was early morning and Steve Johnson was driving around the loop that
borders the small town of Lebanon, TN.
Lebanon is the town where he was born.
had his driver’s side window down and the cool air from the morning breeze
felt good on his face. He looked
ahead and saw the bright yellow sun beginning to come over the horizon.
wondered what would come before him that would need his attention today. “How things had changed over the years,”
he thought, “I bet Dad never had any idea Lebanon would turn out like
did have decisions that were weighing on his mind that had to be made, but
the timing needed to be right. He
could not rush into them for fear that it would upset not only the family,
but the community as well.
wondered, “How could he do it?” He
had already met with Jeff Warner, their bank attorney, and had his
advice. He knew he was within his
rights to move as he saw fit, but could he do this.
Tennessee is located on the eastern outskirts of Nashville, or as some like
to call Nashville – ‘Music City’.
Lying out there remotely separated from the bright lights of
Nashville, Lebanon was the epitome of country living. Hills and valleys, trees and lakes
encompassed most of the town and laid the ground work for the beautiful
local politicians and real estate developers claimed Lebanon would someday
present the opportunity for an overnight growth of new people. They claimed, “People would want to get
away from Nashville with crowded streets and the constant wail of sirens.
to mention the hustle and bustle attitude of folks in the big city. