ROGERSVILLE — “Big” John Wolfe passed away this past week in Rogersville leaving a great legacy in the history of both Rogersville and the Lions Club.
Most people remember John as the owner of J&W Grocery Market, an employee at the old Super Dollar, then Saveway, but more recently Big John’s Restaurant on East Main Street in Rogersville.
While John was a businessman, he put countless hours into his passion — the Lion’s Club — where in 2013, he was inducted into the National Lion’s Hall of Fame.
As a Lions Club member for 60 years, John was involved in the eye screenings of tens of thousands of children. He was one of the first Lions Club members in East Tennessee and pioneered the screening process in not only Hawkins County but in adjoining counties like Grainger and Hancock.
At age 88, with some health issues, he was still a leader in the local Rogersville Lions Club activities and instrumental in passing on to younger members how to use the eye screening machines owned by the club.
Wolfe not only held every position at the local club but also held district and state leadership positions. It is estimated Wolfe exceeded volunteering more than 50,000 hours during his career.
He has been appointed to positions at the District level, and served as District Governor in 1968, which, at that time covered all of East Tennessee.
He is one of the select few that has received the Melvin Jones Fellowship award, one of the highest achievements to be awarded in the Lions Club.
“We could take all dad’s awards and certificates and paper every wall in his house,” John’s daughter, Lisa Hensley stated.
In 2012, John was recognized by the Governor in Nashville as the most outstanding volunteer in Hawkins County.
While there are no records available, there have been hundreds of children over his Lion’s career that have been detected with eye problems, sought help and further eye problems were prevented. He led other volunteers each year to visit daycare centers and elementary schools in several counties to test children’s eyes.
John was proud that the Lions Club partnered with one other club in Rogersville to build the football field at what was then Rogersville High School, now Rogersville Middle School. It cost a tidy sum of money to build the field and purchase the bleachers and for years the Lions Club operated concessions to pay off the debt.
Through the Lions International Charities, funds became available to partner with Habitat for Humanity recently to build a home for a disabled adult or child and their family. With the help of The Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations, the matching funds of close to $10,000 were raised. John was instrumental in knowing about the funds, organizing the location for the fund raisers, getting the supplies and the man power to make them a success.
When the Lions Club developed the technology to use different equipment to screen children under six, John led an effort to do the screening, sending results to The Outreach Center located at Vanderbilt Hospital where they are evaluated and any questionable results are referred for further testing.
These screenings serve children in Hawkins, Hancock and Grainger counties.
If a child or an adult is in need of eyeglasses, the Lions Club assists them in getting services. To raise money for this, the club under the direction of John, sold mops and brooms at local merchants, that allows the club to solicit sales at several business locations. He has always been responsible also for ordering, receiving, and delivering these mops and brooms in order for them to stay stocked so that no sales are missed.
One of the first fundraisers was the sale of light bulbs by school children. The members would pack bags with an assortment of bulbs and deliver them to the schools where they were sold for one dollar.
John was also instrumental in what at one time was the annual bedding sale to raise money for the purchase of eyeglasses. Volunteer Blind in Morristown manufactures boxsprings and mattresses by hiring and training blind and visually impaired workers. For an extended time, he served on their board of directors.
A regular booth at Heritage Days and the 4th of July were staples where the Lions Club made and sold cotton candy and popcorn. John led that effort as well.
Twice a year the club raised money for White Cane Days. This is a group of vision charities funded by the Lions Club. Under John’s direction, the club held roadblocks and donation drives to help fund these programs. They include Leader Dogs for the Blind, Volunteer Blind Industries, TN School for the Blind, Recordings for the Blind, Braille Tablets and Blind Workshops that help people who are blind learn to work and live independently.
He is especially remembered for calling every member, prior to every meeting, to remind them to attend.
When John first started volunteering, he was very active in the Rogersville Little League program. He served as President, coached a team, and later, when he became a local business owner, he sponsored teams in the Park and Recreation leagues.
Until just recently, John Wolfe was instrumental in serving Hawkins County especially through the Lions Club.
Family and friends admired and were amazed at his constant source of energy. He would hear the accolades and smile and point up, meaning, it’s all God.
The motto of the Lions International is “WE SERVE”. John Wolfe believed it and lived it.