5 questions with Louis Gump, founder of the ETSU Roan Scholars Program

David Floyd • Updated Jun 22, 2019 at 9:48 PM

“Gump” is a familiar name in Johnson City.

The family has lived in the city since the 1880s and has played an active role in the continued development of the region.

In the 1920s, Harry Gump commissioned landscape architect H.S. Draper to come up with designs for what would eventually became Hillrise Park, one of the oldest planned residential subdivisions in Johnson City.

Louis H. “Louie” Gump, Harry’s grand nephew, has left his own mark on Johnson City. Gump, who spent time in the Navy before returning to Johnson City to work in the family’s finance business, founded the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University in 1997, which offers funding for four years of tuition and fees, books and room and board for qualified students.

Can you tell me why you decided to start the Roan Scholars program?

I had been a (Morehead-Cain Foundation) scholar at UNC Chapel Hill and I was aware of the program and what it did for the university and the scholars, and I decided that I wanted to do the same thing here for potential scholars, ETSU and the region. And the reason is that the nature of the program, it’s a program, not just a scholarship, and in addition to the scholarship monies that go for tuition, room and board, that kind of thing, it also covers unique out-of-the-classroom activities that exposes the scholars to leadership opportunities ... and just broadens their horizons. And as a result, not only does it attract that caliber of individual here, but it also attracts folks to ETSU that may not otherwise come. I just thought it would be good for ETSU and the region and was happy to be a part of it.

What do you hope students take away from the program?

The selection criteria is integrity, character, intellectual curiosity, leadership and physical vigor. We’re looking for the all-around person and a person that has not only the ability but the determination and passion to excel, become a leader and make positive impacts on the communities where they live and the organizations with which they work.

What's your family's connection with the area?

My great uncle, Harry, is the one that purchased the property that became Hillrise Park and the development there and he and my grandfather were interested in the community, active in the community. As were my father and uncle. ... My grandfather, Louis D., and uncle Harry came ... and they started Gump Brothers Clothing Store and had a clothing store down on Main Street. And then in 1921, my grandfather and father and uncle Alan started Gump Finance Company, which was the first consumer finance company in Johnson City and I think the area. Banks were here, but this was the first private finance company in East Tennessee and it was started primarily to finance automobiles and over time developed into mobile home financing.

How has the city changed?

Oh my goodness. It has not only expanded geographically, but with the growth of the university, the medical system, and we don’t have some of the manufacturing organizations that we had when I was growing up, but we still have I think a good economic base, regional recognition for retail and quality and courtesy in terms of being a friendly town.

How does Johnson City compare to other cities across the U.S.?

I’ve got to have some prejudice here, but because I am from here and lived here, I know people, I know about things, I’m really comfortable and have a network, but as I tell people, with the Navy and other travel, I’ve been lucky enough to have been on all seven continents, and I live here by choice, not necessity. I like the people, I like the climate, I like the activity, the terrain, the varied activities, the historical significance and geographically you can get from here to just about any place you want to go in the world.

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