Vance W. Cheek Sr., and his son, Vance W. Cheek Jr., share a special place in Johnson City’s history. The two are the only father and son to serve as mayor of the city.
Cheek Sr. is a retired banker. He served in the late 1960s, and was on hand when the city buried a time capsule that was opened earlier this year to mark the start of the Sesquicentennial Celebration.
His son, an attorney, served on the City Commission in the late 1990s. Cheek Jr., who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, remembers his time on the commission as a period of transition and rapid growth for Johnson City.
Both Cheeks share a broad sense of civic pride, and say they are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the city.
The position of mayor in Johnson City is one that city commissioners elect from within their own ranks.
When you were on the City Commission, what years did you serve as mayor?
Cheek Sr.: “I was elected in April 1969. I served four years on the commission, with the last two as mayor.”
Cheek Jr.: “I was elected in 1997. I served as vice mayor during my first two years, and after the 1999 elections, I became mayor.
Who were your colleagues on the commission and what was the relationship of the board like at the time?
Cheek Sr.: “I served with Charles Gordon, Hal Littleford, Dick Machmer and Dr. Bill Pennebaker. It was a very cordial commission, particularly during my first two years.
“Charles Gordon was the reason I was on the commission. He talked me into running.”
Cheek Jr.: “I served with Bob May, Dan Mahoney P.C. Snapp and Pete Paduch during my first two years. The last two I served with Paduch, Mahoney, Ricky Mohon and Duffie Jones.
“Obviously, it was a contentious commission with Paduch being ahead of his time in having a combative nature about him.”
What history do you feel you made as mayor or during your time on the commission?
Cheek Sr.: Our commission’s project was expanding sewers in Johnson City. Most of the city was still on septic tanks, so our main project was getting more of the city on the sewer system.
“It was a busy four years. The 100th-year time capsule was buried when I served. I’m the last man standing from that 1969 commission.”
Cheek Jr.: “The fact that I am disabled — I’ve lived my whole life with a disability — we knocked down some doors.
“We had unprecedented growth during my four years. The table was set for me by the commissions of the 1980s and early 1990s. I cut a lot of ribbons in my four years for the hard work that was done by previous commissions. They made me look good.”
What do you hope the historians will say about your service?
Cheek Sr.: “I think we were all visionaries on the commission at that time. I had leadership qualities. I have always been a leader in anything I do. It’s one of my better assets.”
Cheek Jr.: “I just turned 50, so it’s hard to think in terms of legacy. I think I still have some things to write, but I hope people will look back and say I was fair.”
What event or person do you believe has had the greatest impact on Johnson City’s history?
Cheek Sr.: “We’ve had so many great leaders and visionaries in this city, it’s hard to single out one person. I think the building of The Mall (at Johnson City) had a tremendous impact on the city. It depleted retail sales downtown.
“The founding of the medical school at East Tennessee State University was another milestone that happened during my term. It has been a tremendous boost and has had a positive impact on the entire region.”
Cheek Jr.: “My father. His leadership at Home Federal was a civic partnership. You’ve got to have somebody who knows what this city can do, and will do.”