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  • Perin Stifel

MO-TELL's History: In the Beginning...

Our interview with co-founder Perrin Stifel

As many of you know or are just learning MO-TELL has embarked on our history project. We are in search of those who were there in the beginning to help with the memories of how MO-TELL got started and contacting you our current members to share their personal relationship with MO-TELL. Without going into much detail many memories, newsletters, photos, and memorabilia were lost so as not to lose sight of our “story” we begin. Of course, the perfect place to begin is the person who helped start it all and continues to be an integral part of our being, Perrin Stifel.

Perrin was already telling stories and a member of Gateway in the early 1980’s. He remembers attending a workshop weekend with EARS (Kentucky’s storytelling organization led by Lee Pennington) at the Pennyrile State Park in Kentucky. Perrin and David Schlamb, our co- founder, drove back and a conversation ensued. David and Perrin wondered if it was possible to have a similar statewide organization and tell in Missouri State Parks. At that time Gateway stayed pretty close to home and was really a local St. Louis entity. The Gateway folks did not feel it was something they wanted to do at the time. Enter Perrin and David stage right, well really, they got together in Perrin’s house and MO-TELL began.

They knew they wanted programs in State Parks, that was clear, which led Perrin on a trip to Jefferson City to meet with the Department of Natural Resources, the branch of our state government over State Parks. At that time, the directors were Steve Powell and Nonie McClammer. The meeting was a huge success and both directors were eager and excited to open the parks to storytellers. MO-TELL began with a summer series and a fall ghost stories series and a workshop and telling at Cuivre River State Park near Troy, MO. That first weekend attracted twelve folks and they cleared $75. Two hundred folks came to the state park telling in the large dining hall. MO-TELL grew into two workshop weekends a year adding Lake of The Ozarks State Park. Bobby Norfolk, Nora Gilman, Annette Harrison, Jackie Torrence, Hope Varner, Dan Keding, Lynn Rubright, Pleasant de Spain, and many, many others were featured at the weekends.

Back then and now MO-TELL’s purpose was to gather, find and nurture storytellers from all over Missouri, giving them a place to meet and connect. The St. Louis tellers, Kansas City tellers, and points beyond and between supported each other to follow the mission of spreading the joy and art of telling throughout the state. This is the time when MO-TELL began close working relationships with our KC gang, Joyce Slater, and Jim 2 Crows Wallen and of course others. It was working!

Perrin also remembers Jimmy Neil Smith of NAPPS giving him the great advice of quickly becoming 501c3 so MO-TELL could accept donations and other tax-exempt advantages, one of which was free law services from the Lawyers for the Arts, helping those early years documents.

In the meantime, Steve Powell, you remember, one of the Directors of Natural Resources, left that position and took a position with St. Charles Tourism. He was responsible for bringing the 1909 Goldenrod Showboat to the St. Charles riverfront. Steve thought it would be a great place for a storytelling festival. Thus began the Missouri River Storytelling Festival. This festival was so successful they had attendees from sixteen states right from the beginning with full-page advertising in the NAPPS (National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling). MO-TELL became a part of the renaissance of storytelling back in the 1980’s. The featured presenters that first year were Jackson Gillman and Michael Parent. There was also a dinner theater with over one hundred folks attending and a tent on the riverbank which could hold three hundred on the shore for more festivities. Coming on to the 1909 showboat was truly a magical experience! And the telling through the years was magical as well!

Those early years of the state parks, the showboat and other events gave Perrin some great memories. He went to Troy, MO for supplies and bought forty-eight rolls of toilet paper for the dozen people attending. Later T.P. became an attendance prize at events! At the Burger King, a young man had on a shirt that read “We’ve heard it all before” and Perrin thought of the end of the quote “We rejoice in the retelling.” Then as he returned to the park an owl flew right above his head and he felt the silent breeze giving him shivers and a sign that the future of MO-TELL would be exciting. When Jackie Torrence gave her workshop at Lake of the Ozarks, she gave the listeners exactly what they needed so they could “capture an audience.” She was the BEST! They all loved Kevin Locke share his Native American Hoop Dance on the showboat, Ed Stivender talking about the fifth wall, Dan Keding’s voice and music, and Pleasant De Spain working with them on a simple but powerful four-square breathing exercise. The workshops were the best. Attendees got to know these “best-of-the-best tellers personally as they shared their stories and shared themselves.

The Goldenrod left St. Charles. MO-TELL moved the festival to The Depot on the St. Charles riverfront and other locations and continued the festival for a number of years.

In 1989, while at a Texas conference for NAPPS, Perrin attended a workshop about Connecticut’s Tellabration. In 1988, Paw-Paw Pinkerton began a night of storytelling for adults. So, Missouri joined the states of Connecticut and Texas as a part of the second annual Tellabration. MO-TELL sent five tellers to five locations that night of November 17,1989. We continue to be a part of Tellabration to this day. This was one of the ways, in the early days, MO- TELL would raise money for its endeavors. For donation of $3 one could hear storytelling for adults! MO-TELL had dinners and auctions at Sue Hinkel’s church and other locations to raise money also. What fun!

After 6 years of creating MO-TELL it was time to pass the baton so Sue Hinkel. She became the new Executive Director, but Perrin has always been a part in one way or the other.

Perrin worked as a school counselor for his “day job” and the Assembly Director! It was a perfect way to bring in storytelling and tellers. As the counselor, he went in every classroom every month and told different stories which just “happened” to be themed around the character word of the month. The children would sometime remark, “Mr. Stifel, that story was about our word of the month!” Imagine that! He became known to the students and loved as the storytelling counselor. “People know us by the stories we tell.”

Perrin believes in not taking ourselves too seriously. In other words, “don’t be scared to share a story. Just tell it! Yes, do as good a job as you can, and be the vehicle to carry on the spoken tradition of storytelling. Diversity is important also. Listen to as many tellers as you can. We are all unique and share our talents in our own way. We learn about diverse cultures that way too. MO-TELL’s saving grace is the belief in the telling as well as the teller while sharing good messages.” He hopes we can continue to do that and share our love of stories in our parks and historic sites and more places in Missouri.

Thank you, Perrin, we are proud to be a part of your legacy and we are so honored you are a part of our future. Let someone else oversee the purchase of toilet paper though!

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