Josephine Kerley sees music that unites a community


Josephine Kerley celebrates her birthday. Photo courtesy of The Kerley family.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Music class is often a much-anticipated part of the school day for students and many alumni of Johnson County Schools, one name comes to mind for music instruction. That name is Josephine Kerley. For many years Kerley has served as not only a music instructor for the school system but also as a contributor to local music within the area through church programs and community events.
Kerley and her husband Harry were born and raised in Carter County, Tennessee. When Harry was offered the position of office manager for the East Tennessee Production Credit Association, the couple began the transition to the place they now call home. “Harry commuted to work from our home in Hampton while our home was being built in Doe Valley,” Kerley remembered. “We and our two daughters, Mary Kathryn and Annette, moved here in 1968.”

The family quickly fell in love with their new community. “We loved our new location from the start,” shared Kerley. “We felt we had the best of conditions- living in a rural area and working in the city.” Kerley also quickly became a part of the music program in a local church. “At that time, I played piano for the Mountain City Presbyterian Church,” she added.

Kerley’s involvement with the Johnson County School System began in 1970 when she became a part-time music instructor at Mountain City Elementary. Though the school lacked an official classroom for music class, Kerley fondly remembers her time with the young students. “The PTA had a cart built to hold the resonator bells, autoharp, rhythm instruments, etc.,” she shared. “Truly the halls must have resounded with the sounds of music. My! How those students would sing!”

As the couple’s love for the area grew, so did their family. The family soon welcomed daughter Brenda and twin sons Tom and Don.

Upon the construction of the Johnson County Middle School, Kerley became a music and language arts instructor. It was also at this time that the program she is perhaps best known for was created, The Middle School Singers. “I will always treasure the opportunity I had to work with students and parents from every area in Johnson County,” said Kerley. “The administration, various businesses, and area clubs were so supportive.”

The program at the middle school was a large step in music instruction for the county as the department received a designated area for operation that included storage for instruments and equipment as well as an office.

Kerley has many precious memories from her time with the Middle School Singers including The National Christmas Pageant of Peace in Washington, D.C. In 1979, many years of participation with the Six Flags Choral Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, the annual Presidential Academic Fitness Award ceremonies, the local Cranberry Festival, and various parades and appearances made in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce.

The group of musicians from the middle school relied on help from the community to be able to travel to competitions and performances. “The Wednesday Music Club was always supportive both monetarily and with hands-on effort during the Bake-a-thons held at the Community Center,” Kerley remembered. “They not only baked goodies but came to help to take the incoming bids. Fran Atkinson, the owner of WMCT radio, helped us organize our Bake-a-thon and gave us not only airtime, but also staff like Jim Gilley who helped us get on the air and kept the program going with descriptions of the cakes and bidding.” These efforts by the community made it possible for the group to be awarded the middle school division Best in Class trophy twice at the Six Flags Choral Festival held at Omni International in downtown Atlanta. “It was all a testimony to what can be accomplished when we dream and work together to achieve a goal,” stated Kerley.

In addition to her involvement with the school’s music program, Kerley has also been a part of music in area churches and church events. One of her favorite community memories was being involved with The Living Christmas Tree program over the years. “The Living Christmas Tree was started by Sam Wagner, the Music Director at First Baptist Church at that time,” explained Kerley. “He was a talented musician and organizer, so a great deal of credit goes to him for making this community effort successful.”

Kerley went on to share how the program came about and its impact: “It was sponsored by First Baptist Church but was truly a community effort. The men volunteered to help with the construction of the frame which was designed and built by Kenneth Tolliver. Chicken wire was added, and many men and women helped with the stuffing of fresh greenery that brought a seasonal fragrance to the auditorium. I recall the sounds of saws, hammers, and laughter as the men volunteered their time to make the dream a reality. Voices from many area churches made up the ‘tree choir.’ We put aside denominational differences and came together realizing that Jesus is our common denominator. Our goal was to proclaim the story of Christ’s birth and to offer the plan of salvation to those who would respond. It was much more than a concert. Even today, people stop me from commenting to say how much they enjoyed the ‘tree’ and looked forward to attending each year.”

Not only has Kerley and her husband made a difference in the community, but also their children are also very involved with the community and youth. Annette teaches fourth grade at Mountain City Elementary and plays piano for First Christian Church. She and her husband Don have three children, Jake, Shane, and Stacy. Brenda teaches at Johnson County High School (JCHS) and plays piano at Nelson Chapel Baptist Church. She and her husband, David, have two children, Ashley and Nathan. Don is the head football coach at JCHS, and his family is members of Ackerson Creek Church of Christ. He and wife Heidi are parents to Samuel. Tom is an assistant coach with the Longhorns and assists with the youth at Calvary Baptist Church. He and his wife Donna have two children, Warren and Will. Though their daughter Kathy lives in Ft. Pierce, Florida, she is also involved with music and youth as she teaches in a middle school music department there. She and her husband Daniel have two sons, Ian and Justin. “Our greatest blessing is our children,” said Kerley. “We are pleased that they have chosen to remain in Johnson County and contribute to our community through their careers, churches, and their children.”

In addition to seeing her children grow and become part of the community, Kerley is also pleased to see former students becoming leaders in the area. “The greatest change we see in Johnson County is the many former students who are now leaders and professionals,” she shared. “It has been a privilege to see them become what they could only dream about when they were in my classroom.”

It is seeing her students branch out and reach their dreams that gives Kerley great optimism for our community’s future.

“My hope for the youth of our county is that we can continue to give them direction and purpose in life through involvement in church, family, school activities, and related extra-curricular activities so that they will, in turn, continue to make Johnson County the good place it is to live and bring up their families.”

Kerley’s love for music and people has made her not only an essential part of musical education history for the county but also an inspiration to students and community members. “No matter where I have taught in my teaching career,” she expressed, “I have found that music truly is the universal language bridging the differences. Rich or poor, young or old, English speaking or other, music unites.”

Laurel Bloomery says goodbye to the A to Z Market

A to Z Market, which has served the community for more than five decades in Laurel Bloomery has become not only a marketplace but also a much-beloved landmark as well as a favorite spot for customers to catch up on community events and neighborly interactions.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

For many rural communities, the neighborhood market becomes not only a place to shop but also a meeting place, news outlet, and origin for events that can change an area’s history. For the Laurel Bloomery community, A to Z Market has been not only a marketplace but also a much-beloved landmark for over fifty years.

A to Z Market was built in the mid-sixties by Raymond Wills, whose daughter, Marsha Blevins, shared the story of how Wills came to found the market in Laurel after having moved from the area following his military service. “He always wanted to move back to Laurel and start a store. He joined the army, and afterward, he settled in Huntington, West Virginia where he met my mom. In 1965, he quit his job, and we moved back to Tennessee.”

In its early days, the market mainly offered grocery type items. However, as time went on, Wills sought out other goods to offer his customers. “My dad started to stock different items like gardening tools, seeds, fertilizer, fresh meat, outside concrete items, and at one time he sold lawn mowers and garden tillers,” remembered Wills.

Not only did local residents visit the store when they needed to buy goods, but they also took the opportunity to visit with neighbors who would also frequent the shop. “I remember on Saturday evenings there were three or four older couples that would gather at the store and sit on the benches and chairs to visit,” Blevins said. Positioned at the intersection of Highway 91 and Gentry Creek Road, the store’s location made it ideal for folks hoping to catch up on community happenings and other neighborly interactions.
It was during a gathering of community members at the store when the idea for a volunteer-run fire department in Laurel was first discussed. “A bunch of local guys were there one day talking about some house fires that had happened recently and how the Damascus Fire Department had to be called for our fires,” Blevins recalled. “They started talking about how they could start a department of our own and Daddy said ‘Let’s just start one.’ That was the beginning of our great fire department here now.”

