You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Hiwassee closure is major economic blow; By-laws state property will go to the Holston Conference

When Hiwassee College announced last week the school would close next month, not only was there a major impact on current and past students, the news came as a big economic blow to the community as well.

Hiwassee College President Dr. Robin Tricoli said almost 100 people work at the college located in the center of the county in Madisonville. The employees and students spend money throughout the county as do the visiting sports team when they came to play the Hiwassee Tigers.

Monroe County Mitch Ingram is an alumnus of the college and taught at the college previously. He said it is estimated the college contributes $3-$5 million annually to the county’s economy.

With this level of an economic impact, it is vital that we do not forget the individuals affected by this,” Ingram told The Advocate & Democrat. “Not only do we have students that have called Monroe County home over the past couple of years, we have local students who are also looking into an uncertain academic future. Most of the faculty and staff at Hiwassee College are also Monroe County residents. All of them are now scrambling to find jobs in order to continue to support their families. Please keep the students, faculty, and staff in your prayers and offer support to them in any way that you possibly can.”

Ingram paid tribute to what Hiwassee College has meant to the county for nearly two centuries.

“As a former employee, and most importantly, an alumnus, I am deeply saddened by the closing of an institution that has been a vital part of our county for 170 years,” Ingram said. “I believe that the positive impact that Hiwassee College has had on our community will continue to be felt for many years to come.”

But what will become of the campus after the students leave in May?

Monroe County has already seen the former TMI/TMG 140-acres campus fall into ruin in Sweetwater. There is an effort among past and present students and others to save the college, but there could but what happens to the campus if that effort is not successful.

“At this time, there is plenty of speculation on the future of the campus that currently holds Hiwassee College,” Ingram said. “Moving forward, it would be ideal for an organization to make use of the campus, through the purchase of the property, as we do not want to see the campus vacant for an extended period of time. As the county government, like with any new business in our communities, large or small, we would welcome them with open arms.”

Hiwassee College is a long-time ministry partner of the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church. The University Senate of The United Methodist Church voted in February to de-list the college as one of their affiliated schools, but the college was appealing the decision.

Rev. Dr. Tim Jones, the director of communications for the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church, told The Advocate & Democrat on Friday morning that while Hiwassee College is its own entity, owning all of its buildings and property, the by-laws written when the college was established state that if the college were to ever close, once all debt had been taken care of, the property would be given to the Holston Conference.

“The Holston Conference is the lein holder on all the property, some as a first lein holder and some as the second,” said Rev. Jones.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency also has a lein on the campus.

Annually, Jones said the Holston Conference budgeted $50,000 to give to Hiwassee College. While rumors about The United Methodist Church loaning the college money have surfaced, Jones noted that the Holston Conference is not aware of that happening.

“However, there have been times when the Holston Conference has loaned money to the college,” he said.

Jones said the Holston Conference has received several calls expressing interest in the property since the announcement of Hiwassee’s closure.

“Once we have received the property, the Holston Conference Board of Trustees will do a full assessment of the buildings and land. Once they have received all the information needed, a plan will be put together to work out the next steps,” he said. “At this point, no decision has been made.”

Michael Thomason | The Advocate & Democrat 

Hiwassee students and former students protest with signs on campus Friday morning after the college’s Board of Trustees voted on March 28 to close the school at the end of this spring semester (May 10). Earlier this week, a meeting was scheduled that was initially thought to be open to the public to address concerns and questions about the closure of the college with President Dr. Robin Tricoli and the Executive Committee. A day later, however, the college’s administration announced that the meeting would be closed to the public and only open to the faculty and staff. Following that decision, the students, alumni and community members voiced frustrations with the lack of answers from Tricoli and the Board of Trustees, staging a protest on campus during the closed meeting in an attempt to be heard. Students were refused entry into the Barker Learning Center, where the meeting was being held, being forced to stand outside the building in the rain with their signs. When students made an attempt during the meeting to enter the building, a couple of faculty members had to leave the meeting to silence and calm the students when law enforcement entered the building with a K-9 dog to escort them back outside. The media was also not allowed in the meeting or near the building where it was being held. See more details in an upcoming edition of The Advocate & Democrat.

