I started going on one or two-week mission trips with Presbyterians for Renewal (also called Son Servants),” says Jo Ann. “I did this for more than six years. Most of the work was done in the coal mine regions in West Virginia.”
Jo Ann joined Middle Cross Baptist Church in 2009 and is in the choir and does special singing regularly. Debbie occasionally joins Jo Ann at MCBC and they sing duets. “I had been going to Calvary Baptist Church on 41 Highway with my father and when he passed away, I started looking for a place closer to home,” she says. “I live about three blocks from Middle Cross.”
In 2010, Jo Ann met up with an old friend, Brian Talbert, who owned a Civil War cannon and she ended up as #4 man on a cannon
crew (the one who pulls the lanyard to fire the cannon). “He sold the cannon in 2016, so I lost my job,” Jo Ann says.
She also acted at the Vaudeville Dinner Show in Chattanooga on weekends for 7½ years and has been in numerous plays and dinner shows since then. Members of Middle Cross Baptist Church gathered together and attend two of her plays at the Colonnade in Georgia.
She now spends her spare time reading, sewing, writing poetry, and traveling. She also dabbles in painting. “I took piano lessons for four years, but can’t really play,” Jo Ann laughs. “It seems as though I have had a colorful past. God willing, and if my crayons don’t break, I’ll have a colorful future, too.