John Howard Poteat
was born on 1 December 1912 at Bakersville, Mitchell County, North Carolina
He was the son of Frank Bela Poteat
and Cora Viola Phillips
. John Howard Poteat married Alma Ruth Whitlock
, daughter of William Jacob Whitlock
and Ella Mae Warwick
, on 6 July 1934 at Bristol, Virginia
John Howard Poteat died on 17 June 2006 at 1501 Fairidge Drive, Kingsport, Sullivan County, Tennessee
, at age 93.
In 1949, John joined the Board of Directors of the East Tennessee Production Credit Association where he served for the next 27 years, retiring in 1976. An article, probably from the PCA magazine, introduced him among the new directors:
"John, son of F. B. Poteat, President of the Johnson City NFLA is one of your new directors. John is following in his Pap's footsteps as a leader in both Farmers Organizations and the Dairy Business. He lives in Kingsport and owns a farm in Sullivan County.
"John is Manager of Peters Co. of Kingsport, Gulb [i.e. Gulf] Distributors and was formerly connected with Pet Diary Products as an auditor. He was raised on a dairy farm near Jonesboro."3
When he retired from this board in 1976, this was reported in several newspaper artlcles covering the nine area meetings which comprised the 42nd annual meeting of stockholders. One article, said, in part:
"John H. Poteat of Kingsport was honored by the group for his years of service to the stockholders. Robert A. Russell, Vice President of the Federal Intermediate Credit Bank of Louisville, Kentucky, presented Mr. Poteat with a Farm Credit plaque commemorating his 27 years of serving on the Board of Directors.
"During Mr. Poteat's tenure on the board, the famer-owned credit cooperative has grown into one of the areas largest suppliers of agricultural credit. The association has total assets of over 42 million dollars with a membership of 4800 farmers in East Tennessee. Mr. Poteat will be retiring from the board and stockholders will be voting during the series of meetings for his replacement. Joe Bowman and Darrel Rowe, both Washington County Farmers, have been nominated to replace him. ...
"Mr. Poteat, in the director's report, indicated money for agrcultural use would experience strong competition from business and industry as more demands are placed upon the nations available credit. Providing a dependable source of sound credit is the primary objective of P. C. A."4
The 1975 East Tennessee P. C. A. annual report was dedicated to him, saying:
"Tribute to a Director
"This 1975 Annual Report is dedicated to John H. Poteat of Kingsport, Tennessee. Mr. Poteat is retiring from the board after 27 years of faithful and dedicated service.
"''Dean' of the Board for the past several years, Mr. Poteat's sound judgment and expertise in business have played a key role in the growth and development of East Tennessee P. C. A.
"During his tenure, beginning in 1949, the outstanding loan volume has grown from $879,000 to the present volume of near $40,000,000. Through this period of time, your association has matured and become a strong, thriving, financial organization. A tribute to all East Tennessee farmers that they can own and operate sucessfully their own credit association."5
About 1954, John was president of the sixth annual East Tennessee Disrict Fair. According to the newspaper clippings he and Ruth kept, the attendance and the quantity and quality of the fair exhibits set new records. One undated clipping says:
John Poteat, Fair president, said Thursday that "enthusiasm shown by area citizens for this year's Fair far surpasses that shown in former years.
"We have had the largest gate attendance in the history of the Fair", he said, "and it is most gratifying to see.
"It's a tremendous success," he declared.
In 1957, at least, John Poteat presented the Pure Oil sponsored award of a pen and pencil set to the winners of the Sullivan County winners of the 4-H public speaking contest.6
In 1973, he was a founding director of the Bank of Tennessee. "Stockholders of Kingsport's newest bank, the Bank of Tennesee, held their first meeting late Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn and elected 11 directors, who then chose the new bank's first officers.
"W. B. Greene, Sr. was elected chairman of the board; P. L. (Pat) Basinger, Jr., president and chief executive officer; Cham H. Percer Jr., executive vice president and cashier; and Dennis Phillips, vice president.
"Directors are: W. B. Greene, Sr., Herman Blevins, C. B. Duke IV, Dr. William A. Exum, Francis M. Herman, W. B. Greene, Jr., John H. Poteat, Judge Clifford Sanders, Holiday Smith, Basinger and Percer. ...
"Of 477 shareholders, approximately 200 attended the meeting, which began at 5:30 p.m. with the expectation it would be over shortly after 6. Nomination of a twelfth director from the floor, however, necessitated holding an election by secret ballot, and the ballots then had to be counted by the number of shares each represented. This prolonged the meeting until about 7:30 p.m.
"It was reported that 88,027 shares were represented in the balloting, either directly or by proxy.
"On the motion of Poteat, the stockholders voted not to pay any fees to the directors until the new bank is in full operation and showing a profit.
"Grand opening of the bank is scheculed for May 11 at the corner of Cherokee and Commerce Streets. Regular business will begin May 13, Greene said.
"This is the third site considered for the bank since organization began a little more than a year ago. It had first been proposed to locate in the vacant Earles Building at the corner of Center and Shelby Streets, across from the Port of Kings Motor Inn. Later a new building was proposed at the corner of Center and Cherokee Streets.
"A letter of intent to organize a new bank, with a capitalization of $1,875,000 consisting of 125,000 shares at $15 per share, was filed with the Tennessee Superintendent of Banks Feb. 26, 1973. Orignal incorporators of the state-chartered bank were Greene, Dr. Exum, Poteat, Smith, Blevins and James W. Cawood."7
The first "annual" report, covering 233 days of operation, shows that by 31 Dec 1974, the bank operations had added $.27/share to the shareholder equity.8
Interview with John H. Poteat — 23-25 Dec. 2000
[notes taken during his visit to Spartanburg for Christmas]Grandparents.
