Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press
Since 1982, more than 100 locals have been inducted into the Johnson City Parks and Recreation’s Wall of Fame, and on Tuesday three more members were added to the extensive list of names, which includes key public figures and sports heroes such as Carl A. Jones Jr., Louis D. Gump and Steve Spurrier.
Current Wall of Fame honorees and Parks and Recreation employees met Tuesday at the Winged Deer Park athletics office at 11:30 a.m. for a luncheon, where the Wall of Fame Nominating Committee announced Ernie Ferrell Bowman, Malcolm Foreman and Vanas Robbins as the 2013 inductees.
Harry Gibson, 2000 Wall of Fame inductee and chairman of the committee, introduced Bowman, Foreman and the family representatives of Robbins, as those in attendance shared stories about each of the inductees.
The first to be introduced was Bowman, a former professional baseball player and Parks and Recreation employee for more than 30 years.
“I worked 31 years for the park,” Bowman said. “I started working on the ball fields. I enjoyed this (luncheon) because I’ve worked here, working in that office, painted these buildings, worked on all the ball fields. I just think about how many times I mowed all of the lakefront and do all of this stuff.”
A graduate of Science Hill High School, he said his love of sports started with Parks and Recreation.
“That’s where I got started,” Bowman said. “(I was) playing and working at Cardinal Park when I was 12 years old. I got my Social Security card and cleaned up the parks and everything after the Cardinal games.”
Bowman said he attended East Tennessee State University where he was on scholarship to play basketball.
Bob May, 2007 Wall of Fame inductee, said he remembers seeing Bowman play basketball at ETSU.
“I remember we were at East Tennessee State. Ferrell (Bowman) had gotten under the bucket and come with both hands and dunked the ball,” May said.
Only 5-foot-7-inches tall, May said that “impressed me more than anything else. We 6-footers couldn’t even get off the floor. Ferrell was some kind of athlete, some kind of athlete.”
Bowman was next recruited by Major League Baseball scouts, and signed with the San Francisco Giants.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “(The) next thing you know, I was signed and going to spring training and ... I got to meet Willie Mays, got to meet all the guys. I played 14 years. We played the Yankees in the World Series. It’s (the World Series) just fantastic.”
Other than attending ball games and even throwing out a few first pitches around town, Bowman said simply “I just enjoy life.”
C.B. Kinch Jr., who introduced Bowman during Tuesday’s luncheon, said the sports star did a lot for the community, including the city’s Little League program.
“(Bowman) never got too big to come to the Little League. He spent a lot of time down there with the kids and worked for the Parks and Recreation for many years and (has) just been an outstanding citizen and athlete,” Kinch said.
Foreman, the next inductee, said all he ever wanted to do was play ball.
“I played baseball, I played basketball, I played football,” he said. “I grew up at Kiwanis Park as a little kid. I went on to play football and basketball at (Science Hill High School). I played for Coach May, who was a great influence in my life, (a) very good guy... somebody you always want to look up to.”
May said Foreman was the kind of a player and person that anyone would want as a son.
“(There) are some things about young kids growing up that you forget about and kids like this (Foreman) that you never forget,” he said.
According to May, Foreman was a “ ‘yes sir’ and a ‘no sir’ guy. It wasn’t just a saying. It was something that stuck with you. I don’t think that you’d find greater people than he is. I’m glad to be able to coach, be able to know him as an individual. Welcome to the group.”
According to the Wall of Fame release, Foreman started out his career with Parks and Recreation in 1980-81 as a minor league baseball umpire, and then began to umpire in the Little League program in 1982. Serving various roles while in college at ETSU, he worked with the Parks and Recreation maintenance division from 1982-87 and also worked as a basketball official in the youth programs for eight years.
Foreman said he works at OmniVisions, an adoption and foster care agency in Jonesborough, but said he still referees and coaches in his spare time.
“I’ve ... worked with kids my whole life,” he said. “I just enjoy it. I just enjoy helping kids out and doing things to try and set them on the right path.”
After high school, Foreman said he learned by example from his mentor and friend, John Mashburn, a longtime Parks and Recreation Little League umpire, as well as the other employees and volunteers he would now refer to as his friends.
When asked about a favorite memory or time while working with Parks and Recreation, he said “it’s not really one memory, just maybe all of the friends I’ve made. It’s kind of like a family.”
While he also works as the defensive back coach for David Crockett High School’s football team, Foreman said he doesn’t foresee giving up umpiring with Parks and Recreation anytime soon.
“I hope ... I get to the point where I can always do something, no matter what it is,” he said. “One thing I can say is that time goes really fast. I’ve been blessed very much to be in this city.”
Starting out at Parks and Recreation as a revenue supervisor in 1979 and then working with the roller skating program, Robbins, who passed away in July 2012, was known to be someone who could keep everyone in line.
Herb Greenlee, center supervisor for Carver Recreation Center, said he remembers Robbins as a helper, looking out for kids and people who needed a helping hand. Greenlee also said she knew when to put her foot down.
“She was a disciplinarian and that’s what I liked about her. I loved her because ... when you came to that gym, you were going to be in line. You weren’t going to take any water in, you weren’t going to do things that you didn’t need to do,” he said. “She would make you mad in a minute and have you laughing (the next). That’s the way she was. She worked with you.”
Robbins also served as concessions manager at Legion Street Pool, as well as was known to cook all of the food for the annual Wall of Fame banquets.
Her daughter and son-in-law, Valerie and Gary Swartz, attended the Wall of Fame luncheon in Robbins’ honor Tuesday.
“Momma was ... just a very special person, not just to me and our family, but to so many people in town and in the community. It was her life,” Valerie said. “She worked very hard and I think that she would just really appreciate the recognition. So many times people in her position don’t get the notoriety that they should because they are behind the scenes. This would be an honor to her. She loved the city of Johnson City and everyone in it.”
The three will be officially inducted into the Wall of Fame on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. at Memorial Park Community Center.