Photo courtesy of Paul Chapman 

A fire at Lynn Lumber Company on Wiggins Road in Tellico Plains on Thursday afternoon quickly spread, bringing devastation to the long-time, family-owned sawmill. Fire departments from across Monroe County responded to the flame, and fire responders from other counties were also called in to help stop the fire from continuing to spread in the windy conditions. The Sheriff’s Office report on the fire at the sawmill, owned by Ronnie and Pat Lynn, was not available before The Advocate & Democrat’s press time on Friday morning.

Bicentennial banner, coin sales kick off

To celebrate Monroe County’s Bicentennial, several keepsake items are being sold in honor of the historic event.

To observe the county’s 200-year birthday all year long, the Bicentennial Committee is selling banners that local businesses and organizations can purchase to support the celebration. These 30-inch-by-60-inch banners are double-sided and feature the logo design by Sweetwater High School art instructor Matthew Mikos. A business or organization’s name can be added to the bottom of the banner.

The banners can be installed on the electric or telephone poll of the business or organization’s choice. Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative has agreed to install the banners as needed in the Vonore and Tellico Plains areas. Sweetwater and Madisonville have bucket trucks and will assist with the installation of the banners in their cities.

The street banners are $250 each and include the hardware for their installation. If a business or organization already has the hardware, they can purchase just the banner.

Banners can be purchased from any of the Bicentennial Committee members or at a few locations, including the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce (see Brandy Gentry), The Advocate & Democrat (see Tommy Millsaps or Jessica Kent) and Madisonville City Hall (see Sherri McCrary).

In addition to the banners, commemorative coins will be sold to celebrate the Bicentennial. The coins are $20 each and will first be available at the Airport Appreciation Day event, which will be held on Saturday, April 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Monroe County Airport. After that, the coins will be available for purchase from Bicentennial Committee members and at a variety of locations in the county. If purchases are made using a check, checks need to be made out to Monroe County Government.

More details will be released soon on locations where 200-year memorabilia will be available for purchase.

At its last meeting on March 28, the Bicentennial Committee voted to put emblems on all welcome signs in Monroe County in honor of the county’s Bicentennial. The emblems feature the logo design by Dallas Kirkland, which is also displayed on the commemorative coins. The emblem on the welcome sign in Madisonville has already been installed and emblems on the other welcome signs in the county will be installed soon.

The Bicentennial Committee also voted to have a kickoff event for the 200-year Celebration on Saturday, June 8 (tentative) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be a community picnic held in the county seat—downtown Madisonville. A subcommittee was created to help plan the kickoff event and more details will be fore coming as plans come together.

After a short debate, the committee voted to make the Bicentennial logos exclusive, meaning they cannot be used by anyone but the Bicentennial Committee and County Government.

The Bicentennial Committee will meet again on Thursday, April 18 and will hear an update from the subcommittee in charge of planning the County Fair.

More charges in missing girl case

A Wisconsin man already facing charges in connection with a missing Madisonville teenager now faces more charges when a new superseding four-count indictment was handed down against him this past week in federal court in Madison, Wis.

Court papers filed in federal court in the Western District of Wisconsin on April 3 show Bryan Rogers, 31, faces two new federal charges of knowingly transporting the teen across state lines for the purpose of committing sexual assault of a child. The indictments allege those offenses with the girl occurred on or about Jan. 14 and Jan. 28.

Rogers was previously charged in February with persuading the minor to engage in sexual conduct for the purpose of capturing it on video, then transporting the video across state lines, as well as lying to the FBI about not having any in-person contact with the teen. Those charges still remain against him in the new superseding indictment.

Rogers had allegedly asked the teen to make a video of herself being sexually assaulted by her stepfather at their Madisonville home as proof to hold against him, but messages between the two show Rogers initially didn’t want to see the video or come to get her in Madisonville. However, investigators say Rogers eventually changed his mind and the video was sent to him and he came to get the girl in January.

Rogers had sought to make bail, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Oppeneer said he was “making no judgment about whatever motives Bryan Rogers, 31, may have had when he is alleged to have persuaded the 14-year-old girl to make a video of herself being sexually assaulted by an adult, or about the likelihood of success that prosecutors would have of getting a conviction,” but said there was enough evidence for him to believe Rogers had violated a federal law by persuading the girl to make the video and then send it to him.

Rogers’ lawyer, Jonas Bednarek, had filed papers making a case that Rogers wasn’t a flight threat nor presented a danger to anybody, but has remained in jail.

The girl was reported missing Jan. 14, and a tearful press conference was held a couple of weeks later with her parents asking for help finding her. Less than a week after that her adoptive father, Randall Pruitt, was arrested and charged with raping the girl. Pruitt is expected to appear before a Monroe County Grand Jury in May.

Rogers had pleaded not guilty to the original charges against him had a trail date set for July. The court documents filed in the latest charges against him did not specify if the new charges will mean a new trial date.

For previous stories about this case, please visit

Reaching out to young people in Monroe County

If you are young, hip and cool, Monroe County will soon have a club for you to join.

Called Monroe Young Professionals, the aim of the group is to bring together people between the ages of 21-40 to help promote Monroe County as a place to work and live.

The group will be headed up by a board of seven people and is currently being put together by Donna Martin from the Monroe County Economic Development Office, Courtney Dalton-Viar from the Monroe County Finance Office and Monroe County’s United Way Director Caylen Gibson-Matoy.

“It’s being run out of the Economic Development office,” Martin said, “but all decisions will be made as a board.”

The other four board members will come from the four towns in Monroe County, to give each area proper representation.

“We’re reaching out to several people and hope to have the board in place soon,” Viar said.

Networking will be a big part of the organization and the first event of what is hoped to be many will be held May 23 at the Lakehouse Grill in Vonore.

“These events will be called ‘Live After 5,’” Matoy said. “They will start at 5:30 p.m. giving people enough time to get off work. We hope to have these events in each town on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis.”

Even though the first event will be held May 23, the group will follow the government fiscal year of July through June. There will be some government funding to get it started, but the group hopes to eventually exist through membership dues.

“Membership will be $25 a year and that grants you access to all our events where you can network, find out what is happening in the county and the chance to be around people your own age,” said Gibson.

Membership money will be used to fund meals, events and merchandise.

The group will also seek sponsorships for their events. Businesses that sponsor events as a platinum member will receive free memberships for all eligible employees and gold sponsors will receive 50-percent off employee memberships.

The group’s mission is to “attract, engage and connect emerging leaders and young professionals in Monroe County.”

Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram, who created the program, said, “I am very excited about engaging this wonderful group of professional, tradesman and craftsmen. These young professionals will be directing our leadership, infrastructure and day-to-day lifestyle not only in the future, but also the present. We invite anyone of any profession to take part in this wonderful new group.”

Viar said that anyone is indeed welcome.

“College educated, non-college educated, working man or boss,” she said. “We want you all there. And, you don’t have to be from Monroe County. You’re welcome from all areas.”

The group will have a sense of humor and if you are 41 years old and try to sneak in, they will find you out.

“We’ll be carding everyone,” Matoy said.

The group will have modest goals starting out, hoping to initially get 25-40 members, but would like to reach 100 members by the end of the first year. They would also like to get involved in service projects as a group.

“We want to be all over Monroe County,” Matoy said. “We really want to get young people engaged.”

Anyone with an interest in the group can email or call Martin at 423-442-3652.