Wills served the Laurel community for many years, and his connection to the area still resonates with many today. “My dad loved this area, and he was proud to be able to serve the people in Laurel with a grocery store,” Blevins shared. “We had people come back over and over because Dad gave them great deals.”

In addition to Wills, who began the store and started its powerful connection with the community, others have followed in his footsteps to provide goods and services to Laurel Bloomery. “Since my dad retired, there have been a number of renters,” explained Blevins. “My sister in law Doris Rupard and I ran it for about 13 years. My brother and his wife ran it a few years. Tracy Ward also ran it for a few years. Shirley Storie operated it for quite a few years, and she is the one who started the larger deli. Sharon Anderson then started an antique shop along with the groceries and deli.”

With Laurel being several miles from Mountain City, owners and operators of the market sought out ways to be an additional help to their customers who may have difficulty traveling into town. In addition to wares and groceries, A to Z grew over the years to offer special services which set it apart from other area stores. “There was a community post office inside the store from 1984 until just recently,” said Blevins. “There has been a super deli serving things from hamburgers to beans and cornbread. During the New Years season and 4th of July, we sold fireworks.” The shop’s willingness to adapt and its regular customers allowed it to survive for years after other communities saw their neighborhood markets close their doors.

It is the connections with people that the shop owners and operators will always remember from their time at A to Z Market. “I loved seeing the people, and we knew just about everyone in the community,” Blevins shared about the time she worked at the store with not only her father but alongside her sister in law as well. “There were a lot of special moments just visiting with all of them.”

As Laurel Bloomery says goodbye to A to Z market, the small shop’s legacy and the impact those who have operated it have had on the community will be remembered and echoed throughout the valleys of Laurel for generations to come.

Johnson County Pregnancy Support Center on track of changing the community one-life-at-a-time

The Pregnancy Support Center is stocked and ready. Photo by Rita Hewett

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

Since 2010, the Pregnancy Support Center of Johnson County has been providing care and encouragement to young women of the community. The center has become a place of hope and education as hundreds of young mothers have received educational materials, supplies, and kind words of support over the years.

“The center was started by some caring professionals and pastors in our town who recognized the need in our area,” Center Director Judith Hoekstra shared. “The men and women saw the low birth weight figures for Johnson County and identified the lack of prenatal care in our county. Feeling led by the Lord, they got together and diligently worked out the necessary details to make this happen including finding a building which was eventually donated. All the necessary remodeling and repairs were also donated. It took a few years, but in July of 2010 The Johnson County Pregnancy Support Center opened.”

When the Pregnancy Support Center opened, its mission was to provide young mothers-to-be with the knowledge and necessities to have healthy pregnancies. “Our motto is ‘Making a difference where life begins,’” explained Judith Hoekstra, Center Director. “We provide educational materials, tangible resources, emotional support and spiritual support during and after pregnancy.”

The volunteers at the center all seek to be a positive influence on the ladies who come through the door and are rewarded when they see how the center’s work affects a young family. “I have seen God at work at the Pregnancy Support Center as we offer faith-based, non-judgmental, life-affirming services to pregnant women whether married or unmarried in Johnson County,” expressed center volunteer Pam Steinke. “One client that sticks out to me was a young high school girl who was in a crisis situation. She had a supportive mom, and the father of the baby was supportive. We did her ultrasound, helped her with pregnancy and new baby education. Through that education, she earned diapers, wipes, baby clothing, and other items that helped her as she parented her baby, graduated from high school, and got a job to support herself until she was able to start further education. It’s rewarding to support women emotionally, spiritually, and materially when they choose to parent their child and improve their standard of living.”

The program at the center is set up so that women are encouraged to complete educational series and attend regular, prenatal doctor visits. “Diapers and wipes once a month earned by education materials and tests,” Hoekstra explained. “Also, five personal care products can be earned by the same educational session once a month. These sessions also earn ‘Mommy Money’ by which clients can buy baby clothes, toys, baby furnishings, and any equipment that has been donated. Clients can earn a new crib and mattress by showing ten visits to their doctor. This helps make sure they are getting prenatal care which improves babies’ healthy birth weights.”

In addition to educational resources, the center also can provide some ultrasound services to the mothers-to-be. Ultrasounds are performed by licensed, registered nurses and reviewed by the PSCJC medical director. These ultrasounds are to confirm pregnancy and detect heartbeats. By letting the young women hear the pulse of their child, they are encouraged to pursue learning about how to best care for the life they carry within and how to care for their baby when it arrives.

Contributing to the center’s ability to assist the young mothers are the support and contributions given by the community. “We are faith-based and run totally by volunteers,” said Hoekstra. “Our volunteers come from many area churches. Many churches and businesses in Mountain City and Johnson City support us financially and with baby necessities.” Some area churches even hold “baby showers” where members are encouraged to bring diapers, wipes, and other related goods for the center.

Seeing God using these organizations and businesses have made an impression in not only the lives of the mothers but also the lives of the people who give of their time to be a part of the ministry as volunteer Phillis Griffith shared, “God has richly blessed and grown this ministry over the years. I am humbled that He has allowed me to be a part of seeing Him glorified as he meets the physical and spiritual needs of so many ladies and their precious babies.”

While some supplies are donated to the center, the group also relies on monetary donations to purchase additional goods for the moms. “A crib and mattress are about $150.00, diapers can run over $5.00 a pack, and wipes are at least $2.00,” shared Hoekstra. “Plus there are normal costs for energy, water, and building maintenance.” Hoekstra sees God working to provide for the center and hopes that more will answer the call for loving these families. “We praise the Lord for any and all contributions from the community and wish more businesses would get involved in financing our efforts.”

The center shared some statistics for work done in 2017:
63 new clients were added to the role.
73 clients “graduated” from the program upon their child’s 1st birthday.
32 cribs were given out.
575 packs of diapers and 575 packs of wipes were given out coinciding with the 575 educational sessions held.
2,875 personal care products were dispensed.
749 visits to the “Mommy Mart” for clothes an baby furnishings including toys, books, and other donated items.
24 $10.00 gas cards were earned.
101 clients were prayed alongside as prayer is always offered when a young woman visits.

With love, faith, and support being the cornerstones of the ministry at the Pregnancy Support Center of Johnson County, the group is changing the community one precious life at a time. “We rejoice with the moms in every situation,” Hoekstra expressed. “We just love them all and all of the time. We celebrate every birth with extra love. We also pray with and for our girls. The Pregnancy Center is a wonderful place to love as God commanded.”

Answering the call to serve

Reverend Frank Woods. Photo courtesy of Woods family

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

When God places a burden on one’s heart for people, it can begin a lifelong journey into service and seeking His will. Such has been life’s call for Reverend Frank Woods. His dedication to sharing God’s love with the people of Northeast Tennessee and beyond has shaped a life filled with purpose and lasting memories.

Originally hailing from North Carolina, Woods found a very special reason for crossing the mountain into Tennessee. “The reason for my move to this area to live came when I met the most beautiful, wonderful lady, Miss Shirley Ann Miller,” Woods shared. “We dated for about one year when we started talking about marriage. Shirley agreed only if I would move to Tennessee.”
Woods quickly became acclimated to living in Mountain City. “When I first came to the area,” he remembered, “it was so easy to get acquainted with the wonderful people in Johnson County. I really felt like they were family.”

