One of my annual end-of-the year rituals is to check out what were the most viewed Hawkins County articles from the past 12 months.

As you might imagine, there was quite a bit of crime/disaster/tragedy stories that garnered the most online clicks in 2020.

There no need to recap those because we all lived through them, and some things we’re still living through.

In March and April, as the COVID started to kick in, it felt like we were living in the first episode of the old 1990s mini-series “The Stand” where a deadly super-flu spreads across the world.

Our reality isn’t as bleak as the subsequent episodes of “The Stand” ...yet. Unfortunately our script is still being written.

Mask makers, WWII heroes and generous donors

But from the COVID disaster came one really positive story about Hawkins County’s “Sewing Soldiers” who manufactured more than 15,000 face masks and distributed them to first responders, medical staff and essential workers during the early days of the pandemic when there was no supply.

God only knows how many lives were saved thanks to those masks.

In another positive story this past year, WWII vet Hiram Bowlin of Church Hill celebrated his 100th birthday in June with a ride through town on a 100-year-old fire truck, and then in December received a “one star command letter” from Brig Gen. Stephen Iacovelli, who now commands Bowlin’s old outfit, congratulating him on his birthday.

James Smith, 96, of Mount Carmel, is one of only eight living survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, shortly after the ship delivered key components of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima to the island of Tinian. He celebrated the 75th anniversary of his rescue in a ZOOM reunion with fellow survivors.

And, at the risk of injuring my arm by patting myself on the back, I had a good year using positive news to help rustle up support for worthy causes.

We ran an article about the bus breakdowns that threatened the Of One Accord ministry’s “Lunch Box” child summer feeding program. The day that article appeared in the paper the ministry received a $9,000 donation, which paid for repairs and saved the program.

And then I interviewed the staff and a couple of patients at the Church Hill Medical Mission (often referred to as the free clinic) about COVID costing them their fundraisers while at the same time increasing the number of patients they serve. Medical Mission office manager Kathy Christian later told me that within a day or two of that article running in the paper they had received more than $13,000 in contributions.

I managed to bag some really positive news in 2020

I put a lot of effort into hunting down positive news but it’s not always easy. I have to track it down like a big game hunter. The negative news stalks me. You can’t get away from it.

But, with the help of Hawkins County’s awesome communities, in what was probably the most negative year of my journalistic career I managed to bag some really positive news in 2020.

The following are the top-10 most viewed “positive” Hawkins County news stories of 2020. There are links to all these stories in the online version of this column at

10. Former Rogersville addict now inspires others through physical fitness, proper dietTen years ago Chad Wilhelm’s was already on probation from a previous meth-trafficking conviction in Hawkins County when he was picked up again for promotion of the manufacture of meth, which cost him two years in prison.

Today, Wilhelm, 36, and his fiance, Lacy Unroe, operate Mindful Body Fitness, which is a mostly online fitness and diet consulting service, although they also offer training assistance at Pro Elite Fitness, 312 S. Armstrong Road, Rogersville.

9. Hawkins County’s Sayrah Barn went from ‘expensive joke’ to popular event venueConstruction on the Sayrah Barn, located at 4144 Highway 11-W on the far eastern outskirts of Rogersville, was completed this year as a wedding and event venue for hire, but it quickly became so much more.

They hosted car show and live entertainment fundraisers to benefit worthy causes such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Hawkins County Humane Society, and a family whose child suffers form cancer; as well as an alternative venue for Volunteer High School’s canceled prom; and a socially distant location to replace Rogersville’s canceled Trunk-or-Treat.

8. ‘Jesus Christ is on my side’: Hawkins Rescue Squad honors teen for heroism during boating accidentOn May 2, Nathaniel Wells, 15, of Gate City, was fishing with his friend, 71-year-old Edward McMillan, on Cherokee Lake near the Quarryville Boat Ramp west of Rogersville when the boat overturned, sending them both into the water. Nathaniel swam approximately 60 yards to shore to get help, but was denied the use of a phone to call for help by a fisherman on shore.

