Life is good for Lebanon's First Lady Darlene Craighead, wife of Mayor Philip Craighead.
For years the Craighead family lived what Darlene referred to as a "relatively private life" - working, raising a family and giving back to the community in various ways without seeking recognition. However, that private life changed when Philip was elected mayor of Lebanon in 2008.
"I am very proud of my husband for following his desire to work for the city that we love. He is steadfast in his vision and convictions for this town," she said.
Although Darlene was born in Cleveland, Ohio, during a brief period when her parents moved to work for the Ford Motor Company, she was raised in Manchester, Tennessee.
Darlene began working for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store as a teenager, when the second Cracker Barrel store was built in Manchester. She began as a cashier and worked her way up. Darlene and her daughter, Carissa, moved to Lebanon when she was promoted to vice president of Merchandising at the Cracker Barrel Corporate Office.
Darlene met Philip at the KOA campground, where she took her daughter to swim. "Philip told me if I bought him dinner, he would let us swim free at the campground. Then he asked me on a date," she said, adding that his family owned the campground and the skating rink next door.
He asked Darlene on a second date to attend a wedding. "I told him that I didn't have anything to wear and he offered to buy me a dress. No one had ever bought me a dress before," she said. "So he bought me the dress, and we went to the wedding."
"I ended up paying the credit card bill for the dress anyway," she joked.
The couple have been married for 34 years and have two children, Zack and Carissa. Zack and his wife, Melissa, have three children, Madison, 6, Miles, 4 , and Lyla Mae, 17 months. Carissa and her husband, James, have one son, Xavier, 4.
Darlene called her grandchildren "the joy of my life" and said that she loves spending time with them. She also has a rescued fur baby, a bichon frise named Benji.
She is currently selling real estate for JR Hobbs and Sons Realty and also manages her commercial and residential properties.
When she isn't working or babysitting, Darlene enjoys traveling. She has journeyed to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Caribbean and the Dominican Republic.
On a past trip to Mexico, Darlene and her good friend Pam Black had the opportunity of a lifetime. "We left our hotel at midnight and went out to the beach with flashlights while sea turtles laid their eggs. With a marine biologist we had the privilege of collecting the eggs and taking them to a preserve," she recounted.
Darlene's community outreach includes serving with the Wilson County CASA Board for 13 years, having served as a past president, and also assisting with the Whip Crackin' Rodeo, which has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for local charities in the past six years.
The women she most admires are her grandmother, Mary Richardson; mother, Sally Magouirk; mother-in-law, Marie Craighead; sister, Marilyn Lowry; and sister-in-law, Phylis Craighead.
"My grandmother gave me my first Bible and told me about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ. She taught me how to knit and crochet. She was a single mother and worked hard to support her family," she said.
"My mother gave me my love of nature and the outdoors. My mother-in-law showed me the world through her broad travels and gave me a lust for travel."
Darlene continued that both her sister and sister-in-law have inspired her to be competitive.
"There are so many strong women that I have encountered in my lifetime. I take away something from each of them."
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at email@example.com.