08/31/11 — United Way kicks off its 2011 campaign with 'Elvis'

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United Way kicks off its 2011 campaign with 'Elvis'

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on August 31, 2011 1:46 PM

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Ella Hamnant, 1, looks at Elvis impersonator Stephen Freeman during the United Way of Wayne County's official campaign kickoff at the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday evening.

John Smith just knew he would have to leave town after belting out his rendition of "All Shook Up" at the Echoes of Legend event Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre. Fortunately, however, the audience loved him.

Smith performed at the kickoff for the United Way of Wayne County's 2011 campaign.

Highlighting the show was Stephen Freeman and his Echoes of Legend band. Freeman was the Country Music Association's 2011 Tribute Artist of the Year.

United Way thought it would be a fun addition to feature four local Elvis impersonators -- hairstylist John Smith, attorney Geoff Hulse, radio personality Wayne Alley and Wayne Community College instructor Kirk Keller.

Smith wore jeans, a white shirt and a brown leather jacket. He thought the attire would be appropriate because it's what Elvis wore at a concert when he made his comeback.

"I look a little bit like the '50s anyway," Smith said.

Although he has never publicly impersonated Elvis, Smith is a big Elvis fan. To practice for Tuesday night's gig, he used his grandchildren as his audience. Then sometimes, he would just go to the bathroom and shut the door so nobody could hear him.

"Like singing in the shower," he said.

Smith has always sung Elvis' "Hound Dog" to his grandchildren whenever they looked like they were sad or in a bad mood.

"It used to always cheer them up," he said.

Sharing the stage with Smith, Keller donned a typical white jumpsuit with a cape and all the frills and bling bling to sing "C.C. Rider."

"I just thought that song was the most inspiring and why not lead it off with a bang," Keller said.

This was also Keller's first time impersonating Elvis on stage -- and he feared it might be his last. He agreed to do it after his partner in crime, Hulse, coerced him into doing it.

"He and I do a lot of things for the community," Keller said. "We lay our pride on the line to entertain and support the good causes."

Hulse was excited about being Elvis for the night.

"Elvis has always been one of those bigger than life people," he said. "I'm sure I've watched Elvis movies right here in this same theater, the original Paramount."

Hulse said the idea of local Elvis impersonators came about when a United Way kickoff committee decided it might be fun to localize the show and have some local talent on stage.

"We just wanted to have a good time and get the audience in a good mood," Hulse said. "That's what it's all about. We've been through a hurricane and United Way's here come rain or shine."

Decked out in tan slacks and a sports coat with a blue and green print shirt and blue (not suede) shoes, Hulse sang "Blue Christmas."

"I just thought that would be a fun song to sing to kick it off," he said. "It's been so hot lately, and I thought that would make everybody cool off for a little bit and enjoy the show."

During the event, Hulse recognized his mother in the audience, who shares Elvis' birthday, although not the same year.

"She's never really enjoyed having that in common with Elvis," he said.

Another local Elvis was Alley, who sported something he thought Elvis would have enjoyed wearing back in the late 1950s , a sports coat with a little color to it, dark pants and light colored shoes.

Not only had Alley never impersonated Elvis before, but he had never even sung in public.

Before the show, he said he was scared to death.

"I don't know why," Alley said. "I just know there's a lot of people here and I'm a little nervous."

Alley sang a medley of Elvis hits, including "Love Me Tender," "Wooden Heart" and "Now and Then There's a Fool Such as I."

Before the show began, this year's community campaign chairman Julie Daniels reported on the frontrunner campaign. Frontrunners are businesses and organizations that conduct their campaigns before the general campaign begins to set the pace for everyone else.

The goal for the frontrunners was $53,700 and so far, they have raised $53,711 with not all of them having turned in their money yet.

Frontrunner results are:

* Cooper Bussmann, improving 254 lives with more than $12,000 (campaign not finished).

* Franklin Baking, improving 184 lives with $9,200, a 27 percent increase from last year.

* Goldsboro News-Argus, improving 204 lives with $10, 217 (campaign not finished)

* Strickland Insurance, improving 154 lives with $7,690, a 19 percent increase.

* Waukesha Electric, improving 267 lives with $13,265, a 9 percent increase.

* Wayne Realty, improving 69 lives with $3,458, a 13 percent increase.

"Frontrunners have done an outstanding job to give us that momentum to hopefully have a great campaign this year," Ms. Daniels said.

Whitney Jansta, United Way's community engagement manager, said the organization is excited about the pace that the frontrunners have set for everyone else and the enthusiasm coming out of Tuesday night's show.

"It was just electrifying," she said. "The audience loved the local Elvises."