Mission Lab

Widow’s dulcimer passion opens door for ministry

December 19th, 2017 / By: Gayla Sullivan / comments

KENNARD In July of 1994, Margaret and Jerry Wright visited the north central Arkansas Ozarks town of Mountain View.  They had come to the area only to explore Blanchard Springs Caverns, a nearby cave. Or so they thought.

Checking in at a campsite, they learned that folk music “jam sessions” took place each evening at the Ozark Folk Center and in front of the Stone County Courthouse on the Mountain View town square.  Margaret was intrigued by “real people playing real instruments with down-home, homespun character,” which sparked a musical interest in both Margaret and Jerry.

Driving a short distance each evening to hear the new style of music, they passed a little dulcimer shop. On their last day in town, they decided to stop.

Inside the store, Margaret, a penny pincher at heart, said to her husband, “This is fun, but we ain’t buying no dulcimer!”

Jerry, a woodworker, went straight to the back of the store where dulcimers were being crafted.  He was intrigued by the detail that went into making each one.

Lynn McSpadden, owner of The Dulcimer Shop, handed Margaret a dulcimer and asked if she wanted to try it.  A little crowd gathered around as Margaret began to play the four-stringed instrument for the first time.  On another instrument, McSpadden played a harmony along with her.

“Playing came naturally to me,” Margaret said.

Charmed out of her pennies, Margaret recalled that the store accepted her MasterCard payment, and Jerry proudly carried Margaret’s first dulcimer out of the store.

What began that day in Mountain View became a passion shared by the entire family.  For the next 22 years, Jerry crafted nearly 40 dulcimers, and was gifted at playing a guitar-like instrument called a pickin’ stick. The Wrights’ teenage sons also began to play—Hollis took up the autoharp, and Lloyd learned the dulcimer—something they still enjoy today.

In March 2016, Jerry died after a two-year struggle with cancer. Margaret recalls that those years caring for Jerry had been very demanding.  The Wrights had been married for over 40 years. 

Margaret had been widowed for a year when she began to realize that she had time on her hands and she wanted a way to use that time and her talents. But she was unsure of what to do.

The answer came to her during a game of 42 at her East Texas home church, First Baptist Church in Kennard.  During the domino game, Margaret impulsively blurted out “I’ve got all these dulcimers.  Would anyone want to learn how to play?”

Before Margaret knew it, someone had started a sign-up sheet, and six people took her up on the offer.   What began as an impromptu thought, has become Margaret’s ministry.

Last April a group of 12, spanning from sixth grade to age 84, began meeting on Monday afternoons. According to Glenn Faris, former pastor at FBC Kennard, Margaret’s dulcimer group has reached out to people who would not normally be outgoing or involved in ministry.  

The group, known as The Pineywood Dulcimers (and sometimes as “The Hashbrowns”), has performed in churches, at funerals, and in nursing homes and retirement centers. In 2016, Margaret taught children to play the dulcimer during Vacation Bible School. “It was a big hit,” said Faris.

Faris added, “I believe that one way Margaret overcame grief is that she was able to share with others one of the special bonds she had with Jerry. . .music.  She took action and refused to allow grief to consume her.”

Two in the dulcimer group, a mother and son, both made decisions for Christ in September.  Faris noted that one reason they became involved in the church was because of Margaret’s dulcimer ministry which has “helped people get over their shyness” and become involved in other ministries.

Margaret never intended for a ministry to be born from playing the dulcimer. “But,” she said, “God gave me a gift to be able to use with others.”

The Wrights did explore that cave on the last day of their trip in 1994. But God had more in mind for their trip—an unplanned stop at a roadside shop led to a musical gift that is making a difference today.