The following is one of several Collegeside member profiles written by Donna Smith over a period of several years. They tell the personal stories of some of our long-time members, some of whom are living and some of whom have gone on to be with their Lord. Their personal stories are an important part of the historical fabric of Collegeside.
John Stites claimed he wore out a good bicycle riding to Cookeville to court Evelyn Flatt. Sometimes he made it home to Algood by catching the midnight train as it traveled from Nashville, and sometimes he biked, skated or just walked. The train ride, after all, cost 15 cents!
John grew up in Algood, and Evelyn was born in Frankewing, near Pulaski, Tennessee.
Evelyn’s father moved to town when he was elected superintendent of schools in Putnam County. The family lived next door to her aunt and uncle on 10th Street near what is now the First Tennessee Bank property. Evelyn remembers often visiting Cookeville, where her grandfather owned Ideal and Piggly Wiggly groceries, before moving here when she was five years old.
Evelyn and John’s first date was to see a movie at the Princess Theater. They were freshmen in high school. Since John was not old enough to drive, a married couple from Builders’ Supply, where he worked, escorted them to the theater.
John was later captain of the Algood High School boys’ basketball team, and Evelyn was captain of Cookeville Central High School girls’ team.
They enrolled at Tennessee Tech and began to plan their marriage, but their plans were changed by the war. John signed up for the Navy and served in the Armed Guard on a Merchant Marine ship. His schedule was to be at sea for two weeks and then in New Orleans for two. The couple decided to get married on one of his leaves, so Evelyn traveled to New Orleans for the wedding with her cousin and John’s mother and sister. After the wedding, the newlyweds expected to continue the two weeks on and two weeks off schedule, but the Navy changed plans again. The day after the wedding John received his orders to ship off, and he spent the last year of the war in Guam.
After the war and one year after their marriage, the couple was back together in Cookeville. They built a house on Fisk Road, where they lived for 25 years.
When their three children—Johnny, Jack and Sarah—were young, the family was among the first to move from the Broad Street congregation to help begin Collegeside. They returned to the Broad Street/Jefferson Avenue church for a while and came back to Collegeside about 18 years ago.
After Johnny, Jack and Sarah all left for college, the couple decided to follow a dream and move to their farm. They lived in a log house there until their new house was completed. The original logs from that house are now a smoke house in their backyard.
John says he thought of the perfect design for his den. He can sit in his easy chair and see his fireplace, his TV, a window overlooking the farm, the kitchen (and his food being prepared) and anyone coming up his front drive.
Building is just one of John’s skills. His son Johnny says that he is a man way ahead of his time, partly because he reads and thinks about the future. Ask Evelyn to see the scrapbook she assembled entitled “The Men I Married.” The “men” are all one man, John, whose business ventures range from his Wholesale Building Materials company to golf courses, from farming to park benches, from oil wells to woodworking—too many for a simple list. His community involvement is impressive, too, including working with the Boy Scouts when his boys were young.
Johnny describes his mother as a servant example for the family. “She finds those with needs and quietly takes care of those needs; for example, she polishes nails for elderly residents at local nursing homes.
Evelyn, according to her husband, is the heart of the family, businesses and all.
One of the happiest days of their lives was when their children surprised them with their decision to move back to Cookeville and join the family business. One of their great joys is watching grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow as they spend time on the family farm.
The deepest joy of their lives is knowing their children and grandchildren have all been baptized and are trying to lead their families in service to the Lord.
That family is 42 strong and growing. John and Evelyn have 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, and their house is full of photos of precious children. Three more additions are expected this year with babies and a wedding. John has been busy lately trying to keep up with the special boxes he builds with wood from the farm for each of the great-grandchildren—cedar chests for the girls and cherry steamer trunks with walnut accents for the boys.
John and Evelyn will celebrate 61 years of marriage in March of this year.