Johnson County High School becoming a regional power house

By reaching a number of milestones this season, Johnson County High School athletics have become a major player in the region, giving testimony to the skills of its coaches as well as the hard work, dedication, and commitment on the part of all its athletes who have helped put local individual and team sports programs on the map. File photos

By Jill Penley

Johnson County High School athletes are accustomed to competing against much larger schools and traveling great distances to do so, but if the past few years are any indication, they are indeed up for the challenge.
Fresh off winning the conference and making the playoffs in both football and basketball, the Longhorns are now busy preparing for spring sports. No matter what the competition, one thing remains
constant; Johnson County fans support their Longhorns.
“We have a great support from the community and student body,” said JCHS Athletic director Austin Atwood. “We always have a big crowd at our games, and we are very fortunate to live in a community that supports our student-athletes.” Fan-support is undoubtedly essential, and Johnson Countians tend to support all athletics.
“We enjoy support not only for football and basketball but also for our non-revenue sports,” said Atwood.
Currently, it seems the only coaching change on the horizon is for volleyball.
Organized sports at the high school include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, football, golf, softball, tennis, track and volleyball.
According to Atwood, there are no immediate plans to add other options, such as wrestling, or soccer at the high school.
“We really want to continue to build on the sports programs we currently have,” he said.
When asked to identify the most significant change since he became athletic director in 2017, Atwood insisted there have not been many changes.
“The biggest change is our football program moving into a conference that we can compete in year in and year out,” he said.

Johnson County Agriculture and Extension: past, present, and future

Rick Thomason, Agriculture and Natural Resources/Community Economic Development Agent, Sarah Ransom, Family, and Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent, Danielle Pleasant, 4-H Agent, Leigh Anne Shull, 4-H Assistant and Melissa Rupard, administrative assistant smile for a group photo. Photo Submitted

By Sarah Ransom

Agriculture has deep roots to residents in Johnson County. In the last 108 years, Extension, a partnership with The University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University, has been part of the county. From dairy, tobacco, green beans and cattle, the principal crops have changed throughout the years.
Rick Thomason said, “In my 27-year career in Extension, our educational focus in agriculture has shifted from tobacco production, which used to be our number one agricultural enterprise in the county to our present top enterprise in beef cattle and forage production.”
When you look at
Extension, you will discover education programs
and five helpful people – Rick Thomason, Agriculture and Natural Resources/Community Economic Development Agent, Sarah Ransom, Family, and Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent, Danielle Pleasant, 4-H Agent, Leigh Anne Shull, 4-H Assistant and Melissa Rupard, administrative assistant.
Extension’s goal is to provide real-life solutions and deliver educational, research-based information to the public.
“Extension provides you research-based information on pretty much any area of your life; we’re a one-stop shop,” Ransom said.
One of the best parts of Extension is its community partners, so if they cannot help you, they know who to talk to.
Extension works hard to stay up to date on the latest events, research and methods in agriculture, food safety, nutrition, natural resources, relationships, and all things youth development.
Tennessee 4-H is one of the strongest programs in the nation, and Johnson County 4-H is thankful for the partnerships with the schools that allows for every student the opportunity to participate during a short session during their school day once a month.
Projects help students gain practical life skills while assisting them in meeting educational standards.
Pleasant emphasized that 4-H is a diverse program, with activities and opportunities for our youth in twenty-six project areas.
“Watching youth try new things, learn to deliver judging reasons or become independent at camp are just a few of the invaluable experiences that will benefit them for life. It is truly a joy to be a part of their learning experience,” he said.
New and future things happening at the Extension office include STEM projects, clothing, and textiles project groups, arts and craft project groups, workforce preparedness for adults, beef classes, grants for farmers and producers and much more.
Shull said, “This is the perfect job because I love to be involved in agriculture. I also love working with kids, watching them learn and discover new things. Being able to combine two of my favorite things makes going to work a pleasure.”
Everyone loves working with their community and hopes to continue serving for many years to come. Extension has proven to be a great benefit in our county over the years to help improve the lives of our families.
The future is bright, and we look forward to meeting the changing needs of the county.
If you want to receive the monthly
E-newsletter, contact Sarah at [email protected] Follow us on Facebook, “UT/TSU Extension Office – Johnson County” for helpful articles and upcoming events.

