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Rogersville
Dr. Michael D. Belcher, Director of Hancock County Schools, passes away after a brief illness

Newly appointed Director of Schools, Dr. Michael D. Belcher, passed away on Sept. 20 after a brief illness.

Since July 1 of this year, Belcher had served as the Director of Hancock County Schools. He was proud to serve in this capacity and wanted only the best for our students, teachers and community.

“I’m just overwhelmed with the responsibility and I am looking forward to the challenge of trying to make this the best school system anywhere around,” Dr. Belcher told the Review/Eagle at the end of the meeting when he was chosen as the new director.

Belcher was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and moved to Tennessee at an early age. He spent most of his life residing in the mountains of Hancock County. Better known to some as “Doc”, Belcher earned his Doctoral Degree, and all degrees preceding, from East Tennessee State University.

Belcher was 58 years old, and his 32-year education career was spent almost entirely in Hancock County.

Before he was appointed as Director of Schools, he served as a classroom teacher, principal of Mulberry Gap School, Kyles Ford School, Hancock Elementary School, Hancock Middle/High School, and Supervisor of Special Populations.

In 1983, he received his first assignment as Principal of the former Mulberry Gap Elementary, where he also taught grades K-8, and coached three basketball teams.

In 1984, due to system-wide layoffs, as one of the last people hired, he was laid off, but was re-hired five years later to teach at Hancock Elementary when it was still in the old “Rock Building”.

During his six years at HES, he taught sixth grade for two years, fifth grade for four years, and also coached the boys varsity basketball team.

In 1995, he was re-assigned to the former Kyles Ford Elementary as a teaching principal (K-8), and also coached three basketball teams.

Five years later, he was re-assigned — and served for an additional five years — as principal of Hancock Elementary (K-8), one year in the “old” building prior to construction of the new elementary school.

In the 2004-05 school year, he was assigned as Director of the Special Education Department where he worked during the illness and later passing of the program’s director at the time.

During the 2006-07, school year, Dr. Belcher became the assistant to former Director of Schools Mike Antrican, a position he held for two years before being re-assigned in the 2008-09 school year for a seven-year stint as principal of Hancock Middle and High School.

From 2016 to 2020, Dr. Belcher held the position of Director of Special Programs, where he supervised and oversaw Special Education, OCR, Homebound, Homeschool, Alternative School, Section 504, Gifted Education, Title 9/Discrimination, and evaluations for all principals and assistant principals.

In addition, he performed contract work with Grand Canyon University (2004-06) to do site visits and mentor online Education Students, and served as an Adjunct Professor for Lincoln Memorial University (2006-08) where he taught Pre-Law and Masters Degree-level Education classes.

He was also chosen by the Kellogg Foundation to be part of a principal-only doctoral educational group made up of 20 administrators in the First Congressional District.

{span}Dr. Belcher had four children — two of whom are teachers in the Hancock Co. School System — and six grandchildren.{/span}

In his spare time, he enjoyed outdoor activities, deer hunting, and wade-fishing for trout and smallmouth bass.

He was an avid fan of University of Tennessee sports, including men’s basketball, football, and Lady Vols basketball.

“Belcher had a passion for family, education, and the outdoors,” read his obituary. “He was a loving husband, dedicated father, and cherished granddad. He loved being an educator and the highlight of his life was helping young minds develop. His wisdom and insight in the education field will be dearly missed. He was a true sportsman at heart and had a deep love for hunting and fishing. It can easily be said that whatever he was doing, he was doing it wholeheartedly.”

He will be greatly missed by the school family.

Hancock Co. Schools were closed on Thursday, Sept. 24 in honor of Belcher. All other activities, including sports, were canceled as well.

Services for Belcher were held at McNeil Funeral Home, with visitation on Wednesday and funeral on Thursday.


Rogersville
A product of friendship and a taste of home: Taste of Chicago opens in downtown Rogersville

Downtown Rogersville’s newest dining experience recently opened its doors and is ready for customers.

The product of a friendship and a collective dream, Taste of Chicago offers authentic Chicago-style cuisine in a casual, grab-and-go atmosphere.

Diners will likely first meet Jonathan Hentrix, who serves as the operations manager and runs the “front of the house,” Joey Bucio is the restaurant’s chef and menu creator, and Cody Fobber is the investor and business manager. All three are also part-owners, but Hendrix and Bucio run the restaurant full-time.

Though Fobber and Hendrix are native East Tennesseans, chef Bucio was born and raised in Chicago.

