In my more than 30 years as a reporter, I’ve never had to go out and look for negative news.

Negative news finds me. It hunts me down and follows me wherever I go.

When I say “negative news,” I’m talking mostly about crime, tragedy, and ugly politics: things that the world has way too much of.

The real challenge in this job — and something I work very hard to do — is finding good, positive news that is uplifting and will bring a smile to your face. 

I cover Hawkins County, which is a lot of territory. There are city governments and police, county government, the sheriff’s office, five courts, two school districts, and basically anything else that happens in the county.

Although we had our share of tragedy and ugliness last year, 2019 was also a pretty good year for uplifting, positive news.

In hopes of kicking off this new year, and new decade, on a high note, let’s take a look back at some of Hawkins County’s most “positive” news stories of 2019. I based my selections on what received the most views on the Times News website, so if there was something you thought of that isn’t here, it probably didn’t get many clicks.

Rescues that had a happy ending

Last February was a bad month for flooding, with mudslides wiping out Route 66-N and Route 70-N, as well as several smaller county roads. On Feb. 7, Connie Hickman tried to cross a flooded Blevins Road near Big Creek when her truck began floating away.

As the front end started to sink, Deputy Mark Harrell and Rescue Squad member John Gardner swam out to her truck and pulled her to safety.

“If it wasn’t for them, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here,” Connie told me afterwards. “They saved my life. I’m confident I would have been gone.”

Church Hill resident John Mills was rescued from an Aug. 24 fire at his home after two town police officers, Chad Gillenwater and Ethan Mays, and a family friend, Kreston Steele, pulled him from his burning house.

On Oct. 15, the Mills family and the Church Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen expressed appreciation for the bravery of those three men, as well as others who participated in extinguishing the fire and saving the house.

Rescuing animals tugs on heart strings

The Hawkins County Humane Society makes dozens of heart-wrenching rescues every year, but one that seemed to garner the most attention last year was Josie, the 19-year-old macaque monkey rescued from a sweltering mobile home on July 10 with no food, water, or ventilation.

Josie was adopted to a good home in September after her previous owner pleaded guilty in Sessions Court to animal cruelty.

A similar story that got a lot of positive attention was the rescue of a 2-year-old pit bull named Rebel. On Dec. 10, Daren Livesay found Rebel starving and chained in the freezing cold and mud with no shelter.

Livesay and a coworker shared their lunch with Rebel and two other dogs at that residence, reported their plight to authorities, and a week later Livesay officially adopted Rebel.

Good things happening at school

One story that received a lot of positive feedback was about Don Messina, who owns Automotive Scientific (ASI) in Rogersville. Messina donated $13,000 to the Hawkins County School System to cover all school cafeteria debt.

Of course, some new debt had been incurred by students and parents by the time the donation was delivered, but it was definitely an early Christmas present for about 850 students in debt, 34 of whom owed more than $100.

As for student achievement, Volunteer High School NJROTC Rifle Team member Jaden-Ann Fraser added to her long list of national shooting titles in July by winning the 29th annual American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Fraser called it the “crown jewel” of her many championships.

Cherokee had a lot to cheer about this past year as well, with three members of the track and field team earning All State honors.

Katie Biggs, earned her second consecutive All State honor in the discus, finishing sixth in the state both her freshman and sophomore years; Harper Russell placed fifth in the 800 meter run at state, earning All State honors; and Mataylin Goins placed second in the sectionals for the 300 meter hurdles and followed that up with a fifth place at the state meet, earning All State honors.

When it comes to David versus Goliath stories, Clinch School had them all beat in 2019. It might have been easy for bigger schools across the region to dismiss tiny Clinch School’s 2017 victory in the inaugural Tennessee Solar Go-Kart Challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway as a fluke or an anomaly.

On May 7, the smallest K-12 school in Tennessee with a high school population less than 40 again defeated much larger schools en route to earning its second victory in three attempts at the BMS Solar Go-Kart Challenge.

Who likes to eat?

The second most viewed “positive” Hawkins County story of the year on was “Carnival Cafe’s 4.5 pound Philly Cheese Steak Challenge claims two victims” from Aug. 25.

The Rogersville eatery created a cheese steak-eating challenge that got up to 4.5 pounds as of Aug. 25, when two hearty lads — 15-year-old Cody Keen and 58-year-old Phillip Braim — gave it their all. On this day, however, the cheese steak was victorious, but a good time was had by all.

Hawkins County food lovers were also excited abut the opening in October of the Red Dog Cafe on Main Street in Rogersville. The Red Dog is a family style eatery featuring a wood-fired oven, craft beer, and occasional live music, and downtown was literally starving for something new to eat.

A big year for history buffs

If you’re interested in Hawkins County history, 2019 was a banner year for you.

In July, it was revealed that William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame spent the night in Rogersville at the Rogers Tavern in 1809.

Clark’s visit to Rogersville and Kingsport in November of that year was forgotten and lost to history, only to be discovered 208 years later thanks to his diary, which is located in a Missouri Historical Society museum.

Meanwhile, Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West is conducting simultaneous studies on Rogers Tavern and the nearby Powel Law Office in hopes of helping Rogersville garner grant funds to restore both buildings to their original 1790s appearance.

Dr. Van West is also conducting a study on the Amis Mill Historic site, which was founded by Revolutionary War hero Capt. Thomas Amis in 1780. Dr. Van West said Amis Mill is one of Tennessee's most significant locations with regard to the Revolutionary War and will play a part in Tennessee’s observances of the national semiquincentennial (250th anniversary).

A personal best

My most viewed “positive” Hawkins County story of 2019 on also had a a bit of a historical twist.

It was a column I wrote last month about a strange ghostly mist that appeared above a singer during the Christmas at the Mansion event on Dec. 7 at the historic Canton Hall in Church Hill.

I asked folks to decide whether they thought it was a Holy Ghost (due to the Christian-themed poetry being read at the time); a regular ghost (perhaps Eldridge Hord who built the manor in 1840); or just a camera glitch.

The vote was about evenly split for all three options. Some people said it was breath on a cold night or cigarette smoke, although I’m pretty sure you’d need lungs the size of hot air balloons to have breath that big. 

I still believe it could be any of the three, and I’m sure that none of us will ever know for sure. At least not while we’re living in this world.

Jeff Bobo covers Hawkins County for the Times News. Email him at [email protected].