Town of Erwin plans to install traffic light on Second Street

By Richard Rourk

As part of the preparations for welcoming a new Food City store to Erwin, town officials are preparing to construct a new traffic light.

The Town of Erwin has agreed to have a traffic signal located on the intersection of Second Street and the entrance to the new Food City, which is slated to be open during the summer. The light will be constructed at the intersection of Second Street, the entrance to Food City and where the railroad overpass meets Second Street.

“The traffic light project went out to bid on Wednesday, Feb. 6,” Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Rosenoff reported that constructing a mast arm signal could cost roughly $200,000. Rosenoff recently asked the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) to partner with the town on the project and the JEDB agreed to contribute $20,800 towards the cost of erecting the traffic signal.

The remaining amount will be paid for by the recent bond the Town of Erwin received from the City of Clarksville. The loan that was made not to exceed $1 million, was approved during a September meeting of the Town Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The funds were allocated for this project, as well as other public works projects.

“The projected revenue from the Food City site should help offset the cost of the repayment of the bond,” Rosenoff had previously said.

The traffic light project is a collaboration of the Town of Erwin, JEDB and Erwin Utilities and is expected to be completed by June.

“Our desired time frame for completion was four months from going to bid on Feb. 6,” Rosenoff said.

The traffic signal will help the congested area on Second Street, according to Rosenoff.

“It is intended to provide a safer means of vehicle flow and coordination, as well as to provide a safer driving experience through a higher traffic area,” Rosenoff said.

Construction on the traffic signal is expected to start in the coming months and an update to the citizens will be provided as to what to expect at the intersection.

The town will have a pre-construction meeting with the bid winner to address any safety concerns or detours.

“Any delays or safety precautions will be discussed with the contractor and announced to the public through various communication strategies,” Rosenoff said.

Team Gavin: Whitson competing on new season of Survivor

Gavin Whitson will appear on the new season of Survivor which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

It’s official.

Erwin’s own Gavin Whitson is going to be competing on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, which is broadcast on CBS. Whitson is the 23-year-old program director at the Unicoi County Family YMCA.

Due to contract restrictions from appearing on the highly successful show, Whitson was not able to speak to The Erwin Record just yet, but CBS will be giving permission very soon. If you see Whitson, he cannot give out details about the show due to these contract restrictions.

In a press release recently issued by CBS, Whitson explains what inspires him: “My mom and dad. They have been my support system for the past 23 years and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them,” Whitson said. “They have taught me to always show kindness, no matter the situation and they have also taught me that if you truly want something in this life, you will do everything you can to get it, no matter what it takes.”

He is the son of Anthony and Kim Whitson.

In the days since the announcement was made on Thursday, Jan. 31, Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp and Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Assistant Cathy Huskins have been hard at work planning special events for the community to support Whitson.

The Chamber has already set up a viewing party for the Survivor: Edge of Extinction premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a pre-show party including games, food trucks and other activities. Whitson will be on hand for photos and autographs and Team Gavin merchandise will be available for sale. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m.

“We are so excited to have Gavin participate in Survivor and to be a part of that cast,” Delp said.

For more information about the event, check out the Chamber of Commerce’s website or the organization’s Facebook page.

“Stay tuned to see what else we plan for Team Gavin,” Delp said.

Survivor: Edge of Extinction will be on CBS weekly starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.

Thomas Simerly posthumously awarded master’s degree

Before he could complete his doctorate degree, Thomas Simerly suddenly passed away. In December, his parents, Max and Teresa, pictured above with their son’s photo, accepted his degree on his behalf. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

For one Unicoi County man, his light burned for a short amount of time, but it burned bright with an intensity that most don’t see in a lifetime.

Thomas Simerly was born to Max and Teresa Simerly on April 27, 1988. The young Simerly grew up like most in Unicoi County – surrounded by the wild. It was this wild spirit that drove Simerly to research and observe everything around him. Frogs were a big part of that research and drive for knowledge that Simerly would display over the years. Simerly grew a fondness for frogs and all animals in general.

Simerly was drawn to science and public office at a young age. 4-H gave Simerly a forum to explore and gain experience in his life. Simerly sought out to do his best and won numerous 4-H awards for his hard work.

This work ethic and desire to learn drove Simerly to seek higher education and he received a scholarship to attend King University in Bristol.

“He got a call while I was out of town working that he had received an offer from King,” Thomas’ mother, Teresa Simerly who serves as the clerk and master for Unicoi County, told The Erwin Record. “He was so excited.”

It was while attending King University that Simerly learned to blaze a path on his own while not forgetting where he came from. Simerly got involved with student government and his drive and personality led him to be elected the Student Government Association president while attending King.

“He and his friend Nathan King got the Young Republican program started at King College,” Thomas’ father, Max Simerly, said.

Simerly received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from King College.

The next stop for Simerly was at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. There, he received his master’s degree in chemistry. While at ETSU Simerly had one of his papers published in his field.

Blacksburg, Virginia, was Simerly’s next stop and for three semesters he studied at Virginia Tech University. As Simerly moved further and further from home, so did his effect on those around him.

“He never met a stranger,” Teresa said.

Simerly ended up moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend North Carolina State University. It was in Raleigh that Simerly settled in and felt at home. Simerly attended the farmers market regularly and ventured out to explore the city when he wasn’t busy on his scholarly endeavors.

“He met people everywhere he went,” Max said.

Simerly was working on completing his doctorate, this time in textiles chemistry, at the Wilson College of Textiles on the North Carolina State campus, when tragedy struck. Simerly passed away suddenly on May 15, 2018, just a few weeks after he turned 30 years old.

Simerly was set to graduate in December 2018. His father and mother received a call from the campus of North Carolina State shortly before the December graduation date with some unexpected news. Simerly had completed the necessary credits to receive his master’s degree in textiles chemistry posthumously. The Simerlys were invited to the campus to receive Thomas’ master’s degree during the graduation ceremony.

“Everyone was so nice there,” Teresa said.

In 30 short years, Thomas reached for the stars and worked hard to achieve excellence in academics and made an impact on those around him.

The spirit of Thomas Simerly, and so many like him, is still alive today in Unicoi County. Every time you see a child looking into a mountain stream with wonderment, every time you see young men and women stopping to help a stranded motorist, every time you see a student pushing harder to find the answer on an assignment, you see the spirit of Unicoi County.

Nurturing Neighbors: Locals begin volunteer program

Nurturing Neighbors organizers, pictured from left, Donna Seagroves, Sharon Slagle, Sarah Schults, and Jamie Rice meet to plan a Jan. 31 event at Erwin Town Hall. The new program will bring volunteers together with those suffering from severe illnesses. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County is filled with an unselfish spirit and there is a group of women that exemplifies that altruistic characteristic.

In this spirit, residents Sarah Shults, Jamie Rice, Sharon Slagle and Donna Seagroves started a program called Nurturing Neighbors. The program links volunteers to help people suffering from severe illnesses and their caregivers by utilizing the volunteers’ specific skill sets.

