Ernie Johns remembered as historian

Scott Broden, Daily News Journal, March 15, 2016

MURFREESBORO — Local leaders who served with the late Ernie Johns remember how much he loved his role as the longtime Rutherford County historian.

Ernie Johns talks about the Rutherford County comprehensive plan in this 2012 photo while he was serving as the chairman of a committee offering recommendations on the plan. (Photo: DNJ file)

Ernie Johns talks about the Rutherford County comprehensive plan in this 2012 photo while he was serving as the chairman of a committee offering recommendations on the plan. (Photo: DNJ file)

A former member of the County Commission from Smyrna, Johns died Saturday.  He was 81.

“He was fond of history,” recalled Allen McAdoo, who has served on the County Commission since 1978.  “He was a good commissioner.”

Funeral services for Johns will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Woodfin Chapel in Smyrna, according to his obituary.  Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and from 10 a.m. until the services Wednesday at the chapel.

Johns was also known to be a volunteer at the Sam Davis Home, a historic house and farm where a Civil War Confederate soldier grew up in Smyrna, said Ginny Williams, who lives a couple doors down from the Johns family on Jefferson Pike.

“He and I were both active with the Sam Davis Home,” said Williams, who recalled how Johns was so impressive in putting on a historical demonstration there of chipping rock to make fences that the image ended up being used in a brochure to recruit members.

Williams also remembered how Johns did extensive research for a historical book about local cemeteries.

Ernie Johns Donations PNG

“He just loved history,” said Williams, adding that Johns was also known for building a library room at his home with an extensive collection of history books.

The owner of Gil’s Ace Hardware, Williams also remembered that Johns stopped by her family business frequently because “he was always working on something.”

Johns was a home builder, Williams said.  He owned E.K. Johns Construction in Smyrna, according to his obituary.

Williams also remembered Johns for his conservative and thoughtful service on the County Commission for eight years.

“He was a good servant,” Williams said.

Former County Commissioner Tina Jones also shared fond memories of serving with Johns.

“Commissioner Ernie Johns leaves a legacy of shaping the future of our community into what we enjoy today — a community with strong economic development that produces good jobs for the people of our county,” Jones said.  “I first met Ernie when I was elected to the Rutherford County Commission.  He became a great friend and mentor by setting a standard for many of us to follow because he truly had a servant’s heart, always working for the best interest of the people of Rutherford County.  The model of a true Southern gentleman whose handshake was his bond.  If he gave his honorable word, it was better than gold.”

Jones said Johns also had a role as the county historian in advocating for the preservation of the county’s Civil Warera courthouse on the Square in Murfreesboro.  “I will miss my great friend, and I know it’s the beginning of a beautiful eternity for this great man,” Jones said.  “Well done, my friend.”  In addition to serving on the County Commission, Johns served as the chairman of a county steering committee formed by County Mayor Ernest Burgess to provide advice on a comprehensive plan for future growth and development in the unincorporated areas.  Johns supported limits on development in the rural areas without sufficient water lines, roads and other needed infrastructure being available.

Commissioner McAdoo also remembered that Johns was instrumental in advocating for schools being built.

“He served on the education committee for several years,” McAdoo said.  “He was a big believer in education and building the schools, especially in the northern section of the county where the growth was.  He didn’t hold anything back on education — I know that.”

McAdoo said Johns also was instrumental in influencing state lawmakers to pursue widening of Jefferson Pike from Nissan Drive, where Gil’s Hardware is located, to state Route 840.  This project is still awaiting construction funds.

“He was a good commissioner, no doubt about that,” McAdoo said.  “He was a fair commissioner, and he believed in progress.”

To honor Johns, the Tennessee Department of Transportation named a portion of Jefferson Pike in honor of Johns, said state Rep. Mike Sparks, RSmyrna.

“TDOT put the sign right in front of his front yard,” said Sparks, noting that he and state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, made the naming request for the road. “To name the road after him was probably something that I really wanted to get done because he needs to be remembered. He challenged things when others wouldn’t challenge things, and he had some courage. And I think he needs to be honored.”

Sparks said he used to get political advice from Johns.

“He was his own man,” Sparks said.  “He was an old Southern Democrat, but we always got along good.”

Contact Scott Broden at 615-278-5158. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.

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