Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SALISBURY — Martha Hopkins can still remember the first time she saw Elvis Presley perform.

For the record, it was during “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Hopkins wasn’t impressed.

“I said ‘He’ll never make it,’ and here we are now still singing his songs,” she said with a laugh Tuesday.

Hopkins has never grown into a super fan, but she confesses she loves the King’s music.

And she got to hear about a dozen of his songs performed by Michael Thomas on Tuesday at the Oak Park retirement community as a celebration of what would have been Elvis’ 78th birthday.

Thomas, a Salisbury resident, is a mail carrier by day, but at night he breaks out a white jumpsuit adorned with shiny red jewels and belts out some of Elvis’ most popular songs.

The room, filled with about 50 Oak Park residents, perked up when Thomas did a lively rendition of “Hound Dog.”

He swept resident Ella Freeman onto her feet to bust some moves with the song “Little Sister”

And he brought lovers Neil and Loretta McKinney to the dance floor to gently sway in each other’s arms with “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Loretta said the couple weren’t big Elvis fans until they visited his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn.

“We saw his humble abode and saw how he treated his family,” she said. “He was a good man.”

Loretta said her sister, who is 18 years her senior, was a huge fan.

“She followed him everywhere,” she said.

She said Thomas was the best impersonator the couple has ever seen.

“And we’ve seen a lot,” she said. “He did a beautiful job.”

Loretta was moved to tears as Thomas sang “How Great Thou Art.”

“Every time I hear it, I cry,” she said. “My mascara is probably running everywhere.”

Freeman said Elvis was practically all she heard at her home for a while, but she didn’t mind.

“My three daughters worshipped that man,” she said. “They played his records over and over again.”

Don Jones said he’s been an Elvis fan for a long time, but he didn’t like the King’s music when he first made it big.

“I thought some of lyrics were sort of raunchy,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it.”

John Ezzell said he has grown to like Elvis more as he’s aged.

“I’ve come to appreciate him more and more,” he said.

Ezzell has he’s seen Elvis impersonators during trips to Las Vegas and Thomas was easily as good.

“He rivaled the impersonators out there,” he said. “His performance was great. I was surprised to see such local talent.”

Oak Park Chef Reggie Hoagland and prep cook Ben Everidge served up two of the King’s favorite dishes for dinner — fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches followed by whipped cream pound cake for dessert.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.