A treasured part of the story of the Yocona International Folk Festival is the story of Roza. In 1995, Roza Kuldaeva, a guest of the U.S. State Department, came from Soviet-era Kyrgystan to Oxford to work with Dr. Hugh Sloan at Ole Miss. Dr. Sloan, a Russian linguist and an associate professor of marketing and logistics at the Business School, facilitated Kuldaeva’s visiting professor experience through a very supportive Business School administration excited at the prospect of internationalizing students’ experiences. Roza shared storiesof her life in a yurt in the high plains and mountains of Kyrgyzstan, in the capital city of Bishkek, at Moscow State University for graduate studies, in the beautiful mountains of Colorado, and in Oxford, where she relocated.
Roza was befriended by Dr. Sloan’s wife, Mary, and their son, John. As Roza spoke of her love for “her mountains,” the high Tien Shen mountains of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, Mary Stringfield Sloan, a native of Waynesville, North Carolina, became committed to sharing the beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains with Roza while she visited the U.S.
While in Waynesville, Roza noted banners across Main Street advertising the approaching Folkmoot USA. When Mary described the Folkmoot Festival to Roza, she said, “In my country, we have such dancers!” A visit to Jackie Bolton, then executive director of Folkmoot, followed.
The next summer, Roza brought a team of Kyrgyz folk dancers and musicians to Folkmoot. Kambarkan were among the first central Asians to perform there. Roza also met Rex Burdette of Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, who invited Kambarkan to their folk festival in 1997.
As manager of her group in Branson the following year, Roza met Victor Winslow, a retired mining engineer and marine veteran of the Korean War. They married and moved to his home in Eagle, Colorado. After five years, Victor’s doctors told him because of his war wounds he needed to move to a warmer climate. Roza said, “Victor, I have friends in Oxford, Mississippi, it is warmer there!”
One 2005 fall day in Oxford, Mary Sloan answered her telephone and heard a distinctive, “Mary?” She responded: “Roza, is that you? Where are you?”… “I am here, in Oxford!”
Soon the old friends were reunited. As they talked about their experiences, they were inspired to create a new international folk festival in Oxford. They traveled to Waynesville again to meet with Jamye Cooper, executive director of Folkmoot. Generously, Jamye and her associate, Doug Garrett, with Rolf Kauffman, Groups Coordinator of the Folkmoot USA Board of Directors, agreed to work with Mary and Roza to launch an international festival in Mississippi.
By coincidence, while introducing themselves at an organizing Ole Miss Rotary Club meeting, Mary met Kathy Kemp, an attorney with Holcomb Dunbar in Oxford, who grew up in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Because her grandfather was a Methodist minister, her family had vacationed for many years at Lake Junaluska North Carolina, the southeast conference center for the United Methodist Church, and attended many Folkmoot USA festivals in neighboring Waynesville.
During the 23rd Annual Folkmoot USA, Mary, Roza and Mary Barres Riggs spent two weeks “shadowing” Folkmoot staff and volunteers, learning the festival “ropes.” Kathy Kemp, Fran Fuller and John Sloan spent days assisting and attending performances, “late-nighters,” and numerous workshops. They toured the Folkmoot Friendship Center, interviewing business staff, drivers, guides and volunteers, therefore becoming ‘festival folk.’ Roza even participated in the early morning 5-K run coordinated by an Ole Miss alum now living in Waynesville.
Kathy Kemp, now elected first president of the Yocona Festival Board of Directors, and working with Mary and Roza, found welcome encouragement in city and county governments with endorsements from the University, Oxford Tourism Council, and the Oxford Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Oxford University United Methodist Church, the Croft International Institute, Wal-Mart, Oxford-University Club, Callahan Tours, Camp Lake Stephens, the University’s International Studies Department. All have helped launch this ambitious project.
The obvious similarities between Waynesville, N.C., “steeped in tradition and dedicated to the preservation of its own heritage,” and Oxford are striking. Dr. Clint Border, founder of Folkmoot USA, believed, as we, that “something invaluable occurs when cultures so rich in tradition come together to share their lives.”