Holtsclaw marks 45 years as commissioner with only one absence

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Wayne Holtsclaw has three loves in his life: his other half, his sawmill, and Carter County. Hard work has propelled this man into a respected boss, friend, and local politician.
  Decades ago he knew everyone in Roan Mountain. Now he might not know every single person, but chances are he will remember some distant relative that lived in Roan Mountain 30 years ago.
  In 1948, at the young age of 18, he bought his first sawmill for only $1,800, by paying a $100 down payment and six percent interest on monthly $100 payments. "I found that old note one time and I showed it to Dave (previous owner) and said, 'I want to show you what a payer I was back in 1948. A hundred dollars a month was a lot back in 1948.'
  "I have got some boys who have been here with me for 30 years. Some of these boys have been here for more than 20 (years)," Holtsclaw said.
  During the interview with the Elizabethton Star, a 20-year plus worker bid Holtsclaw an afternoon goodbye after saying he had been with Holtsclaw Lumber for so long that he is "like a father to me."
  His success in the lumber business helped him purchase over 1,200 acres of land in Roan Mountain. "I have got too many irons in the fire that's for sure. I like to stay busy," he said. His wife, Willie, added, "He has worked hard for it -- real hard for it."
  Another part of him staying busy is giving back to his native area with hard work in the county government. As a county commissioner, Holtsclaw has represented the present day 2nd District for more than four decades.
  "I just enjoy it. I like county government. I like to work with the people. I like good schools and good roads," he said.
  Back in the good ol' days, the days weren't always so good when it came to property taxes. Holtsclaw said, "When I first ran on the court the tax rate was $5.88. Now it is $2.56. I believe that when I first started the tax assessment of the county was about $10 million. Now I think it is $488 million." Part of the high tax rate in the 1940s is contributed to three schools being condemned, two of them due to fire damages.
  At that time, 45 magistrates, from 18 districts, made up what is now called the county commission, now made up of only eight districts.
  Speaking of the past, a smile crossed his face when he thought of how busy he used to be with writing warrants and conducting weddings. His wife chimed in to say that he has married hundreds of couples over the years. At the Holtsclaw home, it wasn't unusual to see two couples at a time knocking on his door, especially on Saturdays. Because the local county executive or judge was not in the office on Saturdays, when some couples would get a marriage license from the county clerk's office, the thought of waiting until Monday was unacceptable. The woman "who used to be the county court clerk used to send me two at a time on Saturdays," Wayne said.
  "The first couple he ever married was like 80 and 59 years old," Willie said. "We have even had them come here with driver's licenses, trying to get married with just that. They didn't know they had to get a (marriage) license from the courthouse."
  "I have married on the saw dust pile, up at my first sawmill. I have married them in barns. In Tiger Valley a couple wanted to get married in a barn. They had a little hay ride down there and all their friends came in. They had horses all around. I have married several up in the state park," Wayne remembered.
  Wayne described the current year as the "worst year we have ever had." After a settlement was reached in the jail lawsuit, the commission is forced into a time frame to set up modular jail units and into reaching a long-term decision for a new jail. Because of this and overages in the expenses from medical costs of inmates, the commission raised the property tax rate 34 cents.
  "This is the worst year we have ever had with making the budget. We had a lot of new men on the court. What got me was when they would vote for it in the committee and then not vote for it on the court. I told them, 'There's no use to come to committee if you are going to do that,'" he said.
  Not only does he have monthly commission and committee meetings to attend, he is also a board member of Carter County Bank.
  Although Willie says, "I have been a widow all my life," Wayne insisted on relocating this interview to his house so this reporter could meet "his other half" as he lovingly called her. Since Wayne works hard enough for two people, Willie is athletic enough for two people. She modestly spoke of winning gold in the Senior Games at the state level in bowling, basketball, and softball. "I won in all the local, state, and then the nationals and he took me. He says he is my chaperone," Willie joked.
  When they do get time to spend together, their favorite pastime is traveling. In the past few years, they have traveled out west to 18 states, Canada, and Nova Scotia and they hope to make it to Alaska soon.
  The Holtsclaws married in 1948 after meeting during a revival at Crabtree Freewill Baptist Church. Wayne enlisted and served in the Army until 1956. They have one daughter, Theresa Isaacs, three grandchildren, Jasmine Bowman, 22, Jordan Loveless, 21, and Sharayah Moore, 17. Bowman and her husband, Daniel, also have two children, two-year-old Alexandra Bowman and one-year-old Landon Carter Bowman.
  At the thought of retirement, he joked, "I don't know what retirement is." As far as the commission goes, Wayne plans to run for at least one more term during the commission race of 2006. "I would like to have 50 years," he said. So far he is in his 45th year.
  According to his calculations, he and another Tennessee county commissioner are tied for second place for longest time in office. First place belongs to a commissioner who has been in office for one more year longer than Wayne. He does hold the record for least absences at county commission meetings. In 45 years, he has only missed one meeting. But he had a good doctor's excuse -- he was getting a pacemaker for his heart.