When I was born, I had eleven living grandparents.
My father and mother were F. Bela Poteat and Viola (Phillips) Poteat. The eleven living grandparents, mostly on my mother’s side, were:
My father’s parents, John Spencer Poteat and Anna (Greene) Poteat
My mother’s parents: John Heap Phillips and Retta (Conley) Phillips
My great-grandparents: “Son” and Ella (Fortner) Conley
My great-grandparents: Jim Phillips and Eliza (Poore) Phillips
My great-great grandparents: Billly and Susan (Wiseman) Phillips
My great-great grandmother Nancy (Stewart) Fortner
John S. Poteat was born the 8th
of May 1849, near Marion, NC. His father died in the Civil War. His mother married again but he never got along with his stepfather. He went to live with a Hawkins family and he raised flue-cured tobacco there. I’m not sure why he went to Bakersville, but he did start a business there as partners with a Mr. Berry. I think it was bad customer credit that caused them to go out of business. After that, I’m not sure what he did. My grandmother Poteat kept some boarders in Bakersville. Mr. Bill Greene, Sr., and his brother were among these boarders. They lived ten or more miles out on Rock Creek and came into town for school and so boarded in town. Bill Greene did his studies well but his brother ran around at night instead of doing school work. This is the Bill Greene who was later the other founder of the Bank of Tennessee.
Speaking of banking, Dad’s first cousin, Ernest Poteat, was a cashier and Vice President of the bank in Bakersville. This is the bank in which Grandma Cox had stock. When Mr. Duncan from Northwestern Bank wanted to buy them out, he gave stockholders the option of selling their shares for cash or getting shares in Northwestern Bank. Grandma Cox was the only one to choose to keep bank shares. I still have some of those shares. The bank is now First Union. I don’t remember when the Bakersville bank was founded but it was in the early 1900s.
John H. Phillips had a business at Wing, NC, which is on the rail road. He bought mica, feldspar, telephone poles and other things and shipped them out from there. His father, Jim Phillips, had a store off the rail road and had a water powered flour mill on the creek below his house and store. Both Jim and John Phillips had a drinking problem. This contributed to John’s early death in 1916. Jim owned quite a bit of land and several houses. These went to his son, Sam Phillips, when Jim died. We grandchildren (John, Ann and Jim Poteat) each got $100. I remember when my grandfather (John Phillips) came to visit us, he would go to his room, take a clock and set it on the table in front of him and just stare at it or reach for it. He sometimes suffered from DTs but I did not know then what his trouble was. We were living in Jonesborough when he visited.
I think I was 3-4 years old when he [John H. Phillips] had an order of shoes come in on the train. He had a pair of boots in the shipment for me. We went down to the train with a lantern and opened cartoons to find my boots. This is one of my earliest memories. I also remember that they had a cookstove of the type on which you lifted a lid to put in more wood. I was doing this when the lid fell back across my wrist and burned me pretty badly. The scar remained for years but does not show now.
Grandma Retta Phillips worked at the store and provided mail service. The mail train did not stop but caught the mail bag off a pole as it went by. This must have been before the start of RFD. John Phillips was a good trader. When he died, we were living at Jonesboro. Dad and my Mom went to Wing and stayed about two years. The store was sold to Sam Phillips (Jennie Rosenbaum’s father.)
With profits saved from the store, John and Retta Phillips bought a farm in Washington County, TN, below where the Poteat farm is. Viola and Bela lived there. After John Phillips’ death, Retta bought more land in Tennessee. Later, she sold it and lived in Jonesboro. She met John Cox who ran a store at Washington College. They were married and moved back to NC. He was a railroad superintendent and built the Clinchfield railroad. He also built the first paved streets in Kingsport. He built the Wexler Tunnel at Tennessee Eastman and John Cox’s son Clyde was the first one to crawl through the opening when the two tunnel segments from opposite directions met. John Cox was also General Manager of the Hoot Owl mine in NC. He built a narrow gauge railroad from the mine into Spruce Pine. To climb the steep grades, the trains went up along one track, threw a switch and moved onto another segment across the slope and continued to repeat the process up the steep grade. (See the railroad term, “switchback”). Uncle Claude Morgan was an engineer of this railroad and I used to ride with him on the train sometimes. They had a ramp from which they could dump their loads into gondola cars for the main railroad. Cox was also in the mica business. He traveled to places like Pittsburgh to sell and promote mica. “Son” Conley worked for him with the mica. He used to use a knife to separate the mica sheets taken from the big blocks from the mine.
Granddaddy Phillips liked to hunt. Near Ledger, he found a vein of mica while hunting. He tried to operate this mine with Sam Phillips but it never did really well. Sam managed it. I remember, when growing up, seeing this mine on the side of the mountain. Uncle Bob Phillips made his money from mica found on his property. Fletcher Phillips, Sam’s son, working on the mica, would say “This is from your Uncle Bob’s mine.” He could identify it by the quality. High quality mica sold for a very good price.
My Conley great-grandparents lived on the railroad. She fed the train crew who would stop the train at her house for meals. I slept in a featherbed when I visited them. It was very soft and quite different from my bed at home.Boyhood – Bakersville and Jonesborough
I was born in Bakersville in Aunt Betty Stafford’s house where my parents were living at the time.
