Mama Loves Dolly

Like many fans, Amy Szeliga has a vast knowledge of Dolly Parton and an extensive collection of Dolly décor, but Amy has deeper reasons for admiring Dolly. Like Dolly, Amy comes from humble beginnings in the mountains of Appalachia.

“My dad worked at a salvage yard and built our house using scrap wood,” she says. “We had a stove for heat and no air conditioning. After I went to college, my parents got a window a/c unit which was so fancy.”

Amy’s father attended school until the sixth grade and her mother until the eighth. Amy graduated from Oakdale, a small K-12 school, where teachers inspired her love of reading. “There wasn’t a lot to do besides play in the woods, and since I don’t have
siblings, I spent my time reading books. Reading was a way to get somewhere and see something different.

“When I was in elementary school my dad brought me a manual typewriter from a junkyard and that was exciting! In fifth grade I got an electric typewriter. I was so happy to have that to write stories on.”

Amy’s dad played in an Appalachian string band and shared stories about Dolly’s history, how she grew up poor and was proud of her parents and her background. “I relate to Dolly,” says Amy. “She started with very little and didn’t let that stop her from anything she wanted to do.”

Amy attended Tennessee Tech on a scholarship and majored in education. There she met her husband, Rob, and they married while he was attending optometry school. Afterwards they moved to Williamson County, where Rob had grown up, and opened Spring Hill Eyecare. Amy taught school for 13 years then stepped away to raise her family.

The couple has been married 20 years and they have three children: Jackson, 17; Londyn, 9; and Magnolia, 6. They frequently travel to the Smokies and to Dollywood, where Amy relishes seeing the growth of the theme park. “Dollywood is so picturesque, and whether you like food or rides or nature, there’s so much to offer even if you don’t know who Dolly is – if that’s even possible.”

Amy’s children often asked her why she admires Dolly. The question led her to sit down one night and compose what became Mama Loves Dolly, a delightful rhyming storybook. The book, published by Franklin’s Clovercroft Publishing with illustrations by artist Izzy Bean, tells the story of Dolly Parton’s commitment to help others. More than a book about Dolly’s life, it’s a lesson on building character.

“One of the first things Dolly did after she became famous was, she came back to her hometown to make sure people benefited from her success,” says Amy. “By purchasing Silver Dollar City and turning it into Dollywood, she provided thousands of jobs.”

Dollywood grew to include the Dollywood Foundation, which oversees philanthropic efforts that include the “My People Fund,” a project that raised $9 million to help Smoky Mountain citizens after the 2016 wildfires.

The program that’s closest to Amy’s heart is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, with over 200 million books given to 2.6 million children worldwide. As Mama Loves Dolly explains, “Dolly knew the way to help children succeed, was to give them quality books to enjoy and to read!”

It’s hard to believe Amy has never met Dolly Parton. She certainly hopes to one day. “I want my children to realize that as soon as they are able, they need to help someone less fortunate. Success isn’t success if you keep it to yourself, at least I don’t consider that success.”

Or as she writes in Mama Loves Dolly, “But through her good fortune Dolly never forgot … that those who HAVE should help those who HAVE NOT.”

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