By Richard Rourk
Successful relationships like many other aspects of life require work. One local couple is no stranger to the concept.
Grady and Sandy Lingerfelt have worked to improve the local community for many years.
Sandy is best known for her many years with the Clinchfield Federal Credit Union. Her husband’s known for a long career in coaching.
“I started to work at Clinchfield Federal Credit Union in 1977 and I did everything the manager, Harry Hicks, didn’t do,” said Sandy Lingerfelt. “Asset size at the time was 1.6 million and we had 1,225 members. We hand-posted most everything, didn’t handle cash and only offered savings and loan accounts.”
When Hicks retired in 1985, she became the new manager.
“We were 3.2 million in assets. We bought a house uptown that is beside Domino’s and stayed there until 1997 when we built the present building,” Sandy said.
When she retired at the end of 2020, the CFCU held 87 million in assets and had evolved into a full service financial institution.
“I loved my job because we could really make a difference for our members,” she said.
Sandy noted that the motto for credit unions is “People Helping People” and added that “Clinchfield is a true credit union.”
She got to know the credit union from top to bottom.
“I actually got to do every job in the credit union at one time or another,” Sandy said. “My favorites were loans and lobbying. One of our past congressmen held up his hands and waved them in the air and said ‘I am a believer’ when I brought him the third stack of credit union literature.”
Sandy noted that her favorite project was the Student Branch at Unicoi County High School.
“For years I got to teach the personal finance class one day a semester for Mr. Lewis,” she said. “I would take trays of cinnamon rolls and the rule was that the kids all got one if they stayed awake.”
Needless to say, the students always got their treats.
“The kids were great,” she said. “They asked all kinds of questions and really listened. So, it seemed there was a need for a branch. Our staff jumped on it and made it work and it’s been a wonderful thing for our young people.”
Although she loved her career, Sandy said family and helping others were always her highest priorities. Her family got its start when she began talking to Grady Lingerfelt at a popular supermarket.
“I lived with my cousins when I moved back from Oregon and started high school here,” Sandy said. “One of them had a boyfriend that worked at Whites Supermarket and Grady worked there also. So while she would talk to her boyfriend, I would talk to Grady.”
Grady Lingerfelt shared his memory of the first time he saw Sandy.
“She came in where I worked, White’s Supermarket, and would stand and talk to me while I was working,” Grady said. “We were friends for a couple of years before we started dating.”
Getting that first date was not easy.
“ I like to never have convinced her to go out with me, but one night her parents forgot to come pick her up at a basketball game and I gave her a ride home. The next week we started dating.”
Sandy said she was quickly drawn to Grady.
“I couldn’t believe that anyone had that much energy and could work so fast,” Sandy Lingerfelt said. “He could carry on a conversation and stamp and stock a case of food before you barely finished a sentence. We had been dating about three months and it was Christmas. He had slipped around and asked my parents if it was OK to buy me a record player. Of course, they said it was.”
He delivered the gift on Christmas Eve.
“He pulled up to the front of the house and got out and got the biggest box I’d ever seen wrapped,” Sandy said. “You couldn’t see anything but his feet, and he carried it into the house for me. It was a super nice stereo system. My parents about died and he had spent his whole Christmas bonus on it.”
Sandy said the record player remains her favorite gift ever from Grady. “Mainly because he wanted me to have something really nice,” she explained.
Grady said that he fell hard for Sandy.
“I liked watching her twirl a rifle in the band and always like that she worked so hard and put everything in what she was doing,” Grady Lingerfelt said. “I remember when she graduated from high school and got a band award; I was the first on my feet, clapping the loudest because I was so proud of her.”
The Lingerfelts believe that their love story works so well because they both work at it. Early on, though, there were some bumps in the road.
“We had broken up and I was at the Autorama walking around, not paying much attention to where I was going,” Grady said. “I bumped into this guy and looked up. He was with Sandy on a date.”
The incident conjured second thoughts. “I called her two days later and we started dating again and were engaged within three months, married in nine.”
Sandy said they started married life with nothing, other than love, to pay the bills.
“We got married Feb. 26, 1971, and will celebrate our 51st anniversary this year,” Sandy said. “We had to borrow $100 to get married.”
That loan paid a month’s rent and bought groceries. “We still had $17 to last us for the two weeks before payday,” she said.
Grady had started work at the railroad two weeks earlier and wouldn’t get paid for two more weeks. She had just gone to work as a teacher’s aide at Martin Chapel Elementary School.
“My grandfather, Richmond Barnett, was a preacher and always told me if I would wait until I was 18 that he would perform the ceremony,” she said. “We got married in my parents’ house and my Pa married us.”
Grady, just like his wife, worked hard at his career.
“I was coaching the basketball team at Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church the year we got married, he said. “In fact, the day after we got married, I coached them during a tournament at the Y.”
In addition, he coached football at Martin Chapel for a few years. He also coached the Evans Patriots for 17 years before he began coaching seventh grade football at Unicoi County Middle School.
“I also coached a women’s softball team for several years,” Grady said. “We played at the Little League field that was downtown at the time.
He would tell his wife, who played on the team, to get back and hind catch because “anybody could catch.”
Then he coached Little League for 21 years. He said he still has lots of good memories of many great kids on those teams.
“I also was a TSSAA Official in basketball for about 15 years,” Grady said.
In 1994 he started helping Doyle Phipps coach the high school softball team.
“I was the assistant under Coach Baxter for five years and became head coach in 2005,” he said.
Grady Lingerfelt said he has had many proud moments while coaching.
“Some of the proudest career moments I’ve had was definitely winning the state championship in 2009 and being named Coach of the Year for the whole state,” he said, pointing out that the title covered all divisions of Tennessee.
“I can still see Mikayla Treadway snag that ball three foot above her head to end the game,” he said.
He also enjoyed a proud moment this past year when he coached his 600th winning game.
The Lingerfelts are extremely proud of their family. They are the parents of three children.
“Jamie, our son, passed away a little over a year ago at age 46,” Sandy said.
“He packed about 70 years of living in his 46 years and lived his dream,” she said. “He was a computer genius and lived in the San Jose, California, area while working for Cisco, Yahoo and Facebook.”
She said that Jamie was also a DJ and was known as James Ashley.
“He had lots of precious friends that we’ve gotten to know over the last year,” she added.
Lisa Hyder is their oldest daughter.
“We’ve always joked that it took five years for us to get brave enough to have another child because Jamie was such an active kid,” Sandy said.
Lisa excelled in basketball and softball in high school and helped her father coach softball for several years.
Lisa married Ronald Hyder last year.
“Even though they live three houses down from us, they are planning on building next door,” Sandy said. “I guess so they don’t have to come so far for their food.”
Lisa works as teacher at the Community Learning Center and teaches four-year-olds.
“Each year she says she has the best class she’s ever had,” Sandy said.
Julie Little is their youngest daughter.
“Julie is 16 months younger than Lisa and they were like twins growing up, “Sandy said.
Julie most took after her mother. “She is the only one of the three that enjoys crafts and she also makes sourdough bread and likes to cook,” Sandy said.
Julie and her husband, Chris, live in Johnson City and have built a beautiful home with a lot of wildlife around them.
“They have raccoons, skunks and cows that they’ve even named,” Sandy said.
Julie works for Karing Hearts doing insurance coding.
“She is an extremely hard worker,” her mother said.
The Lingerfelts are also proud grandparents.
“We love all of our grandchildren — Carly Baxter, Bayleigh Hyder, Jacob Frazier, Arielle Little and Jared Little — as well,” Sandy said.
“Carly Baxter is 12 and is my crafting buddy,” Sandy added. “She has had her own design line of earrings since she was five. She’s learned to cross stitch and we are making Christmas ornaments for our own tree next year.”
She added that Carly is a straight A student and plays volleyball, basketball and softball.
Bayleigh Hyder is a senior in high school and is planning on a career in nursing. “She is a beautiful young lady with a great sense of humor,” Sandy said.
She noted that grandson Jacob Frazier is 21 years old and is a welder at Borla.
“He is about the sweetest young man I know and he’s very handsome,” she added.
Granddaughter Arielle Little is 23 years old and is a psychometrist in Charlotte.
“She is a petite, beautiful young lady and looks great with my copper and leather jewelry on,” Sandy said.
Grandson Jared Little is 29 years old and is a service writer at a Peterbuilt dealership in Dallas, Texas. Sandy said that he is also a chef and has managed several restaurants.
“When he was younger, he would help me fix the chocolate icing for our cake for dessert,” she added.
Sandy said it’s hard work raising a family and balancing work, life commitments and finding time for your significant other.
“Be your own person and encourage your spouse to be their own person,” Sandy said.
“Help each other to grow and develop their talents and personalities,” she added.
“Be their cheerleader,” Sandy said.
Perhaps thinking back to her grandfather Richmond Barnett, she offered another piece of advice.
“Find a church and be active,” she said. “Raise your family in church.”
Last but not least, she said not to neglect smaller details.
“Sometimes it’s the little things,” she said. “The other day, Grady left saying he was going to run to Johnson City to pick up some ball stuff and then going on the ballfield for practice. I was taking a shower and I heard him come down the hall and holler that he was just there for a minute and was leaving.”
When Sandy visited the kitchen later, she found the yellow miniature rose bush he left on the table for her.
“I smile every time I see it,” she said.