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.”