Dolly Parton Wins First Leadership Award Presented in Her Name

Leadership Tennessee started a new annual award named after Dolly Parton, and the award's first recipient was an easy choice: the Queen of Country herself.

Parton was presented with the Dolly Parton Excellence in Leadership Award at the County Music Hall of Fame Saturday night. The award recognizes the 72-year-old's decades of giving back to Tennessee residents and was established to mark Leadership Tennessee's fifth anniversary.

"My dream was to make as many people happy as I could in this life, and I am grateful to Leadership Tennessee and First Lady Crissy Haslam for recognizing our work done to improve the lives of all Tennesseans," Parton said at the ceremony, reports WATE. "Even more humbling is for decades to come the future leaders of Tennessee will receive an award with the Parton family name attached to it, and for that I am truly honored and thankful."

Most recently, Parton helped raise over $12.5 million for the victims of the Smoky Mountain wildfires in 2016 with the Smoky Mountains Rise telethon.

Parton also established her Imagination Library in 1995. Since then, the program has provided more than 100 million books to children in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia, regardless their income. In March, the Library of Congress celebrated the program's 100 millionth free book by inviting Parton for a special ceremony.

"We never thought it would be this big," Parton told NPR in March. "I just wanted to do something great for my dad and for my home county and, at the most, maybe a couple of counties over. But then it just took wings of its own, and I guess it was meant to be."

The inspiration for the Imagination Library was her father, Robert Lee Parton, who could not read or write and did not attend school. He lived long enough to see Parton launch the program, and died in 2000.

"He got to hear the kids call me 'The Book Lady.' He got a big kick out of that," Parton told NPR. "But he took great pride and felt like he'd helped do something special."

Earlier this month, Parton also announced an expansion to her Dollywood resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. According to KnoxNews, the expansion will cost $37 million, more than it cost Parton to build the resort 33 years ago. It is part of the company's 2013 commitment to investing $300 million to refurbish the popular tourist destination over the next decade.

The $37 million will be spend on Wildwood Grove, the first new Dollywood area since 2008. Parton said the area is inspired by her childhood, when she explored the wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains. She wants children of today to experience that same sense of wonder without social media or video games.

"We felt like this was a great thing that we could do for kids to really explore and to be adventurous and to find their own little true self, their own little natural selves, rather than all the technical stuff," Parton said.

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Wildwood Grove is expected to open next year.

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