Who built modern Kingsport?

Much of Kingsport’s centennial celebration seems to be focused on its founding. Far less emphasis has been placed on the past few decades. This is in part understandable, since much of its character and growth occurred in its early years. However, many of the visible manifestations of Kingsport today occurred over the past quarter century.

It might, therefore, be relevant to ask, “Who built modern Kingsport.”

The obvious response might be to look at the usual cast of suspects: industry leaders, local politicians (of which I have been one), and community notables. They are the faces in the paper and on the television news flipping a shovel full of previously tilled earth at ground breakings. However, I think the true answer rests with a more humble group, the ones who actually “built” Kingsport.

My dear friend H. “Greg” Hensley was one of those guys. He recently passed and our community will be all the less as a consequence.

As a grading contractor, Greg quite literally changed the face of our community. I worked with him for over twenty five years and considered him a mentor and friend. I learned more from him than from all the “book learn’n” I’ve had.

Greg often yanked my fat out of the fire. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t balk. He just asked what I needed and made it happen (perhaps with a grumble). That is just who he was.

He was also a veteran, one of the thousands who receive care from the VA system. He was poisoned by Agent Orange in Vietnam. As a combat rigger, he dispersed the canisters from the back of a C-130, then swept up the remnants. He did what his country asked and paid a price. This stands in sharp contrast to so many of our political leaders (at all levels), who demand sacrifice from others, but run for cover when the same is asked of them.

He did not do it alone. His guys were the workhorses. Clyde and Richard are artists whose canvas is the earth and brushes are big machines. They could level a tough piece of property to within an inch across a football field-sized area from atop 10-ton dozer.

These are men who work with their hands. They suffered through heat and cold, wind, rain and snow. They literally moved mountains around this town. There are innumerable major projects that now shape the outline of Kingsport that bear their mark.

While Greg is exemplary of the people I admire, there are many others. We seem to forget, in all of our self-congratulations, that real people do the work.

I was once speaking to a representative of a local coal company and he said, “We are just dirt-guys.” It struck me that he stated that not as a derogatory term, rather as a badge of honor.

Every project I have ever done was built by skilled tradesmen who toiled to bring the vision of others to reality. In a concrete sense, this community and every other one in this country was built by these people, who are often at the lower end of the economic system and not generally acknowledged by those of power and wealth.

They often don’t look pretty. In fact, some of the rougher types can be downright intimidating. But, they have usually exhibited a huge heart. If it went beyond the trivial, I would trust my life and that of family to many of them before I would most of my peers.

The reality is that such people have always been there in the background. Industrial figureheads may go down in the history books, but it is these people who do most of the heavy lifting.

Certainly, our local leaders get some claim for progress, but I think it is far less significant than is portrayed. The lion’s share was done by men and women who go to work every day to create the world we enjoy.

They don’t get a building named for them. They don’t get a plaque from the Chamber of Commerce. No one asks them to speak at a service club. But, day in and day out they labor to make our society a better place.

Who built modern Kingsport? Greg did. It was an honor to work with him…and hundreds of others just like him.

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2 Responses

  1. Joan Holt says:

    Cudos to you Dave Clark for introducing these behind the scenes “worker bees”. It was very interesting and enlightening to read about the early leaders of this century old city but I’m even more impressed to know of the men who made the dreams happen. A heartwarming, outstanding commentary!!
    God bless you!

  2. Alexis J. Waddell says:

    I KNOW that it is!
    I grew up living just outside a military base A
    and my dad was a Veteran of WW ll. We
    always KNEW what the American flag meant
    and stood for. This honorable man always
    stood up for what he believed to be the right
    thing to do in any situation; and would be
    Mortified at what is going on in the United
    States of America that he stood for and
    fought for!