Dad ran a furniture store in Bakersville. I think the business did not do really well. Then he traveled throughout North Carolina and sold gas heated irons. Retta and John Phillips bought a farm near Jonesborough when I was one year old. It was a 125-acre farm for which they paid $3000 and was our homeplace, the one you knew. This was purchased from the money received from my grandfather Phillips’s store and became my mother’s when her father’s estate was divided. Dad had a life interest in it after my mother died. Before they bought it, it had gotten very run down. It had grown hay and corn for years with no crop rotation and no fertilizer. The field “would not even grow weeds.” When we first moved to Jonesborough, we lived in town because the previous lease on the farm was not up yet. Later we moved into a tenant house on the place, then into the main house. We were living in town with Grandma Retta Phillips when my brother Jim was born. Dad worked at Keebler’s grocery in Jonesboro. It was not a self-service grocery; he weighed out beans, coffee, sugar etc. for the customers. He worked on the Phillips farm before that. Later he went to work as a bookkeeper in the Shipley hardware store. I guess that was back in the 20s. After that he worked as a teller at the First National Bank in Jonesboro. Mr. Patton was the bank cashier. Then Dad worked for Washington County as purchasing agent and bookkeeper. He ran for County Executive but lost by just a few votes. He had promises of enough votes but some men changed their minds.
Fred Hilbert, first cousin of Jessie, was a druggist in Jonesborough. Dad went into business with Fred. Dad ran the appliance business and Fred ran the drug store. Fred’s brother Lewis ferried planes from U. S. to England during World War II.
Fletcher Phillips boarded with us in Jonesboro to attend school. Jennie and her sister also lived with us for a while. We slept three and four to a bed at times. This was when we lived in the Phillips house. Jennie married Festus Rosenbaum at the time World War I was taking single men into the army by draft. She was still in high school then.
My mother had gone to a private school in Burnsville, NC. We used to have the love letters Dad wrote to her there, stored in a trunk at home, but Mama Jessie later burned them. My mother got sick; she had kidney problems. I was five on the first of December and she died on the 6th
of December 1917. I remember my father took me to her room the night before she died and told me that he expected she would not last through the night.
Grandma Retta Phillips bought the 118 acre Edens farm in Washington County, with money from her husband’s estate, about 1917 but sold it in a year or so and bought the Deadrick home in Jonesborough and moved there.
The Hilbert family lived about 2 miles away. The father was a carpenter and had 12-13 kid which was almost more than they could feed. Some of them, including Jessie, Ada and Mary Sue came to live with us and help our family. I was in first grade and they were a few grades above me. My first year in school, I went to a one-room school near home (Grand View). Grandma Cox bought me a pony named Trixie. After the first year, we (Ada and I) went to school together by horse and buggy. Grandma Poteat also came to stay with us after my mother passed away. Grandpa Poteat and Florence stayed in Bakersville. Later Grandpa Poteat lived with us and Grandma lived in Bakersville. I don’t know why they stopped living together but I think she may have had some “very friendly” boarders. Aunt Betty Stafford, Grandma Poteat’s sister, got breast cancer and came to live with us until she died. Her husband was a judge.
Dad and Jessie Hilbert were married on 2 July 1919 by her uncle, the father of Fred and Lewis. They were married rather secretly. They headed for Washington, D.C. for their honeymoon but Dad got sick on the way and they stayed in Bristol. When they got back, Ada and Mary Sue prepared a big supper celebration. My brother “Dick” or F. B. Poteat, Jr., was born in April 1920.
One of my early jobs on the farm was hoeing corn – we had to chop out the extra corn plants so that they were properly spaced. There was a watermelon patch at the end of the field and we would eat watermelon after finishing a row. Later, I could drive the horses. I’d mow the field and Ada would rake. We used a McCormick Deering mower. It had a Pitman rod which was difficult to maintain and we would often have to go to town for a part and replace it. We stacked the hay in piles and hauled it to the barn. At first we used pitchforks to put the hay in the barn but later we had a hay fork. It was fixed up to a pulley and rope and we used horses to lift hay into the barn. That saved a lot of labor. I also did the plowing.
Dad had the road improved near our house when he was a magistrate. The work was begun before official approval by the highway department. I remember he carried a gun at the time, in anticipation that there might be trouble. They had about twenty mules which we boarded (for pay) in our barn.
A Mr. Carlew, who had been a Superintendent of Schools in Boston, came down to NC to teach at Penland, and later boarded with us. He had a teacher who was a good friend who sent him a monthly check which was his only support. He lived upstairs and had a wood burning heater. He took meals with us. When he died, I got his watch. Ruth traded it in on another one which I still have. He took mineral oil and I remember Mama complaining about having to clean up the bathroom after him. I was not a good speller in school. I’m still not. Mr. Carlew tried to teach me the phonics system of spelling but it did not take on me.
We had Guernsey cows and took the milk to town in ten gallon cans to the Pet Milk Company receiving plant in Jonesborough. It was shipped from there to Greenville, TN, and processed into canned milk. We only got less than $1 per can. I talked to Dad about getting a cooler and bottles. We built a block house and put in a separator and cooler. I still have one of our “Springdale Dairy” bottle caps at the house. Dad was working in the court house and ate lunch at Master’s restaurant. We worked out a deal to sell them milk in half-pint bottles, my first customer. We bottled our milk and sold it for ten cents per quart. I delivered it to homes in Jonesborough. I would leave samples of our bottled Guernsey milk with its thick head of cream, along with some of our apples, on the doorsteps in town and gained new customers and expanded my route that way. Southern Maid and Pet Dairy were also making deliveries but they eventually dropped out and I had a monopoly. I got up early, milked the cows, cooled and bottled the milk. While I ate breakfast, Jim and Dad loaded the truck and I delivered the milk before school. I picked up the bottles from the previous delivery and washed them up after school to be ready the next day. That was my first business venture. In the fall I also played football. I played right tackle at about 150-160 pounds.
