Almost one year after former senior adult minister at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta and founder of the Georgia Opry Bobby Sunderland died, his wife, Wanda Sunderland, will produce another Georgia Opry in his honor on July 30 at 1:30 p.m. at Piedmont Church in Marietta.
The late Bobby Sunderland pioneered the Georgia Opry in 2004.
“My husband was looking at retirement and he thought ‘What am I going to do?’” Wanda Sunderland said. “He didn’t play golf; he didn’t fish; he didn’t do any of the things most men do when they retire. Bobby loved country music and gospel so he said ‘Why don’t we start our own opry?’”
Bobby and Wanda Sunderland began producing two oprys each year, hosting the events at various churches throughout Georgia. The oprys feature music impersonators of Elvis Presley, Reba McEntire and Minnie Pearl.
Over the years, the Sunderlands watched their Opry gain popularity.
“It was small the first time we had it, but it always grew and finally one time we had 800 people there and it continued to grow,” Wanda Sunderland said.
Wanda Sunderland said one of the primary reasons for creating and producing the oprys was to spread the word of Jesus and to help attendees feel closer to God.
Many of the Georgia Opry’s proceeds go toward Sunderland Care Ministries, which is a non-profit organization created by the couple and operated by Wanda Sunderland. The non-profit purchases Bibles and other worship materials to distribute as Wanda Sunderland sees fit as well as funds mission trips for individuals who would otherwise not be able to attend mission trips.
“Bobby was driving down the road and a guy was hitchhiking— which we don’t have a policy to pick up hitch hikers — but Bobby felt led to so he stopped and asked him where he was going,” Wanda Sunderland said. “He gave him this Bible and talked to him about the Lord and he let him out by the highway. The last time he saw him, he was walking away reading that Bible.”
Wanda Sunderland and her husband moved to Georgia in 1975 after Bobby was asked to work with the Home Mission Board, a domestic missions agency for the Southern Baptist Convention. The couple met when they were both students at Oklahoma Baptist University, where Bobby studied speech and Wanda studied music.
After preaching at several churches throughout Georgia, Bobby Sunderland began working at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta in 2000 as the senior adult minister and held the position until 2006. Bobby Sunderland’s experiences with the seniors in the community and his love for country and gospel music were the driving forces behind his decision to produce the Georgia Opry, Wanda Sunderland said.
Tickets for the July 30 Opry cost $10 and can be purchased at the door. All proceeds will go toward Sunderland Care Ministries.
Wanda Sunderland is confident that producing the oprys is her calling.
“It has been so affirmed by everyone and everyone is excited about it being back so I’m thinking late April for the next one and very possibly another one next November,” Wanda Sunderland said.