The restaurant has actually been open since July 1, but the official grand opening and ribbon cutting with the Rogersville/Hawkins County Chamber of Commerce took place on Sept. 11.

The restaurant is located at 114 E Main Street in the former Sweet Tooth Café location and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“A piece of my home was missing”

Fobber told the Review that the idea for the restaurant was formed out of a friendship between the three entrepreneurs. The specific Chicago theme, though, was the brainchild of Chicago native Bucio.

“I met Jonathan when he was working for me in my construction company,” Fobber said. “It was through Jonathan that I met Joey, as he and Joey had been big buddies for around two years. As we got to talking, we formed the idea together of opening this restaurant. We just honed our ideas together into what Taste of Chicago is now.”

Bucio was born and raised in the Portage Park area of Chicago, which is on the Northwest side of the city. He moved to Rogersville to assist his parents, who had recently moved to the area.

“I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years, and cooking is what I love doing most,” Bucio said. “There was just something missing down here in Rogersville, and I soon realized that it was a piece of my home that was missing. So, I decided to bring a little piece of home with me here.”

Bucio also invites customers to contribute to the feeling of ‘home.’

“If the customers have any type of Chicago memorabilia they would like to donate, I have a hallway that is meant for the customers to hang up pictures on,” he said. “Their name goes on a list, they become a lifetime member with us, and they get a 5% discount with us for the lifetime that we’re open. I want to be part of the crowd and just have a little fun with it.”

COVID-19 puts business on hold

Like every business, Fobber noted that COVID-19 has put a damper on the restaurant in numerous ways.

“The idea originated back in February before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fobber told the Review. “That actually delayed the opening. I would have been ready with the kitchen equipment to open around the first of March. COVID-19 struck right about that time, so it really put a damper on things. Really, we were just sitting there waiting for a while for the go-ahead to open up.”

Grab-and-go style

The trio actually tossed around several other restaurant-related ideas before settling on Taste of Chicago.

“We bounced back and forth several different ideas from a food truck to a fine-dining restaurant,” he said. “Then, we just kind-of landed somewhere in the middle doing a quick takeout, lunch-style, grab-and-go restaurant that Taste of Chicago is.”

Though Fobber noted that visitors can dine in to enjoy the food, they also offer these quick, take-out options.

Unlike a fine-dining restaurant, Taste of Chicago has no wait staff. Visitors place their order at the counter and can choose a drink from the nearby cooler. After a few minutes, the food is brought to the counter.

“You can take it back to your seat, or even go out the door with it,” Fobber said. “Even the drinks are bottled, so everything travels well.”

They also hope to soon offer Chicago-style deep dish pizzas as well as delivery options.

The food that says ‘home’

“Everything there is fresh,” Fobber told the Review. “We don’t have anything come in frozen, and we season everything ourselves. Our bread is baked fresh every, and our vegetables and meat are all bought locally. Pretty much every flavor that you get is something we have created.”

They even hand-make a special menu item that they call ‘mozzarella onion rings,’ which are traditional onion rings stuffed with mozzarella cheese.

Fobber also told the Review that the restaurant uses Vienna brand Italian beef, which is the same brand used by Chicago-based restaurants.

Many of the menu items are quite meaningful to menu creator Bucio.

“The Chicago-style hotdog is home no matter what,” he said. “You come to any Chicago-style restaurant, and the Chicago dog is the go-to. They’ve been making that hotdog since the 1800’s there, and it’s been done right since then. The Italian beef has also been around in Chicago for many years as well. Those are two sandwiches that say ‘home.’”

Community feedback

Fobber told the Review that the restaurant has received only positive feedback so far.

“Everybody has really liked the food,” he said. “We’ve been asking around, and we haven’t had a single complaint on food quality. Everyone seems to like our prices, too, because our prices are—by quantity—the best in Rogersville. We try to stay as low as possible and still be able to make money.”

“It’s been a big hit with the crowd so far, and I couldn’t be happier,” Bucio said. “All three of us are pushing as hard as we can for the crowd, so everyone can come in and enjoy what this is. We’re especially excited to bring something to downtown. I love being down here, and I want to give them a reason to come downtown again.”

It began as a friendship

The impetus behind the Chicago theme, Bucio moved to Tennessee to assist his retired parents.

