Horn patron gets award

Article Published: Oct. 7, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Horn patron gets award

Horn in the West patron Billy Ralph Winkler was recognized with the Institute of Outdoor Drama's prestigious Mark R. Sumner Award. File photo

Horn in the West.

It's a family affair for stage veteran (and Watauga County commissioner) Billy Ralph Winkler and Saturday, the Institute of Outdoor Drama (IOD) surprised him with the Mark R. Sumner Award, issued by IOD to people who have made great contributions to outdoor drama.

"I had no idea that I would even be considered for this since, technically, I retired from Horn in the West in 1991," Winkler said.

While he may no longer be paid for his efforts, he still volunteers year after year and serves as chairman of the board.

"Basically, I do all the things I used to get paid to do for free," he laughed.

Through management assistance, fundraising and grant writing, he has continued to be an asset to the High Country tradition that is Horn.

It's a tradition that started the year he was born. Fourteen years later in 1965, he started his lifelong dedication to the stage as an usher. Since then his wife, children and even his grandchildren have hit the Horn stage.

"Our family's involved because of our love for the culture and history of this area, this region," he said. "Horn in the West and Hickory Ridge [Homestead] both always offer a way for someone to know more than just the facts ... they can feel it and experience it."

And the show has changed considerably over the decades. Winkler was there for most of the trials.
"A lot of different artistic directors have tried to shape it and experiment with it," he said.

Directors like one decades ago who decided the show's preacher should die in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

"The preacher at the time looked like Santa Claus, and he said, 'It's really going to tear people's hearts out if you kill Santa Claus.'"

While the writer soon axed that change, other small variations of the script and visual presentation happen each year. "Fortunately, that basic idea has stayed the same," he said.

The summer of 2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the Horn. While Winkler wouldn't offer many hints, he promises it will be a summer to remember.

"We want to use the 60th as a vehicle to remind people of how long this has been going on and what a wonderful treasure it is for the community and state," he said.

And you can count on Winkler's involvement.

Established in 1990 by the Institute of Outdoor Drama, the Mark R. Sumner Award is presented each year at the National Conference on Outdoor Drama. This year's conference happened in Manteo, N.C.

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