The love of local culture all started when I took my first steps out of my hometown on my way to my next adventure of life- college. While driving from Johnson City, Tenn., I spotted a billboard that stated, “Local, Loyal, Proud,” which unknowingly fired up a passion that led me to the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. One of the most beautiful things about Cleveland, Tenn., is the people. The people here have a spirit devoted to this area, which inspires others to make a difference, even if it is just to better understand their town.

“The City with Spirit” can be seen all over as you look at the rich history, lives, people, and locations around town. With Cleveland growing quickly, it is imperative to remember the past so that we may learn for our future. Understanding the people that make up our local businesses, parks, and government are aspects that I want to share with you as we explore this beautiful town and all that it offers. I want to share that spirit with you as I highlight some special individuals from the community.

Two such individuals can be found in the heart of Cleveland working at the Chamber of Commerce, Melissa Woody, tourism vice president, and Mary Tom Jenkins, digital and social media specialist. From festivals to new businesses coming into town, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce works hard to keep Cleveland growing by showing how much there is to offer in this area. Officially formed in 1925 to encourage the development of the area, the Chamber has grown into a team that works tirelessly. You might see Woody and Jenkins around town filming “Tourism Two” or running popular events such as the International Cowpea Festival and Cookoff, Tennessee Songwriters Qualifying Round, Hot Slaw and Art Y’all Festival, Christmas on the Square, and more. Woody’s efforts helped fund the Hiwassee River Heritage Center and are currently focused on development of a local arts center.

These events are some of their pride and joy. Jenkins’ voice was full of affection as she spoke about the Songwriter’s competition, “Listening to all of their songs, and then talking to them, I found myself getting to know the whole family.” As the event time came near, she said, “Almost weekly I get texts from people checking in on one another and I just feel like they’ve become a part of my own family.”

The people are what give events life, but not without some fun ideas that made it all possible. “Everyone has an art festival, but no one has a Hot Slaw and Art Y’all festival,” Woody said with a smile.

These two women in Cleveland are not only bringing people together, creatively planning, and working hard, but also channeling their passions for Cleveland into creating events and material for Clevelanders and beyond to enjoy.

By starting from some people that actively encourage the people, places and stories around us, this series will focus on that passion and the spirit that makes this town flourish.

To learn more about the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, click here, and here, for things happening in Cleveland.


Aniela Suit is a junior at Lee University majoring in Public Relations. She served her internship in the Spring 2023 Semester with Tourism Development of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. Her hometown is Johnson City, Tennessee.

The People with Spirit