“We will be setting up community meal trains, help with rides to medical appointments, send cards, well check phone calls, help with grocery shopping, knitting hats, childcare and we are even creating a wig closet right here in Unicoi County for cancer patients,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Nurturing Neighbors was formed after the organizers saw a need for the program.

“It seems that every day, someone in our community is diagnosed with a debilitating illness, specifically cancer,” Rice said. “Just in December alone I heard of four people right here in Erwin who had been diagnosed with this terrible disease.”

The organizers understand that everyone’s needs differ.

“I am a cancer survivor myself and I know that everybody’s journey is different,” Shults, the chief organizer of Nurturing Neighbors, told The Erwin Record.

The group has established a Facebook page and formed a survey to link volunteers to the community’s needs. The result was overwhelming, according to Shults.

“Within two weeks we had over 150 surveys submitted,” Shults said.

There are multiple ways to help, from knitting hats, to sending encouraging cards or even fixing dinner for your sick neighbor. Shults hopes those that are sick or their caregivers will reach out and accept the help of the volunteer group.

“Sometimes, if we are proud, we are denying someone the opportunity to help and to feel like they are making a contribution, and that is important too,” Shults said.

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit Nurturing Neighbors on Facebook and fill out a brief survey, which takes less than two minutes. You are also invited to attend the upcoming Nurturing Neighbors Meet and Greet.

“We will be having an informational public meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31, at Erwin Town Hall at 6 p.m. and would like to invite anyone interested,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Mayors share plans for 2019

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin Record recently interviewed Unicoi County’s three mayors to get their outlooks for their respective municipalities in the coming year.

Town of Erwin – Mayor Doris Hensley

The new year has already started off with a bang for the Town of Erwin. The first annual New Year’s Eve fireworks were a success and, according to Mayor Doris Hensley, will be a yearly event going forward.

“I think we can build on it,” Hensley said. “I’d like to see next year’s be even bigger.”

The fireworks marked a year of successes that saw a number of businesses open up downtown, the completion of the new Unicoi County Hospital, the groundbreaking of Food City, the opening of Dunkin’ in Erwin and numerous events for the community all year long.

Heading into 2019 Hensley announced a number of exciting additions coming up on the horizon. The Gathering Place park downtown and Fishery Park will be remodeled and completed this year. Work will begin on adding a dog park and outside gym to the Linear Trail.

With the recent additions, the town has acquired a new fire truck and a first responder truck as well as adding personnel for the safety of the town.

“We have hired two new police officers, and got two new police cruisers as well, to ramp up protection for our citizens,” Hensley stated.

The town is always looking for new business and industry to be added to the town. Clarence’s Drive-In will be an anchor to the northside of town going forward.

“That is one area we can continue to grow and I would love to fill in those empty spots,” Hensley said of the north end of town.

The Morgan Insulation site is ready for industrial companies to come in and bid on the land. “We are always recruiting industry to come in,” Hensley said of the site.

With all the businesses that come to town, it provides opportunities for new jobs.

Hensley said she is proud of the many events that the town hosts and would like to see more events like the Elephant Parade, the Great Outdoors Festival, the Erwin Cruise In, among others. Hensley would also love to see a music festival happen in Erwin, or even the return of Arts in the Park.

One site that the mayor could see something happening with in 2019 is the former Bear Mountain Outfitters site located at 1001 S. Industrial Drive in Erwin. One business the mayor thought would be successful at the location was a winery. The mayor also mentioned a possibility of putting a pier and take out spot for rafting outside of this site.

With Unicoi County Hospital in full operation, the southside of Erwin has plenty of room for growth.

“We would love to see hotels and restaurants open up on that side of town,” Hensley told The Erwin Record.

There is one business that Hensley would like to see make a return to the area.

“I don’t know why no one has brought Blue Ridge Pottery back to this area,” Hensley stated.

The future of Erwin is clearly geared toward tourism as well.

“In the next 10 years, tourism is going to be one of our top three industries so I want to be proactive,” Hensley said.

Town of Unicoi – Mayor Johnny Lynch

The new year brings a long list of goals for the Town of Unicoi which includes everything from infrastructure to creating a more visible website presence.

The Erwin Record recently sat down with Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and the Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders to discuss many of the goals for 2019. Lynch shed some light on where the Town of Unicoi draws inspiration and guidance in sculpting their yearly strategic plans.

“We go to the retreat that Pat Hardy from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) facilitates and it’s really paid off,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.

The retreat allows the municipality to create their strategic plan and to prioritize items, according to the mayor.

“We create our checklist of items we want to accomplish, and as we complete them we check them off,” Lynch said.

At the top of the list is the infrastructure of the town, which is heavily dependent on the roads. Lynch said he is constantly riding with Unicoi County Highway Superintendent Terry Haynes to prioritize which roads need work.

“The roads are always our first obligation,” Lynch added.

Knowing that the annual budget will not fix all the issues in one year, Lynch acknowledged that the town prioritizes the projects and fixes what they can.

Promoting the area for tourism is also a huge priority for the town, according to the mayor. This includes creating a marketing plan, developing an agritourism plan and enhancements to the many outdoor venues in the area.

“One item I’d like to see is a parking lot at the trailhead,” Lynch said.

With signage on its way, many of the area’s outdoor activities will be more visible for those looking in the near future.

The Town of Unicoi is carrying many projects over from 2018. The town has formed numerous committees to cover issues such as creating codes and ordinances. Other accomplishments that are carrying over include the Mountain Harvest Kitchen exceeding its first-year goals. The amphitheater and farmers market pavilion are currently scheduled to break ground this year and to be completed within two years. The projects will be located between the Town of Unicoi Visitor’s Center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. The beautification of Exit 32 will begin in the spring.

Lynch stated he would like to see some businesses come in and compliment the Town of Unicoi’s goal of becoming a tourist destination. One personal goal going into the year for Lynch is one that is always on his list, and that is to create a police department for the town.

The goals for the Town of Unicoi are large scale, but that doesn’t deter the mayor.

“We are optimistic and we are following our strategic plan,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.

Unicoi County – Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely

Unicoi County will be working on improving many projects going into 2019. Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely recently spoke with The Erwin Record about what the new year will bring in Unicoi County.

One area where Evely hit the ground running with was with the solid waste facility upgrades. “When we took over in September our solid waste facilities were in poor condition,” Evely told The Erwin Record.

Since September 2018, the new Unicoi County Commission and mayor have added cardboard recycling, and also are adding a gasket, a roof and drip pans to stop leakage to the receptacles. The county will be looking for additional funds to continue to improve the sites.

“I’m in the process of working on a grant to revamp the Hoover site, replace the compactor and add an auger system,” Evely stated.

The mayor hopes the projects will be complete by spring and then the county can focus on future revamps to the sites.

Grants are an important part of the mayor’s plans going forward. There will be two additional police cars going to the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from a grant that was approved last year, but is currently in limbo due to the federal government shutdown.

