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How to celebrate the city's sesquicentennial

Robert Houk • Nov 30, 2018 at 7:09 PM

Rebecca Henderson’s family roots run deep in East Tennessee. Henderson, the chairwoman of Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial Commission, is a graduate of both Science Hill High School and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“While going through some of a great-aunt’s papers after her death, I was reminded that my family has been in this area long before 1750,” Henderson said recently. “My father grew up in Telford, and my mother in Limestone.”

Henderson’s great-aunt was a 1918 graduate of East Tennessee State Normal School. She often wears her great-aunt’s class ring. Her forebear also earned a degree from Barnard College (Columbia University is listed on the diploma) in New York.

“After graduation and teaching at several other colleges and universities, she taught at East Tennessee State College,” Henderson said. “I’ve often wished I had asked her more about her early life, which couldn’t have been easy.”

And who is her favorite person from Johnson City’s history?

“That’s so hard to say,” Henderson said. “If it weren’t for Henry Johnson, there might be a city here, but it would be called by another name. If it weren’t for George Carter, who donated the land to build it on, we might not have East Tennessee State University, or the Quillen College of Medicine.”

1.) What is the role of the Sesquicentennial Commission?

“The role of the Sesquicentennial Commission, as stated in the resolution that the City Commission passed on Jan. 18, is ‘to properly plan and coordinate events leading up to the celebration of the city’s sesquicentennial’ on Dec. 1, 2019.”

2.) How can citizens participate in the sesquicentennial planning/organizational process?

“The Sesquicentennial Commission is all-inclusive of everyone in our community. Both Sesquicentennial Commission and committee meetings are open to the public. The meeting schedules are published in the Johnson City Press on Monday for that week. We encourage and invite public participation.

“If citizens haven’t already done so, I encourage them to fill out the survey that the city of Johnson City created for the Sesquicentennial Commission. We are using the information we learn from citizen input to further formulate our plans. The link — surveymonkey.com/r/JCTN150th — will be up until Dec. 31.

“Please feel free to send an email to [email protected] The Sesquicentennial Commission is also on Facebook at Johnson City 150 - sesquicentennial celebration. Another option is to call the city of Johnson City at 434-6000.”

3.) How do you recommend the public best celebrate the city’s 150th birthday bash?

“There are many ways. The sesquicentennial kickoff will be on Jan. 3 at 11:30 a.m. at the Pavilion at Fountain Square. We hope to have a large crowd on hand for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

“The commission was intentional in selecting that date because it is the day in 1870 that Henry Johnson was elected mayor.

“More specifically, on Jan. 12 and 19, the History and Railroad Committee will be showing train movies at Memorial Park Community Center from 1-2 p.m. both days. There’s no charge for this.

“Henry Johnson’s birthday is April 27, so we’re planning a celebration on that day.

“The Sesquicentennial Commission is also focusing on a different component of Johnson City during each month of 2019. There will be cross pollination occurring every month.

“Our January focus is our history and railroads. February will be education. March sees the commission focusing on business and industry. In April, we’ll focus on faith and service, while May sees the commission focusing on arts and culture.

“June’s focus is music, while July’s will be health care and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. August is outdoor recreation and athletics, and food, beverage and agriculture is September’s focus area. In October we will focus on ETSU and November’s will be on public service and veterans.

“We will have a black tie gala on Nov. 30, and our closing activities will be on Dec. 1.”

4.) What do you consider to be one of the key moments in Johnson City’s history?

“There are so many to select from. Probably, the most defining moment for me is the creation of Quillen College of Medicine. As a native Johnson Citian, I remember when there were only about 60 physicians in Johnson City. If you didn’t like your physician, that was unfortunate because there usually wasn’t too much you could do about it.

“When I was growing up, it wasn’t at all unusual to hear of patients being referred to Bowman Gray at Wake Forest, Emory in Atlanta or Vanderbilt. While I have several friends who have been referred to Vanderbilt in the past several years, I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve heard of someone from this area being referred to Wake Forest or to Emory.

“For those who may not know, if it were not for the VA and ETSU, Johnson City would not have Quillen College of Medicine. Ballad Health is the crown jewel in this triple medical crown. “

5.) How do you hope the city’s yearlong 150th celebration will be remembered in 50 years?

“Successfully! I’ve said it many times and will continue to say that it’s the honor of my life to be able to chair the Sesquicentennial Commission. I hope that when Johnson City celebrates her bicentennial in 2069, people will look at the Sesquicentennial Commission, the events and activities we planned and carried out, and especially our legacy project, and be filled with pride. More than that, I hope that Johnson Citians will take what we will do and build upon it.”

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