I also raised a patch of tobacco and joined the 4-H club. I won a state contest and they sent me to Washington, D.C., and on Feb. 4, 1933, I gave a talk on the National 4-H Club Radio Broadcast from there. In the meantime, Ada had gotten married and Estes Kefauver had gotten her husband a job in D.C. as a plumber. In 1932 everyone was laid off in D. C. and Ada and Bill came to live with us. That is when we grubbed out the new ground. Bill worked in the field. They had an old Chevrolet car. Dad would not let me drive the milk truck to town on dates (he did like me date Ruth) and Bill let me use the car. Later Bill got a job building the John Sevier hotel in Johnson City and they moved into their own home.
Dad would call us to get up at 5:00 a.m. Sometimes I had been out until midnight the night before. I was dating Ruth. I would fall asleep in physics class. Although I had A’s on all my physics tests, I got a B for the term. When I asked the teacher about this, he said no one who slept in his classes could get an A.
I also raised 100 white leghorns and sold the eggs as well as milk. Jim took over the milk delivery when I went off to college. I paid my tuition at State with the egg money. I made quite good grades in my courses like history, physics, chemistry and French. I’d had some French in High School. I remember being asked to do some translation in German class – my sentence was supposed to say “I have a Mother” but it came out as “I am a Mother.” I remember that because the class gave me the “horse laugh” and I was embarrassed. In Zoology with Dr. Brown there were only two students, myself and Charlie van Gorder, both premeds. The class was mostly oral recitation with questions alternating between the two students. In order to get any degree from State, you had to complete your practice teaching. I was not interested in that but was preparing to go to Medical School, so I did not take all the teacher preparation work and did not get a degree there. I went to school straight through the summer as well and got three years of college work there in two years. This year, I was made an Honorary Alumnus of ETSU which was East Tennessee Teacher’s College when I was there. I am also now serving as a Director of the Endowment Fund and have given money to establish the Poteat Chair of Banking there.
I still had the $100 from Great-Grandpa Phillips’ estate (although Dad had used it to put a new metal roof on our barn in the meantime) and I used that to pay my tuition at Medical School. I sold my turkeys to buy my microscope, but the money ran out and I had to leave. I went into Nashville for a few days and found a place to stay for fifty cents a night while looking for work, but people were being laid off everywhere and I did not find any. I sold my microscope and got enough money to get home. Tennessee Eastman
I applied at several places for work but people were being laid off. I was sent to see Tom Warrick, employment supervisor at Eastman. He had five requests for employees and I was the fifth. I started distilling acetic acid to strengthen it, eventually to glacial acetic acid, by removing the water. I had to regulate steam flow in a still with a condenser that was was ten stories high. The steam was fed in on a low level, the controls were on the third floor and I had to also watch the top of the still for proper operation. There was an elevator but it was too slow. I had to run up and down stairs to keep up with all this. I worked shift work. Before the end of the shift, I would be sick from acetic acid fumes. My pay was $11/week, our rent was $2/week and it cost $1/week for a ride to work. Parnell Ellis, from Bakersville, was my foreman. He used to date Aunt Florence Poteat. He used to shield me when I made a mistake. I got a raise up to 35 cents/hour.
When Betty came along, Dr. Keene was the doctor. There was no hospital in Kingsport and that is why she was born in Bristol, Va. The doctor bill was $30 and I paid it off at $2/pay day until we had her paid for. We were living in a one-room apartment. Pet Dairy
Then I contacted Mr. Bellew, general manager for Pet Dairy in Johnson City and other locations. I applied in person in Johnson City and was given a job making milk deliveries in Kingsport. There were two horses, Amos and Andy. My horse, Andy, knew the route as well as I did. I would stop at the top of a street, get out to carry the milk to several houses in a row, and Andy would meet me at the next stop. There was a long run between two sections of the delivery and I could nap between them while Andy took me to the second. I got 10% commission on a delivery route in Kingsport. (As an extra job, I painted houses in the afternoon.) I started low but worked up to $100/month.
I took a bookkeeping course from LaSalle Extension University in Chicago. I got as far as some of the stock market stuff before I dropped out. I asked Mr. Bellew for office work in bookkeeping and they had an opening in Waynesville, NC. We went there and got an apartment. It was about 1937 that we went to Waynesville, in the spring or early summer. We were there during tourist season. We came back that fall and lived in Johnson City on Boyd Street. I started out in Waynesville at $90/month – I found out that bookkeeping paid less than I had been making but I did not have to go out on the routes or make sales calls. I was the cashier — collected the driver’s money, made deposits, kept books and made receipts for producers. They sold ice cream mix and shipped it to Georgia. Each customer had a separate discount arrangement and it was difficult system to keep track of. They claimed I would mess up the figures. By this time I was working from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. I was working seven days a week although on Sundays we quit at 6:00 p.m. I asked Fred Yearout, general manager at Waynesville, to be made bookkeeper. Mr. Simmons, the current bookkeeper, began to train me but this was more like doing his work for him than it was training. This became too much and I went back to Johnson City as a cashier.
Then Mr. Key at Lynchburg, VA, needed a salesman for freezers, soda fountains, etc., and a good commission was offered. I went up there on a Monday to start on a new job. I was given a catalogue and sent out to the warehouse to learn about all the products, their parts etc. I seemed to be getting along all right and there was a territory available in North Carolina and some of the neighboring area. On Thursday night there was a company party which was mostly a drinking party. The next morning I was called in and told that I probably would not fit in and Mr. Key said “fill up your car with gas and go on back home.” Some time later, I saw Mr. Key in Kingsport. He was out of business with nothing to sell.Ice Cream Parlor in Spruce Pine.
The first business I owned was an ice cream store in Spruce Pine. I was selling ice cream mix for Pet. When I visited Grandma Cox in Spruce Pine, we got a cone of ice cream for a nickel that had only about a tablespoon of ice cream in it. I knew I could offer more for the money. Granddaddy Cox put up a building on his lot and I went to Statesville for a freezer and got a rejected freezer that worked fine. We sold two dips for a nickel. Log truckers coming into town brought loads of hitchhiking kids with them. John Morgan worked in the store and wife Doris helped and Ruth helped. I’d dip ice-cream five cones at a time and pass the cones to them to sell. We would sell $100- $150 worth of nickle cones on a Sunday afternoon. The costs were about as follows: mix = 1/3, overhead = 1/3, and profit = 1/3. I’d leave work at Pet in Johnson City and drive to Spruce Pine and freeze ice cream all night, two and a half gallons per freezer run. It came soft from the freezer and I put it into the box to harden. A Highway Patrolman would come by in the early A. M. for some of the soft ice cream. I also sold hotdogs and ice cream at the Toe River Fair. I sold ice cream to Bob Phillips as Principal of the school at Bakersville. I had John Morgan come to Kingsport and work there to learn to make doughnuts and we sold them in winter when ice cream sales were slower.
Ice cream money bought Betty’s piano and the lot where our house is now.Peters Oil
Back in Kingsort, after trying out with Mr. Key in Lynchburg, VA, I checked with Homer Compton, who ran Goodrich, for a job. He sent me to Peters Oil (Gulf) and I also interviewed with Mr. Bill Greene who had no jobs. On Friday, I interviewed with Mr. Peters and started there on Monday. (So I really had not missed any work.) My job was sales and promotion — I cleaned up and decorated the stations and put up displays. I sold tires and called on customers.
I went to the Mason Dixon Line (trucking) to sell tires. I made them a good offer and sold fifty tires (I was used to selling one or two at a time). I was even told my bid was a little low and got paid a little more than I had offered. I worked at Peters Oil for eight years and then asked Mr. Peters about buying a half-interest in the company. More about that later.
During the war, some of my oil was shipped by tanker from Texas, around Florida, to Charleston, SC. Although there were never any news reports, I could tell when a tanker had been sunk by the Germans in the Atlantic because my shipments did not arrive when they were scheduled to. My order would be filled from a later shipment.
After World War II, I got into a good deal at Holston Defense Plant. Fuel oil was on a government regulated quota system but there was not a quota for Holston and they could not buy any fuel. They used #2 heating oil for heating in the process of making nitric acid. They needed one or two tank-truck loads a day. They even got the Pentagon to approve their purchases without the usual bid process in order to obtain the fuel. I found an Exxon dealer who could obtain fuel oil because he had more quota than he could use. [He had held the contract during the construction of Oak Ridge and, after the project was completed, still had the quota but not the sales.] I had no money to operate at this level and we had to get our money back to Exxon quickly. I was helped out by a friend, Red Hamilton, at Holston who arranged to pay quickly upon delivery and we were able to set up the deal. Once, one of my drivers to Holston lost the delivery hose out of the pipe on the truck where it was carried. I got another hose and took it out to the plant. There were restrictive security procedures in place at the Holston plant so I bypassed the gate and took the hose through a hole in the fence. However, I was caught by security and had a hard time talking my way back out. We built our house in 1951 while selling oil to Holston Defense.
Tires were also hard to get and were rationed by the government. We were using tires made of reclaimed rubber that were only good for 200-300 miles. Mr. Glascock got me a supply of tires and I began selling them everywhere. I guess he felt sorry for me and was able to supply me with more tires than were normally allowed. His sales figures were posted at a distributors’ sales meeting, but he called me aside to explain that my real sales numbers would not show there.
I did a lot of business at Eastman. One day, when bids were opened, I did not win any of them. I spoke to the manager who told me that he ”couldn’t put a sheet of paper” between my bid and the winner but that he had to go with the low bid. We stepped out of the office on the pretext of meeting someone else and he told me they could buy white oil without bids. I did not have any supply, but I located a source. They bought 10,000 gallons at a time. There was not much commission but I was glad to get the business.
Mr. Peters owned the farm I have now, but he bought a bigger one and wanted to sell this one. I researched it and found how much he had in it and offered him that much. I got it for $27,000. He still had $6,000 due on it and I had to pay that. I got a $21,000 loan from Mr. Greene and later got the Federal Land Bank to take the loan for less money and I paid it off in 8-10 years.Blue Ridge Transportation Company
I operated the first transit trucks in Tennessee while working with Peters. The trucking company was Blue Ridge Transportation. It was owned by Mr. Peters and Mr. Edwards. I kept the books while working for Peters and did this in his offices. While still working for Mr. Peters, I bought three trucks and had them paid for in six months. Oil came in tank cars to Bristol. The Interstate Commerce Commission controlled the transit permits and they controlled rail shipments. I went to an ICC meeting in Knoxville and argued that we needed a permit to haul by truck because there were several towns, such as Blountville and Tazewell, that had no railroads. We got the first such permit in Tennessee. We used an old Mack truck and went to Chattanooga, where the pipe line was then, to obtain our fuel supply.