“We are waiting for the two vehicles right now,” Evely said.

The Unicoi County School System has applied for a bus grant to try and get a maximum of four new buses with a 20 percent match. The courthouse recently received a grant to perform some upgrades to the courtroom.

Evely expressed excitement about Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park and the additions coming in 2019.

“Construction will start on the road and visitor’s center in 2019,” Evely said. “We are looking forward to that getting started; it’s going to be a big boost.”

There are several items that the mayor wishes to get locked down this year, including the ambulance service contract.

“We have the ambulance situation that I hope the commission will have a final decision on shortly,” Evely said.

Evely also expressed some ways his office could execute some long term cost saving measures.

“We are constantly putting out fires, but if we can plan ahead and prioritize some projects, it will help in the long run,” Evely stated.

One project that could save in the long run is looking at replacing the heating and air at the Unicoi County Courthouse. The repairs and maintenance costs keep rising, according to Evely. Another measure that will save money and time in the long run is switching the pay from paper checks to automatic deposit.

“We are looking at efficiencies to save time and money,” Evely said. “I want to save the county money.”

The mayor also expressed how important it was to be available for the upcoming year and for the rest of his time in office.

“I care about the community,” Evely said. “I understand that not everybody is going to like what I’m doing, but that is not going to be from lack of effort or lack of trying to do things the right way.”

Evely acknowledged that the upcoming projects cannot be done without teamwork.

“I appreciate all the other office holders in Unicoi County,” he said. “They have been very helpful to me and I am very thankful for them.”

Day leads opposition to MedicOne contract renewal

John Day expresses concerns to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely regarding the Unicoi County Commission’s recent decision to retain MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Old wounds resurfaced during a meeting between Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and concerned citizens who were seeking answers to the bidding process for the current ambulance service in Unicoi County.

The citizens, led by John Day, met with Evely on Thursday, Jan. 3, to discuss the contract renewal with MedicOne that was approved by the Unicoi County Commission during its Dec. 19 meeting. According to Day, the bare minimum was done by the county in the request for proposal process.

During the Dec. 19 meeting, the Commission voted to approve the bid from MedicOne, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion. County commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no to the contract.

The contract, which would run from April 2019 until April of 2023, calls for an annual subsidy of $225,000 to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for seven days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Inside Evely’s office on Thursday, Jan. 3, Day, who was a candidate for county mayor in 2018, referenced the loss of his friend, former Unicoi County Commissioner and Unicoi County School Board member Dwight Bennett who passed away in 2014, when addressing the mayor. Bennett passed away from cardiac arrest while waiting for an ambulance.

“Mr. Mayor this does not serve the county, we deserve better,” Day stated.

Day questioned the bid process and stated that there were three other ambulance services that expressed interest to Day in bidding to serve Unicoi County. According to Day, American Medical Response (AMR) and Lifeguard Ambulance Service are two services that expressed interest.

“We need the best there is,” Day said of the ambulance service options for Unicoi County.

Evely acknowledged the concerns and thanked everyone for coming. Evely informed the citizens of the upcoming Ambulance Committee Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m.

“I invite you to bring those concerns to that meeting,” Evely stated.

As of the Jan 3 meeting the new contract had not been sent out to MedicOne. Day and fellow concerned citizen Jim Donnelly requested that Evely hold off sending the contract and consider vetoing  the December vote by the Commission.

“We would feel better knowing that you would hold off on sending the contract until we can address the commission,” Donnelly said to the mayor.

“The contract has been approved by the Commission and I held off sending the contract for a few days to have this meeting,” Evely stated.

As far as the veto goes, Evely was opposed to vetoing anything that the majority of the Commission approved.

“If the majority of the commission says to send the contract out and the county attorney states I can, I will send the contract out,” Evely said.

Day stated that if he had to, he would take legal recourse.

“I will make an injunction if I have to, this is not going to happen,” Day stated.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas talked to The Erwin Record on Friday, Jan. 4, in regards to ambulance services. Thomas acknowledged the majority of the current Commission feels good about the new contract. Thomas’ wife is an employee of MedicOne.

“The option that we chose was with MedicOne, and it was the best option,” Thomas stated.

Thomas explained why he believes MedicOne was the best option.

“To ensure that the contract was best, we made sure that there are penalties for not abiding to the contract,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.

According to Thomas, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet regularly to oversee the contract. Thomas stated that the next meeting will be to come up with an action plan to combat issues of the overflow of emergency calls.

“We are going to work to nail down procedures in case all three ambulances are on call,” Thomas said. “We have to staff according to call data, but we wish to set up an emergency plan in case all three ambulances are on a call.”

The next Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m. and will be held at the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

North Ridge Church plans move downtown

Brenda Hawley stands in the kitchen of the new location of the Choo Choo Café at 113 S. Main Ave. in downtown Erwin. Hawley’s move to the new location made space for North Ridge Community Church to move downtown. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Choo Choo Café has officially moved. In less than one week, owner Brenda Hawley relocated her restaurant from its location of many years to a new one. Fortunately, she didn’t have to go far. In fact, she moved right next door.

Hawley made the move to 113 S. Main Ave. and is currently up and running. What made the move easy for Hawley was she gave away most of the items in her original restaurant.

“I just opened the doors and gave it away. It was my Christmas present,” Hawley joked.

The move leaves a large storefront vacant, but it won’t be vacant for long. Moving into the old site of Choo Choo Café will be North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus.

“The plan is to be moved into the new building by Easter of 2019,” North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus Pastor and Worship Leader Gary Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

The new site of North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus will be at 111 S. Main Ave.

The Erwin Campus has been meeting at Unicoi County High School since North Ridge Community Church opened the campus in the fall of 2015. North Ridge Community Church also has three other campuses, with two in Johnson City, and one in Gray.

Schwenke said the downtown Erwin location fits the vision the church has for its community.

“We have a heart and passion for the city and felt that building would be a great location to serve,” Schwenke said.

The auditorium will be equipped with roughly 150 chairs.

“Our goal is to go to two services, sooner than later,” Schwenke said of expanding at the new location.

In addition to the auditorium, there will be a space for the children’s ministry, as well as an option for use of the kitchen space through the week. The auditorium could be used as a place for live music or live theatre throughout the week, according to Schwenke. Construction to convert the former restaurant space into the church is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

Currently, North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus meets Sundays at Unicoi County High School at 10:45 a.m. Student groups meet on Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

The move downtown compliments the wishes of North Ridge Community Church, for their northeast Tennessee campuses.

“We are just excited to serve the community, and to be a part of the community, especially with all the changes to downtown,” Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

• • •

Hawley’s new home for the Choo Choo Café is located at the historic site of the original Erwin National Bank that was built in 1928. This building was built after the Erwin National Bank was destroyed in a fire in 1909.

“This building has a rich history, they actually printed currency here,” Hawley told The Erwin Record.

According to a report by paper money expert Manning Garrett, the Erwin National Bank actually printed $86,390 dollars worth of national currency in 1929.

