Editor's note: This feature first aired in February 2011. Wilma Maples passed away on December 30, 2011. Her funeral arrangements can be found here.
Nearly 75 years old, the Gatlinburg Inn continues to stand the test of time, and so does its owner Wilma Maples.
"It wont ever change as long as I live," said Maples.
Born in Union County, Maples was 1 of 11 children. "There were 9 girls and 2 boys in my family."
She learned the art of hard work at an early age.
"I was raised on a farm and proud of it."
The daughter of a teacher, education was a priority. "Back then we really walked 2 miles to school. If it was rain, snow, sleet, or whatever, we walked."
After the 8th grade, Wilma's family moved to Lenoir City where she graduated high school
"It was war time. I did not go to an academic college. I went to Knoxville Business College and worked for my board and room. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park needed somebody."
She applied and was one of the first females hired.
"I was always so serious about my work."
After 3 years, she left the park and worked Summers at the Gatlinburg Inn.
"I thought I better get into something more permanent and think about my future."
So, she took a job with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory working for a research engineer.
"This will shock you, it shocked me. I got a letter from Mr. Maples asking me to marry him, out of the blue."
Rel Maple was her boss at the Inn. Wilma was devastated. "He was 18 years older, had been married and divorced, and he had 2 sons less than 10 years of my age. I have never prayed about anything as much in my life."
She returned to Gatlinburg and worked at the Inn for some time before finally agreeing to marry Mr. Maples in 1954.
"We married and we had a wonderful marriage. We were married 31 and a half years."
She and her husband even brought entertainment to the mountains.
"In the mid 50's, he felt like Gatlinburg needed more for people to do. So, he mortgaged every inch of property he had and borrowed money and built Hunter Hills Theater."
It brought many well known performers to Gatlinburg.
"Liberace for instance, I cooked for him."
Yes, her guest list reads like a "hall of fame" from Lady Bird to Knoxville native John Collum.
"John was 23 when he played in our show."
And, one can't forget Rocky Top. The Bryants penned Tennessee's fight song in room 388 at the Inn.
"Never did I dream that my path would cross with so many people that were well known."
Mrs. Maples has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
"I'm 87 and I'm still here 7 days a week. I read a lot and I work cross word puzzles. That helps keep the brain working."
And, she's focused on giving back.
"I think we have to share."
Mrs. Maples has given countless dollars to education. She even donated her cabin back to the park.
"I knew if the park had it, it would never be developed."
Forever preserving the Smokies, which will always be her home.
"These mountains are magnetic. They draw you in like a magnet."
Wilma Maple, born in Union County, HomeGrown in Tennessee