BY LISA WARREN
Country music star Rodney Atkins was in Greeneville on Friday afternoon to visit with some old friends -- and to make several new ones -- at Holston United Methodist Home for Children.
Atkins has made it to the pinnacle of country music success with chart-topping songs as "These Are My People," "Watching You" and "Take a Back Road," but the humble singer/songwriter always like to take time to remember his roots at Holston Home, where he was adopted as an infant.
Throughout his successful career, Atkins has given back to the facility that he said gave so much to him.
Not only has the performer provided financially to the organization, but he has also give his time and advocacy through the years.
In fact, Atkins is so strongly linked to Holston Home that he asked the man who facilitated his adoption all those years ago to officiate at his wedding.
The Rev. Charles Hutchins, who now serves as vice president of development and church relations at Holston Home, gladly agreed to marry Atkins and his bride, Rose Falcon, at their Nov. 10 wedding on Captiva Island, Fla.
Falcon, who is also a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, was accompanying Atkins on Friday afternoon during his visit to Holston Home.
Falcon said it was her first visit to the campus, and she was very excited to see the place that holds such a special place in her husband's heart.
"Rose is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter," Atkins said of his new wife.
"She is currently celebrating her first Top 10 country single as a songwriter," he said proudly.
The song is "Friday Night," recorded by artist Eric Paslay.
The couple took time to play several of their songs in an impromptu set in the facility's chapel and to answer questions from staff and Holston Home youth.
One of the teens, a budding guitarist named Jacob, was invited by the couple to join them in performing a song.
Another teen asked Atkins if he would play the classic tune "Take Me Home (Country Roads)" by the late John Denver. Atkins gladly obliged and played the guitar while the young man sang the song.
Atkins also answered a request by one young woman to play his hit "Watching You."
The performer's latest single, entitled "Doin' It Right," was released about six weeks ago. The song, Atkins said, is about "spiritual progress -- not spiritual perfection.
"I love songs that are about real life ... I think the times you feel most alive in life are the times that we face adversity of some sort -- and push through it and keep your faith. And that's what this song is about," he said.
Born in Knoxville, Atkins was immediately given up for adoption by his birth mother.
Eight months prior to Atkins' birth, the couple who would one day become his adoptive parents, Allan and Margaret Atkins, had experienced the worst tragedy a parent could ever face -- the death of a child.
Their infant son, Jeffrey, had died within days of his birth.
Although the couple had another child, a daughter named Tammy Lynn, the death of their son created a deep void in their hearts and lives.
About six months after Jeffrey's death, a co-worker of Allan Atkins suggested that the couple consider adoption and recommended Holston Home.
The Atkins gave careful consideration to the idea and soon decided to contact the children's agency about adopting an infant.
They completed the paperwork to be considered adoptive parents and, in just a couple of months, they were contacted by Holston Home and told that there was an infant boy, being called "Jimmy Holston," who had just been born and was available for adoption.
As a twist of fate would have it, however, just two days prior to that call Margaret Atkins had undergone major surgery and was suffering from some unexpected medical complications.
She was advised by her doctor not to adopt at the time because of her health and told that she should wait a couple of months until she was physically capable of caring for a baby.
The Atkins were heartbroken that they could not take the baby and reluctantly told the social worker that it could not happen at that time.
The baby boy was taken home by another couple -- but shortly afterward was returned to Holston Home by them. The baby was seriously ill with a staph infection, and the couple said they could not care for him.
Another couple then took the baby home for possible adoption -- and, once again, he was returned to foster care at Holston Home.
Ironically, at about the same time, the Atkins called Holston Home once again.
Margaret had now fully recovered from her surgery and was ready to care for an infant.
This time that little baby boy, who had twice been taken from the care of Holston Methodist Home with the promise of being adopted, now went home for good and was given the name Rodney Atkins.
In a 2004 interview with The Greeneville Sun about his adoption, Atkins said he strongly felt that "the hand of God" had a part in it all, and he ultimately ended up with the parents that God originally intended for him to have.
"My parents did the greatest thing that I think a couple could ever do," Atkins said. "That is ... to take a complete stranger and make that person your own."
Atkins said that God wanted the Allan and Margaret Atkins as his parents, and, the singer added, "I feel that Holston Home played the biggest hand in making that happen."
"Holston Home is why I am me," he said.
On Friday afternoon, Atkins spoke words of encouragement to the children gathered in the chapel at Holston Home.
"The first stop to being great is being grateful," Atkins said.
He encouraged the children to look beyond what troubles they had experienced in the past and to surround themselves with people who care about them and will encourage them.
Most of all, he said, is to be happy with who you are -- even if you have not yet reached the place where you want to be in life.
"You have to be happy now -- otherwise you won't be happy when you get there," Atkins said.
In 2011, Atkins was reunited with his birth mother, who became pregnant at 19 after what the singer described in an interview as a traumatic first date.
She hid the pregnancy from her family and ultimately chose to give Atkins up for adoption instead of having an abortion, the singer explained.
"I just wanted to tell her thank you, because she had some other alternatives to end that situation," Atkins said, pausing. "I might not be here. So you don't want to take it for granted. ... She kept saying, 'I'm sorry.' I kept saying, 'Thank you.'"
Atkins said on Friday afternoon that he and his wife plan to visit with his birth mother during their trip to the area.