Hee Haw comedy raises $500K in 38 years to fight cancer

Hee Haw comedy raises $500K in 38 years to fight cancer
Hee Haw and Howdy Show 2017 (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
Hee Haw and Howdy Show 2017 (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

BOLIVAR, TN (WMC) - For 38 years they've been joking, singing, clapping, and laughing and it's all for a good cause.

The Hee Haw and Howdy show in Hardeman County raised more than $500,000 for American Cancer Society since the show started in 1980.

One of the people responsible for putting the show on stage 38 years ago -- and continuing to make it a hit -- is a voice that once took the stage on WMC Action News 5.

Bertha Vaughan joined The Rhodes Show in 1956. Years later, she made her way to Hardeman County and eventually became one of the original founders of the most popular fundraising events in the county.

"Music has always been a part of my life," Vaughan said. "I would be picking cotton as a child and singing. I guess that's how I remembered all those show tunes, because it's always been a part of my life."

Now, Vaughan continues to take the stage during the annual Hee Haw show, raising money and saving lives.

"The research our money has helped raise has helped people live better with cancer and to live, period," Vaughan said. "It really makes you feel like you've had a part in helping someone."

Vaughan said people like to know where their money goes, so the show begins each night with someone sharing American Cancer Society statistics, proving that the research has saved lives, as well as explaining how many people have been impacted. They even drill down to local statistics about how many people locally benefited from the money raised during the show.

Four years after the show started, Vaughan gained a whole new motivation and reason for doing it.

"In 1984, they diagnosed my dad with bladder cancer and it makes a whole lot of difference in how you feel about what you're doing," she said.

Vaughan joined forces almost four decades ago with Bunny Orr and Don Shackelford to create the show. Vaughan was responsible for getting all the musicians together while Shackelford wrote the script.

"I have every script from every show," Vaughan said, showcasing her collection of photos, newspaper clippings, and momentos from days gone by.

The first year the show was held for two nights, Friday and Saturday, at Bolivar Central High School. The show sold out then and continues to sell out 38 years later.

"They go crazy for those tickets," Vaughan said. "One year there was someone camped outside the Chamber of Commerce at three in the morning in the ice and snow in order to get tickets."

The cast brings back to life some of the favorite characters from the original Hee Haw Show, including String Bean, Minnie Pearl, Foster, grandpa, and the Hee Haw cuties.

"We had little kids running across the stage dressed as chickens and pigs with signs, but I think we stopped doing that when we moved to the Arts Council," Vaughan said.

The show moved to the Hardeman County Arts Center in 2006 where it remains.

Now, so many years later, Vaughan said she writes memoirs as she sits backstage and watches the action happening behind the curtain before she goes on stage to sing.

"It's like ants in an ant hill," she said. "One has to get from one side to the other and they're trying to be as quiet as they can be. Then they'll give each other high five when they come off the stage. I just swell with pride every time."

Vaughan said the group ensured the ticket prices have remained at $10 for years in order to allow families to enjoy a night together.

"We want it where everybody can come and it not take their week's paycheck to enjoy it," she said. "You have people who bring their children and then they may go out to dinner and then buy the tickets. It can get expensive. We try to make it where everybody can come."

For the entire cast and crew, Vaughan said they try to give a 2-hour show to entertain and have fun.

"Everyone has a burden of some sort that they're carrying, financial, physical, whatever. They walk in there for two hours and they can forget that and just be entertained with good, clean comedy, and talented musicians," Vaughan said. "It speaks for itself."

Surprisingly, after a lifetime of being on stage, Vaughan said she still gets nervous before taking the stage.

"I still feel almost sick to my stomach before going out there," she said.

However, Hee Haw has a special place in her heart and the hearts of all those who have sat in those seats or graced the stage.

"Nobody loved it or appreciated it more than me. They're just family to me," Vaughan said.

This year's series of shows wraps up Saturday night at the Hardeman County Arts Council -- until next year.

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