Johnny Welchance and Earl Scruggs
My good friend Johnny Welchance passed to his eternal reward this past Monday. Johnny and I go back to the fifth grade at White Oak Elementary School when his family moved to Lyndon Avenue just a few houses from my grandparents.
We went to school, played together, and walked to all the Vacation Bible Schools at churches in White Oak, because they were free.
I remember Johnny getting Lincoln Logs for Christmas and I just had to have a set. Both of us had red flyer wagons and would pull each other up and down Lyndon Avenue.
We even took our wagons to the nearby Chattanooga Memorial Park Cemetery and rode them down the big hill. Superintendent Harry Richey stopped us, but permitted one more ride. Mr. Richey said, “Boys, you can’t ride down that hill, we have funerals to conduct. Go ahead one more time, but don’t come back.”
His family purchased an upholstery shop on North Market Street in 1959 and Johnny would work after school with his dad, Rod.
Johnny was proud his father taught him to work at a very young age. He told me many times, “I learned how to treat the customer from my dad.”
Johnny opened a furniture store on Highway 58 and I was one of the first he called for radio advertising. We did a live remote broadcast on WDOD and sold lots of couches, dining room sets and mattresses. He said, “Radio listeners bought a lot of collegiate bean bags that helped keep my lights on.”
Johnny and his father advertised on the “Hey Earl Show” for over 20 years. I would often see the two at the Longhorn Restaurant on N. Market Street, Nikki’s near the Stringers Ridge Tunnel, and even remember their love for Gregory’s B-B-Q on Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank. Johnny said, “Nobody prepared hamburgers better than Wally West at Nikki’s.”
When Johnny’s father died in 2003, he took over Northside Upholstery on North Market Street and continued operating the business until early this year. The younger Welchance said, “I didn’t change anything; just kept the same business standards of Dad.”
If you talked to Johnny for any length of time, you found out about his love for bluegrass music. He and his father were good friends with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, even visiting in their homes. “I always asked him to play his famous Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” said Mr. Welchance.
What was his favorite tune by Flatt and Scruggs? Johnny responded, “They never recorded a bad record, I have most of them, even their CD collection. I do especially like all their Gospel songs. Growing up, Dad and I would listen to the duo early in the morning on WSM radio in Nashville. ”
Johnny Welchance would travel great distances to see his friends Jeff and Sherri Easter and the Lewis family. Sherri dedicated the song “Roses will Bloom again” to Johnny after his wife’s death.
I saw him at the “Three Sisters Bluegrass Festival” at Ross’ Landing visiting with his friends, The Dismembered Tennesseans: Fletcher Bright, Frank McDonald, Doc Cullis and Ansley Moses. Mr. McDonald said, “Johnny would rather listen to a good banjo tune then eat.”
Johnny and his father, Rod, visited the Mountain Opry on Signal Mountain many times. Their businesses sponsored several live radio broadcasts on WDOD. Mr. Welchance said, “I could listen to this music all night, this is real entertainment.”
I wasn’t surprised when Johnny called me this past January to say he was closing the upholstery shop (started by his father) and selling to a nearby developer. He said, “Chattanooga has been good to me and I’ll miss my customers, but the time has come to retire.” At that time, Northside Uplholsery was the oldest business operating in North Chattanooga.
A few months ago, Johnny spent over an hour visiting with Jim Sadler and myself, just reflecting on his life, talking about his dad and his love for bluegrass music.
He told us about knowing Bill Hall at the Town and Country Restaurant, the Bond Family at Bonds Drugs, Joe Kissinger at Northside Cleaners, Bill Dickerson, one-time Longhorn Restaurant owner, and other North Chattanooga business people. Mr. Welchance said, “We are just like a family; loved the community and would see each other often.”
Johnny couldn’t say enough good things about his family, especially his daughter, Misty. One of his favorite songs I would play for him was “Daddy’s Little Girl” by the Mills Brothers. Johnny said, “She’s a precious daughter.”
Johnny also loved the Lord. He said he enjoyed just spending time at a quiet spot on Chickamauga Lake reflecting about the goodness of God. Johnny said he wasn’t much of a church man, but knew that Jesus Christ died for him and he’d see Him someday because of his faith.
I knew Johnny Welchance for the better part of our lives. “Integrity” could have been Johnny’s middle name. I can’t remember anyone ever saying a negative thing about him or his businesses. Johnny Welchance was a man of his word and he was quick to tell you, “I learned it all from my Dad.”
Some of his final words to me were; “Dad told me many times, 'work hard, treat the customer right and you’ll always have food on your table' - it was the best advice I was ever given.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Chattanooga Funeral Home, North Chapel.
Johnny Duanne Welchance, age 74, of Harrison, Tennessee passed away on Monday, May 22, 2023.
A visitation for Johnny will be held Friday, May 26, 2023 from 4-8 p.m. at Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist-North Chapel, 5401 Highway 153.
The funeral service will occur Saturday, May 27, 2023 from 2-2:45 p.m., 5401 Highway 153, Hixson.
A burial will occur Saturday, May 27, 2023 at 3 p.m. at Hamilton Memorial Gardens, 5351 Highway 153, Hixson, TN 37343.
Contact Earl Freudenberg at