Dolly Parton didn't have to go to China to pick up a gold medal of her own. She just had to make a stop close to her East Tennessee hometown. Still, the journey took her nearly three years!

Country music's beloved renaissance woman was in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week, for the first day of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies annual convention. That's where she picked up the National Medal of Arts, an award she actually won in 2005. Parton's busy schedule as a performing artist is not only what kept her from being able to attend at the time, it's also one of the reasons she won the award in the first place.

Medal of Arts recipients are selected annually by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Council on the Arts. They are usually presented by the president of the United States, but at this special ceremony, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen bestowed the honor upon Parton. He noted her philanthropic work, as well as her leading role in boosting the economic prosperity of Sevier County, her East Tennessee home, especially with her Imagination Library, which gives a book a month to every child in Tennessee from the time they're born until they're 5 years old. Nearly six million books have been given in Tennessee, with the project being duplicated across the country.

"Obviously, the world knows and loves her as a performer," Gov. Bredesen said. "But on the other side, Dolly is just as remarkable."

"It was my dream always as a little girl up in those Smoky Mountains to be a singer and travel all over the world," Parton said after accepting the medal. "I've been blessed ... that I've been able to do more than even my original dream really was. I want to thank you, and people like you all over the world, that have allowed me to see my Smoky Mountain dreams come true."

The National Medal of Arts was created by Congress in 1984, and medals have been presented every year since 1985. It's the highest government honor conferred to an individual artist or art patron. Other medal winners include painter Georgia O'Keeffe and legendary musicians George Jones and Ray Charles.

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