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Extension agent is living a dream in Rolling Fork
ROLLING FORK -- Emily Reid Carter is living her dreams and reliving the memories of Helen Johnstone Harris, a Delta woman who died in 1917.
A 1986 educational psychology graduate of Mississippi State University, Carter initially considered a move to Nashville to pursue a music career. As a student at MSU, she was active in the Baptist Student Union and sang in the Fishermen, one of the BSU’s performance groups. She also competed in the Miss MSU pageant using vocals as her talent.
Today, as the MSU Extension Service coordinator in Sharkey and Issaquena counties, Carter is finding ways to combine her job and her passion for music and drama to help community development efforts in a very rural part of Mississippi.
“When a local alderwoman asked for help finding ways to bring tourists to our community, music and drama were two aspects that we considered,” she said. “We also considered the Delta National Forest and Mont Helena.”
Mont Helena is a Colonial revival-style home built in the late 1800s on a ceremonial Indian mound near Rolling Fork. It was the adult home of Harris many years after her first fiancé was killed in a duel just days before their wedding.
Carter and others formed “Friends of Mont Helena,” and the property owner agreed to host a community production at the home. Performers and support workers volunteer five weekends for performances, not counting the weeks of practice and other preparations.
“The production is truly a community effort and could not be done without all the volunteers,” Carter said. “A big part of what the Extension Service does is to coordinate volunteers, whether they are Master Gardeners, Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers, those related to the 4-H program or other efforts.”
Carter serves as co-director of the annual production and also plays the role of Helen, the ghost of the bride of Annandale, which is the name of the plantation in Madison County where Helen grew up. The show is held 15 nights in April and May, seating only 40 people at each performance. The 2013 shows sold out in 46 minutes on the day the tickets went on sale.
“We have local people who have not gotten to see the show because the tickets are so hard to get,” she said. “We sell four nights to tour groups. This past year, we hosted people from 17 states and 70 towns across Mississippi.”
Mary Corban, the city council member who contacted Carter about tourism opportunities, said the Mont Helena programs have exceeded her expectations by far.
“The community involvement is overwhelming. Volunteers assist with parking, cooking, greeting, designing floral arrangements and selling tickets,” Corban said. “The only thing that hasn’t happened yet is a major movie connected to the story.”
Carter said money raised through the production goes back into local tourism efforts, both for the house and in the community.
“One of our biggest community development issues is the need for more hotel accommodations near Rolling Fork,” Carter said. “Right now, Greenville, Yazoo City and Vicksburg are the closest places with major hotel franchises.”
Carter, who received her master’s in agriculture and life sciences from MSU in 2012, said Sharkey and Issaquena counties offer a variety of tourism options, including hunting and fishing opportunities.
“We are the site of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous bear hunt, we have more public lands than just about any area in the nation, and we have the Mississippi and Sunflower rivers,” Carter said. “We also have agritourism opportunities.”
The area can attract visitors who travel Highway 61 -- the Blues Highway -- and find themselves in Rolling Fork, the birthplace of the legendary bluesman Muddy Waters.