Keeping the building the same as it was in 1928 was important to Hawley.

“By preserving the past, we can ensure our future,” Hawley said.

Hawley, who has had the building for more than three years, had the inside of the building restored to its original state. The doors are the original doors that were a part of the bank as well as the ceilings that contain a series of classic chandelier lights. The bank vault is now complete with antique china and is the site for the Sunday buffet. The original counter and marble floors are still there. The windows are new but have been fitted to the original frames. The restaurant can seat 43 people inside and has room for diners outside.

“I’m here and I love it. It’s the new Choo Choo,” Hawley said.

For winter, the hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m on Wednesday through Sunday. There will be a Sunday buffet and there will still be evenings when the restaurant will take reservations. Once Hawley is settled, she will open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays for dinner as well. The cafe will still be available to rent out for special occasions. Hawley hopes to serve wine with the dinner services in the future.

If you are interested in dining at the Choo Choo Café, their hours are always posted outside of the door of the restaurant or you can call to see what hours are available during the evenings.

If you are interested in attending a service at North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus you can visit their website at The church also has a Facebook page.

Erwin fireworks to ring in New Year

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Erwin will ring in the New Year in an explosive manner with the inaugural New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

The fireworks are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31, but the community is encouraged to come out and visit downtown early and to stay later.

There will be food trucks available and several businesses will remain open later for the event. Union Street Taproom will remain open following the fireworks so the community can ring in the new year in downtown Erwin. The Union Street Taproom will have the ball drop live on the projector during their New Year’s Eve Party.

The fireworks will be fired off at 7:30 p.m. and local radio station Livewire 103.9 is partnering with Neighborhood Ford to provide a soundtrack to accompany the fireworks.

“I’m excited and the soundtrack is so fun,” CEO and General Manager of JET Broadcasting Corp. Maria True told The Erwin Record.

True said she jumped at the chance to work with the Town of Erwin on the project.

“I feel it’s all about unity with our local businesses,” True said.

The fireworks will be shot off from the Pat E. Brown Memorial Bridge overpass.

“There will be lots of great viewing areas along the Linear Trail, Second Street, Elm Street and throughout downtown Erwin,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice told The Erwin Record.

The New Year’s Eve Fireworks may be the first of many in downtown Erwin.

“I have always thought that we should do a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve,” Mayor Doris Hensley had previously said.

If you do come downtown early, the options are vast for fun. While downtown you can enjoy a meal at Choo Choo Cafe or perhaps enjoy a coffee from Steel Rails Coffee House. Capitol Cinemas is a great venue to enjoy the newest movies.

Shops such as Plant Palace, Valley Beautiful Antique Mall, Village Treasures, Chips Thrift Store, Stegall’s Pottery, Union Street Gallery and Baker’s Shoe Repair and Saddle Shop offer unique shopping experiences. You can also plan and host your next event at The Bramble. Other businesses such as Keesecker’s, Liberty Lumber and Computer Guy offer specialty items and services. Roller Pharmacy and Clinchfield Drug Company are also great places to find unique gifts.

The new year will see new businesses open as well as local favorites return. Erwin Outdoor Supply will open its doors for the first time, and NOLI will welcome guests to their brand new restaurant this spring.

What’s the Scoop Ice Cream and Boardgames will return with their frozen treats and board game room. North Ridge Community Church is set to open its doors in the spring at their new location on Main Street.

Union Street Taproom will continue to have Trivia Night every Tuesday evening. Union Street Gallery will continue to host their First Friday Sip and Shop event during the first Friday of each month.

Also returning this spring, the Erwin Cruise-In will once again welcome some of the area’s classic cars to downtown Erwin every Friday night throughout the summer.

Woman survives alleged attack by trio near river

By Richard Rourk

An officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department says a woman is lucky to be alive following an alleged attack that occurred over the weekend.

According to investigator Harmon Duncan, a 32-year-old female from the Tri-Cities area was left fighting for her life after she was reportedly attacked by three individuals. The alleged attack occurred with a rock and in a remote area of Unaka Springs.

According to the victim’s statement, she went for a ride with a male she knew. The two of them went for a walk to the railroad tracks and on the way back, two other individuals that the victim knew showed up and a confrontation took place.

The victim was struck in the head with a rock and lost part of her clothing during the struggle and she fell into the river. The three individuals left her there helpless and the victim said she played dead until the attackers left the scene.

The attack happened late in the  afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 16. The victim was able to find an old blanket to wrap up in and she was able to walk roughly half a mile to the camping area.

“She’s lucky she went the direction she did,” Duncan told The Erwin Record. “If she would have gone the other way she would have wound up on the North Carolina side and she probably wouldn’t have survived that.”

The victim was found on the Unaka Springs side of the Nolichucky River wrapped in a white blanket. The victim was yelling for help and the sheriff’s department had to enlist the help of a local rafting company to assist in the rescue. The joint effort got the female victim across the river where she was transported to Unicoi County Hospital and treated for life-threatening hypothermia and head injuries from the assault. The victim was then transported to Johnson City Medical Center. She was released from the hospital after staying overnight.

“She’s doing better, she’s got head injuries and she is still suffering from hypothermia, but I think she will be alright,” Duncan said.

The three suspects – Austin Gill, Matthew Taylor and Kendra Adams – were arrested by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department on Monday and charged with attempted first-degree murder. They are scheduled to be arraigned in a Unicoi County court on Wednesday, Dec. 19. They are each being held on $100,000 bond.

Dunkin’ opens in Erwin

Senior Vice President of Marketing for GPM Investments Bill Reilly, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, Owner and CEO of GPM Investments Arie Kotler, and Director of Dunkin’ Franchise Development Sharon Trow cut the ribbon to welcome Dunkin’ to Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Several customers braved the frigid temperatures to camp out overnight for the grand opening of Dunkin’ in Erwin on Thursday, Nov. 29. The first 10 customers received free coffee for a year and the first 50 customers received free Dunkin’ Gift Bags.

From the time the doors opened to around 11 a.m. the drive thru line remained out to Jonesborough Road. The brand new Next Generation Concept Store remained packed with customers coming, going and running on Dunkin’.

One of the features of the Next Generation Concept Store is the use of an innovative tap system to dispense Dunkin’s line of cold drinks. Everything from tea to cold brew coffee and nitro infused cold brew coffee are served from the tap system. Erwin is now home to only the second Next Generation Concept Store in the state of Tennessee.

The store itself serves as a gift shop with one-of-a-kind local and traditional Dunkin’ merchandise. Coffee mugs and various types of coffee for homebrew are available for purchase. The countertop displays are lined with delicious treats, including donuts, bagels and muffins for the customer to pick out.

On hand to celebrate the grand opening last week was owner and CEO of GPM Investments Arie Kotler, Senior Vice President of Marketing for GPM Investments Bill Reilly, and GPM Investments Director of Franchise Relations & Development Sharon Trow.

“It came out nice, we love Erwin,” Kotler said of the finished product and the support from the town.

