Joanie Shannon is proud to be the voice of the Fall Festival’s most popular tradition.
A 35-year employee, Shannon played bingo at the first festival held 30 years ago. She began calling the numbers for the games at the annual employee appreciation event just two years later and has led them ever since.
The bingo game draws the highest attendance of any festival event – except lunch – with hundreds playing at any given time. The games begin at 1 p.m. Chancellor Loren Crabtree will call the first game this year.
"People just love to play -bingo," -Shannon said. "They go with their friends, and we have some good prizes! It’s a fun day for -everybody. Because -bingo is so popular, we have had to open up more space.
"The first ball rolling machine we had at the festival was a manual wheel with a handle. After a few years we borrowed what we thought was a really -sophisticated electric machine, and it was later donated to us."
Shannon began her UT career in 1972 as the secretary for Radiation Safety. That office licensed and distributed radioactive materials for lab use. She’s now the administrative assistant for Environmental Health and Safety, working with Director Mark Smith.
Shannon’s resonant voice is heard across campus answering the phones for the safety office or across the crowded room calling Fall Festival bingo.
Although calling bingo may look like the most fun job at the festival, Shannon said it’s not as easy as it looks. "You have to pick out the ball from a noisy machine, set it in one of 75 numbered spaces in a tray under a b-i-n-g-o heading, then listen for someone to shout ‘Bingo!’ above the noise of the crowd or watch for a wave from the back of the room," Shannon said.
Shannon, who is getting close to retirement, has been grooming someone to take over her bingo role. Cheryl Hodge, a principal secretary for Human Resources, responded to the challenge two years ago and now assists with the games.
The two have shopped together for bingo prizes both years. Some of the prizes, such as gift certificates and theater tickets, are donated.
At this year’s event, Shannon will call a few games for old times’ sake, and then turn the job over to Hodge.
"I’m a little intimidated by taking on the Bingo calling for the AUTumn Festival. After all, Joanie Shannon is an institution unto herself! She loves the game and the players, and always tries to make it fun and exciting for everyone. Several of our UT retirees come every year just to see Joanie and enjoy her magic. It’s going to be a strange experience not having her there, but she swears she’s retiring before the next picnic. I really better learn my new job well, because she’ll be in the playing audience next year!"
"You have to love doing it," Shannon said. "Of course, I’ve loved doing it. But next year I’m going to come back and play bingo."
"I’ve always loved bingo," Shannon said. "I’ve played everywhere my whole life. I started out with my mother at church fundraisers. The game is a really popular pastime in Knoxville."
By the 1970s, Shannon was setting up her cards and chips with the bingo crowds at neighborhood organizations, churches and Temple Beth El. Within a few years, she was calling bingo professionally for some of these local groups.
"I was the bingo caller for Holston Hills and Fountain City," she said. "And then I called bingo at Green Acres on Alcoa Highway five or six nights a week."
Shannon said only a few things have changed about bingo over the past 30 years.
The bingo machine was donated to the Fall Festival event by Temple Beth El, where Shannon played some of her earliest games.
Joanie Shannon is the administrative assistant for Environmental Health and Safety, working with Director Mark Smith. The office is a component of Human Resources and is charged with coordinating accident prevention and health maintenance programs. Their goal is to create a healthful and safe atmosphere for study, research, service and employment.