When Mr. Peters and Mr. Edwards wanted to sell, I bought Mr. Peters’ half of the company and Mr. Bob Ivans bought Mr. Edwards’ half. When we bought the company, it was $20,000 in the hole. Mr. Peters put in $10,000 worth of tires and Mr. Edwards put in $10,000 worth of insurance coverage. Thus we started out in the company with zero net worth. Although Ivans and I were equal partners, I made it clear that I was to be the boss and make the operating decisions. I drew money from the company for this. I hired a manager, opened a service station, and hauled from Knoxville where the oil came in on barges. Eventually I had thirty trucks, having borrowed money from Mr. Bill Greene, Sr., at Northwestern Bank.
I had a strike once. The ICC set rates I could charge and costs were rising. The drivers asked for a rate increase, but government approval was slow in coming. I told my employees that I had applied for an increase in their pay rates but they did not want to wait. I took the drivers out to dinner at a hotel in Knoxville. I told them I appreciated their work and would like them to do me one favor before they left. That was to drive their trucks to a lot I had in Kingsport so the bank could pick them up there. They conferred for a while and then told me that they had decided to stay on the job.
After six or eight months, I sold my half to Bob Ivans for $11,000. Oil Distributorship — Pure Oil and Union 76 – Poteat Oil Company.
When I could not buy in with Mr. Peters, because he did not want a partner at the time, I began contacting oil companies about a franchise. I was going to buy into a particular one but got beat out after I thought I had it. That is why I was not the Shell man. I had nothing in writing and a man’s word on the deal turned out to be not good enough.
I asked about Gulf at Johnson City but a Gulf employee got that. I went to a promotion for the opening of a new Phillips distributorship in Statesville, North Carolina, where several of the important company officials were in attendance. There were conflict and confusion about the control of the Kingsport franchise. It was claimed by both the Virginia and the North Carolina region. I then contacted Pure Oil Company. They liked my qualifications. Mr. Clark was a Buick/Olds dealer in Kingsport and GM wanted him out of the oil business which he mostly ran for his car business anyway. They gave me the franchise with one station but they thought I would go broke in a year because it was a strongly competitive situation. Ruth handled the phone calls and I did sales and deliveries. We sold heating oil even in five gallon quantities. Texaco had a good station location (on West Center Street) that might become available. Several companies wanted to get it. I would park my car there at 8:00 a.m. and see my competitors driving by, not stopping while I was there. Finally, the dealer said that he thought maybe no one else was interested and I got the station. I had worked out a deal with Pure Oil by which they would lease it at $300/month but the owner would not take less than $325/month. I arranged to pay the difference myself to get the station, but when I presented the deal to Pure Oil, they agreed to pay the $325. There was a good Gulf dealer down the street – Sam Simpson – and I moved him into the new Pure Oil station (combining a good location with a good dealer who brought most of his customers with him). I bought another lot on Stone Drive and moved Jack Tranbarger over there. Pure Oil did not think this was a good location on the new highway, 11W. I borrowed the money for the lot with a personal note and also bought and installed the pumps. At the time, 30,000 gallons/ month in gasoline sales would qualify you as a member of a top sales club. We got to 40,000 gallons right away and then Pure Oil liked this way of doing business. I had to give a presentation to two or three hundred people and the company used it as a model of the way their dealers should work. I also won a trip to the home office in Chicago for selling record amounts of motor oil; I flew from Knoxville. After the note for the station was paid off, I collected the rent on it.
I had built a little office — maybe eight by ten feet. I told the company I needed a better facility to stock inventory. They approved. I was still working on commission.
Another deal I made: The Exxon dealer in Gate City — he had the Scott County, VA, region — died and his daughters got the business. They did not want to run it and decided to sell out. They had a bulk plant and all, which I did not need (I already had that). They notified their customers on a Friday afternoon that they planned to sell. On Saturday, I contacted all their customers. Phillips 66 was dealing with the sisters for the business, but I dealt directly with the customers. I signed them all except one. One lady said she would sign with me because she could not tell the difference between 66 and 76 anyway! The 66 man then did not take the business because he did not need the plant with no customers.
In 1973, there was a big gas shortage. Cars would lineup and follow delivery trucks to the stations. We taped markers on the gas caps of our regular customers and had to turn others away. I did not have enough gas. I bought gas from the Mobile dealer who had only one station but plenty of gas allocation. I got the county school board quotas raised and I was able to sell to Scott and Sullivan County schools as a 76 dealer.
When I was 70 years old, I sold out of the oil business. I thought you were supposed to get out of business at that age, but I stayed on to run the business for a few years. I also went to work at the bank as director and administrative assistant to the president.
I always gave all my customers good service and the news spread from neighbor to neighbor among heating oil customers. So, I was soon selling more than anyone else. I would go out at any hour – getting two a..m calls for heating oil when people ran out. Once I got a call from a man at a card game, saying they were getting cold and needed oil. I said that I would be glad to bring him more oil when he payed his past bills. The next day he was in the office and paid up.