Welcoming the franchise to the Town of Erwin was Mayor Doris Hensley, Alderman Gary Chandler, City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, Communications Director Jamie Rice, Building Inspector Brian Tapp and Bill Hensley.

“We are excited,” Mayor Hensley said of the Next Generation store. “We have waited for something like this for years.”

Also welcoming customers to the grand opening were East Tennessee State University mascot “Bucky” and Dunkin’s mascots “Cuppy” and “Sprinkles.”

Dunkin’s lobby, which is located at 517 Jonesborough Road in Erwin, is open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The drive thru is open 24 hours a day. Dunkin’ will be closed on Christmas. 

Dunkin’ is currently hiring. If you are interested in joining the Dunkin’ team, please visit The keyword is “donuts” and there are several categories open for applications.

Anniversary leads to new edition for railroad pictorial history book

The Clinchfield No. 1 traveled from Erwin to Kingsport on Nov. 30, 1968, to pull the Santa Train. For the previous two months, the historic steam engine had been restored at the Clinchfield Railroad headquarters by a team of workers and volunteers. It would go on to pull the Santa Train and other excursions throughout the South for the next decade. (Photo by David DeVault)

From Staff Reports

It was 50 years ago – Nov. 23, 1968, to be exact – that an antique steam engine rolled down the tracks from Erwin to Johnson City for its “shake-down” trip on the rails.

For two months, dozens of Clinchfield Railroad workers, some paid, some as volunteers, had taken a rusted and rotted 4-6-0 steamer and refashioned it into the shiny, “new” Clinchfield No. 1. With a successful first outing secure, the No. 1 set out the following week, on Nov. 30, 1968, to pull the Santa Train from Kingsport to Kentucky and Virginia and back. It was a sojourn the steamer would perform annually for the next decade.

Those two events – and more – are highlighted in a special anniversary edition of “The One & Only: A Pictorial History of the Clinchfield No. 1,” first published in 2013 but out of print since 2014. Now, the book, by former newspaper publisher Mark A. Stevens and retired CSX engineer A.J. “Alf” Peoples, is available in a limited edition new printing.

The new edition sports a new cover featuring the artwork of Utah-based painter Simon Winegar and more than 50 new images, bringing the total to more than 550 in the 148-page book.

“It’s exciting that the book will be available in a new, if very limited, new edition,” Stevens said. “Alf and I were pleasantly surprised at the intense interest in the first edition when it was released in 2013. We knew we had an interest in the Clinchfield No. 1, but until the book is out, you never know the reaction.

“We were very pleased. There’s a lot of love in this region for the Clinchfield Railroad and, in turn, for the No. 1”

In fact, interest in the historic steam engine was so great that Stevens and Peoples were contracted by The History Press to produce a written history of the No. 1. That book, titled “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine,” was an Amazon top seller and is still in print, in both softcover and a special hardcover “Library Edition.”

“My first job working for the Clinchfield was as car marshal for the excursions pulled by the Clinchfield No. 1 between 1968 and 1979,” Peoples said. “I’m so proud that my railroad career started with the No. 1. And, I retired as an engineer in 2014, so as an author of two books about her released in 2013 and 2014, I guess you could say my career was bookended by the No. 1.”

The special anniversary edition is $34.95. Signed copies are available directly from Stevens by writing to him at Mark A. Stevens, 390 Lumbee Circle, Pawleys Island, SC 29585. Copies are also available at, where limited-edition prints of the cover artwork is available as a framed giclee print and notecards are also available. Proceeds benefit the Clinchfield Railroad Museum in Erwin, Tennessee.

The 41.5-ton steam engine that would one day become the Clinchfield No. 1 was built in Indiana in 1882 and had a storied history before it was famously rebuilt in Erwin after a long service including stints in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It pulled the first rescue train to reach survivors of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood in 1989.

But it was that restoration in 1968 that secured the real-life “little engine that could” into railroad history.

From 1968 until 1979, the No. 1 pulled popular excursion trains between Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky – and beyond. The historic steam engine and the excursions that carried thousands over the years received massive media attention, including from the likes of The New York Times, Southern Living and the Chicago Tribune.

“There’s nothing like a great American success story,” Stevens said, “and the Clinchfield No. 1 is just that.”

For more information about the new edition of “The One & Only,” call Stevens at (423) 737-6139 or email him at

Harry Potter Week comes to Unicoi County High School

Emilee Edwards and Brooke Bennett at a Harry Potter-themed table during last week’s Harry Potter Week at Unicoi County High School. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by RIchard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

During the week of Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, the Unicoi County High School Library transformed into Hogwarts, the School of Wizardry in the Harry Potter universe.

Normally the library was reserved for Muggles and other non-wizards, but last week only wizards were allowed as the school and the UCHS Book Club held their 3rd annual Harry Potter Week. This annual event, which included several games and activities, came about shortly after the release of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

“I had a group of students that was really excited about the film and said we should have a Harry Potter Week event,” librarian Karla Keesecker told The Erwin Record.

The events that ran all week long included Wand Making, Activity Table, Craft Table, Escape Rooms, Horcrux Hunt, O.W.L. (based on the O.W.L. test in the Harry Potter Universe) Trivia Tournament, Harry Potter Games, Photo Booth, Face Painting, Bake Sale, Harry Potter Store and Potions Class.

The events took place during Success Period and after school. The students competed and were grouped into houses. The houses were Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin – just like in the books and films. The students had their houses sorted by completing an online questionnaire. Once the houses were divided, the teams worked on getting house points. House points were earned during the afterschool activities. Students received a house ticket upon completing tasks. These tickets were used to count towards house points

The activity table included the game “Would You Rather?”, crossword puzzles, word searches, puzzles and coloring book pages. These activities were worth five house points after school.

At the Wand Making table, all the materials and supplies to make your own wand were provided.  Each wizard gained 10 house points for this event.

The craft table allowed each student to make their own owl or Harry Potter ornament. Book owls were free to make. The charge to make the ornaments was $1.

The O.W.L. Trivia Tournament took place all week during success period and Oct. 29, after school in teacher Caitlyn McKinney’s room. Each student that entered the tournament received 10 house points after school. The winning student received 50 house points after school. 

Participants played a game of corn hole on specially made Harry Potter themed boards. The students then moved to the Ministry of Magic Memo game played with paper airplanes. The corn hole boards were raffled off at the end of the week.   

Photo booth props were available for students to take pictures with. Students that took a photo at the photo booth and posted it on social media received five house points after school. 

Teacher Chad Roller created a challenging set of riddles for the Horcrux Hunt. Roller offered daily prizes to the individual or team that solved the riddle. Daily winners were entered to win a grand prize at the end of the week. The Horcrux Hunt winner was Sabrina Todd.

There were two escape rooms available to challenge the students.  This event was also a great way to rack up on some house points. The escape rooms were worth 10 house points for participating and 15 house points for winning after school.

Students received 10 house points for dressing up. The costume contest winner was Toby Tipton.

