Ray Rhoton was born and raised in Normandy Tennessee. He worked on a farm and milked cows until his young adulthood. When he was 18 his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to provide running water for her in the home, as they always hauled it from the spring on their property that fed Bedford Lake. Ray became an EMT to make the extra money to provide this for his family.
He later had ambitions of being a deputy. He began his law enforcement career in 1980 with the Coffee County Sheriffs Depart. At one time he was Chief Deputy in Moore County and a Sergeant in Bedford County. Doing all this while having a side job working with asphalt maintenance. His work ethic is tremendous. He left those jobs after many years and took the Chief Deputy job with Sheriff Tom Bean in Lincoln County. Unfortunately, Sheriff Bean passed away unexpectedly and the Lincoln County Mayor and County Commission appointed him Sheriff to fulfill the remainder of the term. He ran for the position and won the first time but was unsuccessful the second election.
In 1990, he met and soon married Beth Judge Rhoton who was from Winchester. Over their law enforcement careers they resided in Manchester, Shelbyville and Fayetteville before coming back to Winchester in 1998. After losing a Sheriff election Ray began to wonder if he needed a change of pace. They moved to his wife’s hometown of Winchester and he started his search.
During all the years of law enforcement he also started and operated Montana & Company. He started that business as Tri-County Sealing and changed the name once his daughter was born in 1996. On his off days he always worked in this field either for himself or with Smithway Paving in Tullahoma. Since this was a seasonal business he knew he needed to find another avenue to provide for his family.
Beth’s sister owned the Oldham Theatre in 1998 and was thinking about selling. Ray pondered if being an entrepreneur would be a good route for him. They had a four-year-old daughter, Montana, and he wanted to provide a good childhood for her and preferred to do it near family and friends. After a lot of convincing, Beth finally agreed that they could try their hand in the movie business. They purchased the Oldham Theatre in 2000 and Ray quickly learned the trade.
In 2002 while at a movie convention in Tunica Mississippi Ray saw an opportunity to expand to another town. Shelbyville was like home to him and the longtime owner of the Capri Theatre was his mentor. He approached Ray and said he was aging and wanted to make sure that whoever owned the Capri next would love it as much as he did. Ray and Beth purchased the Capri in 2002. The terms of the purchase were written and agreed upon on a napkin in a small restaurant within the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica. There was never a formal contract just a handshake between a mentor and his protégé.
Ray’s strong work ethic came in handy over the next couple of years as he managed and operated both theaters. In 2003 he was traveling from Shelbyville to Winchester and passed a piece of property on the Tullahoma Highway that had a for sale sign on it. He did some research and noticed that it was 16 acres and shaped like a triangle. His mind began to race with possibilities.
Again, he tried to persuade Beth that a drive in would work on the property. She did her research and told him how many drive in’s had closed in years passed and didn’t immediately jump on board. Ray had grown the existing theatres over the past three years so his persistence finally paid off, she agreed that they would try. Not knowing how much it would cost, how they would be able to finance it or even where to begin, Ray wouldn’t give up. He contacted all the suppliers while Beth worked on the design and together they built the Montana Drive In. The name was in honor of their daughter, Montana, that was eight at the time. It opened as a three-screen in November 2004.
Ray loves all his theaters but is especially fond of his first, the Oldham Theatre. He is meticulous about keeping it operational for the community. The downtown square would look sad without the grand marquee that he works tirelessly on. The Oldham is a landmark for Winchester and Ray takes pride in its beauty and strives to improve it every chance he gets. If you are downtown early mornings you will always see him doing his daily inspections of the building and projectors. Early afternoon you may see him again as his stops back by to deliver stock and make another round.
Over the years people have said that Ray is challenging to work for. Those who are hard workers would disagree. Once you get to know him and understand that he has high standards, expects hard work and loyalty, you love him. He is kind, loving and would give you the shirt off his back. He has helped employees and strangers get cars, housing, clothing, paid doctor/dental bills, paid tuition and fed many people. For as long as I can remember we have always had an extra room in our home that we shared with someone that didn’t have anywhere else to go. Some of those that he has helped along the way are now his closest friends and considered our extended family.
He is not one that likes recognition but I am proud to call Ray Rhoton my Daddy.