Progress in Local Real Estate: Housing market amidst noticeable momentum

By Jill Penley

Real estate experts say early indicators point to another positive year for the local housing market.
Johnson County has more than $101 million of farms, ranches, and rural property for sale.
The total size of all Johnson County farms and ranches for sale encompasses more than 9,200 acres, and according to the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors (NETAR), a non-profit organization
dedicated to helping people
in the area buy and sell homes.
Twelve closings reported for Johnson County just in January, with the average sales price for that month of a little over $250,000.
Local real estate professionals attest January was, indeed, a record month. Ken Tolliver, Realtor with Mullins Real Estate and Auction, likened this past January’s sales to a typical July. “I had more closings in January and February than any other months since I have been in the business,” said Tolliver.
“Lower mortgage rates
are making homes more affordable in the month
before the housing market heats up for the spring buying season,” NETAR President Karen Randolph said. “Buyers are looking at this drop as a signal the spring rates will be at one-year lows during the upcoming peak buying and selling season.”
Loan officers with both Farmers State Bank and Johnson County Bank report an increase in real estate closings. “We have had more closings recently,” said David Arnold, Executive Vice President, Farmers State Bank, “which represent efinances, home equity, and new construction loans.”
With home sales and home loans on the rise, the challenge for buyers and local real estate professionals will be tight inventory causing somewhat of a seller’s market and possible higher asking prices. “We have actually been in several multiple offer situations,” said Tolliver, “which is fairly unusual for our small market.”
Some of the factors used in determining a healthy housing market are the number of days a house stays on the market, the amount of homes with negative equity, how affordable they are and low-interest rates.
There are many reasons for prospective home buyers to look to Tennessee, not the least of which is the absence of a state income tax, but it is also important to consider the uniqueness of rural living. “It is important to think about your new home’s location just as carefully as its features,” said James Bonifacino of General Realty of Tennessee.
“In addition to considering the distance to work, evaluate what matters to you in terms of services, convenience, and accessibility.”
As Boone, NC and the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee, have exploded in population in recent years, so has
the cost of living there making Johnson County a hidden gem of sorts to realtors. According to, Mountain City sits 24.7 points below the national average for cost of living at 75.3. This number reflects the cost of groceries, health, housing, utilities, and miscellaneous expenses.
“Just in the past year, I am finding that more and more people are learning about this hidden gem and moving into the area,” said Jessica Harkness, of Evans and Evans Real Estate. “There are many people from all over the United States uprooting and creating a new home in the Mountain City and Butler regions,” Harkness explains in addition to tax advantages and lower cost of living many people, including those looking to retire, are also drawn to the natural beauty of East Tennessee. “It appeals to people looking for vacation homes in the mountains allowing them to live here part of the year and then use the home as a rental for the rest of the year,” said Harkness. “I think Johnson County will continue to be an attractive town for those looking to move to a smaller town with a laid-back lifestyle.”
This past year was very good for the local real estate market.
Most just need more
listings to keep up with demand of new buyers.
The cycle is advantageous to all as a booming real estate market tends to entice manufacturing, small
business entrepreneurs
and more recreational

Art remains a significant part of Johnson County’s future

Juried artist and JCHS junior Tyler Earp demonstrates his pottery skills. Photos by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County Center for the Arts brings a new splash of creativity and innovation to Johnson County. The art center has strived to empower everyone to explore their artistic capabilities since its opening in August 2017. Musicians, storytellers, painters, quilters, potters, woodworker, and a plethora of other types of artisans flock to the center. There are currently more than 35-juried artists that frequently display wares at the center.
The Johnson County Center for the Arts is more inclusive than the public may know. Workshops and classes include traditional art along with the less conventional such as quilting, robotics, business, filmmaking, and specialized programs for seniors, veterans, young children, and youth.
“One thing I love about our art community is that it could be competitive, but it isn’t,” said Executive Director Cristy Dunn. “Everyone supports each other.”
Creativity is not limited to current artists or students. The center now offers open gallery events where anyone can submit art for a small fee. Two new artists entered and won awards in the February Heart of the Mountains- Resilience show. The next open show will be Halfway Home on April 5.
All submissions must be in by March 27. The center will also start a new annual Rising Stars Youth Art Exhibit this May. Locals 21 years old and younger qualify.
“We need to let children understand that they don’t have to take a backseat to anyone,” explained founding member Evelyn Cook.
Local artists share techniques, and local musicians entertain during monthly gallery events. These same artists volunteer around the center to help keep everything running smoothly. One example of this is the building renovations. The building was a simple storage space lacking heat, electricity, and plumbing before volunteers stepped up. Only a few repairs remain.
The Johnson County Center for the Arts plans to accomplish an ambitious feat in the community. The Heritage Square project will link local businesses and nonprofits together in a more tangible way. Heritage Square will include the art center, Johnson County Library, Heritage Hall Theatre, Johnson County Senior Center, the Taylorsville Masonic Lodge, and may expand to include the United Methodist Church, heart center, and Farmers State Bank.
Members of the steering committee are currently working on fundraising ideas to fund remaining building projects and Heritage Square beautification. Two current ideas are a garden tour event with live music and a showing of “The Town that Wouldn’t Drown” followed by a musical performance at Heritage Hall. Dunn plans to use a corkboard on site to keep the public informed on progress.
These organizations are already more connected than many may realize. Both Heritage Hall Theatre and the Johnson County Center for the Arts originated with Evelyn Cook. Seniors from the Johnson County Senior Center take art classes every last Wednesday of the month for a reduced price of 3 dollars thanks to a Tennessee Arts Commission grant. These groups intertwine in ways unseen by the public.
Everyone at the art center works to show the public that the art community is accessible and welcoming. Artists of all disciplines, ages, and skill sets show their wares.
For example, JCHS junior Tyler Earp demonstrates his craft during his fourth period daily. Students rave about Dunn’s supportive teaching style. The numbers speak for themselves. All current classes are full, and many have waiting lists. Several courses have had multiple sessions to account for public demand.
The center recently started the JoCo Arts News. This bi-yearly newsletter’s express purpose is to inform and connect people with local art resources in the community. Heritage Hall Theatre prints these newsletters free of charge, while the TN Arts Commission pays for postage. The Tomahawk Newspaper’s Graphic Artist and juried artist Lewis Chapman handles the layout.
The art center makes a point to link to artists outside of the art center as
well as inside. For example, Jean Ann Savery class numbers tripled through its influence.
The friendly volunteers, warm atmosphere, and unique wares make the center a popular destination in Mountain City. All current art classes are full, and visitors rate the center 5 out of 5 stars. The staff is currently raising funds to purchase the building to ensure the center stays open to the community for the foreseeable future. They have raised nearly a third of their $90,000 goal.
Mountain City is full of surprises, culture, and history. In the words of Cook, “don’t ever say that it’s just Mountain City. We have a rich, rich heritage,” and there is still more to come.

Tourism primed to be key driver of local economy

A busy day at Doe Mountain. File photo

By Jill Penley

The state continues to enjoy outstanding tourism growth, continually exceeding economic impact numbers, and bringing new jobs to Tennesseans. According to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, tourism remains the state’s second largest industry behind agriculture, with all 95 Tennessee counties reporting an increase in the economic impact of tourism in 2018.
Tourism means jobs and jobs mean economic stability. Every tourist destination starts somewhere and for rural areas, like Johnson County, it means touting the natural beauty locals sometimes take for granted. While off the beaten path, this area offers visitors a unique history, unexpected culture and a wide array of recreational activities.
“There is a genuine sense of renaissance and renewal gathering momentum within Johnson County,” said Richard Calkins, Tourism Development Council (TDC) President and owner of Harbin Hill Farms. “There is tremendous potential for attracting more visitors to the county, based on the natural beauty of Watauga Lake and the surrounding mountains, recreational opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and ATVs, and our historical and cultural attractions.”
Calkins reports the primary objective of the TDC at the moment is the further development of the website to include a current calendar of events to disseminate and promote. “The idea is to let people from outside the region know about all of the
incredible activities and events that are going on in Johnson County,” he said. “We are also working on a
five-year tourism development plan, and will be sharing that draft plan with a wide range of community leaders as soon as we have a reasonable first draft.” That group, according to Calkins, would include political leaders, local community leaders from each of the main sections of the county, event sponsors, and other community organizations.
While events remain fluid from year to year, there are some areas of the county that provide year-round fun for locals and visitors alike. Johnson Countians and many visitors continue to enjoy a plethora of recreational activities at Watauga Lake.
In addition to normal lake activities like swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking, there are several businesses that cater to visitors, offering rentals, tours, etc.
Anyone paying attention knows Doe Mountain Recreation Area (DMRA) is
bringing visitors to the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee.
Since the purchase of Doe Mountain by the state and the creation of the DMRA in 2012, the 60+ miles of scenic multi-use motorized trails have quickly become a favorite for ATV, UTV, OHV, side x side and dirt bikes. “Mountain City was recently listed as one of the top trail towns in Northeast Tennessee,” reports Tate Davis, DMRA Executive Director, “in part due to the close proximity to our expanding trail system.”
Hiking Trails are also expanding at Doe Mountain. “Over the next few months we plan to open several short pedestrian paths to interesting points on the property,” said Davis. “Additional picnic tables will offer more opportunities to kick back and relax during your visit.” There are also points in the area where one can enter the Appalachian Trail for day hikes.
Mention “the Snake” and motorcycle enthusiasts from across the nation recognize the name given to the 33-mile stretch of twisting, winding, asphalt heading into Shady Valley.
Tucked away in the corner where the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia come together, this stretch of US Highway 421 north of Mountain City, which has been drawing visitors to Johnson County for several years, boasts 489 curves.
With respect to agriculture, the rich, fertile soil of the East Tennessee Mountains ha fed many generations of Johnson Countians and can provide a unique learning experience to visitors to the area. Johnson County has also been designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which specifies a grape growing region that is unique in soil, climate, and/or geography. The local vineyards produce high quality wine grapes for two local wineries.
In addition to the numerous recreational activities, Johnson County is also home to several historical sites and two museums full of interesting artifacts.
Those who enjoy live theatre and musical performances can visit Heritage Hall, a masterfully restored turn of the century theatre, while visitors to the area who seek authentic
Appalachian artwork and enrichment experiences can visit the Johnson County Center for the Arts, a venue created to showcase a wide array of crafts and products from area artisans.

Farmers Market: Looking to the future with permanent home in the making

In just it’s second year of existence, the Johnson County Winter Market has become, a regular destination for shopper on Saturday morning.
Photo by Bethany Anderson

By Bethany Anderson

The Johnson County Farmers Market had come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2009. Back then, the market was held at the Quonset hut near Rainbow Rd and Hwy 167.
Thanks to the generosity of local business owner Danny Herman, it called this location home for the first three years. After that, the market was moved to its next location at the Johnson County Courthouse parking lot. After spending six years at that location, the market was moved yet again, this time to the parking lot near the playground at Ralph Stout Park.
In November of 2017, the JCFM took on the challenge of hosting a “Winter Market,” which has been held from November through April in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center, with reopening it’s “Summer Market” season back at the Ralph Stout Park location for the months of May through October.
The “Winter Market” may have begun as somewhat of an experiment, but has since proved itself to be a worthwhile endeavor.
The goal of the JCFM has always been to provide the availability of locally grown fresh produce, meats, and dairy products for the residents of our region as well as provide a place for local farmers and ranchers to sell their products. The market is also available to provide shoppers the ability to use the EBT program to make their purchases, thereby allowing for more of our local community to take part in the benefits that the market has to offer.
The JCFM is a nonprofit that relies on community donations and grants to operate. According to the JCFM’s mission statement, “The purpose of the JCFM is to strengthen a sustainable local agricultural and food economy. We accomplish this by providing education, engaging in community and economic development promoting the availability and benefits of local agriculture and serving and preparing local foods.”
With weekly live music, amazing local produce, meats, and dairy products, freshly prepared foods, handmade crafts, and a welcoming community atmosphere, the market is a lively place to spend a Saturday morning. The edition of the GoJoCo kids’ tent thanks in large part to one of the many grants the market relies on, has made the market, even more, family friendly during the summer months as well.
JCFM is also looking to the future. Always in search of a “more permanent home,” they are hopeful that a suitable location has been found in the coming Agricultural Center, to be located next to the Chamber of Commerce Park on Hwy 67.
While this building is set to be in the Doe Valley area, a bit further out of the city limits of Mountain City, it is thought to be an ideal location for many reasons. With a permanent place, the market would no longer have to move back and forth between two different locations from Summer to Winter as they currently do.
The Johnson County Farmers Market is held year-round on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – Noon.
For more information on the JCFM, please visit their website at or find them on Facebook and Instagram. The market manager can also be reached via phone at (423)291-9145 with any questions or vendor registration inquiries.

Local education evolving and progressing

new CTE building

Mischelle Simcox, director of schools for Johnson County addresses local and state officials in the Career Technical Education Building on the Johnson County High School Campus . Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Jill Penley

A strong public education system is essential to a thriving society and each day across this county many individuals – teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and grandparents – strive to ensure Johnson County’s children are prepared for what lies ahead.
With a new governor, a new education commissioner, and new lawmakers steering school policy, this promises to be a big year for education in the entire state.
“We are constantly researching strategies and resources that can provide the best education for all of our students-Pre-K through twelve,” said Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Johnson County Director of Schools.
The local school district, which serves about 2,080 students in pre-K through high school, has set a goal to expand student access to online platforms. “We plan to continue to increase the number of technology devices,” said Simcox, “especially Chromebooks, for this initiative.” In today’s age, computer literacy is an integral component of any student’s learning plan, and according to Simcox, Chromebooks help engages students with interactive lessons and prepare them for an increasingly digital workforce.
Since learning does not cease while students are out of the classroom during summer months, several programs are available locally including the Johnson County’s school “book bus,” which will be up and running this summer and will be going out to various parts of the community. “This will allow all students to have easy access to quality books over the summer,” said Dr. Simcox, who also indicates the “Read to be Ready” summer camp will return this year. “This camp has been very successful over the past few years,” she said, “and will be offered again in June for upcoming first through third graders.”
Traditionally construction and renovation projects ramp up during the summer months while students are on break and this year will be no different.
According to Simcox, one focus will be on renovations to better secure the school entrances at Laurel Elementary, Shady Valley Elementary, and the CTE building.
“We are also very excited that TCAT Elizabethton will have a permanent extension campus at Johnson County High School,” said Dr. Simcox, who reports the Hybrid Auto Diesel program will begin in the Fall of 2019.

Johnson County Library receives its final additionBy Bethany Anderson

By Bethany Anderson

Although Johnson County is in one of Tennessee’s smallest counties, more than half of the county’s population possesses a library card. “Our library is an invaluable resource in our community.” said library director, Linda Icenhour.
Dedicated to the memory of one of Johnson County’s much-loved residents, the BK “Bud” Mount Digital Den is the newest addition to the local library. At the ribbon cutting ceremony in January 2019, Icenhour said, “The addition is a space to sit and read, study, do research, or work on their personal digital devices.”
Starting in July 2018 and completed in January 2019, the project includes a one-story addition, which incorporates a new reading room as well as an HVAC equipment room. Along with the new addition, the bathrooms were given new flooring and separate, multi-stall restrooms for men and women. These were some of the most needed for the library according to Icenhour.
The project as a whole has gone well as Icenhour shared, “We have had very few hiccups in the construction such as a debris field under the concrete where the flagpole stood and the wrong size water line running into the building. Corrections were made at minimal cost for the debris field and for the replacement of the water line, the Town of Mountain City very generously replaced it at no cost to us.”
“When we began the project, we wanted to build a room to give those patrons wanting to use their own devices a nice, clean, comfortable place to come and also to make it a reading and reference room.” According to library staff, the central part of the library can get quite noisy from time to time, so a quiet space was needed.
During the architectural phase of the project, it was discovered that the restroom facilities did not meet
building code. “This drove the cost of the project up,” said Icenhour. “We have raised money, and a very special benefactor has
donated a large sum of money. We have also received grant monies and currently have approximately $230,000 in the bank. However, we find we are $40,000 below what we actually need.”
According to Icenhour, at the beginning of the project, the plans called for a slab, a wall, and a roof. “The architect couldn’t make that happen the way we envisioned it. We ended up with three walls, a slab, and a roof,” she added. The contractor was able to review the plans, and some changes were made, reducing the cost of the expansion by $10,000.
Throughout the expansion project, the library saw help and support from many in the community, and they are incredibly grateful to all who helped make the improvements possible. “Of course, Kathleen Mount has been our biggest benefactor and our greatest champion on this project and past projects,” said Icenhour. “We could not have done it without her and the support she has always shown for this library. She stood and fought at difficult times in this county when the hospital and Burlington closed to make sure this county had a library. And I’m thankful for the support of the entire community, whether they purchased a brick for $100 or a bookplate for $1 every single dollar we have raised went into this new addition. This county should be proud of its library. It’s well used and thanks to the great assistants and awesome volunteers I have, it’s well run. We have a great board of directors and a terrific, Friends of the Library group. Also, I’m thankful for the grants we were able to obtain through Tennessee State Library and Archives and Louis Trivette with the USDA for making this addition come to fruition.”

For more information
on the BK “Bud” Mount Digital Den or the rest
of the library’s many features, you can stop by the Johnson County Library located at 219 N Church Street in Mountain City, check their website at or call them at 423-727-6544.

Eula’s Hairstyling: A cut above the rest

Eula Sluder of Eula’s Hairstyling, a Damascus Va. landmark, smiles for a
photo. Eula is known for her kind, gentle and loving spirit, and is looking
forward to serving her customers for years to come.
Submitted photo

By Larry Riddle

In 2001 I stopped and worked here in Damascus and I got my beard and bald head trimmed a few times at Eula’s Hairstyling. When I moved here in 2006 one of the first things I did was get a haircut from Eula. I felt a sense of belonging when I sat in that chair with a room full of women who were either waiting their turn or in the process of getting their hair dried. I was reminded of the times as a little boy of going with my mother to the local hair salon when my dad was stationed in Viet-Nam. There was always laughter and stories of the past.
Eula’s Hairstyling is a namesake around here. She has been in business for about twenty years. Eula was born in 1951 and raised here in Damascus, VA. She has been married for 47 years to Kenneth Sluder. While I was interviewing her one of her customers, Ken Necessary, a local musician, said, “When I was a young man I tried to get after Eula but she wanted her a city slicker instead”. She replied, “Oh my, I married a farmer and if nothing else a hard working country boy”. Eula had eleven other siblings but only she and three others are still alive. Eula has two children, four grandkids and one on the way.
There has been many a hiker that has stayed with me that had already pre-planned on their itinerary to stop in to meet Eula or to have their hair trimmed because they have read about her from some blog someone had posted about her. Her name and place are passed up and down the Appalachian Trail regularly as an institution of sorts. She keeps a “Trail Journal” where the many hikers who have visited have written their thoughts and gratitude for having met her. Occasionally I will read some praise on the internet myself about her.
Eula says, “The story here is about the women that come and get their hair done, and some about the men like Ken sitting here”. There weren’t any women there while I was visiting for this story but I have talked to a few ladies in town that just love her much. Eula says she mostly does the hair of older women because they keep her in business and she knows most of them because they were born and raised here as well.
There is not a dog in this town, including my Sally, when we are walking downtown that won’t stop their owners when they come to Eula’s front door because Eula loves animals and especially dogs. I usually walk Sally without a leash because she will stay near me and there have been more than one occasion where Sally would just go ahead to Eula’s, stand at the door looking in through the glass door waiting for me to catch up while glancing back at me and giving me that look like “Will you hurry up please”!. There have been several times before I get to the door where Eula has opened the door and let her in and given her a snack and then let her back out as I arrived.
Carolyn Henderson says, “Eula is so much like her mother, Mrs. Deel. Eula has a ‘soothing, gentle, loving spirit’ about her. She was like that when she was growing up. Throughout the years she has not changed. I have never heard her say an ugly word about anyone. She came from a good hard working family.”
Joan Dean says, “I will never forget Eula taking care of Gladys Watson,
my niece when she was alive. Gladys’s children could not find a hair
salon that would work on their mother because of the fact she a bad case of Cradle Cap. Eula said she would work on her hair
and eventually she was able to cure Gladys of her
Cradle Cap”.

A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition:

Back L-R: Stephanie Walters, Admin. Assistant; Roxanne Roedel, Project Coordinator; Kandas Motsinger, Project Coordinator; Front: Trish Burchette, Executive Director; Denise Woods, Project Coordinator/Prevention Specialist.
Photos by Rita Hewett

By Meg Dickens

National Library of Medicine experts describe drug abuse as a serious problem that affects almost every person and community in some form. Tennessee is number 2 in opioid abuse per population. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lists 172 names on the Drug Offender Registry database in Johnson County alone. ACTION Coalition fights to nip this problem in the bud before it can develop. That is why ACTION focuses strongly on prevention.
ACTION stands for Alliance of Citizens Together Improving Our Neighborhoods and that is an accurate description. Local volunteers work together to fight the drug epidemic through a focus on education and knowledge. Understanding the issue reduces stigmas, which makes those in need more likely to seek help. This education includes information on how to speak to an affected party and how to identify physical signs of addiction. The new politically correct term for drug abuse is Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
“We need to eliminate the stigmas,” said ACTION Director Trish Burchette. “Treatment has to be judgment-free so that people feel free to get help.”
Overdose deaths are on a decline thanks to Naloxone. This drug reverses opioid overdose enough to
stabilize a person until help can arrive. Naloxone
costs 185 dollars, but
ACTION now provides the Narcan Nasal Spray variant for free. This drug is useful but does not solve the ultimate problem: how to stop the cycle. Burchette believes that aftercare
is an essential step neglected in the process.
Patients get treatment then leave without further ado. Proper aftercare can put the person back on the right track.
Burchette plans to work with the faith community to make in-home aftercare an option.
The stirring committee meets at the end of the month to discuss the possibilities with the projected launch date is in May or June of 2019. Opening a local facility is the next goal to reach.
“It will be a safe, judgment-free environment for people in recovery,” explained Burchette.
Early education may stop an addiction before it begins. The ACTION team works with children from elementary levels and up to help them understand the dangers of drug use. Burchette cited that drug experimentation is starting earlier than ever. There have been cases of children as young as fourth graders (9 to 10 years old) experimenting.
ACTION uses traditional education along with bonding activities and recreational awareness tools to help students become more comfortable with the organization and subject matter. This includes the recent “What Keeps You Tobacco Free?” photography contest. Project Coordinator, Roxanne Roedel hosts activities such as this at the JCHS library during lunch periods.
ACTION is doing well. Foot traffic has increased at their location, and President Trump’s President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis granted the organization some extra funds. The organization now has two drug take-back boxes, one at the Sheriff’s Department and one at the Johnson County Community Hospital, and is helping Hancock County creation a coalition of its own.
ACTION Coalition offers a wide variety of training as well as community information. Coalition members are open to speaking to any group or organization. They host a public forum meeting the last Tuesday of every month at 11:30 at First Christian Church. For more information about the Johnson County ACTION Coalition and its upcoming projects, contact Trish Burchette at [email protected]

Johnson County Senior Center: “Like a family” continues to grow

Seniors practice billiards in preparation for the upcoming tournament.
Photos by Megan Dickens

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County Senior Center has been around for nearly four decades. Public awareness rose three years ago when Kathy Motsinger took over as director.
In this short amount of time, member numbers rose by nearly 800 and continue to rise. Motsinger has brought in an era where people cannot wait to become seniors.
In her 3 years, Motsinger and company have remodeled the center kitchen, replaced the transport van, replaced old van seats with new furniture, added new exercise equipment, made a meeting space, created a small library, painted the building, and purchased a new sound system, laptops, and two large televisions for center use. She also schedules senior trips. Seniors go on a lot of day trips and the occasional overnight trip. However, Motsinger has several larger trips planned for 2019. These include Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon. These trips are mostly full, and some have waiting lists.
Motsinger attributes the center’s success to volunteers, sponsors, donations, and grants.
“The volunteers are redefining what volunteering means. They go above and beyond to help out,” said Motsinger. “ You don’t realize how many people serve here.”
One example is the bus drivers. Terry Hodge, Robert Wilson, and Dennis Henson do a lot more than just transport seniors. They help with shopping carts, hold bags, and even stop to treat the riders to ice cream. MyRide Volunteer Coordinator Danae Marshall does her regular tasks while helping around the center. Marshall also uses her LPN experience to give free blood pressure checks weekly.
MyRide TN Johnson County is a new program launched at the end of October 2018. MyRide is based at and strongly intertwined with the center although it is not technically a center program. The program’s results speak for themselves. Volunteer driver numbers doubled from the original 10 to 21. MyRide is only 61 trips away from
meeting its 3-year goal in less than a year. MyRide’s popularity has not been detrimental to the center. Many new riders join the center after seeing the seniors in action.
The Johnson County Senior Center has advanced a lot in the last few years, but there is a lot of change outsiders cannot see. The seniors are continually improving their mental and physical health. The center offers a wide variety of health-related services such as diabetes classes, the Silver Sneakers exercise program, health fairs, support groups, free blood pressure readings biweekly, and more. Programs such as the new Veterans’ Cafe allow seniors to connect with others in the same circumstances. Physician Dr. Daniel Jones noticed the positive difference the center makes.
Motsinger has a lot of plans for the center. Currently, the biggest problem is lack of space. New people sign up daily. Generous donations jumpstarted a covered deck project in correlation with Heritage Square. This project adds a little more space and should be complete by the end of March. The next project will be more handicap accessible bathrooms.
There is an untapped resource at the center.
There is an upstairs, which could be the answer to the space issue. This floor would be ideal for events or a recreational room. The only problem lies in funding. It will require a lot of repairs. The two most important are replacing the dropout ceiling and installing an elevator. These renovations are necessary to make the area safe and accessible to seniors. Funding and volunteers are always needed.

County Clerk’s Office: Adjusting to new and future changes

Johnson County Clerk Tammie Fenner joined by her team including Mary Jordan, Christie Atwood, and Renee Proffitt,
last week. (Not pictured: Irene Grayson). Fenner is looking forward to adjusting to many changes in the office now and upcoming
changes in the future. Photo by Megan Hollaway

By Megan Hollaway

Johnson County’s courthouse and its elected officials are continually striving to ensure that the people of Johnson County have the best possible service and quality of living in the entire state of Tennessee.
Such is the case in the office of the County Clerk, Tammie Fenner that have been experiencing several changes to the goings on, including the ability to place temporary tags on the outside of the vehicle in the tag position.
The changes are possible by the weather and waterproof material now available at the County Clerk’s office.
Another new update pertains to those with CDL Licenses. Previously, to duplicate an old license or perform a change of address, a CDL carrier had to drive out of the county to Elizabethton.
Now, these tasks can be implemented in Johnson County at the courthouse, saving residents of the county time, money, and hassle.
“I am always fighting to bring new and requested services to the people of Mountain City and Johnson County,” Fenner said. “These little conveniences are what my position is all about.”
Since Fenner had taken office twelve years ago, there have been many of these little conveniences imposed throughout her office. Customers can use their credit and debit card to pay in office, instead of the previous reliance on cash.
Duplicate titles can be printed in office, allowing them to be ready in three to four days compared to the previous three to four weeks.
Money leans now done on the spot instead of requiring several days of waiting, while the decals on the tags have been reduced from two stickers to only one, identifying that the car belongs to a resident of Johnson County.
As she looks forward to the future of Johnson County and its residents, Fenner says that all the changes have been to support the community, and also comments on the support the community has given her as well.
“This community has continued to put me in my office, and I am thankful for their current, continued and future support.”

Circuit Court Clerk’s Office now offers passport services

Johnson County Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Hollaway, (sitting) is joined by her office staff including Louise Lawrence, Julia Winebarger, Sherry Hawkins, and Angel Snyder, for a group photo last week. (not pictured Cheyenne Matheson)
The office is looking forward to implementing a number of recent changes. Photo by Megan Hollaway

By Megan Hollaway

While Johnson County is a beautiful destination itself, residents of the county occasionally enjoy cruises or even like to travel overseas. Previously, those who wanted to go abroad had to first travel to Johnson City to get the passport to travel to their destinations. Now, residents of Johnson County need only to look to their courthouse to find Passport services. Melissa Hollaway and her team of deputy court clerks have worked tirelessly over the last year to become certified as passport acceptance agents. Hollaway says, “All members of the office are certified through yearly testing and training to ensure they provide the best services to Johnson County.”
In this last year, the Circuit court clerk’s office has brought in over 3000 dollars for the county in passport fees. The office is also in the process of getting passport photo equipment to make getting a passport even easier for Johnson County residents. Hollaway says, “We
would be the only county in the district to provide this service. After the equipment is set up around May, there will be a passport fair with extended hours, including a Saturday, to allow for residents needing a passport who cannot attend regular business hours. For more information about getting a passport, call 423-727-9012 extension 3, or stop by
the office Monday
through Friday 8:30-5, closed 12 through 1 for lunch.”
In addition, the Circuit court clerk’s office offers background checks for a competitive rate, and the proceeds of these operations directly benefit Johnson County. For landlords in the county, the office provides free background checks for any tenants at any time.
Since beginning the
collection of back fines
and court costs, the
Circuit court clerk’s office has collected 35,000 dollars. This money goes directly toward the county general fund, which can be used to benefit the county and its residents.
With the success of these collections, Hollaway said, “I would like to make the part-time collections agent Julia Winebarger full time, to expand on the ongoing collections effort and devote that time to serving the county.”
Hollaway added, “The courts of Johnson County could not run without the dedication of my deputy court clerks and their passion for serving the community. I am
proud of them, and of the community for their continued support of this office.”

Mountain City Mayor remains optimistic about the future

By Jill penley

Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons remains optimistic about the future despite his lofty goal of making Mountain City the best town to live and work in the state.
“Our municipal departments are looking good,” said Mayor Parsons. “I can’t say enough about our great employees and their dedication for the residents of the town.”
I want to grow new activities to complement our playground areas, skate park, swimming pool and community center. I believe that can happen with volunteers and support from our local businesses.
“We need to improve the facades in our downtown area,” said Mayor Parsons, “to make it more attractive for entrepreneurs to help us fill empty buildings.”
“Our continuing focus will be on generating more sales tax dollars,” said Mayor Parsons. “By successfully recruiting new business, we can ensure sales tax dollars remain here instead of assisting other cities and even other states,” Parsons reports city departments are encouraged to buy locally to keep tax dollars here. “I also encourage residents to support the businesses we have now before going outside the county,’ said Parsons. “Doing so keeps money in our local economy.”
“We will continue to be mindful when spending your taxpayer dollars,” said Mayor Parsons, “and continue to fund our departments with everything they need to operate efficiently.”
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Courthouse Security measures continue to evolve

By Jill Penley

Deputy Andrew James mans the sole entrance to the Johnson County Courthouse and makes certain no weapons are brought inside. Photos by Jill Penley

Enhanced security measures are now in place at the Johnson County Courthouse, and law enforcement says the changes will better protect the public and employees. When courthouse, there’s a couple of things you’ll have to do. First, place all items into the container provided. Second, proceed through the metal detector. If a beeping sound is heard, it may be time for a pat down.
This new routine is due to the state legislature passing a new statute last year. Since the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee General Sessions Judges Conference adopted new minimum courtroom security standards in 2018 to promote the security and safety of the members of the judiciary, court personnel, and the public, the Johnson County Courthouse has experienced several security upgrades.
“Improving courthouse security is a top priority,” said Judge John McLellan, chair of the TJC Court Security Committee. “Across the state, courthouses are pillars in many communities with residents coming and going daily to take care of business ranging from paying taxes to filing wills to reporting for jury duty. We need to constructively think about how we can effectively add a layer of security in a responsible and minimally intrusive manner.”
Before the grant program, nearly half of Tennessee counties did not meet the previous minimum standards while others had serious security deficiencies. For example, in many Tennessee courthouses, visitors could
walk in one of multiple entrances without encountering any security measures, courtrooms lacked direct emergency communication to law enforcement, and there was often no secure way to transfer or house incarcerated defendants attending a court appointment.
“The grant program is a great example of all three branches of government working together to make our courthouses safer for the Tennesseans who utilize them every day. We want to thank the Governor and General Assembly for appropriating the long-needed and much-warranted funds for courthouse security,” said AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. “Because of this support, we were able to not only bring courthouses up to minimum standards but also make much-needed upgrades and improvements to existing systems. We must ensure that the business of our courts and our citizens can be done safely and efficiently.”
While a metal detector, which screened everyone for weapons, has been operational for well over
a decade at the entrance of the upstairs courtroom, this still left the building itself mostly unsecured.
One of the most visible changes made to courthouse security was the transition to a single entrance leading into the building. In the past, the building could be accessed by three doors, none of which were overseen by security. Now, all visitors to the courthouse enter through one entrance and are required to pass
through a manned security checkpoint complete with modern scanning equipment similar airport systems.
Once, the general public could merely walk into
the courthouse without any security checks through several entrances. But
that was before increasing violence at government structures, including schools, prompted a nationwide move to heighten security.
Increased security is always inconvenient, but it is necessary to provide a safe environment to all those who come to the courthouse — litigants, jurors, staff, and the public.