“My parents came down here to retire and actually didn’t retire—they became foster parents instead,” he said. “They eventually wound up adopting. My dad later came down with bad arthritis and needed a hand doing property upgrades and things like that. Me being a chef, it’s easy for me to pick up my knives and work in any kitchen. When I came down here, I fell in love with what it was like here—the peacefulness, the realness of people and how nice everyone is. You can’t get what this is here back in Chicago. It was a change, but, in the long run, it was worth it.”

Bucio was trained under Chef Chris Nugent, who is the chef and owner of Goosefoot, a fine dining restaurant located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.

“He taught me the respect and love for food,” Bucio said. “I have been cooking professionally since I was 13.”

His first cooking job was actually at a restaurant called Toot’s Drive Thru.

“Ever since then, I have never stopped working in the industry,” he said. “There’s just something about the charm about it. I’ve stuck with it my whole life, and I’ve learned all the aspects of the industry, from bartending, being a bouncer and being a dishwasher. You name it, I’ve done it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Fobber was born and raised in Rogersville and is known around the community for his entrepreneurship. He became the new owner of the Crye-Leike of Rogersville Realty Group in March of 2018. He ran a sole proprietor renovation and repair business for several years. Fobber later received his general contractor’s license and opened Fobber Construction Industries, which builds new constructions. He also owns several rental properties in the area and runs a small appliance repair business as a hobby.

Though most of Fobber’s business interests are quite different than the restaurant business, Fobber told the Review that he’s always “been interested in the idea of owning a restaurant.”

In fact, he got his first taste of the restaurant business by owning a hotdog cart a few years ago.

“I always like to diversify,” he said. “I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket, and I also believe in investing in people. That’s where Jonathan and Joey come in. I like working in the kitchen whenever I am around and have time, but I am more invested in those two than I am the actual restaurant. Joey is passionate about food and what comes out of the kitchen. He wants everything to be right, and it is the same way with Jonathan. They’re both in it to win it, and I am investing in their mindset towards that more so than the brick-and-mortar building.”

Bucio and Hendrix actually worked together at the former Blue Ridge Package store before starting Taste of Chicago.

“Part of what sold me on [Bucio and Hendrix] is that they’re both approachable, personable and friendly,” Fobber said. “People like to talk to them.”

Bucio told the Review that after the three had bounced ideas around about a restaurant for a while, Fobber asked Bucio for a tasting of his Chicago cooking.

“I actually set up a stage at his (Fobber’s) house, and I cooked for him, his parents, Jonathan and a few other people,” he said. “The tasting went very well, and it’s how we got to be where we are today.”

For more information on Taste of Chicago, visit their website at https://www.restaurantji.com/tn/rogersville/taste-of-chicago-/.


Rogersville
Budget Committee rejects school system's bond request for energy upgrades

The Hawkins County Board of Education voted at their August meeting to move forward with the 13.7 million worth of energy-efficiency upgrades that Trane representatives recommended after conducting a system-wide energy efficiency audit.

However, the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee recently rejected the BOE’s request for the necessary $9.5 million bond to complete the project.

This decision came after Cumberland Securities bond adviser Chris Bessler told the committee at their Sept. 21 meeting that the county would have to raise the property tax rate by 5 cents beginning in 2021-22 to cover bond payments for the next 20 years, which will be about $640,000 annually.

“Absolutely, I am not going to vote for a 5-cent tax increase,” said Commission Chairman Rick Brewer at the committee meeting.

The issue is still on the agenda for the upcoming Sept. 28 full commission meeting, though it won’t be recommended by the budget committee. At the Commission meeting, Director of Schools Matt Hixson said he plans to present the commission with information detailing why the project is necessary.

Background

After conducting a full energy efficiency audit at all school system buildings, Trane representatives determined that roughly $13.7 million worth of work is needed.

The bulk of the project will require switching over to LED lighting system-wide and replacing the HVAC systems at both high schools.

Hixson noted that the LED project will cost roughly $2.7 million and will generate roughly $400,000 per year in savings.

By completing these energy-efficiency projects, the school system will save money on utilities and use much of these savings to pay for the project itself.

“You guys have duct board that is only supposed to last about 20 years, but you guys have had it there for 40 years,” Trane senior energy engineer Craig Washburn told the BOE. “It has holes in it, and you’re basically air conditioning above the ceiling right now.”

He suggested replacing this with metal ductwork, which he said could last between 30 to 40 years. This is opposed to the type of ductwork currently found in the building that lasts 15 to 20 years.

The project would also replace all of the rooftop units that are original to the school and all of the small, outdoor units that serve individual classrooms.