Face painting was available every day during success period and after school. This event was worth five house points after school.

Potions class was an exciting event for the participants. Potions class with Professor Dilys Thickey, a.k.a. Teacher Diana Tucker, was held in room 2041 daily.

“This is a great way to get the students to read and understand labs,” Tucker told The Erwin Record.

The class made Magic Mud, Wormwood-Comes-to-Life, Liquid Enemies, Exploding Filibusters, Dancing Unicorn Milk, Exploding Elixir, Fleeing Spiders and Mandrake Restorative Draught Potions. Other more advanced potions included Felix Felicis, Drought of Peace, Skele-Gro, Veritaserum, Polyjuice, and Wolfsbane. Participating in these potions classes gained the students 10 house points after school. 

Honeydukes Bake Sale was open every day during success period to those students who had registered for activities. Great baked goods were sold such as butterbeer, chocolate frogs, chocolate wizard wands, cockroach clusters, exploding bonbons and more.

The Harry Potter Store was open every day. Items included, vinyl decals, Christmas ornaments, and tote bags.

The winning house was Ravenclaw with 350 points. Second place was Slytherin with 310 points. Coming in third was Hufflepuff with 225 points. And last, but not least, Gryffindor finished with 205 points.

The UCHS Book Club is always looking for new members. Most of the members share in the love of reading.

“I truly love reading,” said UCHS Book Club member Shelby Miller.

Students interested in joining the book club should see Keesecker in the library. The UCHS Book Club meets usually around every three weeks, according to Keesecker. Harry Potter Week isn’t the only event that the book club participates in.

“Our book club actually takes a trip yearly to the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival in Murfreesboro every March,” Keesecker said.

#All4Gerald: Foster family awaits brother’s transplant call

Gerald Foster is awaiting a call to head to Nashville for a liver transplant. Supporting their brother are Tracy Foster, left, and Robin Bowman. Other family and friends have planned a fundraiser for Gerald on Nov. 10. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

With Thanksgiving less than a month away, this is a time to reflect on what is important in life. For most, a healthy family would be near the top of the list of things to be thankful for.

For sisters Tracy Foster and Robin Bowman, a healthy family takes on even more meaning as their brother, Gerald Foster, is fighting for his life.

Gerald is in need of a liver transplant. Because of his liver trouble, he is also having to fight kidney issues.

Hope is on the horizon, though. Gerald is near the top of the list for a liver transplant. This means that he can receive a call any minute that a liver is available. Once Gerald and his family receive that call, they have six hours to be in Nashville.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is where Gerald will have his liver transplant. To ensure that he gets to Nashville in time, he will need to be airlifted.

“MedFlight will transport him once we get the call there is a match,” Tracy told The Erwin Record.

Once Gerald arrives at the hospital, the medical staff will prepare him for the transplant. The prep will take roughly six hours.

Gerald is in good spirits and his family’s faith is strong, according to Tracy.

“He is getting better every week, and we know God has got it and God has carried us this far,” she said.

Besides the medical costs, the Fosters will need to find a place to stay while Gerald recovers. To help offset the costs, family and friends are doing everything they can to raise awareness and funds for Gerald and his family.

Friends and family of the Fosters have created the hashtag, #All4Gerald. Team Gerald is holding a spaghetti dinner on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 4-7 p.m. at the Unicoi County High School cafeteria. To go orders will be available, but you must purchase a ticket for the meal.

Live entertainment will be presented at the dinner from the Unicoi County Bluegrass Band. Tickets will be a $5 donation and they are available at the Unicoi County Register of Deeds office, Unicoi County High School, Liberty Lumber and Clinchfield Federal Credit Union.

There are T-shirts available for purchase at the All4Gerald Facebook page.

If you cannot make the event but wish to donate, an account has been set up at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union under the name Team Gerald.

If there are any businesses that wish to sponsor or help with fundraising, please contact Debbie Tittle at 306-6895.

For more information and updates of Gerald’s journey, please check out the All4Gerald Facebook page. Team Gerald would like to thank everyone who supports Foster in his journey.

Photos sought for annual ‘Images of Unicoi County’ calendar

From Staff Reports

The Erwin Record is now accepting entries for our annual “Images of Unicoi County Calendar.”

“I am pleased to announce that we are going to publish the calendar again this year. It is so nice to see local residents and businesses enjoying this publication throughout the year,” Publisher Lisa Whaley said. “I encourage everyone to submit entries for the calendar. We would love to feature your photos of life in the Valley Beautiful.”

Entries should be emailed to with a brief description of the photo, as well as the name of the photographer. Photos can also be dropped off at The Erwin Record office at 218 Gay St. in downtown Erwin.

The deadline for photo entries is 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30. For more information, call the newspaper at 743-4112.

NOLI opening restaurant in downtown Erwin

By Richard Rourk

Jason Howze, left, and Jordon Haun recently announced that their food truck NOLI will open a storefront in downtown Erwin in spring 2019. The restaurant will be located at 105 S. Main Ave. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

Business in downtown Erwin continues to grow. A new business with a familiar name is set to join the growing list of establishments in the spring of 2019.

NOLI is coming to 105 S. Main Ave. in Erwin. Business partners Jason Howze and Jordon Haun picked Erwin over other cities to expand their business. They were offered locations in Johnson City, but chose to stay close to their roots. Both men grew up in Unicoi County.

The building, which is 4,572 square feet, will house NOLI downstairs and will host newly remodeled apartments upstairs. The walls are made from original brick from when the building was erected back in 1904. The patio area has ceiling fans with iron tables and chairs. There is a clear garage door that will open up to the patio from the restaurant. Along the garage door there will be stools facing out to the patio and the view of downtown Erwin.

According to Howze and Haun, the restaurant will feature a full-length bar with beer options on opening day. Due to state laws, they must wait at least 30 days before being able to serve liquor.  The plan is to have a full-service bar after that period is over.

“We plan on pairing cocktails to match our unique menu,” Haun said.

The menu will have NOLI classics, but will be expanded. Howze has the menu in mind, but did not want to share it just yet. Keeping with the mystique of NOLI, once the building is complete, everything will be blacked out until opening day.

Currently, NOLI operates out of their food truck. NOLI was a pioneer in the recent food truck boom and continues to draw a crowd everywhere they go.

“We were the original in Johnson City, now there are 30 plus food trucks,” Howze told The Erwin Record.

NOLI, which is a nod to the Nolichucky River, started out in the food truck business back in 2014. The men decided to expand the business to a storefront after a brief discussion.

“We had a few drinks and decided it was time to expand,” Howze said with a laugh.

The two decided they wanted to open a brick and mortar restaurant in the developing downtown area.

“I saw the space here and thought I’d love to open up there,” Haun told The Erwin Record.

For those concerned about the NOLI truck going away, it’s not.

“The truck is going to be our lifeline, we plan on getting back into catering as well,” Howze said.

The two owners are excited to join the growing downtown of Erwin.

“If we can do half for Erwin that we did for Johnson City, then I will be flying high,” Howze told The Erwin Record.