Working in Mountain City, Woods learned about retail business and used this knowledge for several years in local businesses. “My first job in Mountain City was as an employee of the late Mr. Ed Burgess at Burgess Furniture on Main Street,” Woods explained. “I worked there for about seven years until I began employment with Mr. Joe Sherwood at American Hardware in the shopping center. In 1976, Garland Miller and I opened Miller and Woods Furniture Company located near Food Country. It was in operation for 19 years, until 1995.” His work in retail allowed Woods to gain a deeper connection with the people of the town. “Through the retail work, I had the opportunity of making many friends in Johnson County and surrounding areas,” said Woods.

Woods is perhaps best known for his work in the church community of Johnson County. His start in the ministry began across the mountain in North Carolina and then transitioned to Tennessee as he shared: “The first church was Sugar Grove Baptist Church located in Lansing, North Carolina. It was such a beautiful experience. I had the privilege of working alongside the late Rev. D. O. Miller for a number of years. Brother Miller was my wife Shirley’s great great grandfather. We saw the church grow from 27 our first Sunday, to over 90 in attendance in three years. I owe it all to God. How He blessed in that little country church. I came to pastor Locust Gap First Freewill Baptist Church in Johnson County from 1972 to 1974. We saw many come to know Christ in the years of ministering there. One year, we witnessed over 40 accept Christ and be baptized. I served one year in 1975 at Evergreen First Freewill Baptist Church in Roan Mountain, TN. I really enjoyed the folks there. In 1976, I was called to pastor First Freewill Baptist Church in Mountain City, TN until 2005.”

During his time at First Freewill Baptist Church, Woods saw many examples of God’s goodness and blessing as the church grew and became a major part of the community. “God blessed in so many ways, and I enjoyed my time there as pastor for 29 years,” he said. “In 1998, we were privileged as a congregation to build the largest auditorium in Johnson County with a seating capacity of 550. It was the first church built by inmate labor. Mr. Howard Carlton, Warden of Northeast Correctional Center, took the giant step in organizing this project. First Freewill Baptist Church became the largest congregation in Johnson County with an average congregation of nearly 300. On special occasions, we were blessed with over 500 in attendance.”

Woods and the church’s commitment to the county did not end after services on Sundays. “I remember after our new auditorium was complete, Heritage Hall was having a fundraising campaign to renovate the auditorium in the old high school building,” recounted Woods. “We assisted in allowing them to use our church in bringing in the cast of Barter Theater to perform the production of Keep on the Sunny Side, History of the Carter Family’s Story. We also had a broadcast time on WMCT for over 25 years. We participated in many, many fundraisers for families in need. The late Mrs. Fran Atkinson was so good to work with me in these efforts.”

While serving as pastor at First Freewill, Woods began working with Free Will Baptist Family Ministries. Over the years, Woods’ role in the ministry grew. “First Freewill supported Family Ministries for many years,” stated Woods. “In 1992, the Tennessee State Association elected me to serve as a board member to this ministry. I served for 12 years in this capacity, then five years as Chairman of the Board. In 2004, I was approached by Dr. James Kilgore, CEO, to come and work at Family Ministries as Vice President of Financial Development. It was a very difficult decision to make having been at the church for 29 years. After six months of much prayer and finding peace with God about leaving, I resigned from First Freewill to begin my new journey. I served in this role until 2012, when I was appointed as CEO of Family Ministries.”

The work done by Family Ministries serves as a loving, helping hand to families across the region. “The one thing I love about Family Ministries is that we help in every area of the family,” Woods expressed. “We operate two crisis pregnancy resource centers and have child care ministries in Tennessee and Arkansas. We serve an average of 130 children daily. We are thankful for what we have been able to do in serving children from across most of the state of Tennessee.”
Not only does the ministry support children, but the organization has also taken the initiative in helping another, often overlooked portion of the population. “Another thing I am very proud of is that in 2017 we began providing personal home care to those in Johnson County through our ‘Hands to Help’ program,” said Woods. “We are very grateful that we have the VA contract to serve our veteran population. They have given so much, and now we are blessed to assist them in being able to stay in their homes.”
Woods carries a heavy burden for the youth and elderly of the community. “From the Holy Bible, Jesus said, ‘As you have done to the least of these; you have done to me.’ Matthew 25:40,” he shared. “I really believe we have such a narrow window to make a positive impact on these particular populations. I just feel bad that time is running out and we are listening to the cry for help. I wish I could do more. I desire that there would be more opportunities for these two groups. There is such a need for a place that our seniors could live when they can no longer stay in their homes. I would love to see an assisted living and independent living home here in Johnson County, as well as places for involvement for our children and youth. The investments we make for these two groups will pay high dividends in the future.”
When asked what he would like to share with the community, Woods took the opportunity to share his concern for the hurting in our area. “To our churches and pastors,” he expressed. “I deeply love and appreciate you and what you do for our people of this county. The sky is the limit on what you and your congregation can do if we would become united in good causes to make a difference in the lives of so many. There are enough churches and Godly pastors in this county that there should be some outreach ministry going on one to two times a week. This is in addition to our regular services. I have found out that for those hurting, sometimes just someone to talk to makes such a difference. If we join our efforts, one day only Heaven will reveal the impact we
For decades, Woods has shared God’s Word and love to the community. No matter where life’s path has taken him, his love for our area is ever present. “I really don’t have words to describe the joy of being a part of such a great place to live for 48 years,” he shared. “Shirley and I do a lot of traveling with Family Ministries. We are in a number of different states, but we can truly say we still get excited when we see the city limit sign of Mountain City.”

Former Marine a tireless advocate for fellow veterans


A proud member of the Johnson County community, former Marine Ralph Hutto continues to go out of his way to help everyone proving that he is indeed a real treasure.
Photo courtesy of Hutto family

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer


When the veterans of Johnson County need assistance with government forms, learning what programs are available to them, or just an ear to listen, the man they turn to is Ralph Hutto. Being a Marine Corps veteran himself, Hutto understands the concerns of the veterans and is eager to help the area’s heroes however he can.

Hutto spent four years serving our country in the Marines. His role in the service was part of the classified nuclear testing division where he held a top-secret crypto clearance. Hutto’s service in the dangerous, nuclear program helped further America’s defensive and offensive capabilities.
After the service, Hutto began working in the civilian sector. “I was a shipping clerk, then went to work for Standard Theatre,” Hutto recalled. “I was Vice President and General Manager of Piedmont Popcorn. It was considered revolutionary when I had the idea to put popcorn in tins and bushel bags. We added college logos and sent them all over the country. I sent several to the White House.”
It was in 1990 that Hutto came to Mountain City. Hutto had met and fell in love with his wife, Fran Wilson, who lived in Johnson County, and he moved his life to our small community right away. Though he still had to travel for work, Hutto became involved with the veteran’s organizations in Mountain City quickly. “I joined the Honor Guard and met some wonderful people here,” said Hutto. In addition to the Honor Guard, Hutto also became a member of the local American Legion post where his relationship with the area veterans grew.

When it came time for Cliff Dunn to retire, Hutto was asked if he would be interested in taking the position due to his experience with community veterans and previous experience with the Veterans Service office. “I was working with Karen when I was the Service Officer for the American Legion, and I was in the Honor Guard,” he said. “When Cliff Dunn retired around 2010, they voted that I take the position due to my experience and the county mayor approved.”

