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Classic tunes, dumplings fuel fundraiser at Green Bluff church during ‘Apple Days’

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 7, 2019

The bubbly Merridee Joy McCarthy performs at the Green Bluff Community United Methodist Church Center on Oct. 6, 2019. McCarthy is a country singer from the late 1970s and early 1980s and has sang at Green Bluff for the past 20 years. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
The bubbly Merridee Joy McCarthy performs at the Green Bluff Community United Methodist Church Center on Oct. 6, 2019. McCarthy is a country singer from the late 1970s and early 1980s and has sang at Green Bluff for the past 20 years. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

In an old schoolhouse up in the close-knit community of Green Bluff, hundreds of apple dumplings made their way from kitchen to table on Sunday,

The Apple Festival in Green Bluff is a chance to celebrate fall with pumpkin and apple picking, a corn maze, famous pumpkin donuts and other fresh produce from the small family farms in the area.

The annual fundraiser for the Green Bluff Community United Methodist Church keeps Priscilla Davis very busy.

Davis donned a red sweatshirt and apple earrings as she finished peeling the tart yet sweet Braeburn apples for the dumplings.

Visitors entered the front door of the church’s community center, where they saw a quilt up for raffle on display and the smell of cinnamon filled the air.

Upstairs, Merridee Joy McCarthy sang “the classics,” Downstairs, vendors sold everything from potholders to church T-shirts.

It’s a tradition that ebbs and flows, Davis said.

The church fundraiser runs the first three weekends of October.

Davis lives on a farm that has been in her husband’s family for decades. She also has been involved in Green Bluff’s four major activities: the church, the Green Bluff Grange, the growers association and the home economics club.

She even made her career out of volunteering as the coordinator at different Veterans Affairs offices for more than 30 years.

Now that Davis is retired, she puts her heart and soul into the community.

“This girl right here does way, way more than anybody else,” said Herb Batterson, the head trustee at the church.

The fundraiser helps keep the church standing strong in the community. The money goes toward the biggest need the church has each year. One year that meant a new roof, Batterson said, but usually it’s saved for general upkeep.

The church has been a constant in Green Bluff since 1909. The current congregation is about 20 or 25 people, said Batterson.

“Most of us are old,” he added with a chuckle.

The church isn’t completely void of youngsters, though, as evidenced by the 14-year-old Brighton Rhys, who wore a frilly apron as he happily assembled dumplings.

Rhys has been helping with the dumplings for the past three years.

“It’s just something fun to do,” he said.

“It keeps him out of church on Sunday morning,” Davis joked back.

Rhys’ grandfather encouraged him to get involved in Apple Days a few years ago. Since then, he has learned every step of making the apple dumplings, which cost $4.50 each.

“You can smell when they’re done,” said Rhys, as he poured a cinnamon-and-sugar mixture into the center of an apple.

As a fresh batch of dumplings heads to the oven, McCarthy keeps crooning.

The 73-year-old McCarthy has been a professional singer for most of her life.

She sings at the Green Bluff church frequently, and Apple Festival is one of her favorites.

Back in the late 1970s, she recorded eight songs on vinyl 45s in Nashville. Her song “Better and Better” played nationally and is still one of her favorites to perform.

After she slowed down recording to spend more time with her son, Shayne, McCarthy started singing at events like political fundraisers, then made a quick run in Las Vegas before hitting the local singing circuit of parades, fairs and community events.

She loves “easy listening music” and sings anywhere she can, including weddings, conferences and airplanes.

“I’ll sing in the elevator if they let me,” McCarthy said.

The thing that sets McCarthy apart from the typical event singer is her over-the-top love for everyone she meets, said Pastor Helen Dunlap.

“As long as I’ve been working here she’s been singing here,” Dunlap said. “Merridee loves everybody, and they can see and feel her love.”

A lot of people come in by themselves and are lonely, but Dunlap said that the music helps them feel at home.

Singing is the way McCarthy shows love, and she can’t imagine slowing down.

“Oh, I love it, from my head to my toes, until I take my last breath,” McCarthy said.

On Sunday, McCarthy was excited to meet and chat with everyone who ventured into the community center.

“You learn so much from everybody you meet,” McCarthy said. “There’s always something to be learned from knowing lots of people.”

McCarthy finds all that love she shares in her strong faith. She said she uses singing as an opportunity to share her faith with others.

“People need love. People are hurting every where – we just have a hurting world,” McCarthy said. “Making them feel loved – that’s my reason for living.”

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