“‘He said we are just all survivors,” according to Nancy Garrett who served as the group’s coordinator. “This group had survived the Great Depression and World War II and they felt they had earned the title.”
So the Kingsport Survivors’ Club was born. Charter members included: James Edwards, Jitney Blankenbecler, Tom Gannaway, Katty Harrison, Olen Pierce, Mack Riddle, Clara H. Robertson, Charles Brooks Jr., Harry B.A. Ford, John Harrison, Russell Miles, Dr. Shelton Reed, Roscoe Ritchie, Barbara Yancey and Turner as coordinator. They held their meetings at First Presbyterian Church on Church Circle. To become a member, one had to be 70 years old or older.
Turner coordinated the meetings. Her husband, Bob, filled in when she was unable to attend. When Peggy died, Barbara Goodlett took over. When Barbara’s school board responsibilities became too time-consuming, she stepped aside and Nancy Garrett took over with assistance from Pat Bailey (her neighbor) until Pat moved out of town. When Nancy decided to step aside, Alex Anderson stepped in.
It was around that time, July 13, 2013, that the club unanimously voted to change the name of the club to the Kingsport Historical Society. It kept several of the original focus areas: to preserve the history of our area, to increase the interest in the history of our area, to promote good fellowship and to foster the exchange of ideas. The club was given meeting space at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chamber also sends out email invitations to meetings, and mails notices to those who don’t have email, and provides coffee,” according to current coordinator Alex Anderson. “Nancy kept the club going for 13 years and, without the Chamber’s help, I’m not sure we’d still be here,” Anderson acknowledges.
With this year’s emphasis on Kingsport’s Centennial, there have been several KHS programs on the calendar. Speakers have included everyone from Mayor John Clark and Brenda White Wright to Becky Hobbs (the fifth great-granddaughter of Nancy Ward, Cherokee warrior turned peacemaker) and Jack Pierce and Ray Willis who presented “The History of Jerome Pierce and His Land on Bays Mountain and the Early History of Kingsport and Bays Mountain.”
To get a feel for other topics covered in recent years, visit the Kingsport City Archives, where you can hear presentations on the Church Circle churches, the Kingsport Community Band, Pal’s Restaurant and several historic sites. Since January 1989, every program has been videotaped - one for the Archives and one that can be checked out of the Kingsport Public Library. Bob Turner, Peggy Turner’s husband, videotaped the programs from 1989 to 2005, and Art Garrett, Nancy Garrett’s husband, videotaped them from 2005 to 2012. Most recently, Tim Mullen has been making DVDs of the programs and posts each meeting to YouTube (available by searching the Kingsport Historical Society).
“If you think you might be interested in our club, I would encourage you to watch one of our programs on YouTube and attend a meeting,” Anderson suggests. “We would love to bring in some younger individuals and newcomers to the area.”
If you are interested in the Kingsport Historical Society, the club meets on the first Monday of each month at 10 a.m. in the Eastman Board Room of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, located at 400 Clinchfield Street in Downtown Kingsport. Annual dues are $10.
“I hope that it will continue indefinitely. I hope the emphasis is not just on Kingsport, but the region. I hope we can reach out to people from a wider area and have more appreciation of our area’s history. I hope it remains a place where people can visit and enjoy each other’s company,” says Garrett.