The Veterans Service office of Mountain City is dedicated to not only filing paperwork on behalf of veterans but also in taking the time to ensure that veterans understand their rights and how to file their forms appropriately. “Karen and I take time to help the veterans,” Hutto explained. “Our county is 13th out of over 90 counties in the state when it comes to revenue per veteran.”

Hutto shared the special role that Karen Manuel has played in the office for the several years she has been a part of the department: “Karen takes the time to fill out papers and forms for the veterans when they cannot. She doesn’t simply tell them to fill out the forms and bring them back.”

When it comes to the financial difficulties of area veterans, Hutto explains how Johnson County’s agricultural roots become a factor in figuring payments. “Because this is farming country, people raised beans and tobacco and they never paid anything into the system so that when it came time for them to retire, there is nothing for them to draw,” he said. “I find many of those situations where I try to help.”
It is the satisfaction that Hutto receives from helping a veteran or veteran’s widow that keeps him working when many men his age have retired. “I get satisfaction helping a widow go from surviving on $200 a month to $800 and seeing her smile,” shared Hutto. “Or also if I can help a veteran get something that they weren’t aware of.”

Hutto also expresses the feelings of pride and patriotism he feels when veterans enter his office and feel like they have no reason to expect help as a former serviceman. “A lot of guys don’t think they deserve it. A lot of veterans feel that way,” added Hutto. “Guys will come in here to apply for disability, and I will look at their file and see Bronze Stars and Distinguished Service Awards, and you would never know. I see quite a few of those. This community, as small as it is, has a lot of heroes.”

When it comes to Johnson County, Hutto is proud of our area’s dedication and respect for its veterans. He is glad to see the Honor Guard be able to go into the schools and teach the students proper flag etiquette and to see the support for the Poppy Drives that take place twice a year. When asked one of his proudest moments during his time in Johnson County, Hutto shared: “When US Army Spc. Frederick Greene was honored, it was a solemn occasion, but I was glad that we recognized him as we did with the bridge being named after him. This community does a lot of good things.”

The Johnson County Community is blessed to have men and women such as Hutto and other veterans who not only offered themselves in combat or military service in their youth but also continue their service to the country by caring for and supporting vets young and old. Whether it be through the Veterans Affairs Office, the American Legion, the VFW, or the Honor Guard, Hutto and others like him make our area a symbol of patriotism and respect for those who have fought for our freedoms.

Ralph Hutto.Photo courtesy of
Hutto family

Danny Herman builds a legacy of community support

Mountain City businessman, Danny Herman, center, smiles for the camera as he enjoys time with his extended family. Herman promises to seek out new opportunities for the youth of the county to help further their education. Photo courtesy of the Herman family

When local businessman Danny Herman first came to Johnson County on a delivery run. Little did he know that the small mountain community would be where his family would build not only a successful business but also a legacy of community support that would touch thousands of lives.
Herman’s first visits to the area were as part of the relocation of Film Salvage Company to Mountain City. “Around 1971,” Herman shared, “Film Salvage wanted to build a facility that was in the east. I was asked to move equipment to Mountain City by Lonnie Allen who was originally from here but had moved to southern California when working for Bank of America. I delivered here twice a month and made lots of friends.”

His visits to Mountain City made an impression on Herman who was then raising a young family in a fast-growing Southern California. “Southern California was crowded with many people, a fast lifestyle, and plagued with drug problems,” he explained. “It was not a good place to raise a family. In 1979, our children Joe and Kristy were about to start sports in school and that it was a good time to make a move to Mountain City, a better place to raise the family.”

Upon moving to the area, Herman along with former wife Barbara began building their business. “Barbara and I were running three trucks and decided to open an office at the Silver Bell Motel which is now where The House of Flowers is,” Herman recalled. The rent was $50 a month.” What started with three trucks and the small, rented office space has grown into the nationally known trucking company Danny Herman Trucking with DHT clad trucks seen on interstates across the country.

“Today, the Herman family has over 400 trucks operating coast to coast, border to border, and beyond,” he said. “DHT is providing hundreds of jobs nationwide operated by the Mountain City corporate office. Thanks to our employees, DHT has had remarkable success.”
While making the Johnson County area his home, Herman’s appreciation for the community and burden upon seeing it struggle financially grew. “Around 1989, the community woke up to an unemployment rate of about 33 percent,” he explained. “That was when Burlington closed their doors, and the hospital located on Hospital Hill Road went bankrupt.” Seeing companies leaving, employees left jobless, and buildings abandoned, Herman and other local businesspeople began looking for ways to make a difference.

In the early 90’s, Herman along with a colleague made a move to try and help the community using their resources and passion for the area. “About 1990, the hospital building went up for auction,” Herman recounted. “Paul Brown and I bought it and then turned the deed over to the county. The hospital equipment was sold in a separate deal which we bought and donated to the county.”
Not only did the businessmen help with ensuring the county’s use of the building, but they also sought help from state legislators in using the location to help with the shortage of healthcare options in Mountain City at the time. “Governor McWherter and Congressman Jimmy Quillen supported us and others on board to bring The Quillen School of Nursing in to operate the After Hours Clinic as Johnson County was short on healthcare in 1991. Then the hospital was leased to Mountain States Health Alliance.” Mountain States operated in that building for seven years at which time the new hospital building was constructed in town. The location on Hospital Hill Road continues to serve the county as it is presently leased by Mountain Youth Academy.

Another area Herman and others sought to assist the county in developing was tourism.
Herman, Tommy Walsh, Paul Brown, Rep. Barton Hawkins, and others began seeking ways to utilize the area’s potential in the tourism trade. “We wanted to build a welcome center, so we went to the State Commissioner of Tourism where the governor and others in Nashville met with us,” said Herman. The group was able to obtain funds from the state, and along with local donations, plans for Mountain City’s first welcome center were underway. “The Welcome Center building is on Paul Brown’s land that he leased to the county’s tourism board, The Chamber of Commerce, and the Historical Society for 99 years at a rate of $1 per year,” Herman explained. “Barbara and I built a bridge that crossed the Corn/Town Creeks and built an RV park on land we own. We leased that property to Johnson County Tourism for 99 years at $1 per year. The campground revenue goes to help the
operations for the Welcome Center.”

An additional project that Herman saw great potential in and assisted with seeing realized was the opportunity for a state prison to be built in Johnson County.
While some looked at the jobs and revenue that would be brought in by the facility, others were concerned about safety and its effect on the local community. The decision had to be put to vote to allow for the majority’s will to be done in the matter. “The governor had them put it on the ballot, and it passed by only 54percent,” stated Herman. “Today, it is providing 594 total jobs and has an inmate capacity of 1880.”

While the county was beginning to see new life being brought in to the economic scene, the local school system was also making changes. Elementary schools were being consolidated, and several communities within the county were concerned seeing their beloved school buildings left behind. One such building was the Trade School. The brick structure had been a part of the Trade community for many years, and the members of that community were looking for ways to ensure the building’s continued service to the area. “The residents wanted to keep it as a community center but needed a means to do so,” shared Herman. “Paul Brown, Tommy Walsh, and I were able to get the Tennessee National Guard to lease the Trade School as a facility for several years before they built their new building on Highway 421. During that time, the community was able to start Trade Days, and it has been a benefit to the community for many years.”