On taking the gamble of opening a new business, the men are unfazed.

“Some say it’s crazy to open a restaurant in Erwin, but they also said it was crazy to open a food truck in Johnson City, and that worked out just fine,” Haun said.

The entrepreneurs go a step further when discussing the advantages of setting up in Erwin.

“Here in Erwin, we are built off of tourism, and if you can’t make it with the interstate close by, the Nolichucky River and the Appalachian Trail then you can’t make it at all.,” Howze exclaimed.

To keep up with the whereabouts of the NOLI Food Truck and updates to the new space in Erwin, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages. Be sure to check out their Instagram stories to stay up to date.

Howze and Haun also wanted to thank everybody in Erwin for being so welcoming and helping out.

UCHS Marching Blue Devils win top honors

The Unicoi County High School marching band recently brought home several trophies from the Apple Festival in Chilhowie, Virginia. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County recently made waves at another Apple Festival as the Unicoi County High School band competed at the Apple Festival in Chilhowie, Virginia, on Saturday, Sept. 29.

According to the festival website, The Chilhowie Apple Festival Band Competition is the oldest continuous band competition in Virginia or Tennessee and has been going for 66 years now.

“A total of 18 bands competed that were from East Tennessee and as far as Roanoke, Virginia,” Chilhowie High School Band Director William J. Green said.

Due to the varying sizes of bands, they were split into groups.

“The bands were adjudicated in music, marching, general effect, drum major, color guard and percussion,” Green told The Erwin Record.

The Unicoi County High School Band Director Evangeline Hurter explained that the band “is made up of roughly 18-20 students per grade.”

At the Apple Festival, the UCHS band took home Class 4A2 first place in drum major, first place in guard and second place in Percussion. The band also took home second place in general effect, second place in marching, and first place in music. General effect is a combination of both music and marching.

The UCHS band was also declared Best in Class for Class 4A2. The band took home the title of Large Division Grand Champion and they were also declared the Grand Champ of the entire day and were presented with the Apple Cup. The Grand Champion awards are a combination of music, marching, and general effect.

“It was pretty cool,” Hurter said of the victories.

The UCHS marching band has three more competitions left this season. On Oct. 13, the band is set to compete at Daniel Boone High School; however, the location of this event could change to John Battle High School. To keep up to date on changes check out or

The band will be competing on Oct. 20 at Science Hill High School for the Science Hill Hilltopper Invitational. The final competition of the year will be on Oct. 27 at Sullivan Central High School and is called the Appalachian Classic.

“I am super proud of the children and it’s wonderful to see them get something in return for their hard work,” Hurter said.

The next fundraiser for UCHS band is going to be a fruit sale and details will be available in the coming months.

Administrator shares features of new UCMH

UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll discusses the features of the new hospital during a meeting on Friday, Sept. 28, at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by RIchard Rourk)

y Richard Rourk

Ahead of the grand opening of the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital later this month, the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center held a meeting for interested citizens with representatives of Ballad Health, the company which owns and operates the facility.

This meeting took place on Friday, Sept. 28, and was led by Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Administrator Eric Carroll.

Carroll wasted no time to explain to the crowd all the new services and features that will be available at the new hospital. Starting with the rooms, each one of the inpatient rooms will have a view of the mountains. The new hospital will have a helipad for Wings’ ambulance services. The hospital will have a 24-hour emergency room.

Also according to Carroll, cardiology services will be expanded at the new facilities. New to the hospital will be digital X-rays and ultrasound services. There will also be numerous updates to current services with new equipment.

“We currently have a cafeteria, but it is very difficult to find,” Carroll said of the current facility. “At the new hospital there will be indoor and outdoor dining space and is located right outside of the outpatient waiting space.”

There will also be a gift shop and a chapel at the new hospital.

There will not be a surgical center at the new hospital, which prompted a question from the audience at Friday’s event regarding what would happen to someone who needed surgery.

“There are three hospitals within a 23-mile radius of this hospital that have surgical capability, so that played a huge role in that decision,” Carroll said in response.

One of the citizens asked about a parking garage. Carroll stated there is no plan currently for a parking garage.

Also on Friday, April Jones, RN, director of nursing at UCMH, addressed the crowd and introduced Epic – the technology platform that will connect all Ballad Health facilities in the future.

“Unicoi County Memorial Hospital will be the first Mountain States Hospital to go live with Epic,” Jones said.

Current Wellmont hospitals are already on Epic. The plan is to have all Ballad Health hospitals live on Epic by April of 2020. Health records will be available between all Ballad Health hospitals once they are all on the Epic system. Patients will also be able to check their records through Epic.

“Patients can sign up and check their results, schedule, cancel and reschedule appointments or tests,” Jones said.

The Epic platform currently covers 200 million people, roughly two-thirds of patients nationwide.

Pharmacist Terry Roller of Roller Pharmacy asked if Epic would be compatible with CPESN USA.”

Jones replied, “yes and for those that do not know about CPESN USA it is a system that pharmacies use to communicate with each other and with hospitals.”

She confirmed Epic will be compatible with CPESN USA.

The official ribbon cutting for the new hospital will be held on Oct. 22. Public tours will take place on that day. The facility will be operational soon after that date.

Erwin Elephant Revival returns in October

This elephant statue in front of Erwin Town Hall is just one of the statues that will be auctioned off during the Erwin Elephant Revival next month. Others statues are located in downtown Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Erwin has a new story to tell. One that is colorful and full of redemption.

Today, standing watch over this historic downtown, are eight baby elephant statues. They are cheerfully painted with vibrant hues and themes that would melt even the coldest heart. Smiles can be seen on every corner of the street, from the elephants and thousands of visitors alike.

Born in 2016, a series of fundraisers and public awareness events known as the “Erwin Elephant Revival” was created as atonement for the tragic death of a circus elephant named Big Mary. This gentle creature was forced to perform in Spark’s Circus in nearby Kingsport.  On Sept. 16, 1916, Mary had a very bad day. During a downtown parade she was pushed beyond her limits and accidentally killed her inexperienced trainer. Crowd hysteria and mob mentality prevailed, and poor Mary was sentenced to die.

Without adequate firepower to complete the task, the circus owner hung his star attraction in the Clinchfield railyard in Erwin the next day. For the last 100 years, locals have wished they could bury this undeserved stigma along with Mary’s bones, under the old roundhouse.  Songs have been sung, books have been written and playwrights have enacted this sad story over and over again. A new generation of Erwin locals decided that they had lived with “the elephant in the room” long enough. They could not save Mary, but they can make a difference in the lives of modern day elephants. 

Due to the overwhelming generosity of our community, more than $15,000 has been donated for the care of 10 elderly captive elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee in the last two years.

This 2,700 acre natural habit provides space, comfort and 24 hour veterinary care for suffering elephants who have spent most of their lives on public display in zoos or circuses. Mary would have been happy there.

