Chattanoogan: Joe Smith - Ordinary Name For An Extraordinary Person

Sunday, September 9, 2018
Joe Smith was sworn in to a seat on the School Board as his wife and daughter looked on
Joe Smith was sworn in to a seat on the School Board as his wife and daughter looked on

He's got as common a name as you can find - Joe Smith - but his life has been anything but run of the mill.

The District 3 School Board member had a long rocky start to his life, but he has been a champion for many similarly troubled kids for many years now.

"I was born in Hamilton County, but not this Hamilton County," Joe notes. He and his sister were born in Hamilton County, Ohio - Cincinnati - to an alcoholic couple.

He says, "When I was two weeks old and my sister was two years old, my parents decided to give us up. They didn't want us."

In a strange turn of events, the two abandoned little ones wound up down south in Hamilton County, Tn. Joe says, "We were adopted by a kind Chattanooga couple named Bill and Minnie Lee Smith. And we were very fortunate that we got to stay together."

He remembers that their new parents made no secret that they were adopted. "But they would tell us, "You're really special. We could have picked any other kids in the world."

Joe recalls that when he was 14 and his sister was 16 that their new father asked them if they wanted to meet their real father. They were both eager to do so. He said they were taken to a run-down, cold house in East Lake and introduced to a gnarled, unpleasant man. Joe says, "He tried to have a relationship with us, but he would say he was coming to one of our school events or ball games, then he wouldn't show."

Then in 1970, when Joe was walking off the football field after a game at Red Bank High School, his sister came running on the field. She was hollering, "I found her. I found our real mother." He notes, "That was really hard to do back then without the Internet."

He said they asked their adopted parents if they could go visit their mother in Cleveland, Ohio. The Smiths agreed to let them take their 1953 Buick ("that was built like a tank") as long as they would call each hour to let them know that they were okay.

They jumped in the car and made the long trip to Cleveland - calling each hour, then had a hard time (without modern GPS) finding the right residence. Eventually they came to a run-down house and a woman came to the door dressed only in a sheet. He said, "It was a house of prostitution. She didn't have much to say to us so we left after about five minutes and drove straight back to Chattanooga. I bet we didn't say two words going home. We cried the whole way back."

Joe went on to UT Knoxville, and that is where he had his first encounter with cocaine, which was to consume his life for many years. 

He returned to Chattanooga and married the little sister of his best friend, and they had two children. He started a successful insurance business. But he said an increasing dependence on cocaine was wrecking his marriage and business. "I lost everything."

Joe said he got to the point that his life was so miserable that he couldn't go on. He said he decided "I would go to Chickamauga Dam and blow my brains out." He loaded a pistol and began driving towards the dam. Then he ran out of gas. He notes, "I couldn't even kill myself."

A man driving by noticed his plight and offered to help. He said the man noted that he was troubled and asked him what was wrong. Joe said he put the man off at first, "then I poured my heart out to him."

He said the man told him he knew who he should talk to. He then drove him to Soddy Daisy and introduced him to Dr. Charles Clay, who had been in the Marine Corps. He said Dr. Clay "said all the right things to me."

Joe didn't catch the name of the man who  gave him the ride, but he considers him "an angel - just like my wife who stuck with me during the miserable years."

Joe then voluntarily went into rehab for six months. Afterward, he said he was given an opportunity by Crossroads director Chris Vass to work third shift "walking the halls." He said, "I was really just a security officer."

But he said he began to take such an interest in the troubled youngsters at the center that when his shift ended "I would clock out, but I would stay around." He got moved to second shift where he could work more directly with the problem youth. He notes, "I have been working with kids ever since." 

He was employed at a rehab hospital in Knoxville for a few years, then returned to Chattanooga, where he began the Y-CAP program for the YMCA in 1998. The program has been a lifesaver for a host of kids who face many of the same problems he did.

