New scholarship honors Church Hill's first mayor and first librarian

Jeff Bobo • Apr 6, 2019 at 1:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A new scholarship benefiting future Volunteer High School graduates will honor Church Hill’s first mayor and first librarian, although those two people were more than just city officials to the endowment’s benefactors.

Jannie Smithson and her husband, Jim, appeared before the Hawkins County Board of Education Thursday seeking permission to create the Lee H. and Mabel Marshall Stroupe Scholarship.

Jannie is the daughter of the Stroupes, who, despite a lack of formal education, helped found Church Hill as a municipality and improve life there for decades.

The $500 annual scholarship will benefit Volunteer graduates who attend Northeast State Community College by helping pay for books and other expenses that aren’t covered by the Tennessee Promise.

The Smithsons are retired educators who began their careers in Hawkins County and spent the latter part of their careers in Hamilton County.

Beginning their second scholarship

In 1994, the Smithsons established a scholarship at Chattanooga State Community College in honor of Jim’s father, who was from Greene County. They weren’t yet retired at that time and they paid off that endowment.

Their plan for the Volunteer award is to pay $500 annually directly to NESCC for the scholarship until they pass away, at which time the couple’s estate will be used to endow the scholarship and keep it going permanently.

“That money will produce scholarships from now on, long after we’re gone,” Jannie told the BOE Thursday. “That is a kind of legacy that makes us feel good, because the important thing about educators is they affect lives. That’s what we’re in the business for.”

The plan is for Volunteer counselors to nominate three students they believe are worthy of recognition and assistance, but have “fallen through the cracks” in regard to receiving other scholarships.

The Smithsons asked the BOE Thursday to approve the scholarship and agree to set up a committee that would pick the scholarship recipient every year, a request which was approved unanimously by the board.

Mayor Lee Stroupe

Stroupe was born on Grassy Creek in Hawkins County into a family of 17 children, the son of sharecroppers, who never had an opportunity to attend high school.

However, he was an avid reader and self-educated, and he worked more than 30 years at Eastman Chemical Company.

“His Bible and all the notes he made and the deep studies he did in his Bible are still in the lobby of his home church,” Jannie noted.

In the 1950s, Stroupe was the main catalyst in favor of incorporating Church Hill.

He led a group of local leaders in the community who realized they were missing out on state shared tax funds that were going to other municipalities in the area.

Their first attempt to incorporate Church Hill failed, but they were able to get it passed on the second attempt in 1958. The city’s first council elected Stroupe to serve as Church Hill’s first mayor.

Jannie recalled one woman who was very scared and upset about incorporation.

“The first thing they did with the money they got from the state was pave some of the streets, because people could see that,” Jannie said. “As soon as they got one paved and it got dry enough, he runs and gets that little lady, and he took her and drove over that street. She cried because she could see where this was really going to work out right and it wasn’t going to be something to be scared of.”

Mabel Marshall Stroupe

Jannie’s mother spent her early life on a farm in Goshen Valley, although the family did move to Kingsport when she was a teenager. She attended Kingsport High School for two years and was a classmate of future legendary Georgia Tech football coach Bobby Dodd.

She worked at Kingsport Press early in adulthood and after marriage worked in the cafeteria at the old Church Hill Elementary School. Eventually she became cafeteria supervisor and was a highly sought after substitute teacher.

“When you get a substitute teacher who is really good, and can discipline, and can carry on with the work, you work them to death, and they were calling every day,” Jannie said.

She added, “She was the first librarian in Church Hill. (Earlier) the truck would come with books from the library in Rogersville, but the first library we ever had in Church Hill, she was the one who did it. Not trained. Just learned how to do it out of necessity.”

Jannie said the scholarship is to honor “two people who were able to do so much with so little, and so little opportunity for education.”