In addition to all of this, Herman has sought out additional ways to help the county which has led to his involvement with a number of community boards and committees. Some of these appointments have included the Johnson County Hospital Board, the Industrial Board, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tourism Board. Herman has also been actively involved with the county’s emergency communications program through ham radio operations and the county’s amateur radio club.
Herman’s passion for Johnson County continues today as he hopes to see new opportunities for the youth of the county to further their education. “I would like to see a facility for the youth’s education after high school as it is being planned by Mountain City,” said Herman. “A trade school up and running here in Johnson County as our mayor and others have been pursuing. Having a local trade school is important for our future generations.”

As he has seen the county grow from one signal light to six, and the main highway expands from two lanes to five, Herman hopes that local businessmen and women will heed the call to invest in the next generation of Johnson County workers and residents. “Businesses should do their best to invest in our younger people who will be the future leaders of our county,” he expressed. Herman also shared what has been his proudest achievement while living in Johnson County, “On top of the list is having a plan of raising my children and grandchildren in a good place with the right attitude and work ethic. A good work ethic is so important to succeed.”

Danny Herman 1965.
Photo courtesy of the Herman family

Laurel Bloomery proud of its roots of musical tradition

Old Mill Music Park in Laurel Bloomery site of the annual Old time Fiddlers Convention.Use of painting courtesy of Artist Temple Reece

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

East Tennessee has long been a land of deep musical traditions. Nearly 100 years ago, in 1925, the famous Mountain City Fiddler’s Convention attracted an enormous crowd including dozens of musicians skilled in southern Appalachian fiddling. One such fiddler, G. B. Grayson, who went on to write original music eventually performed by the likes of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Doc Watson and the Stanley Brothers, has descendants still living in Johnson County.

Gilliam Banmon Grayson, mostly known as “G.B.,” was born in 1888. Although he was legally blind, he learned to play music at a young age and became an accomplished fiddler by his early teens. He reportedly played at dances and small gatherings around Johnson County to make money.
It was at the 1927 Fiddlers convention in Mountain City that Grayson met guitarist and singer Henry Whitter. While many discounted Whitter’s singing ability, the two collaborated to record some 40 traditional fiddle tunes, many of which are still performed today, including “Tom Dooley, Handsome Molly, Train Forty-Five and Going Down the Lee Highway.” So although, fiddlers conventions take place throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky, Johnson County’s annual gathering has a “claim to fame” of sorts.

Though the convention originated in Mountain City and organized by the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, this fall will mark 20 years, it has been taking place in Laurel Bloomery at the nostalgic and picturesque Old Mill Music Park and since its move, Jackie Warden, owner of the park, has hosted the annual event.

“This event includes instruments that others don’t,” explains Dale Morris, an experienced musician, convention judge, music historian and emcee for the local convention the past four years. “I’m so glad that they have included things such as duets, twin fiddle, and harmonica. The old-time community loves it.”

This fall, organizers, campers and musicians from across the nation plan to converge on Laurel Bloomery to kick off the 93rd Anniversary of the Johnson County Old Time Fiddlers Convention, is planned for August 24, and 25.

This year’s program is expected to include: Old-Time Bands, Old-Time Banjo, Old-Time Fiddle, Twin Fiddle, Guitar, Mandolin, Bass Fiddle, Dulcimer, Autoharp, Harmonica, Folk Song, Duet Singing, Adult Dance, Youth Fiddle, Youth Banjo, Youth Guitar, Youth Band and Youth Dance.Grayson and Whitter

Backbone Rock continues to draw visitors

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Motorists traveling through the Cherokee National Forest in northern Johnson County may find themselves passing through an enormous rock rising some 100 feet above the ground and dating back to 1901. Backbone Rock often dubbed the “Shortest Tunnel in the World,” was created when workers with the Beaver Dam Railroad blasted a giant hole to allow railroad access between Shady
Valley and Damascus, Virginia.

According to the late Tom Gentry, county historian, even after the blasting, the top of the tunnel had to be hand chiseled as planners had forgotten to leave room for the train’s smokestack. There remains evidence of the chiseling as an arch in the fin around ten yards thick is still clearly visible today. When the train route became obsolete, and the 20-foot tunnel became part of Highway 133. Gentry also enjoyed sharing the origin of the name “Backbone” explaining it resembles a spine.

While Backbone Rock, known as the pillar, forming a solid fin of stone on a ridge of Holston Mountain, is the draw for many; the surrounding area is now part of the Cherokee National Forest. In addition to the tunnel, In the 1930s The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) further developed the recreation area for day use, constructing two picnic shelters and hiking trails that incorporated native stonework.
The natural hiking trails, including one that leads to Backbone Rock Falls, a 40-foot waterfall featuring a long, gentle cascade down a well-worn slab of granite, are relatively easy hikes. The falls trail makes a loop of sorts with hikers trekking up a series of natural “stairs,” which allows access to the top of the falls before winding back down more stairs back to the road. Another trail begins next to the parking area on the Shady Valley side of the tunnel. The Backbone Rock Trail is a unique climb to the top of the tunnel offering alternate views of the surrounding area.

In addition to the tunnel and the trails, a campground was added in the 1960s and rehabilitated in the mid-1990s. The small campground, which is equipped with ten campsites, including eight singles and two doubles, sits alongside the beautiful Beaverdam Creek at an elevation of 2,100 feet. For family reunions, weddings and other types of group gatherings, a large pavilion is also available to reserve.
The campground reopens for the season April 30th.

Johnson County Historical Society serves to protect community history

The display surrounding a fireplace at the Johnson County Welcome Center,Museum and Campground features items commonly found in familyhomes nearby. Photo by Marlana Ward

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The hills and valleys of Johnson County have long echoed the stories and songs that bear record of an area steeped in history and tradition. Preserving these memories and passing them down to future generations has been the passion and mission of many residents past and present.
For over 40 years, the Johnson County Historical Society has been documenting the history of this area so that the people who helped form our community and the examples they set forth do not fade away and be forgotten.

The Johnson County Historical Society began by a group of like-minded individuals with a passion for history. “A group of 15 area citizens under the leadership of Walter Wilson met on September 22, 1977,” shared Kathy Terrill, Historical Society President. “In November of 1977, the first officers were elected. Those first elected were: President- John Butler, Vice-President- Bob Morrison, Secretary- Mary Ward, and Treasurer- Rena Shoun.” The society was well underway and became chartered on December 15, 1977.

Since its formation, the group has gathered stories from the many families whose ancestors settled the Johnson County area. Because of its easternmost location in the state and proximity to other territories, the area has always been a crossroads for American travelers and adventurers.
Whether it be the story of how Daniel Boone traversed these mountains, the original stories of the family settlements, which dot the hilly landscape, the legendary capture of a nationally known outlaw, or how local businessmen began companies that have lasted over 100 years in a small town, the historical society is interested in protecting history for all who will follow.

There are many great stories from this area, but one, in particular, is a fine representation of what the society hopes to achieve in the gathering and recording county history. This story is, of course, the one of how Tom Dula, or Tom Dooley as he is better known from a song, was captured in Johnson County. Not only has this tale been recorded in written stories, movies, and nationally recognized folk-song, but the local arts organizations have also assisted in sharing the story of Dula. “I was privileged to be a part of the community theater’s production of ‘Always, Tom Dooley,’” Terrill expressed. “I might add that the mural located on the side of Mountain City Antiques and Collectibles painted by Cristy Dunn also depicts this capture.” The historical society’s efforts in learning more about Dula and the collection of facts and myths surrounding his capture have helped cement his place in Johnson County history.
Another way the historical society has preserved many of the stories they have gathered is with the publication of The History of Johnson County. The large, hardbound books have become a fixture in many area homes and are a great reminder of how Johnson County came to be. “We have published three history books in Volume 1 in1986 Volume 2 in 2000 and Volume 3 in 2015,” said Terrill. Many families pass these history books down and place their family mementos within the pages to be protected for descendants.

