Elizabethton honors principal, heritage, packs in some family fun on busy Saturday

Jessica Fuller • Updated Sep 20, 2015 at 5:56 PM

Saturday was quite a busy day in Elizabethton. 

Whether it was a fundraiser race, a party in the park for the community’s families and a tribute to ancestors, community members had a lot to do to fill their morning and afternoon. Things kicked off at 9:45 with the 3rd annual Race for Wandell 3K walk and run, and organizers say Saturday churned out record crowds for the event. 

The race wound runners through Elizabethton, with signs thanking them planted along the way, before rounding back up at East Side Elementary School. The run was founded in honor of former Elizabethton educator Josh Wandell after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, in June 2013.

Wandell’s uncle, Kelly Geagley, has been a part of Team Wandell from the start, and estimated that over 1,000 turned out for the race this year, and about 100 participated in the competitive run. Geagley said that he is always blown away by the amount of people who show up to the 3K in support of his nephew. 

“We were tickled with the crowd,” he said. “It’s just overwhelming, that’s what keeps us going. It’s a bad thing that he has ALS, but to see how many people come out ... it just gives you faith in mankind.”

Wandell was not only East Side Elementary School’s principal, but an athlete who played football at East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee who loved running, so having a competitive race and fun run is a fitting way to honor the popular principal. 

“I don’t think people are doing this for the race,” Geagley said. “I think they’re doing it for Josh.”

Sycamore Shoals hosted a tribute Ceremony of the Gathering of the Overmountain Men. The ceremony kicked off a series of events to follow in the coming week by remembering the ancestors who mustered at Sycamore Shoals to march to what was an eventual victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain.

“It’s a really neat program they do for our ancestors,” Sycamore Shoals Historic Interpreter Chad Bogart said.

In a series that highlights the area’s importance in the country’s struggle for independence more than 200 years ago, several events through the week will lead up to the River Crossing, which will be accompanied for the first time by the Tennessee State Guard, which is celebrating its 235th anniversary this year. With their inclusion, the event, which usually has around 30 participants wading through the river, will balloon to about 130 people participating. 

The River Crossing has been an area tradition for 40 years, but the ceremony is only in its seventh year. One by one, direct descendants of American Revolution soldiers were called to salute in honor and remembrance of their ancestors.

Among them was David Hicks from Cleveland, Tennessee. Hicks’ fourth great-grandfather was Michael Hydler, who marched with the Overmountain Men to the Battle of Kings Mountain and signed the Declaration of Fort Watauga. Out of the ceremony’s seven years, Hicks has attended five of them in honor of his ancestors.

“They don’t get this in school, at least in Tennessee,” Hicks said of the local history. “And how are they to know their heritage unless we teach it to them? Heritage is a root of character.” 

The week will follow with activities throughout the region, including the reading of the Constitution in Jonesborough on Sept. 27 at 3 p.m., the Choates Ford Crossing in Bluff City on Thursday at 4 at the South Fork of the Holston River near the swinging bridge and a timeline of Tennessee soldiers throughout military history at Sycamore Shoals amphitheater Friday after the River Crossing on Friday afternoon.

The early afternoon was taken up by a Party in the Park event for family fun. Headed by the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department and sponsored by Northeast Community Credit Union, Kiwanis Park was taken over by huge inflatables, music and free family fun for the afternoon.

“We try to maintain a presence to let the community know that we are there for them,” Northeast Community Credit Union Marketing Manager Kelly Roberts said. 

While kids zipped to and fro throughout the park from the swings to the bouncy castle, some parents took time to appreciate the fun-filled day that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Kelly White took the day with her two kids and some other family members to enjoy some quality time.

“It’s really nice that we’re doing stuff (for free),” White said. “Some people can’t do fun stuff like this. It’s really good, especially for people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.” 

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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