Chattanoogan: Bill Knowles Moved From Barber To County's Longest-Serving Official

Thursday, August 14, 2014
Bill and Marlene Knowles have three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren
Bill and Marlene Knowles have three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren

William Finley "Bill" Knowles moved from barbering to a career as the longest-serving Hamilton County official. And he is still going strong.

The Knowles family was living in St. Elmo when he was born in a rental house on Tennessee Avenue. Claude and Rose Campbell Knowles had five boys and a girl.

The Knowles clan had come from Virginia to the Carolinas and on to the Sparta, Tn., area. Bill's great-grandfather, Pettway Knowles, took six months for a wagon trip that brought him to Chattanooga, where he set up a store on Dodds Avenue.

Joe Knowles, father of Claude Knowles, died in his 40s.

Claude Knowles served both in the city police and fire departments at a time when they were one unit. He had gotten his city job with the help of St. Elmo Mayor Finley Seagle. That is how Bill Knowles got a middle name of Finley. Claude Knowles first worked at Mr. Seagle's Chattanooga Lumber Company.

Young Bill Knowles attended East Side Junior High School, and his sweetheart in the seventh and eighth grades was Marlene Coulter. Later, he would walk or bicycle to Central High School on Dodds Avenue from where the family was then living on E. 14th Street.

He said, "I knew my father only made $170 a month with the city so I always worked to pay for all my books and lunches."

One way he made money was by going into Loveman's and buying gift bags for a nickel apiece, then he would sell them for a quarter to people on the streets.

Bill also worked at a soda fountain inside Hamilton National Bank during the week and at Fountain Square Drugs on the weekends.

Claude Knowles was with the fire department when one of the city's biggest blazes broke out at Scholze Tannery. He was a detective when some robbers were holed up in Lookout Valley. He went to the back door and his partner, Clyde Shipley, to the front. Detective Shipley was shot and killed. Bill remembers that Detective Shipley had just been by their house bringing some items for the children.

Claude Knowles was also active in politics, running twice for sheriff.

After high school, Bill took a position as clerk for Judge Riley Graham. Then he was in the accounting office at Railway Express.

Bill renewed his courtship of Marlene Coulter and they were married in 1955. Her father, Buford Coulter, was a prominent barber, and he decided to follow that line of work in his shop at 701 Dodds.

Several of his regular customers were on the jury for the Jimmy Hoffa trial, and they requested their favorite barber. The marshals would bring them by at night under heavy security. "We made sure there were no newspapers lying around and the TV was not on," Bill recalls.

 Bill decided to again take a government job, and he joined the Full Employment Committee - a job training program started by Mayor Ralph Kelley. It had offices at the Warner Park Field House.

In 1974, when Dave Ramsey retired as county clerk, Bill decided to make his first political race. One of his staunchest backers was the prominent businessman Ray Evans.

He won and will soon be starting his 41st year in office. He again was the top vote-getter in the recent election.

Bill and Marlene started out living at 1508 Adair Ave. in East Ridge. He remembers they had one car at the time and he would leave it for Marlene while taking the bus to the barber shop. Later, they lived at Tyner, then built their present home on Concord Road in East Brainerd.

Bill was the church historian for the First Nazarene Church on Main Street for many years, and now they are members of Woodland Park Baptist Church.

One of their sons carries on the Finley name, and there is a William Finley Knowles IV now. Other children are Reba, who married Don Kunselman, and Alan. The three Knowles children went to Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville.

Bill Knowles has a real heart for serving the people, and he works many hours at home on the computer after the office closes. "I don't like people to have to be anxious about their tags or some other issue," he says.

He notes, "People are surprised when they get an email from me at midnight or 1 a.m. "They wonder, 'Is this really from the clerk?' "

 

   

Bill and Marlene Knowles
Bill and Marlene Knowles

East Brainerd Community Meeting To Be Held Feb. 18

The public is invited to join Commissioner Sabrena Smedley and Councilman Larry Grohn for a community meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at Morris Hill Baptist Church, 1804 Morris Hill Road.  "We will provide updates on issues affecting our community. We will be joined by three of our state representatives. They will be providing updates as well. I Look forward to ... (click for more)

Weekly Road Construction Report

Here is the weekly road construction report for Hamilton County:  U.S. 27 (I-124) widening from I-24/U.S. 27 interchange to north of the Olgiati Bridge over the Tennessee River, including widening the Olgiati Bridge:  Work on this project continues.  During this report period the contractor will be working on weeknights between 7 p.m.-6 a.m.  To continue work ... (click for more)

County School Board Considers "Best Practices Audit" On Compliance With Board Policies

The County School Board is considering carrying out a "Best Practices Audit" to determine if board policies are filtering down to the school level. Board member Greg Martin said members of the Superintendent's Student Leadership Council told him that only a fraction of students are familiar with board policies on bullying and other topics. Steve Highlander, another board member, ... (click for more)

Several Central City Schools Overcrowded, School Board Is Told

All the county school overcrowding is not out in the fast-growing East Brainerd and Ooltewah sections, school board members were told Thursday. Several central city schools are far above capacity. East Lake Elementary - with 655 students and a capacity of 493 students - is at 133 percent occupancy. Calvin Donaldson, Orchard Knob Elementary and East Side Elementary also are ... (click for more)

Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Even Athletes

From reading Randy Smith's column on the lawsuit against UT it is pretty evident that he never took a legal course in his life. I was under the impression that in this country one was innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. It appears this no longer applies to athletes(particularly black athletes) in the U.S. in 2016. I have always said that if I am picked for jury duty ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Warmth For Cold Days

I come across all sorts of warm things every day and as we burrow out of sub-freezing temperatures for a day or two, shaking off ice and snow, allow me to share a few things for a change that may take the bite out of the winter wind. This is what helps me. * * * Judy Bellenfant, who has been a soul mate ever since we shared jokes in high school classrooms, sends along this ... (click for more)