Nathaniel then swam back to the boat, retrieved McMillan, and brought his friend back to shore, having swum a total of 180 yards in cold water. Sadly, his friend didn’t survive. First responders invited Wells and his family to the Hawkins County Rescue Squad station in Rogersville to present Nathaniel a Heroism Award and celebrate his courageous attempt to save his friend’s life.

7. Kitten rescued on Stone Drive becomes an investment in good karmaI was eastbound on Stone Drive heading into Kingsport as I rolled to a stop at the University Boulevard red light when I spotted a little gray shape on the left lane pavement beside me. It was lying on its belly with its head between both front paws. My first instinct was that a child had lost a little stuffed animal.

Then it looked up and meowed at me and I realized it was actually a little kitten that had been abandoned on one of Kingsport’s most busy intersections. With a little help from another motorist I captured “Wheelie”, who had crawled up my wheel well, and took him to the vet for treatment.

6. ‘It means something to be a Hoedowner’: Hawkins cloggers bring home bittersweet national titlesIt was a bittersweet victory this past January for the Surgoinsville-based Tennessee Hoedowners dance teams as they reached the top of the competitive clogging mountain for the second time — but without their founder and biggest fan Terry Glass.

Glass was with the Hoedowners two years ago in Knoxville when they became the first clogging team to sweep the individual national championship categories and the annual Clogging Champions of America Showdown of Champions (CCASC). Sadly, Glass passed away on Jan. 7 at the age of 73, just 10 days before the Hoedowners returned to Knoxville to once again defeated the best cloggers in the world.

5. Rogersville’s 5-pound Philly cheese steak challenge finally fallsCarnival Cafe’s reigning eating champion Joe Waskiewicz broke his own record, downing a 5-pound Philly cheese steak at the Rogersville eatery in less than an hour. Waskiewicz also holds Carnival Cafe’s cheeseburger in an hour record, which currently is 5.5 pounds.

Carnival Cafe, which is located on Highway 11-W on the western outskirts of town, has two ongoing challenges. Break the records and earn immortality on the Carnival Cafe Wall of Fame.

4. ‘He saved several lives that night’: Mount Carmel officer honored by BMA, County CommissionThe evening of Oct. 23 could have been tragic for several people traveling on Highway 11-W in Mount Carmel were it not for the quick thinking and actions of off-duty Mount Carmel Police Department Officer Kenneth Light in stopping a wrong-way driver.

In November, Light was presented with a Lifesaver Award by MCPD Chief Ken Lunsford Jr. and Assistant Chief Scott Alley during the Mount Carmel BMA meeting, and later was honored with a commendation “for valor and dedication” from the Hawkins County Commission, which was presented by District 1 Commissioner Raymond Jessee.

3. Community celebrates Volunteer High School’s Class of 2020Thanks to the pandemic, traditional High School graduation ceremonies were canceled, so Church Hill community leaders gave their VHS Class of 2020 a proper send off.

Seniors marched to their seats before a podium in the library parking lot, like a regular graduation ceremony, listened to speeches, and then every student in attendance was called to the stage to be recognized and applauded by their family and friends.

2. Rogersville purchases vacant shopping center to build new recreation facilityIn March, the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 5-0 to buy the three-acre former United Grocery complex at 921 E. Main St. for $625,000 for the purpose of building a new City Hall, gymnasium and indoor pool. The site is adjacent to the old Blue Spring House property and 1.5 acre lot that the BMA bought for $75,000 in 2016 which will be used as part of this project as well.

In December, the BMA got its first look at the exterior building drawings and is now working with the architect on construction plans. (Surprisingly Church Hill’s new splash pad, and other major park projects didn’t make the list.)

1. Hawkins family reunited with lost dog 12 years laterA Schnauzer that was lost 12 years ago but never forgotten was reunited with his first family at the Hawkins County Humane Society thanks to a telltale ear injury that Max suffered while being born.

Maximus Achilles, as he was named by his original family, earned his name in birth after his mother was forced to undergo a Cesarean section and the vet accidentally cut off a piece of his ear. One day in late 2007 while out playing with his family at their Stanley Valley home in Hawkins County, Max took off and never returned.

After all these years, original owner Lorrie Vaughn and her children never forgot about Max and never stopped hoping he would someday come home. Little did they know that Max was living a few miles up the road at the Stanley Valley residence of an elderly woman.