The display surrounding a fireplace at the Johnson County Welcome Center,
Museum and Campground features items commonly found in family
homes nearby. Photo by Marlana Ward

In addition to the history books, the society also maintains a museum of county artifacts at the Johnson County Welcome Center. The museum allows visitors to the area to catch a glimpse of the determined Appalachian people who settled this area and how they battled adversity to make a home for those living here today. Some of the items housed in the museum include farm implements, Native-American arrowheads found in local fields, antique tableware manufactured here and used by past residents, relics from previous businesses, photos depicting ancestors of common family surnames, and many more relics of days gone by.

The Johnson County Historical Society is always interested in learning more about our area and the people who helped build it. If anyone has a story, they would like to share with the group for future generations the society is eager to listen. “You may contact anyone in the membership or leave your contact information at the Johnson County Welcome Center,” encouraged Terrill.
For those who would like to be even more involved with the preservation of Johnson County history, the opportunity to join the historical society is a great way to do so. “Membership is open to anyone who has interest in all aspects of our history,” Terrill stated. “Our regular meetings are held the third Sunday of each month, and we meet at the lower level of the welcomecenter unless we are planning a special event, such as a trip to a historical site.”

With an area so rich in history and interesting figures, the existence of a historical society is vital to ensure that these stories are not forgotten. As new generations step forward to guard our heritage for years to come, thesociety’s responsibility to the future will fall upon their shoulders. “The Historical Society hasbeen involved in many aspects of preserving the history, and we are constantly trying to recruit anyone who has a love of our history and want to help in keeping our heritage safe and accessible to all who comes after us. We hope the upcoming generations will be pleased with our effort to document their history and will continue to carry on this legacy.”

Love advocates for Johnson County youth


Russell Love poses for a photo at the Johnson County Library with the town behind him. Photo by Meg Dickens

Russell Love poses for a photo at the Johnson County Library with the town behind him. Photo by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens
Freelance Writer

If you live in the Johnson County community, you most likely know Russell Love, a proud father, and grandfather who is devoted to the youth and the community’s future.

Love currently works with his wife, Kathie Love, at LRH Billing and Account Management and is an elder at Dewey Christian Church.

Love gained inspiration from strong former teachers and coaches. That is how he decided to pursue education as a career. Love moved to Mountain City from Elizabethton to become a teacher and coach at Johnson County Middle School when it opened its doors in 1976. He started its first football team that same year and later moved to Johnson County High School where he taught a multitude of subjects during his career including health, physical education, family life and driver’s education. He was such a fixture on the hill that many were shocked when he retired.

Love did not slow down after retiring in 2014. If anything, he has continued his work to help the youth in this community.

Love is currently involved in the following activities: the James B. Plumber Memorial Scholarship, the Johnson County Community Foundation, the Junior Appalachian Musician (JAM) program, the Johnson County Arts Council, the annual Johnson County Community Center Easter egg hunt, the Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade, where he plays a certain jolly fellow, and Christmas on Main.

“We’re all obligated to do what we can,” Love said when asked about his community involvement. “It’s an opportunity.”

Love seems to focus on one recurring theme: people impact people. That, in turn, brings about growth and change. By being a positive influence, Love can “help benefit and guide young people in the right direction” which makes it more likely that they will also work towards a positive change in the future.

He enjoys working with enthusiastic programs and groups of people with various thoughts and interests who are focused on achieving a common goal. Programs such as JAM go above and beyond to make a difference. Sponsors Danny Herman Trucking, the Dan Paul Foundation and the Johnson County Community Foundation pool resources to provide instruments for any youth who would like to learn to play.

What is community to Russell Love? He says it is “a group of people, a body of people that have common goals and shared interests and are willing to work together to bring about positive change and achieve those goals.”

Love enjoys the small town, rural atmosphere of Mountain City and is very community oriented. “God blesses us with the opportunity. We need to do the best we can with it.” Love declared. He later referenced The Builder by Lou Holtz to make a point. We as people should build with care; be positive and do as much good as we possibly can. Even the smallest contribution can make a significant impact in the long run.

Love has touched many lives in his time here, and he is still out there making a difference.

Betty Brown steps up for the little county that could

Betty Brown

Betty Brown stands in front of a picture symbolizing growth. Photo by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens
Freelance Writer

Betty Brown is a dedicated woman who has devoted her life to helping children. She is a proud mother to Johnson County Middle School coach and teacher, Matthew Bray, and grandmother to Luke. Brown spends her free time volunteering and spending as much time as possible with her grandson.

Volunteer work is in her blood. Her father was a firefighter, her mother was a volunteer nurse, and her family encouraged volunteer work as a whole. Her family’s example is what inspired Brown to focus on volunteer work and education. She grew up learning to “always be involved and give back.”

While she did not grow up here, Brown says that Mountain City “became home.” Brown moved to Mountain City from Damascus, Virginia in 1985 to teach at Johnson County Middle School. She taught and coached several teams including the volleyball and cheerleading teams. She advanced quickly and soon became assistant principal. Brown worked for Central Office as a supervisor for 7/12 (middle school through high school education) and tech coordinator before returning to the hill. This time she became the principal of Johnson County High School, which would be her last stop before retiring in 2007.

Brown continues to be an example for many. She is an active advocate and co-chair of the Johnson County Imagination Library which is a subdivision of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in association with the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. This program focuses on making sure that every child has the means and opportunity to enjoy reading. Brown was turned on to the program through a brief stint of working as a Homebound teacher.

Brown has a personal motto she associates with the Imagination Library, “you are a star being just the way you are.” “Every child needs to feel special and successful,” Brown said. “Literacy is a strong foundation that effects the rest of a child’s life.” She also bases her mindset on the children’s book The Little Engine that Could and refers to Johnson County as “the little county that could.”

“Children taught me so much about unconditional love, perseverance, and grace,” she said. “This community reminds me how important it is to be involved in your children’s lives.”
Brown advocates learning how not to judge a book by its cover. There is little doubt; The world looks a little brighter through Betty Brown’s eyes.

JO CO Imagination Library Logo

Frank Arnold gives back to his community

Frank Arnold with his wife Barbara

Frank Arnold and his wife, Barbara, pose for the camera. Photo by Jill Penley

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

After spending 35 years with the U.S. Postal Service including 23 years as Postmaster in various locations, Johnson County’s Frank Arnold continues to give back to the “neighbors” he came to love by serving on several local boards and staying active in the community. One of his many hats involves being a “Road Runner.”

“Each Shrine Temple has a special unit of transporters called the Road Runners,” explains Arnold, who has been a member of the Mountain City Taylorsville Lodge #243 for 35 years and a Road Runner for the past two. “We transport children and their families back and forth from the Shriners hospitals.”

Road Runners have driven millions of miles bringing children to Shriners Hospitals for Children. For each trip, they pick up a child and their family, drive them to the hospital for treatment, and then return with them back home all at no cost to the family. Arnold has personally transported children to Greeneville, South Carolina, and Cincinnati, Ohio for treatment.

”This is probably the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done,” said Arnold, “to witness the care and love that the staff at these hospitals administer to these children.”
Shriners Hospitals for Children serve children who need specialized care in the areas of orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury, cleft lip, and palate.

In addition to serving as a Shriner, Arnold serves on the Johnson County Community Hospital Board, the Doe Mountain Board of Authority, and the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce.

