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The Big Sandy Creek Bridge over County Road 16590 will soon receive a new name. On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 15th, the bridge will be officially renamed and dedicated in honor of country music artist and Taylortown native, Duane Allen.
The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. at the bridge, where a plaque detailing the location’s significance will be permanently placed and unveiled. The cast aluminum plaque is 20″ wide and 18″ tall, with a black leatherette background and will read as follows:
Award winning singer-songwriter-producer Duane Allen was born April 29, 1943, a few hundred yards from this bridge. Big Sandy Creek ran through the middle of the Allen family farm, where Duane picked cotton as a young boy. He learned to fish and swim in Big Sandy Creek. He rode over this bridge each day on his way to school.
It was in this area that Duane dreamed the dreams that began a long and acclaimed musical journey. He learned to sing in this community. He graduated from Cunningham High School, Paris Junior College, and Texas A & M at Commerce.
Duane joined The Oak Ridge Boys in 1966, and the group went on to break musical barriers, not only across formats, from gospel to country to pop, but across borders, touring and winning awards internationally.
Allen is currently the lead singer of the Oak Ridge Boys. Founded in the 1940s (originally named The Oak Ridge Quartet), it is one of the longest-running groups in country music history. The band has lost and gained members, but it has held its current lineup for over 40 years. William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban and Joe Bonsall have been together since the latter joined the group in 1973. Allen himself has been with the band since 1966, the same year he graduated from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University) in Commerce.
Ronnie Nutt, Preneed Counselor for Fry-Gibbs Funeral Home and retired Regional Director of The Texas Department of Human Resources, is a longtime friend of Allen’s, and it was he who brought the bridge dedication idea forward to Lamar County’s Commissioners Court. Since then, he said, Commissioner Lawrence Malone and County Judge M.C. “Chuck” Superville have worked hard to make his idea a reality.
“[I] just thought it was the right time to find a permanent way to memorialize his success in the music industry,” Nutt said. “…He still is introduced as Duane Allen from Taylortown, Texas and [he] always treasured the life and music values learned and taught by his family and friends of this area.”
The band has certainly had its share of well-deserved success over the years, including several ACM and American Music awards, and a Grammy award; it also had the honor of being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2011
“[Allen] is being inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame this summer and has already been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame,” Nutt said. “We anticipate [the group's] introduction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in a year or so…”
Still, despite all the success Allen and the band have had over the years, he remains the picture of humility. Nutt shared quotes from direct conversations he had with Allen himself concerning the bridge dedication. These correspondences prove that, no matter if you move away or how far you may travel, you never truly forget your roots.
“Ronnie, thank you so much for this huge honor. There is a wonderful feeling about a small-town boy being honored with a small bridge being named for me,” Allen said. “That just humbles me to the core. My family had its heart and soul in that community, just as all of the people in that area.”
Allen always retains his modesty, even when speaking with a close friend, as evidenced in another conversation between Nutt and himself:
“…I don’t really seek applause or honors. However, when it is done the way you have done it, I have done it, I have to tell you that it humbles this old country boy’s heart and soul.”
Commissioner Malone and Judge Superville, along with other county commissioners will be present for the dedication ceremony. Of course, what kind of dedication would it be without the man of the hour?
“He is bringing his entire ten-person family of kids, grand-kids, and son-in-law from Tennessee for this,” Nutt said. “Yes, Duane will be there in his Oak Ridge Boys tour bus.”
Before the official bridge dedication, the day will begin at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial, where Allen and family will take a private tour.
“I have been sharing with him the progress on the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial since it started,” Nutt said. “…He and his family want to tour it and honor their relatives who served by making a contribution and encouraging others to continue to support this project.”
From 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., the Allen family will present a bench and markers for the memorial, and will then be available to the media for questions and conversations.
Directions to the bridge from US Hwy 82 coming into Paris: take a left on Loop 286 South as you go under Loop 286 turning on access road to the left of Burger King. Proceed on Loop 286 South for approx. 2 mile or so turning left onto Farm Road 905 as you pass a big green roof Covenant Christian Church on your right. Stay on 905 until you come to stop sign then take a left on FM 905 and travel approx. 14 miles on FM 905 until you come to County Road 16590 (green sign) take a right and the Duane Allen Memorial Bridge Dedication is at Sandy Creek about 1/2 to 3/4 miles after you take the right turn off FM 905.
For more information about the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial Public Event, contact George Wood at 903.905.2711.
For more information about the Duane Allen Memorial Bridge and Road dedication, contact Commissioner Lawrence Malone at 903.782.6557.
For more information about the Oak Ridge Boys or Duane Allen, visit the band’s website at http://www.oakridgeboys.com/.
By Courtney McNeal, eParisExtra