By Brandei Clifton
November 29, 2023
“What makes your life are the people in it.”
Those words of wisdom are from Silver Dollar City’s long-time Citizen, D.A. Callaway, who will tell you he’s a very lucky man after 47 years at the park. He still gets choked up a bit thinking back on folks who’ve made him a better man.
“Some people don’t like to use the word ‘lucky’ because they’ve never been lucky,” he smiles. “I’ve been lucky a great many times in this blessed life.”
He didn’t start out in life feeling that way. Born into a poor family in Springfield, his father left his mother and D.A.’s three brothers when they were little. He saw his mother turn to her parents for help.
“Grandma and Grandpa had raised five children of their own and didn’t expect to be raising anymore, but they moved us in on their property and kept us fed,” he recalls. “My uncle gave mom a car so she could work. We couldn’t have made it without them.”
When the boys weren’t doing farm chores, they were in church where D.A. learned to sing with his brothers – an automatic quartet.
“Mom would drive us to revivals, weddings, funerals, and anywhere we could find the opportunity to perform,” he smiles. “I’m sure thankful for those ragged old songbooks.”
He says the music of his childhood church laid the foundation for his long – and lucky – career in the entertainment industry, including his start at The City. He landed a few gigs playing piano as a young adult in between odd jobs in construction and welding. He met his future bride Marye at one of those performances in 1976 – the same lucky year he got another big break.
A friend told him Silver Dollar City was looking for a pianist for their Medicine Show.
“I auditioned and got the job,” he chuckles. “I found out later that I was the only one who auditioned but it turned out to be a lucky break.”
When D.A. arrived to The City, he says older employees took time to mentor him and make him feel like part of the park family. He knew early on that he was in it to stay. It didn’t take long before D.A. began creating his own Silver Dollar City legacy. Out of the gate, he was writing original music for the Silver Dollar Saloon Show and even robbed trains occasionally. His highlight reel always goes back to his musical roots.
“I’d have to say one of my favorite parts so far was playing trumpet and acting the fool in The River Rats Dixieland Jazz Band,” he smiles “We even performed for President George H.W. Bush in 1992.”
Not every stop on his journey was as presidential but all were just as important. Along the way, he has always been met with a helping hand and shoulders to lean on. As he grew into an Entertainment Management role in the early 1990s, he knew he wanted to mentor those “up and comers” the way he had been mentored.
In his management role, D.A. traveled the country seeking the best talent to bring to Silver Dollar City. He booked bands. He got good at contracts. He helped launch the Bluegrass and BBQ Festival. The string of his accomplishments goes on and on.
But a string of professional accolades has never been what success is all about for him. D.A.’s been fulfilled for four decades by being a “coach” to Citizens working to carve out their own path here.
“I’m a good cheerleader. I can encourage people,” he smiles. “So, if anyone says anything about me when I’m gone, saying I’m an encourager would be the best thing they could ever say.”
“Silver Dollar City is a real place with real people. I’ve been lucky to work with all the old timers like Shad Heller, June Ward, and Walker Powell. They took time to teach me – to correct me with kindness while still listening. Nobody is perfect and everybody could use a cheerleader. I hope I’ve been that for folks.”
He’s feeling good these days about the level of talent climbing The City’s career ladder.
“Any old dummy who likes to work will outperform a lazy genius,” he laughs. “But, if you have smart people who like to work, you have the makings of a winning team. That’s what we’ve had in the past and what we have here now.”
D.A. retired from his management role in 2020 but the magic of The City kept pulling him back in. He currently works as an usher at Red Gold Heritage Hall and loves interacting with guests. He smiles at the memory of a recent meeting with a young visitor.
“The little boy said, “Hi old-timey man!” D.A. laughs. “I presume he was acknowledging my tasteful wardrobe and my senior citizen status. I’m happy with both. Not everyone enjoys their work and so many folks are not blessed with the luxury of getting old.”
D.A. doesn’t mind getting old. He has documented his years at Silver Dollar City with a special scrapbook of newspaper clippings and articles about the talent he booked and festivals he’s steered. Last year, he even wrote a book about it all called “My Lucky Life at Silver Dollar City.” The pages are filled with heartfelt recognitions of certain folks who’ve lifted him up and played a key role in his story. The last passage of the book ties a beautiful bow on his almost five decades at The City. It reads:
“Now, I look over these words and review the colorful and loveable characters who have graced my life with their very being. I am overcome with gratitude at the kindness shown and the gracious support of so many magnificent friends. To say I love you oversimplifies my emotions. Bless you, for being who you are and for sharing your life with me.”