Karen’s parents, Sherman Paul and Katherine Lowry, were married on the porch of that house in 1942, and Karen was brought to live there immediately after her birth in 1944. Before her first birthday, she experienced her first fire on the bluff below. Tucked safely on the couch within her mother’s reach for a quick exit should the fire crest the brow, Karen slept “like a baby” while her father, with a “trickle of water” from their well and an army blanket, and her mother, with a rake, frantically beat out sparks. There were more fires over the years, which Karen remembers vividly.
“Fires used to be so tragic on the mountain. Houses burned down around us. There was no hope of putting them out. We could only help people carry the furniture out,” she said. (These experiences led her father to help create a water system for the mountain and establish Walden Ridge Emergency Services.) But Karen’s prodigious memory overflows with happy memories made in the house, too, including her marriage to Charlie Stone in 1969, her daughter Kristina’s wedding reception in 1999, and her son Paul’s rehearsal dinner in 2001.
Childhood was idyllic for Karen. A leap year baby, she delights in telling everyone she just turned 19 and watching them silently multiply. But she wasn’t cheated out of birthday parties: she had two each year - one for girls, one for boys - on Feb 28 and March 1. She rode horses all over the mountain, with her friend Ruth Smith Irvin and others, and often rode in the horse ring on the McCoy Farm. That may have been the genesis of her love of the place. “I’m fanatic about McCoy,” she says. By her own admission, Karen is fanatic about a lot of things. A self-described “historian and busy-body,” Karen will tell you, “I have the pointiest nose. It’s always in everybody else’s business.”
Her love of history was instilled by her parents and grandparents. Their ancestors came from England, Ireland, and Wales and included Mayflower passenger Priscilla Mullins Alden; John Paul, who added Jones to his name later; and Thomas Stone, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. The family stories extolled the virtues of hard work, dependability, and adventure, and Karen absorbed them all, while also learning to discern history from folklore, which she studied in college. “I love story-telling, so I’m sensitive to the fact that the themes have continued since before people could write … the details just get changed around.”
She also loved the words themselves. Her schoolbooks, from Margaret Wilson Elementary through Girls Preparatory School (where she attended on a Coca-Cola Co. scholarship) are full of notations and definitions, and she still has a collection of dictionaries. Both family and school emphasized the classics and she haunted the public library. It seems almost inevitable that she would one day become a publisher.
Her love of horses and language led her to attend the University of Kentucky (“all those beautiful horse farms”) where she double majored in French and Spanish, and spent a summer working in the Paris department store Au Printemps as an interpreter and personal shopper. With her major courses, plus classes in German and Italian, non-verbal gestures, and a lot of creativity, she could deduce what was needed. “My pride and joy was the person who came in who spoke Russian and I helped her. That was amazing, because I’d only studied the most elementary Russian.” Years later, Karen, along with husband Charlie and their 11-year-old son Andy, was Chattanooga’s Ambassador of Good Will to Argentina with the Experiment in International Living. They lived with families in each of three cities; Karen interpreted, Andy created a unit for fifth graders for the Kentucky schools, and Charlie photographed the Inca Trail. Afterwards, she gave nearly 200 speeches about her experiences “to pay Chattanooga back for the sponsorship.”
Karen had met Charlie Stone, a professional photographer, in Kentucky. “We married on a Saturday,” said Karen, “and Monday, went to his office to check the mail. His secretary said, ‘Sit right down here, honey. Your husband can’t afford a secretary and a wife, too. You’ve got ’til 5 p.m. to learn how to run the books … I’ll be gone for two weeks. You can call me after that if you need to.’ It was the greatest thing anybody ever did for us because we started working together the second day of our marriage and haven’t stopped for 50 years.”
Realizing that their livelihood depended entirely on Charlie, the couple broadened their earning power by buying a little printing company in Lexington, building it up and then buying Transylvania Printing Company, the oldest printing company west of the Alleghenies. The original press was carried over the mountains by donkeys and mules in 1884, then reassembled to print books for Transylvania University, Kentucky’s first university. The company later separated from the school and the Stones renamed it Ashland Press after Henry Clay’s home; they lived on part of that property for a while and in time were joined by four children: Andy, Cathy, Kristy, and Paul.
Karen, and her brother Don, a professional actor who is seven years younger, grew up with creative, accomplished parents devoted to public service. Her father, a professional artist who taught art at Kirkman Technical School and McKenzie College, was also the director of the Dale Carnegie Courses for the southeastern United States. Her mother, a professional ballerina, taught physical education and dance to “half the little girls of Chattanooga,” and worked at the YMCA. Both volunteered in civic organizations and community events: he in JCs, Rotary, Optimists, Civic League and she as director of the Cotton Ball for 20 years. Sometimes children or adults in need lived with them for a time, and Karen picked wildflowers to brighten their rooms. Her parents’ friends “were leaders … for the community good, and they became my friends and inspiration, too,” she said. At age 4 or 5, she was passing out Christmas gifts at the YWCA or riding on her daddy’s shoulders “as he waded through the barking dogs [to persuade] people to buy into the new water system.” She learned early that “one did what one could … the power of one person has always been my continuing theme.”
Throughout her life, Karen has done what she could. Still in touch with members of her original sixth grade Signal Mountain Girl Scout troop, Karen later served for 10 years as leader of her daughter’s troop, then served for many more on its board of directors. In college, she was a “busy-body” in the French and Spanish honor societies and “harassed” freshman in the dorm as a freshman advisor. In Lexington, as a board member of the Art and Advertising Council, she helped run a capital campaign to construct an Arts and Advertising Center. One of her life’s proudest accomplishments is having “teamed up with the Kentucky Agricultural Extension Agent to found the Farmer’s Market there.”
Sixth grade seems to have been a watershed year for Karen. With Girls Scouts came another life-long passion - hiking - and the “hiking maniac” still leads a hiking group on the mountain. That same year she also became devoted to “saving Moccasin Bend from destruction.” Her father was president of the Moccasin Bend Association and she “became passionate about that cause,” later serving on the Friends of Moccasin Bend’s board from 1995 to 2018. During that time, Moccasin Bend entered the National Park Service as the first National Archeological District, then became National Park Partners with Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Military Park in 2018.
Karen then moved on to her next passion, the McCoy Farm and Gardens, and now serves on that board, writing the newsletter, handling publicity, and “stir[ring] up as much trouble as I can.” She is also a long-time member of the Walden’s Ridge Guild, which contributes in myriad ways to the betterment of the mountain, including supporting WRES, which her dad helped establish. And for 20 years, in her spare time, she was the historian for the Little Brown Church in the Wildwood.
The Stone family returned to Walden’s Ridge in 1985, after her father died and her mother felt unable to manage the family home. They moved into the house, and Karen’s mother built a place next door where her son Paul now lives with his wife Dana and three of the Stones’ 15 grandchildren: Julia, John, and Carly.
It may seem that Karen, raising four children and “stirring up trouble” everywhere, might have chosen to forego a career, but she did not, and that is a story in itself. A woman of boundless energy, she and her husband Charlie, “a serial entrepreneur,” have built several successful businesses over the years. Part Two will explore some of them.
by Carol Lannon