The Kerosene That Saved Willa Mae (and Her Snakes)

Willa Mae and snake

In the winter of 1995, I discovered how a simple gift can be the difference between life and death for our elderly artists. In that year, there was a terrible ice storm in Winston-Salem, NC and many parts of town were without electricity. The first day after the storm MM artist Willa Mae Buckner, who lived in an old drafty house, was struggling to keep herself and her two giant pythons alive with blankets. The news reported that there might be outages for some days yet, and I knew we had to do something for our artists.

I called my friend John Creech, an early supporter of Music Maker. Driving was very hazardous, so with John along one of us could push the car when we got stuck. We headed down to the hardware store and got Willa Mae and another artist, Mr. Q, kerosene heaters and 5 gallons of kerosene. When we arrived at Mr. Q’s after some difficulty navigating the icy roads, we found he had been trying to drag an old wood stove into the house, and was happy to see we had brought him a safe source of heat.Willa Mae was also happy to see us, though she was more concerned about keeping her pet snakes warm.  

That night the temperature dropped severely and power was still not restored. The next afternoon while checking on Willa Mae, I noticed an ambulance parked in front of her neighbor’s house. Willa Mae was noticeably shaken, she told me the woman next door also had not heat and had frozen to death.

The realization that the simple gift of a heater and kerosene might have saved Willa Mae’s life gave me the inspiration to formally create Music Maker’s Sustenance Program, to help artists in need, who often have nowhere else to turn.

This Holiday Season, we are hoping to raise $25,000 in support of our Emergency Relief Fund, part of our Sustenance Program that steps in when artists have a sudden need, such as during a natural disaster. Please help us ensure elderly artists have what they need to live in safety and comfort this winter.

– Tim Duffy

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