“Get ahead of your competitors. While they were sleeping, I was out delivering oil.”East Tennessee Production Credit Association.
After I bought the farm, a director of the East Tennessee Production Credit Association got killed (his own car ran over him at a farm gate). They called me to be a director; I had borrowed some money from them. This was in 1947. They had about $300,000 in loans. I was director and sometimes chairman of the board. We got up to more than $100 million in the loans by the end of my time and lost mighty little money. We would even lend money to a tenant farmer and take a mortgage on the mule. One woman had a loan on her cattle and we went out to count them. She ran them through the barn for us to count. I knew how many she should have had but she tried to run the cattle through more than one time and get them to cover the shortage. She had sold some of the cattle on which we had made the loan.
Our money was from the Federal Bank in Louisville. We had an open note with them. Once we made three loans to highly successful men for quite a bit of money. Louisville did not approve the loans and we were in the hole. The board sent me to Louisville in person with the notes and I got them approved by the Federal Bank.
I worked for the PCA for twenty-seven years.My Truck Stop.
I started my own truck stop in 1973-74. I had already rented a truck stop on Route 11W, but the new interstate, I-81, had opened and truck traffic began going that way. I located and bought a lot on the new route where I built a new truck stop, restaurant and truck repair service. I had not asked Union Oil about this. When one of their officials was driving on I-81 and saw the new place, he asked how that had happened since he had not approved it. I replied that I did not know their approval was required since I built this on my own.
I had planned to put in a septic tank but the environmental regulations required a sewage system because of the expected number of people. This was a $50,000 expense that I had not planned for.
We ran three shifts there and I had more than a dozen employees including waitresses, cooks, gas pumpers, clerks and mechanics. I had a strike here once also. Some of the people wanted to strike and some did not. They got into real fights among themselves. I finally got a court order that put an end to the strike.Bank of Tennessee.
When I started the Bank of Tennessee with Mr. W. B. Greene, Sr., First American had turned down a loan to a church in town. Mr. Greene got it for them at Northwestern Bank. We talked it over and decided a local bank was needed and agreed to start one. We began to work on it, sold shares, got a charter, and started out with $200,000 in 1974. It took about six months to get this all set up and get FDIC and State Banking Commission approval. It has now grown to $383 million in assets. We hired a retired banker to operate it – be president of the new bank – and started with him and five “girls.” Mr. Greene had been a bond salesman for Merrill Lynch in Winston Salem before he came to Kingsport and bought a hardware store. Later he built a much bigger store.
When I sold my oil business, I went to work at the bank as director and administrative assistant to the president. I got no salary but was paid a fee. I already had Social Security and did not want to pay any more into that. I was also chairman of the loan committee. Once I approved a loan which the loan officer had worked up for the board and made it look good. However, the loan went bad and Bill Greene wrote me note saying “Why did you do this, John?”. I replied that I had gone on the officer’s word which I was not going to do again. I think we finally collected on the loan.
I have gotten several of the directors on the board from my nominations – Boots Duke, Dr. Stanton (President of ETSU) and Bill Garwood (President of Tennessee Eastman) are some of them
Roy Harmon interviewed with us for loan officer. Bill [Greene, Jr.] and I agreed on him immediately after the interview. He is doing a good job. He is now CEO and Vice President of the Bank of Tennessee.
We tried to have two or three different people come as president. We talked to one from Hamilton Bank in Johnson City but he decided to stay. Bill Smith, who had been in school with me, was at First Tennessee and decided not to change banks. Real Estate Development
In the last several years, I have been turning my two farms into residental lots, creating new subdivisions. My Church.
I have been a life-long member of the Baptist Church. Our family attended the First Baptist Church in Jonesborough. I later moved my membership to the First Baptist Church in Kingsport where I attend now. In 1953, I was a Deacon and Secretary of the Board there. John H. Poteat
John Howard Poteat, the first child of F. B. "Bela" and Viola (Phillips) Poteat of Jonesborough, TN, was born in Bakersville, NC, on 1 December 1912. Now approaching ninety he can look back with satisfaction over a successful career in a variety of business opportunities but he also looks forward to meeting continuing business challenges in farming, banking and real estate development.
Grandson John Olds says "Granddaddy represents the best in the tradition of American entrepreneurship." All the elements of this theme are contained in a story from his high school days. The Poteat family farm was producing milk and selling it to Pet Milk Company for one dollar per ten gallon can. Young John Poteat felt they could do better by delivering directly to the homes in Jonesborough and selling this milk for ten cents per quart. Arranging with his father for the necessary bottles and the use of a truck, John began rising even earlier in the mornings, bottling and loading the milk and delivering to customers in town. He soon acquired more customers for the rich Guernsey milk with a large head of cream floating in each bottle. At times he also left something extra, like farm apples, with his deliveries. Eventually, his competition withdrew and he was making all the milk deliveries in Jonesborough. He saw a need, recognized an opportunity, took action, delivered a quality product and beat the competition at service. These elements have been repeated in his many other business ventures since that time.
When he attended State Teacher's College in Johnson City, he paid tuition with egg money from the farm. By taking extra course work in summers, he finished his preparation for medical school in just three years. He then began study in UT medical school at Memphis but, during the first year, without funds for food or schooling, he was forced by the conditions of the Great Depression to return home and seek employment. His first job was at Tennessee Eastman for 27 cents/hour.