He also considers himself an avid outdoorsman. “I love hunting, fishing and working in the yard,” explains Arnold, “anything that gets me out of the house.”
Before his retirement in April of 2012, Arnold served as postmaster, or acting postmaster, at seven different postal locations including Mountain City, Butler, Unicoi, Piney Flats, Irwin, Mountain Home and Cosby,

Tennessee. As with anyone working with the public for an extended period, Arnold has experienced many humorous moments. One particular incident involving his old boss, Danny Cunningham, stands out to Arnold.

“We had a gentleman come into the post office demanding to see the postmaster” he recalls. “I was a supervisor at this time, so I ask him what it was about, and what his name was. He told me I didn’t need to know that, he wanted to see the postmaster. I told him to wait there and that I would get the postmaster for him. I went into Danny’s office and told him there was a gentleman there to see the postmaster. Danny asked me what he wanted. I told him he would not tell me; he wanted to see the postmaster.

So Danny goes out front and introduces himself as the postmaster and asked the gentleman what he wanted. He told Danny (the postmaster) that he wanted him to do something about that mail carrier that was scattering his mail all over the county. Danny asked him what his name was and what his address was? He looked straight at Danny and told him he was the ‘Postmaster’ and he should know what his name was and what his address was and walked out. That was the last we saw of him.”

Arnold adds: “You can’t make up stuff like that.”

Frank Arnold sorting mail in 1982.

John and Joan Payne: then and now

John and Joan Payne

John and
Joan Payne today.
Photo by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens
Freelance Writer

John and Joan Payne are well known throughout the Johnson County community. John’s family has occupied Mountain City, TN for seven generations and both he and Joan grew up in the area. No matter where life tried to take them, the Paynes have always lived here; There truly is no place like home after all. The couple has two daughters, one son and three grandchildren.
The Paynes never doubted which career to pursue as both planned to teach from the very beginning and the location was just as obvious.

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids in Johnson County,” John said.
They each had influential teachers in their lives that inspired them to pursue this career.
For John, it was his mother, while Joan was influenced by her Physical Education teacher, Mary Hux. John started teaching in 1972 and Joan started in 1974.

Joan taught pretty much every subject except English in her long career. She taught at Laurel Elementary, Johnson County Middle School, and Johnson County High School. Joan was also very involved in coaching including the first volleyball teams that reached state before the division system was in place. The team placed in the top eight teams in Tennessee. Joan also started a countywide volleyball organization for elementary school students and was so beloved that she secured a spot in the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame in 2006.

John focused more on the administrative route and held the following positions: math and science teacher in elementary through middle school, Assistant Principal and Principal at Mountain City Elementary, a supervisor at Central Office, Johnson County Middle School Principal, Johnson County Superintendent Finance Director at Elizabethton City Schools, Unicoi County Middle School Assistant Principal, Johnson County High School Principal, Director of Unicoi County Schools, School Improvement Specialist with the State of Tennessee Exemplary Educators Program, worked with the Chamber of Commerce and was President of the TN Organization of School Superintendents.
John was the first person to be re-elected for a second term as Johnson County Superintendent. He was also named Volunteer of the Year between 2008 and 2009.

Sadly, John’s career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2005. Joan retired the same year to care for him. John is currently in remission and doing well. His diagnosis did not stop him from continuing his work. Both he and Joan are still active in the community. They volunteer through the First Baptist Church Christians Actively Reaching Everyone (C.A.R.E.) program which helps with needs such as illness, special needs, and home wheelchair accessibility.

The Paynes are also involved with the Johnson County Retired Teachers Association (JCRTA). This organization is made up of former teachers in the Johnson County area and deals with needs or promoting education.JCRTA has recently gained college equality for children of retired teachers.
“God has taken care of us, and we have been blessed,” John said.

Life has slowed to a more leisurely pace for the Paynes which makes it far easier to focus more on the family. A normal day involves puzzles or word puzzles, yard, and housework, talking to their children, receiving adorable photos of their grandchildren, reading and a healthy dose of HGTV. The Paynes keep an eye out for anyone in need and continue to serve the community. Whether it is fighting for education, volunteering at the senior center, or reaching out to anyone with a need, John and Joan continue to make a difference. It does not matter that time has passed. They are beloved and remembered throughout Johnson County.

Mother, daughter team works to promote a love of reading

Linda Icenhour and her daughter, Amber

Linda Icenhour and her daughter, Amber

By Paula Walter
Freelance Writer

Linda Icenhour is the librarian at the Johnson County Public Library. Icenhour began volunteering at the library in 1985 before being hired as a librarian in 1988. At that time, the current library was in the process of being built. In 1991, she became the library director, a title she continues to hold today.
Part of Icenhour’s duties at the library include meeting with the board and setting a budget. Laura Hayworth and Lucy Cavanaugh also work for the Johnson County Public Library. “Anything that happens at the library, I’m responsible,” she stated. Icenhour is currently working on an addition to the library that will serve as a reference room.

Icenhour was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her father, who was from Johnson County, served in the military. Her mother was from Shouns. “I left Hawaii when I was about three,” she stated. Their next move took them to Florida, mainly in the Pensacola area. Her two brothers were born in Florida. “We were all born while my father was in the service,” Icenhour added. Her father, who served in the Navy during Vietnam, retired in 1975. Before his second tour back to Vietnam, he brought his family to Sunset Drive in Mountain City.“He figured Mountain City would offer better support for the family,” she added. Icenhour was approximately 12 when she moved to Mountain City. “The people were warm and embracing,” she stated. When Icenhour’s father returned from Vietnam, they were then stationed in Memphis and lived on base. “At the time he retired, we were living in Memphis,” she stated. “He taught math to wannabee pilots.”

Not only does Icenhour stay busy at the library, but she and her daughter, Amber, have written and illustrated several books. “She and I have become a mother-daughter writing and illustrating team,” she stated. “I have published two children’s books to date, and I’m working on a third.” Icenhour writes, and Amber does the illustrations.

Linda Icenhour – The adventures of Jam and Jelly

The first series of books published by Icenhour and Amber is Joey’s Big Imagination and Joey’s Big Imagination Blastoff. They have also released Adventures of Jam and Jelly. Two other books have been written but at this time have not been published.

Icenhour and her daughter are working on another book entitled Scarecrows on Main, based on our very own Scarecrows on Main that appear on Main Street during October.

Jack Swift newspaper man

Jack Swift hard at work at the Tomahawk Newspaper. Swift worked for the paper for three decades until his retirement in 2003.

By Paula Walter
Freelance Writer

Johnson County’s Jack Swift grew up in Johnson County. Not only was Jack born here in Mountain City, but so were his parents, Carrie Emoline Harper and Isaac Alan Swift. He had one brother Ray, who passed away in 1990.

Jack went to Dewey Elementary School. According to Jack, there were two classrooms and two teachers, along with a principal. One room was designated for grades one through four, and the second room was for students in grades five through eight. Jack recalled the students had to use outside facilities, outhouses, as there was no indoor plumbing.

Jack’s worked for seven years at the Blueridge Shoe Company for seven years before starting at The Tomahawk Newspaper. His newspaper career began in the circulation department as manager. “I did all aspects of circulation,” Jack said. He then moved on to selling advertising, making ads and helping lay out the paper. “We had to be sure the papers got into the customers’ hands,” he stated. At that time, laying out the pages for print was a long and tedious process.