The 2018 Erwin herd will be auctioned off on Oct. 20 at noon in the Gathering Place Park in downtown Erwin. One hundred percent of the proceeds of this public art project benefit local non-profits, as well as two elephant charities. For those unable to attend the live auction, a proxy bid form can be found at 

Please contact Jamie Rice 220-7624 for any further questions.

School Board hears program updates

Retiring principal Larry Howell, standing left, addresses the Unicoi County Board of Education during a meeting on Sept. 13. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education wasted no time in electing officers for the next year during a meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 13, at the Central Office

The officers were voted in unanimously in a 6-0 vote. Tyler Engle, who attended the meeting via teleconference, was elected board chairman. Steve Willis was elected vice-chairman and Steve Scott was elected as athletic council representative.

The board then shifted gears and received data from two recent programs that are geared at improving the scores of county students. The Aspire Book Bus, a school bus that was remodeled into a moving library and multimedia center, was on hand for the public to view. This bus allowed educators to reach out to the students during the summer months and was used to help improve overall literacy scores.

Elementary Curriculum Supervisor Jenifer Lingerfelt stated Aspire Book Bus has been a project many years in the making

“I am also so very thankful for the support of our community,” Lingerfelt said. “We have had several private donations that have helped us secure books for check out, and will have another round of book drives in the spring to fill the bus with books the children can take home and keep.”

The Aspire Book Bus and the Read to Be Ready Camp reached out to roughly 560 students in recent months. The Read to Be Ready Camp encouraged children to read and even took children on field trips centered around most of the books they read. One field trip took the children to Cracker Barrel where some of the children were able to read from the menu and order for themselves for the first time.

According to the data provided to the board, children without a summer reading routine can lose 1-3 months of skills. This loss can lead to three years of reading skills by the time a student reaches the end of fifth grade. The Aspire Book Bus and Read to Be Ready programs inspired the students by enforcing their motto of “read about it, think about it, talk about it and write about it.”

According to the data Lingerfelt presented, the students average reading accuracy rate improved from 69.5 percent to 80.6 percent. The average reading comprehension rate rose from 51.4 percent to 64.2 percent.

This early data has motivated the Aspire Book Bus to keep moving through the school months as well.

“We are working with the school librarians to plan several visits to the schools and also offer several off-site family nights connected to the book bus,” Lingerfelt said. “I’m also very excited that Lori Ann Wright is planning something extraordinary with her high school students and we continue to partner with RISE Erwin to connect with community planned events.”

Lingerfelt is currently looking into getting more grants to expand and enhance the program. To keep up with updates and how to help out with these programs, please visit the Unicoi County Schools Aspire Book Bus page on Facebook.

While the Aspire Book Bus and Read to Be Ready programs helped transform the lives of younger children, UC Advance focused on older children. Unicoi County Schools UC Advance Coordinator Mark Fleenor addressed the board last week and shared more good news.

Fleenor opened by reading a testimonial from a parent, explaining that UC Advance has been a blessing to both the parent and the student.

“I once heard that liars figure, but figures don’t lie,” Fleenor said.

He also said that in the first years data, that there were 163 earned credits from those active in UC Advance. In year two they finished with 383 credits – a 135 percent increase in a year. There were only 39 students enrolled in UC Advance in the first year, but in the second year there were 57 students enrolled.

“These figures show you are getting a good return on investment,” Fleenor said.

• • •

In other business, the board honored Larry Howell, former principal of Rock Creek Elementary School and a recent retiree.

“I’ve been working with Mr. Howell since I was a senior in high school when he was my track coach,” Director of Schools John English said. “I have the utmost respect for him. His kids knew he cared about them.”

Howell is still leading the middle school football team through a great season so far.

“As a child, I saw lights on the hill and I was drawn to the lights like a moth to a flame,” Howell said. “Since then I’ve been able to play for Unicoi County, coach for Unicoi County, and have a career at Unicoi County and it’s been amazing. I’m proud to be from Unicoi County and I will be a Blue Devil until I die.”

• • •

In final business, the board voted unanimously to approve the same service of Lewis & Associates to audit the school nutrition funds and the school funds.

The board also voted unanimously to test for lead in drinking water every two years, to detail guidelines on homebound instruction and to comply with changes to TSSAA.

The board voted unanimously to approve the seventh grade field trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg/Knoxville on May 8-10, 2019.

Union Street Taproom owners hope business will be open for Apple Festival

Michael and Tara Baker hope their new business, the Union Street Taproom, will be open in time for the upcoming Unicoi County Apple Festival. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Michael and Tara Baker set a lofty goal preparing to open their new business by the time the Apple Festival starts and the hard work the couple has poured into their new business is paying off.

The Bakers believe the Union Street Taproom, located at 111 Union Street in downtown Erwin, will bring much-needed business to the area. Places like Asheville and Johnson City have benefited in a number of ways from having taprooms, which can have a tremendous economic impact on their communities.

A taproom is different from most places that serve alcohol. It is not a bar, a nightclub or a restaurant chain. It is a place for friends and families to come to socialize and enjoy some of the best craft beer around.

“We are a 2018 taproom, we are family friendly and pet-friendly,” Michael said.

Work is coming right along at their Union Street address. The countertop is currently being installed. The signage is in the process of being put together. The Bakers would like to thank the crew at Boomtown in Johnson City for working with them.

Opening this business has been something the couple has wanted to do for a long time.

“We really want to be part of the positive progressive movement in downtown Erwin,” Michael said.

The Bakers plan for the Union Street Taproom, which will be the first craft beer business in downtown Erwin, to be a great location to come in and catch a ball game and sample some craft beers with friends and family.

The Bakers said they are working hard to provide Erwin a unique place to come and be a part of the growing downtown area. The Union Street Taproom also plans to give back to the community.

“We want to partner with the downtown businesses and continue to work with organizations such as the American Cancer Society,” Michael said.

Michael also said they hope to remove any stigma there may be in regards to Union Street’s history with alcohol.

“This is not a place to come get intoxicated, this is a place to sample craft beer,” he added. “This is a place to come enjoy friends and family.”

Michael went on to say, “there will be a popcorn machine for patrons but, right now there are no plans for a food menu at this time. Our goal is to have food trucks come by and the patrons can buy their food and bring it into the taproom.”

He hopes to work with local eateries to make this goal happen.

The Union Street Taproom will have a long countertop along the front window space with stools. There will also be a long countertop where the tap will be against the wall upon entry. There is plenty of wall space for televisions and a space for a projector to display ball games and silent movies. The ceiling is complete with wrought iron light fixtures in place. The Bakers have added Edison bulbs to give the space a classic look.

Although there will be some domestic beers on tap, the Union Street Taproom will feature many different craft beers. The Bakers are working with numerous distributors to bring in the best local beers around. The goal is to possibly have 12 beers on tap total that may rotate in and out.

“Our goal is to have a hard apple cider on tap in time for the Apple Festival,” Michael said. “This will possibly be a first for the Town of Erwin, actually having a hard apple cider at the Apple Festival.”