Gail Johns of South Fork stood up in church Sunday morning and greeted fellow congregants with a hardy “Howdeeeeee.”
Johns hadn’t taken leave of her senses nor had she commandeered the service.
She just wanted to thank members of Mount Hope United Methodist Church for supporting her in her quest to win Grand Ole Opry’s Minnie Pearl contest.
Thanks to online votes from them and many other friends and family members, the 75-year-old earned the prize and will soon be headed to Nashville to claim the title.
The online contest was held in honor of Pearl’s 100th birthday on Oct. 25.
Pearl, who died in 1996, was known as the queen of country comedy. She wore country dresses and flower-covered straw hats with a $1.98 price tag hanging from the side.
Family members were not surprised when Johns won the title.
“I remember my mother dressed up as Minnie Pearl back when I was a little kid,” said her eldest son, Butch Johns of Adams Township.
Gail Johns is unsure exactly what made her decide to portray the country comedian.
“I’ve just always loved Minnie Pearl,” she said. “I like the old country and western songs.”
One day, for a family gathering, Johns decided to dress as Minnie Pearl and sing.
“I found a dress at Goodwill and my daughter made the ruffle on the bottom,” Johns recalled. A big straw hat was added – complete with the dangling tag.
“It says $1.98,” Johns said.
With knee socks and a tambourine, the mother of five was transformed and a tradition began.
“That was 40 some years ago,” Johns said.
She since has performed at numerous family functions and even has been called on to play the part at the local senior center.
Johns, now a widow who is a grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of five, said one of her daughters urged her to enter the contest and shot the required video.
It shows an upbeat Johns, in her Pearl outfit, shaking her tamborine. She dances a little jig while saying: “Howdee. I’m just so proud to be here. This is Minnie Pearl.”
Last week, the former Bestform worker was notified that she was the national winner.
Katrina Maddox, Grand Ole Opry media representative, helped administer the contest and said it was one of the Opry’s annual promotional events.
Butch Johns said his mother is “super stoked. It’s like winning the lottery for her.”
Part of the prize package is a flight to Nashville and a stay at the Gaylord Opryland resort.
The flying has Johns a bit concerned.
“I’ve only flown twice,” she said. “I don’t like to fly.”
But she is looking forward to the trip and being a guest of the Grand Ole Opry, where she and a guest will be able to see a show.
“We’re looking forward to celebrating Miss Minnie’s 100th birthday on Oct. 23 and to hearing a big howdee from Gail live on the Opry stage,” Maddox said.
Johns should be able to pull that off with no problem.
“I have the howdee down pretty good,” she said with a laugh.
Maddox said friends and fans can tune in to the show at opry.com or through the Grand Ole Opry’s free mobile app.
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