Jack was appointed sports editor by then editor Deidra Smith. “I had to cover sports as best I could,” Jack stated. “I would cover games, and then come into The Tomahawk late at night to write the stories. I mainly covered football, basketball, and baseball at the high school level.”

Jack worked at The Tomahawk newspaper for more than 30 years until his retirement in 2003. According to Jack, one of the highlights of his newspaper career was getting to meet lots of interesting people. “There were some things I liked,” he stated. “By and large, I enjoyed it.”

Jack recalled the long, laborious task of laying out the pages before everything became computerized. According to Jack, headlines were printed one letter at a time on a circular device. According to Jack, the newspaper pages came out on photographic film. “We had a little dark room there,” he recalled. “You had to keep light from getting in.” The film was then dunked into a tub of developer. You would then put it in water that contained a chemical to stabilize the film.” According to Jack, it took a long time to print the newspaper. “I missed the paper and the people, but I didn’t miss the deadlines,” Jack recalled. “I’d like to express my gratitude to the McClouds for giving me the opportunity to work at The Tomahawk.

“All this is memory, “ he said. “Sometimes the memory is good; sometimes it’s not so good.”
It wasn’t long after his retirement when Jack, who happens to be Johnson County’s historian, started his column This ‘n’ That, for the paper. “I started writing the column the last day of 2003, “ he said. Although Jack enjoyed reporting on sports, his This ‘n’ That column continues to be his favorite writing for the paper.

Johnson County Community Center a children’s safe haven

Community Center

Johnson County Community Center director Flo Bellamy, right is joined by staff members Eva Dishman, Gail Snyder, Eunice Snyder and Earl Gambill. The facility has become a heaven for our youth to gather afterschool. Photo by Paula Walter

By Paula Walter
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County Community Center has become a haven for those students who attend Johnson County Middle School and Johnson County High School. It is not only a gathering place to visit friends, but it’s also a safe, clean place for kids. The adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” is an apt description of the involvement and care the entire community puts forth to help and nurture its youth.
The center is run by a staff that includes Flo Bellamy, director; Eva Dishman, education director; Gail Snyder, cook and mentor and the main go-to person; Eunice Snyder, who is in charge of cooking and keeping necessary records and Earl Gambill, the athletic director. According to Bellamy, the group rotates jobs so if someone is out; it’s not a crisis. “Everyone knows what everyone does,” Bellamy stated. “We do anything that needs to be done,” added Gail Snyder.
According to Eunice Snyder, to work with the kids at the center, you have to love children. She has been there approximately 13 years. “We cook, we clean, we keep detailed records,” she stated.
According to Bellamy, the center concentrates on feeding the kids and providing them with resources to help assist them where needed, included tutoring. “Kids are the main focus we have,” she stated. “It’s a safe, clean place for kids. The whole community is aware of the necessity of the program, and that’s why they are so supportive.” According to Bellamy, the center receives a lot of donations from the community, boxes of food that will go toward feeding the hungry youth who come to the center. “We receive food from churches and businesses,” she stated. “They will come through and bring us food.” The center also receives donations of money and food from individuals and businesses, along with an account at one of the local grocery stores that allow Bellamy to have enough funds to feed the children.
It’s during the cold weather that a number of students who frequent the community center increase. Most of the kids stay hunkered down inside the community center when the weather turns bad. Sometimes there are 75 kids at the center, many with a good appetite. “We feed the kids, no matter the number,” said Bellamy. According to Bellamy, the kitchen is licensed.
According to Gail Snyder, they try to get the kids to eat new and different foods. “We all do what’s needed to be done,” she stated. “We’ve got each other’s back.
According to Bellamy, when school is in session, there are 50 plus students a day, sometimes upwards of 75. Most of the students who come to the center live in the county, so when school is out, transportation can be an issue for them to go to the center. When school is in session, students walk from the middle and high schools. The center stays open until 5 p.m. if the school is out, and 6 p.m. if the school is in
The center is required to have childcare licensing. Everyone that works with the students, even volunteers, undergo a background check and fingerprinting that is updated every five years.
According to Bellamy, the community center has specific criteria they need to follow to apply for grants necessary to pay their employees. “All the people work beyond their pay,” she stated.
According to Gambill, he likes to keep the kids busy with activities such as basketball, football, pool, and ping-pong. If needed, Gambill steps right in to assist anyone in at the center. “He makes killer gravy,” Eunice stated. Gambill also is in charge of the community pool and hiring certified lifeguards. According to Gambill, he likes to hire students within the county as summertime lifeguards. “It’s a good opportunity for kids to earn money,” he added.
Eva Dishman is the educational director. She processes information needed for grants for the Leaps program and keeps up with the various educational opportunities offered at the center. Dishman collects data to be reported to the state for various grants. She also works part-time for Mountain City.
According to Bellamy, there is structured time at the community center. Everywhere the students go, they have to check in with the adult in the area, who carries a two-way radio.
The center also provides opportunities for tutoring. The students contact the tutor to set up a time. The employees at the center are there to monitor the safety of the student and the tutor.
When school is in session, the center is open from 10 a.m to 6 pm. When school is out, the center’s hours are 10 a.m to 5 p.m. During the summer months, it is open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
The community center is also open to the public for a range of activities. For those non-profit companies, there is no fee to use the center. If someone wants to use the center for a paid event, it’s a minimum of two hours at $25 an hour. “We’re the cheapest in town,” Bellamy stated.

Johnson County Community Center director Flo Bellamy, right is joined by staff members
Eva Dishman, Gail Snyder, Eunice Snyder and Earl Gambill. The facility has become a heaven for
are youth to gather afterschool. Photo by Paula Walter


Brookshire calls Johnson County home

Bill Brookshire and originial bank board

By Paula Walter
Freelance Writer

Johnson County has always been home for Bill Brookshire, the President of Johnson County Bank. His father passed away when he was just a teenager. His mother, Bonnie, raised their three sons and one daughter. Mr. Bill Brookshire graduated from Johnson County High School. “I got on a bus the next day after graduation with two other friends,” he stated. “We went to Flint, Michigan, where they built Buicks. I was making about four times as much as I did in Johnson County.”

Approximately a year later, Brookshire started buying cars in Flint and driving them back to Mountain City to sell. He eventually came back home and began working for a Johnson City insurance agency, later starting his own agency. He also owned a mobile home and auto dealership.

It wasn’t long before Brookshire saw the importance of having another bank in Johnson County.
Ten local men banned together and sent an application to the State of Tennessee and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation showing the need for a bank in Johnson County.

A charter was soon obtained, and the new bank was named JOHNSON COUNTY BANK with a slogan “The Peoples Bank.”
The new bank was up and ready for business beginning in 1975. The People’s Bank made a promise to provide friendly and courteous service, as well as a better way to bank.

In 1983, Brookshire became president of Johnson County Bank and the CEO after some reorganization within the company.
“We declared that we would be a people’s bank,” said Brookshire. “The best customers make the best bank.” He stressed the hard work ethics of the bank employees. “We are a family,” he added. “I tell my employees that the customers need to be treated better than they would want to be treating themselves if they were the customer. The advice comes from my Mother.”

He touted the bank’s hard-working employees and their willingness to step up and help others. Johnson County Bank has strived to take care of their customers and recognized their importance to the success of the bank. The employees of the bank and those on the bank board strive to make a positive impact in the community. They are family oriented and active in the community. Johnson County Bank is one of the top performing small community banks in the state of Tennessee.
Although Brookshire will be 85 this June, he has no plans on retiring. “I want to be right here at this bank,” he stated with a wide grin that lit up his face. “This is home.”