PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Pigeon Forge Rod Run brings in thousands of people to town for two weekends out of the year. This weekend, Sept. 16-18, is one of those weekends.
Every year for more than 20 years, James and Carol Sue Surratt drove up from Georgia to attend the event.
“Oh yes they were huge Rod Run fans,” Brooke Wilson, James Surratt’s daughter, said.
Wilson said they would always stay at the Valley Forge Inn, specifically Room 101, which is right by the front office. They would plan at least a year in advance.
“It was always planned. Everybody knew every spring in April and every fall in September, that that’s where they would be,” Wilson said.
Her dad loved the cars. He even showed off one of his own — a green 1969 Camaro. While he would walk around looking at cars, Brooke’s stepmom would read a book out on the porch of their motel room.
Wilson said they loved going for more than the cars, though. They met many friends throughout the years.
“They just loved to go and see their friends that they have built; you know, friendships with people from all over,” Wilson said.
That includes the owners and staff at Valley Forge Inn.
“They all became like family. You know, they were more than just friends. They were like family,” Wilson said.
Joe Cole, the owner of Valley Forge Inn, said that when people like the Surratt’s visit their hotel twice a year for several years, they do become like family.
Cole, one of the sons of the original owners of the motel, said he has known the Surratt’s for about just as long as they had been staying at the Valley Forge Inn.
“They were both Christians. They were good people. Whenever we talked, we would talk about our church,” Cole said.
Cole had been working at the motel ever since 1993. He loved it, because it was more than lodging, but a place for fellowship and faith.
He said every year, the Surratt’s booked Room 101. For this Rod Run, that room will be empty.
At first, her dad told her to cancel the reservations. He and his wife were sick in the hospital. He thought they would be too sick to make it to Pigeon Forge.
But, God had other plans, Wilson said.
“My stepmom, Carol Sue, she passed away on August 23. And my dad passed away 48 hours after that on August the 25,” Wilson said.
Family said the Surratt’s died from COVID-19.
Wilson ended up having to cancel this weekend’s reservations and the two other reservations they had. She said it was hard for her, but at the same time Cole and the motel staff gave her comfort.
First, they refunded her for everything. But that wasn’t all. She later found out Cole and the staff decided to block the room in memory of her dad and stepmom.
“They could have made a lot of money this weekend, you know, on that room. And they chose to leave that room empty in their memory, you know that says a lot about them,” Wilson said.
Cole said Rod Run weekends are a big revenue weekend for them. But, the money never crossed their mind.
Instead, he thought back to other businesses saving seats at dining tables for the 13 soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan, and he thought about how he couldn’t really do something like that at the motel.
But, the least he could do for his friends is to honor their memory and save their room.
“We thought that we could at least block these rooms that were always associated with them and we thought it would be a neat way for us to remember them,” Cole said.
Cole said he also blocked Room 105 for the weekend. He said Paul David and Betty Wilson, who always booked that room, also died just a few days before the Surratts.
Wilson could not have been more grateful for the friendships her dad and stepmom made while in Pigeon Forge. She said the Valley Forge Inn will always have a special place in her heart.
“It’s just nice to know that there is still kindness in the world and you know that goodness still does exist,” Wilson said.