Community mourns loss of Creekside owner

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By Deidre Wilson

The Stinking Creek community said goodbye last Sunday to Vickie McCullah, owner and operator of Creekside Market and a woman who served as a mother figure to all.

“If you walked in, she’d find out who you were, and you would be one of her own,” John McCullah, Vickie’s son, said.

He said over 700 people signed their names to the guestbook at her funeral on Sunday.

“A lot of people didn’t even sign. They were just in line. It was lined up all the way onto the sidewalk,” John said.

Vickie was killed in a car crash late Thursday night on Stinking Creek Road.

She was 59 years old.

According to a report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, McCullah was traveling west on Stinking Creek Road when she lost control of her vehicle, traveling off the westbound shoulder of the road.

Her vehicle struck another vehicle that was parked in a gravel lot before coming to rest.

“Everywhere we’ve went these past couple of days they’ve had a story,” John said of the people they’ve encountered since his mother’s death.

“She was the type of lady that left an impression on everybody,” he said.

He said his mother took care of everyone, no matter what, from the people she’d known all her life to the ATV riders who would come to Creekside to eat after riding the trails.

“She never met a stranger,” he said.

John’s girlfriend Tommi Allen said, “I met Vickie about five years ago when John and I started dating. She took me in just liked I’d been there all my life.”

Of his memory of his mother, John said, “She was very loving. She would always make sure we had food and check on us every day.”

John said his mother always made sure everybody was fed, and he recalls the place it had in his childhood.

“There was a lot of food involved. She loved to cook. We didn’t have a lot, but we had what we needed, I guess you would say,” John said.

John said his mother had always worked in the food industry and had worked at places like Cracker Barrel, Pizza Hut and B & B Market before opening Creekside Market in 2011.

“It was her dream. That was what she’d always wanted to do is on her own. She’d worked for enough people, she said. It was time for her to work for herself,” John said.

“As a business owner, she would always make sure you were fed, whether you could pay for it or not. There have been several instances where people have come in, and she knew she wasn’t going to get paid, but she fed them anyway.

“They would have a credit card, which she couldn’t take them. She would just give them their food, and they would bring it back. So, if you left hungry, it was your fault,” John said.

John and Allen said Vickie didn’t run her business in any conventional way.

Tommi said, “She pretty much ran it the old-fashioned way.”

She and John said she would keep her notes in a spiral notebook and her receipts in a plastic bag. She would call her orders in every Monday morning.

John said, “She ran it like it was an old country store just like it was.”

Instead, she focused on the people and the food.

“She loved food. That was her life. She loved to cook. Her pies were all made from scratch. There was nothing store-bought in that store,” John said.

He said she would go out of her way to make sure people were fed.

“It was more of, ‘What do you want to eat?’ instead of what’s on the menu.”

It didn’t matter what time it was.

Tommi said, “If John showed up down there, she would make him cook for her.”

John said, “I would make her steaks and hamburgers and anything she wanted.”

“We had a group of four-wheelers call two hours after we closed, and she was already home. She went back down and cooked for every one of them. They was very appreciative, because they hadn’t ate all day. They had gotten lost trying to find their way to Creekside. She called me to come down there, and we went down there and cooked for them,” John said.

She would even feed those who couldn’t make it to the store to eat.

““The people that were sick in the community, she would always send them food. She would call and ask them what they wanted, or what they thought they could eat, and she would send it to them,” John said.

John said her gravy and biscuits and fried salmon patties were the best.

Allen said Vickie taught her how to make biscuits and wanted her to find joy in cooking.

“She would just tell me to do what I wanted to do, make what I wanted to make, and she just kind of left me with it. She’d just kind of go off and rest. I guess she felt like she’d taught me enough to leave me with it, but she was always right there to help me if I needed,” Allen said.

She and John would also help cook at the store, especially on nights when Vickie would hold her fish fries and gospel singings.

During those times, they say, she would mingle with the customers.

John said, “How the community treated her and how she treated the community was the best relationship I’ve seen in a long time between a business and the community.”

Vickie was a member of Stanfield Church of God in Stinking Creek.

Marsha Bruce, Jellico’s city recorder, is also a member of Stanfield Church of God and a friend of Vickie’s.

“She was a wonderful cook and person. She loved her family and friends,” Bruce said.

Vickie fed so many people from all walks of life. She never met a stranger. She took care of people in need and made sure they were taken care of. Anytime we needed food for a funeral at the church or for anyone in the community she was the first to have food ready to send to the families’ homes.

“Her morning breakfast crew customers were there every morning. There was really no need to order, she already knew what they wanted. I think that most of the people that went to the store was a little spoiled by Vickie. She knew each one and knew exactly how we wanted our meal, snack, dessert. She will be greatly missed by not only by the community, church and family but by surrounding states and counties.”

Allen said, “Her legacy I would say is she had a heart for people.”

John agreed and said, “I guess the main thing you could learn from mom was to always treat everybody the same, no matter if you know they’re loaded with money, or you don’t think they’ve got a nickel. Every human being is important.”

Allen said she thinks Vickie would give people one more piece of advice.

“I think if Vickie could tell anybody anything it would be to live your life with no regrets and to always be happy. She would always tell me she was happy.”