A 70-year-old photo that fell out of a book inspired Sue Sloan Carlton to donate $10,000 to the South Pittsburg High School band program.
Carlton, a retiree who lives in Washington, D.C., was looking through some books that belonged to her mother, Dubie Sloan, who died in May.
"I was flipped through ... and this picture fell out," Carlton said.
The 1940s photo showed her father, Sam Sloan, holding a trombone. Her mother, who played clarinet, was in the photo, too, along with other teens who had gathered to practice at a friend's house.
Since Carlton was searching for a way to honor her parents' memory, she got in touch with band director Jon Elliott.
"After talking to her, I realized she wanted to make a real investment," he said. "I was blown away. I'd never heard of anything like this happening."
The band desperately needed new equipment.
"That was, in my opinion, the biggest need that we have," Elliott said. "We have a tuba that's 50 years old, and it's in horrible condition."
Along with a new tuba, Elliott plans to use Carlton's money to buy a set of timpani, or kettledrums, and a soprano saxophone.
"It's like the instrument Kenny G. plays," he said.
Elliott's goal is to have a complete set of saxophones -- alto, tenor, soprano and baritone -- so students can perform at events as a quartet.
Raising the band program's profile by doing more performances was one of the things Carlton asked for when she donated the money, Elliott said. Carlton plans to make two more $5,000 donations to the band over the next two years for a total of $20,000.
Carlton, who served as an aide to former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd, D-Tenn., hadn't seen the high school's marching band or symphonic band perform before she made her donation.
"I have just been so impressed," said Carlton, who met recently with Elliott and band members.
"I thought, 'They don't want to be bothered with me,'" she said. "All of the sudden I had people hugging me. I had high school students wrapping around me saying thank you. I was totally blown away by the whole thing."
Now, Carlton is a regular at band practices and Friday night football games while she stays in town on an extended visit.
Elliott said Carlton has become "part of the family."
"She wants to be vested here," he said. "She wants to be involved and have a relationship with the kids."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.