Some years later, while visiting his grandmother in Spruce Pine, NC, he bought an ice cream cone at the local drug store. It was only a small cone and cost a nickel. Again he recognized a need and saw a business opportunity. He furnished a small building as a production and sales site, obtained ice cream mix from his employer, Pet Dairy, hired a staff and began selling double-dip
ice cream cones for a nickel. Although he had a full-time job, he went to Spruce Pine on weekends (weekend business was especially good), worked at night freezing the ice cream and by day dipping and selling ice-cream.
Still later, he began his career in the oil business, both in retail and wholesale operations. Living in Kingsport and working for a man with a successful oil business, he felt he could do better operating his own. Against the advice of his friend and employer about the difficulty of making it go on his own, he began operation. Many times he made sales contracts on small margins and demanding schedules but worked hard to meet customer's requirements. Many times he was called on weekends and late nights by people who had just run out of heating oil or other products. By meeting such needs quickly when no one else would, he built a growing base of loyal customers. One man, with a "private liquor distilling operation", even paid his heating bills a year in advance so that at least his family would be warm even if he ended up cooling his heels in jail.! John saw need and business opportunity, took action and outworked the competition.
In a 1973 conversation with another prominent Kingsport businessman, W. B. Greene, Sr., the topic turned to the need for a local bank. A friend of theirs had been unable to obtain a needed loan locally and Mr. Greene had helped to get the money from a NC bank. John said "We could start our own bank" and after some study this was done. The Bank of Tennessee initially had six employees, one trailer, and sold stock to obtain $ 1.8 million in assets. Today there are 155 employees and over $360 million in total assets. John Poteat continues to serve as Director and Honorary Vice-Chairman of the Board for the Bank of Tennessee and BancTen Corporation where he uses his business experience and knowledge to guide the process of expanding the bank operation and making loans to meet the financial needs of the area.
Later, after having provided well for his family, even including the creation of trust funds for the education of his great-grandchildren, John responded to his own need to expand upon his history of community and church service by giving back to his community some of the results of his success. He focussed on his church and on education. Tuition can no longer be paid with egg money from a family farm, but he felt the importance of making local quality education affordable to all students. Having experienced hard times himself, he wants to help avoid them for other deserving students will to apply themselves to getting an education. Acting upon this interest in education and his experience in banking, he took a leadership role in the development of a Chair of Banking at his alma mater, by now East Tennessee State University. Thanks to his leadership and generous financial support, that school is now a reality.
If asked for a capsule of advice for today's forward looking ETSU student, he might say: For a better life, persevere in your education. Work hard for your employer, client or customer; keep your commitments and deliver more; anticipate needs and outdo your competition. Enjoy the satisfactions of a job well done. Repeat for decades.
DWO/2002.09.14.9 John Poteat - KINGSPORT
KINGSPORT — John H. Poteat, 93 of Fairidge Drive, died Saturday, June 17, 2006 at Holston Valley Medical Center.
Born in Bakersville, North Carolina on December 1, 1912, John Howard Poteat was the son of the late F. Bela and Viola (Phillips) Poteat. He was a graduate of Jonesboro High School, attended State Teacher’s College (now ETSU) and the Tennessee Medical School in Memphis.
Since coming to Kingsport, Mr. Poteat had been involved in several business and civic ventures and owned two farms. He was the owner of Poteat Oil Company, owned and operated a truck stop on I-81, and was a founding director of Bank of Tennessee where he served as vice chairman on the loan committee. He also served with the East Tennessee Production Credit Association for twenty-seven years. In recent years he had also been active in creating residential communities on his farms. ETSU, where he helped establish the Poteat Chair of Banking, Carson-Newman College, where he was a major donor to the Blye-Poteat Building for Consumer Sciences, and the First Baptist Churches of Jonesborough and Kingsport, were among his several philanthropic interests. He served as a senior deacon of the First Baptist Church of Kingsport.
Mr. Poteat was preceded in death by his loving wife Ruth Whitlock Poteat, who died in 2002, a sister, Ann Childress of Avon Park, FL and a brother, F.B. “Dick” Poteat of Jonesborough.
He is survived by his daughter, Betty P. Olds and husband Dan W. of Spartanburg, SC; granddaughter, Linda O. Burrell of Moore, SC; grandson, John R. Olds and wife Melinda of Dunwoody, GA; three great-grandchildren, Brandon Burrell, Maranda Burrell and Davis Olds; sister, Becky Sims of Jonesborough; brother, James M. Poteat of Johnson City; several nieces and nephews.
Calling hours will be from 12:30-2:00 PM on Tuesday June 20, 2006 at First Baptist Church of Kingsport.
Services will follow at 2:00 PM at the church with Dr. Marvin Cameron officiating. Entombment will follow in Oak Hill Mausoleum. Pallbearers will be Steve Poteat, Jerry Poteat, Paul Spears, Jeff Anderson, Walter Crough, Bryan Larkin, Jack Thweatt, James Stapleton, Robert Hilton, Bill Greene and Roy Harmon. Honorary pallbearers will be the Big Brothers Sunday School Class of First Baptist Church.
The family is grateful to his caretakers, Ernestine, Dale, Martha, Helen, Kay and Patti for the excellent care he received over the last few years.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his name to the College Scholarship Fund of the First Baptist Church of Kingsport, 200 West Church Circle, Kingsport, TN 37660 or to the charity of one’s choice.
Condolences may be sent to the family online at www.cartertrent.com.
Carter-Trent Funeral Home, Kingsport, is serving the Poteat family.10