Rotary Club of Smyrna has spearheaded the Wings of Freedom Fish Fry for 20 years. Over the life of the event, they have raised more than $1.7 million dollars that they have donated to the city and a number of local non-profit organizations. This year they raised an additional estimated $195,000, as funds are still coming in from their online auction.
“The Fish Fry began as an airport charity event coordinated by John Black and his team,” said Justin Surratt, 2022-2023 Smyrna Rotary President,” and then we took it over in 2001. There wasn’t one in 2002, but we brought it back in 2003. Which makes this our 20th year.”
All of the money raised by the event has been put back into the community through various programs and projects. To receive funds, local organizations must go through a grant process. Four of their biggest grant recipients are the all-inclusive Freedom Playground at Lee Victory Park, the Captain Jeff Kuss Memorial designed in honor of Blue Angel #6 who crashed in Smyrna, Tennessee during an air show a few years ago, the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee, and the Meals on Wheels program to feed shut-ins.
Wings of Freedom Fish Fry has become the event to go to in Smyrna. They have had as many as 2,200 people come. This year, heavy rains earlier in the day kept the numbers down, however, there was still great attendance at the event.
“Our car drive in is down to about half this year,” noted Surratt.
Their car dive-in features high-end, vintage and unique cars. This year one of the most unusual cars was a dragster. These are long, thin, low-to-the ground triangular shaped cars with smaller wheels in the front and an open cabin.
The cars shared the tarmac with some airplanes, including that of Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil, whose plane took off just as the event was getting started. Neil moved to the Nashville area in recent years.
Besides the car drive-in, there were some games for the kids and an area of appetizers and desserts featuring local restaurants and caters. There were samples of everything from etouffe to ice cream. Several local beer makers also had booths at the event.
After guests enjoyed some of the starter samples, dinner was served. This year the Rotary Club fried up 510 pounds of fish and 2,000 pieces of chicken, as well as serving sides of white beans, French fries, hush puppies, coleslaw and cookies.
The feature of the night was the honoring of local heroes. A different group is featured every year. This year the organization honored the Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City Teachers of the Year for their hard work educating the county’s children.
Smyrna Fire Department’s Color Guard started the program, followed by the pledge of allegiance said by 11-year-old Morgan Surratt, daughter of club president Jason. She was joined on the stage by Master of Ceremonies Neil Orren.
Shannon Creekmore, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Rutherford County, sang the national anthem. She was named 2021-2022 “Teacher of the Year” for Wilson Elementary School and Elementary “Teacher of the Year” for Rutherford County Schools. Shannon lives in Murfreesboro with her husband, Micah, and two daughters, Addison and Kinsley.
The teachers processed to the stage and were then recognized for their efforts, especially over the last few years of the pandemic keeping kids learning in spite of the ever-changing means of teaching, with a video visit from State Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn.
The silent auction was not live this year, but done virtually using a QR code. It was also open for more than a week, and extended after the event, allowing more people to bid. Last year the auction brought in about $7,000, but Surratt expects more this year as the bidding was longer and there were more high-value items.
At the end of the night there was music for dancing and lots of chatting among friends and family as the sun faded into the east.