First Posted: 9/26/2009
Jeff Koontz has lived in many places. He grew up in West Virginia, attended college in Raleigh, spent some time in Winston-Salem, followed by a stint in Sacramento, Calif., and now makes his home in Nashville, Tenn.
Despite all of that moving around, the civil engineer could be considered a fulltime resident of one small town that never changes Mayberry.
Like thousands of other people, Koontz is in Mount Airy this week for the annual Mayberry Days celebration, but his love of the show and ties to Mount Airy go deeper than many causal fans. Despite living in another state, he is one of the volunteers who come into town for the annual festival, working with the Surry Arts Council to help put on some of the shows, ferrying a few of the starring visitors around town, and he is one of the organizers of the annual silent auction that serves as a fundraiser for the Council. He also helps maintain the Councils Web site.
Educated at North Carolina State University, Koontz said he had graduated from the school and was living in Winston-Salem in 1988 when he begin to fall for Mayberry. At that time, WFMY showed The Andy Griffith Show at 5:30 every day.
He always watched the show, he said, and then he and a coworker would discuss the episode the next day. A year later the two learned of a festival called Mayberry Days being put on a few miles to their north, so they traveled to Mount Airy for the event.
Then we heard they were doing it again the next year, so we came back, and Ive been to most of them ever since.
A few years later Koontz found himself living all the way across the country in Sacramento, but he still couldnt get away from Mayberry. All the friends I had met there were from North Carolina, he said recently while taking a break from his volunteer duties at the Council. The Andy Griffith Show came on television twice every day. Id go watch it, at lunch, and it was like visiting North Carolina for an hour every day.
Along this time he began his work with the Surry Arts Council, volunteering to help maintain the organizations Website.
Tanya (Jones, the Councils executive director) had the foresight to get the domain name, he said of those early days, when many people werent yet sure what the Internet was or how it could be used. I figured I knew enough, so I told her I could put the newsletter online. I started going that.
Since then the Website has morphed into a comprehensive listing of services and shows offered by the Council and an e-commerce site where people can purchase tickets to Council events and link to other Mount Airy and Surry County Web sites.
Along the way Koontz has become more heavily involved in volunteering his time with the Mayberry Days festival and with Andy Griffith Show fan clubs across the country. Among those he is affiliated with includes the Barney Chapter in Greensboro, the Some of us got it, some of us aint, chapter that is split between Garner and Clayton, and an Internet chapter that boasts a membership of some 1,500 people.
Over the years a number of people, including fans and stars of The Andy Griffith Show, have addressed the subject of why the show is still so popular four decades after the last original episode was broadcast, and why fan clubs and related events are still cropping up across America.
For Koontz, answering that question is simple.
Its about the people, he said. Mayberry people are good people. They are the reason I enjoy coming to these events. Ive met cast members of the show and become friends with some, I enjoy seeing them a couple of times a year, but for me, I look forward to seeing my friends from Nebraska and Ohio and Virginia and Indiana, who all come to these events. The show is the bond that brings these good people together.
Its also what brought Koontz and his wife, Claire Armbruster, together. He said the Councils Jones knew him from his work with Mayberry Days and Armbruster from her work with blue grass musicians, so Jones introduced them several years ago. They have been married now for slightly more than a year-and-a-half.
We were even married here (in Mount Airy), at Grace Moravian Church. Our pastor flew in from Nashville to do the ceremony.
Being a resident of Mayberry, Koontz said, also seems to convey some sort of special status on a person, no matter where they might be. He said wearing a shirt from Snappy Lunch, even when he was in California, brought instant recognition from people who knew that famous lunch diner was a part of the show.
Its kind of neat, in an environment outside of Mount Airy, to wear a shirt and people will come up and talk to you. He said such people often are excited to learn hes been to Andy Griffiths hometown.
As for the future of Mayberry, Koontz said he sees the ideal of Mayberry, as well as the Mayberry Days Festival, evolving in coming years.
Its not going to fade away completely, not ever, he said. Children and teens coming to the festival every year demonstrate the shows popularity remains strong, even among the young, which portends well for the festival and related activities. And children of the shows stars have begun making appearances in recent years. David Morris, son of Howard Morris (who played Ernest T. Bass), has made several appearances at the festival. Jean Carsons son, Tracy Lee Alexander, has been to the festival (she played one of the fun girls who occasionally caused trouble for Andy and Barney). And this year Karen Knotts, daughter of Don Knotts, will be making her first appearance at the festival.
Even without stars of the show, or their children, Koontz said he still sees a long future for the festival and the popularity of Mayberry.
To me, the festival has always been about the fans. Its a fan event, he said.
And he believes those fans residents of the fictional town of Mayberry will continue to keep the show a popular part of American life.
John Peters is the editor for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1931 or at [email protected]