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Longtime Dolly Parton fan Jason Denton of Hartford poses with his idol during her July 30 stop in St. Louis. The local funeral director, who is on a first-name basis with Parton, travels all over the country to see the star perform and spend time with her backstage at meet and greets.
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Photo by JB Rowland/CTK Management
Ken Corbin of Hartford, Parton, Denton’s 5-year-old niece, Peyton Martin, and Denton.
For Jason Denton of Hartford, April 23, 2007, will always be a milestone in his life.
On that warm spring day, he first met his childhood idol, Dolly Parton.
“I remember seeing her in movies like ‘9 to 5’ and ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,’” Denton, 42, says. “Many of her fans say it started for them from listening to their grandparents’ records, but for me it was seeing her. I was attracted to her complete genuineness. Over time, many people forget who they are, but to this day, she has never forgotten where she came from.”
Walking through the self-proclaimed Dolly-ite’s home, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that it is a shrine to the country legend. Scattered throughout the house are photos, keepsakes, gifts, record store promotion posters and more. More than 20 autographs on various items serve as remembrances of the 40-plus concerts he has attended, his annual trips to Dollywood each year for both opening day and homecoming weekend appearances, and his many times spent visiting with his idol.
On July 30, Denton attended the St. Louis stop of Parton’s “Pure and Simple Tour” at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, along with 40 of his closest friends, family and co-workers. The group occupied two exclusive suites (with a price tag that Denton says was money well-spent). The ambitious yet intimate tour is to promote her latest release, “Pure and Simple,” out this month.
Once the lights were dimmed, the group stood out in the crowd thanks to 40 lighted pink cowboy hats.
“She covered the spectrum of her career,” Denton says. “She did a cover of ‘American Pie’ as well as a few songs from the new CD.”
When going to concerts, Denton brings the superstar yellow roses (her favorite) along with other treats, such as some of St. Louis’ own gooey butter cakes for the crew. He plans to attend at least seven dates on this current tour.
Calling the trio of the singer’s manager, publicist and head of security “Team Dolly,” Denton says they have come to his aid time and again, such as when he traveled to both England and Scotland in 2014 for concerts and the opportunity to attend both the final time Dolly sang “I Will Always Love You” to an ailing Porter Wagoner (the song’s inspiration) as well as Wagoner’s funeral.
“Team Dolly has been so good to me; they recognize me as a dedicated fan,” he says. “Over the years, we have become friends.”
On May 5, Denton got married at Dollywood’s new DreamMore Resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, near the area where Parton was raised. In keeping with his character, he brought 90 friends and family to join him in the special day.
“When I saw Dolly at Ryman Auditorium (in Nashville, Tenn.) last year, I told her I was getting married and we wanted to do it at Dollywood,” he says. “She said, ‘Well, we might just have to do it at my country mountain home.’”
Opened in September 2015, the resort ended up being the most logical choice.
“They had never had a wedding there, so we all had to figure out pricing, seating, setup and everything; it was a learning experience for everybody,” Denton says. “Her manager sent us a wedding gift, which was very thoughtful.”
Growing up in South Roxana, the area’s fiercest fan has been employed with Irwin Chapel in Granite City as a funeral director for the last 11 years, starting in the business as a teenager in 1989.
“I always knew from a young child that I wanted to work at a funeral home,” he says. “I truly think it is my calling; I go home happy knowing I helped someone through those few hard days.”
Like his profession, some may consider the level to which Denton “digs” the star to be pretty unconventional, but he takes his “Dolly dementia” very tongue-in-cheek.
“I tell people, ‘Some may call it stalking, but I call it love,” he says, laughing.