His son, Andy, got interested in boxing for a short time, and Joe quickly picked up "that this was a way I could reach some street-tough kids like nothing else." Boxing became a keystone of the successful Chattanooga Y-CAP program. Joe Smith developed many champions, and he became a prominent figure on the national and international boxing scene. He was the team manager for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team at the Beijing Olympics. He is getting ready to bring the U.S. and Germany boxing teams for a Chattanooga exhibition.

In the meantime, he and his wife began taking in kids who had nowhere else to go - just like Bill and Minnie Lee Smith did years ago. They have fostered 19 different children, including Roger who is now a manager of Y-CAP that is now led by Andy Smith, Joe's son.

Joe noted that after he retired from the Y that he was urged to run for the County Commission. He lost that race, but then the seat on the School Board opened up. He said, "Looking back, it was all in God's plan."

He said his work on the School Board "is perfect for me. It's right where I need to be - helping kids."

 


Soddy, Daisy And Montlake Historical Association Announces Holiday Hours And Open House

Weekly Road Construction Report

Capture Cleveland Photo Contest Winners Announced


The Good Old Days Museum is open this Saturday for an Old Fashioned Christmas complete with homemade ornaments, a real Santa and live tree. Santa is scheduled at the museum from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. ... (click for more)

Here is the weekly road construction report for Hamilton County: I-75 at I-24 Interchange Reconstruction: Phase 1 traffic shifts have been implemented. Traffic should expect multiple lane ... (click for more)

The city of Cleveland announces the winners of the 2019 Capture Cleveland Photo Contest. Fifty participants submitted pictures for the contest. This year, the contest had three categories ... (click for more)


Happenings

Soddy, Daisy And Montlake Historical Association Announces Holiday Hours And Open House

The Good Old Days Museum is open this Saturday for an Old Fashioned Christmas complete with homemade ornaments, a real Santa and live tree. Santa is scheduled at the museum from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Visitors are encouraged to come by for a photo and to explore the museum and artifacts. The museum is run by the Soddy, Daisy & Montlake Historical Association and ... (click for more)

Weekly Road Construction Report

Here is the weekly road construction report for Hamilton County: I-75 at I-24 Interchange Reconstruction: Phase 1 traffic shifts have been implemented. Traffic should expect multiple lane shifts traveling through the interchange. Lane closures will occur Sunday nights through Thursdays night between 9 p.m.-6 a.m. at the following locations: I-75 NB at state line, I-75 NB MM 2, ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Suspect In Bayberry Apartments Murder Taken Into Custody In Dramatic Fashion In Courtroom; Police Give Details Of Shooting

A man who was called a suspect in murders on Sunday night at the Bayberry Apartments was taken into custody in dramatic fashion in a courtroom at the Courts Building on Thursday morning. Later in the morning, Chattanooga Police said Mark Caslin, 26, has been charged in the slayings. Police said, "During the preliminary investigation, Chattanooga Police Department officers ... (click for more)

Attorney For Janet Hinds To Seek Change Of Venue; Trial May Be In Late Summer

An attorney for the Chattanooga woman who allegedly ran over and killed law enforcement officer Nicholas Galinger said he will ask a change of venue for her. Janet Hinds, 55, will be back in court in a couple of months. She is to have her trial date decided on Feb. 3. A trial date sometime in late summer was hinted at by defense attorney Ben McGowan. Other pre-trial hearings ... (click for more)

Opinion

Don't Stem The Tide Of Refugees In Tennessee

The Trump Administration has released a new executive order that could change the way that the refugee resettlement program is run in the United States. The first - and most shocking - change that is being implemented is the huge drop in refugees being allowed in the country. For the past decade, on average, around 80,000 to 90,000 refugees have been admitted per year. According ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: So Long ‘Til Next Time

There is a famous class that I’ve heard about years at Sewanee, one that is eagerly anticipated in the theology halls of the Episcopal seminary, where those hopeful of becoming priests must come to grips with one of life’s most daunting realities. Through the years I’ve talked to several of my friends who deeply appreciated the lessons because men and women of faith are each forced ... (click for more)