Trane guarantees the energy savings from its projects, but they cannot measure the current energy lost from the worn-out ductwork in the high schools, so they would not predict or guarantee the specific amount saved from replacing the ductwork.

In order to pay for the entire project, the BOE could borrow up to $5 million from the Tennessee Energy Efficient Schools Initiative (EESI) at an interest rate of .5%, which would be repaid through the energy savings the system will receive at the completion of the project.

The BOE was required to present a resolution to the county commission at their September meeting to ask for the $9.5 million bond issue to cover the cost of the HVAC project.

“I won’t raise taxes”

Bessler told the Budget Committee that now is actually a good time to ‘float a bond’ if there are capital outlay projects that the county will have to do anyway, as bond interest are down to approximately 2.5%.

“Interest rates are at all-time lows right now,” he added. “It’s definitely a good time to enter the market.”

Over the 20-year life of the $9.5 million bond, Bessler estimated that the county would pay around $2.67 million in interest, for a total cost of $12.17 million.

When the bond goes out for bid, however, Bessler told the committee that the actual interest rates that are submitted will likely be below estimate.

However, as aforementioned, Brewer was outspokenly against raising taxes to pay for this project. He also noted that the county is currently looking at around $800,000 to put a new roof on the county justice center.

“We wouldn’t be asking if this wasn’t necessary”

“We wouldn’t be asking for this if it wasn’t a necessary, long-term expense,” Hixson told the committee. “It’s something that we can’t afford on our own, so that’s why we are here. Even if the school system set aside $1.5 million per year, it would take over a decade to pay off, and that’s in anticipation of all the problems we’ve had over the last 40 years with these systems. This is not something we want to spend money on, but, at this point, it is a need.”

“Keep in mind, we’re approximately $83 million in debt now in this small county,” Mayor Jim Lee told the Committee. “Also, we’ve got over $4 million of capital projects that we’re in dire need of. We’re just doing things gradually, and I think this project could be done gradually, too. I think Matt’s doing a great job, but this can wait.”

“With all due respect, it (HVAC systems) is being held together with duct tape, cardboard and other things up there in the duct work” Hixson replied. “We’ll do whatever you guys want us to do, but, when the education debt service fund is borrowed from and never put back, we find ourselves in a pickle when we have these big issues come up.”

Hixson was referencing the fact that, over the past decade, the County Commission has “borrowed” about 7 cents worth of property tax revenue, or nearly $800,000 annually, from the BOE’s debt service fund in order to balance the county budget.

“That alone would have paid for the bulk of this if it had remained in the queue,” Hixson said.

“We have big issues ALL the time,” Lee replied. “Our issues don’t just come up—they’ve been there for years.”

“We’re willing to put some money toward this project, but I would like some pennies to come back into the (school) debt service so that both entities are paying for it,” Hixson said. “We can’t contribute much, but we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is because this is a very important project and much needed. I think that would be a worthwhile compromise to consider before you all vote to potentially not even take it to the commission.”

“I wish we hadn’t spent $1.25 million on turf”

Commissioner Valerie Goins noted that this bond request comes just three months after the BOE approved a $1.25 million purchase of artificial turf at both Volunteer and Cherokee High Schools. Though this purchase was eventually approved by the commission, several commissioners spoke out strongly against the purchase.

“I wish we hadn’t spent $1.25 million on turf, and I didn’t vote for it,” Goins said. “I feel like that was irresponsible. I wasn’t for it from the beginning, and I still wish we hadn’t done that. That would have gone a long way towards this HVAC project.”

“It’s public perception, too,” Lee said. “You’ve already spent $1.25 million for turf, now you’re doing this again. We’ve got to put the brakes on somewhere.”

“If [the bond] doesn’t pass today, I will go back to the board and see what we can do about coming up with money,” Hixson said. “We’re still in the process of advertising and getting donations for the turf project, which I told the Commission we would do. Until some of those are formalized, we probably could use some fund balance to pay off the turf to show the public that we’re working on it. This project (HVAC) is still well beyond our reach, even if we emptied out our reserves.”

Goins made a motion to send the bond resolution on to the full commission, but her motion died for lack of a second.

Hixson noted after the committee meeting that the system will likely still move forward with the switch to LED lighting even if the commission rejects the bond for the HVAC project.


Lucas Williams Fieldhouse is now emblazoned on the building in the team’s maroon, gray and white colors and features the Warriors logo, Williams’ actual signature and his football number 45, which is being retired Oct. 1.