Johnson County looks towards a bright future

Downtown Mountain City, TN sits picture perfect in the heart of Johnson County as the region enjoys a significant momentum of growth apparent in its economy
involving tourism, real estate, education as well as the arts to name a few. County and city officials are looking forward to the future, enjoying community support while focusing on continued progress across the region. Photo by Tia Thomas

By Meg Dickens

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines progress as development to a higher, better, or more advanced stage. Johnson County has taken a turn for the better in recent years. The county is a living, breathing entity that is continuously growing. People around the world are learning about this small area in northeastern Tennessee. New businesses and opportunities have finally put Johnson County on the map.
Johnson County branched off from Carter County in 1836. It has come a long way in that time. This area is drawing attention from all over the country. One example of this is the Johnson County Robotics teams. The robotics program is only around 4-years old. That has not stopped students from obliterating the competition each year. This year all groups made it to the state competition, and one of the JCHS teams will attend the world competition at the end of April.
The robotics teams are not the only students bringing positive attention to Mountain City. The JCHS varsity football team took home the title championship two years in a row, and the Longhorn varsity basketball team won the Three Rivers Tournament championship. The Lady Longhorns basketball team even won its first tournament game in decades 64-60, breaking a 24-year cycle.
“We hadn’t won a tournament game in 24 years, so I wanted to be a part of ending that,” said player Sadie Stout (23). “I’m glad our team was able to make history. I’m happy for our coaches and fans.”
Sports prowess has had a remarkable impact, but individuals also made a significant difference. 3rd District Constable and community staple Dave Quave were handpicked by the Secret Service to drive in the presidential motorcade during President Trump’s visit to Freedom Hall. Mother and daughter team Linda and Amber Icenhour won the Mothers’ Choice Award for their children’s book “The Adventures of Jam and Jelly.” 5th District County Commissioner Megan McEwen organized a now annual March for Life to protest abortion practices. A single voice is enough to jumpstart change. The anonymous donor who gifted the Johnson County Community Foundation nearly 200 thousand dollars at the end of 2018 proves this point.

Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester congratulates
Evan Martin on his completion and graduation from the
Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy. Martin is
now working with JCSO. File photo

This area is slowly growing. New programs such as the TN College of Applied Technology (TCAT) and Agricultural Center are bringing opportunities to town. Heritage Hall Theatre just extended its reach by offering online ticket sales through a partnership with The Johnson County Farmers Market now has a permanent home. The Johnson County Public Library expanded its workspaces and added multi-stall bathrooms. All of these acts open the door for more people to come and enjoy local resources.

Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor

“Johnson County is expecting an upward movement in economic growth,” said Mayor Mike Taylor in a previous interview. “The county will continue to work toward attracting new businesses and touting all the area has to offer to boost tourism.”
Several long-sought goals have become a reality in these last few years. One example is the liquor allowance passed in November 2018 when locals voted for liquor by the drink and retail package store sales. This change may lure new businesses to the area.
Johnson County has already drawn new retailers before the ordinance. Taco Bell, KFC, the Laurel Bloomery Dollar General, Johnson County MyRide Tennessee, and the Johnson County Center for the Arts are just a few.
Tennessee home sales have been on a steady incline from 2011 to 2017. 2018 shows a minor decrease, but Johnson County is still in a real estate boom. Statistics show 117 houses sold in Johnson County during 2017. Local real estate agents frequently talk about the improving market. Mountain Heritage Realty plans to open a Mountain City office.
The area is growing, but that does not mean locals have forgotten their roots. Johnson County has a rich history in Appalachian music reaching back to the first Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention in 1925. The Johnson County Center for the Arts keeps this legacy alive with authentic Appalachian wares and the annual Long Journey Home celebration. Storytelling is a new activity for the 2019 event.Even The Tomahawk Newspaper crew has changed significantly. In the last year or so, staff members Angie Gambill and Paula Walter retired, and Tim Chambers announced his retirement. Tamas Mondovics and
Lewis Chapman joined the staff shortly after. The current team has refocused on local coverage. New features such as Meet the Locals and Destination Damascus help locals stay informed of local events and businesses. The staff at The Tomahawk is excited to see the community flourish and grow.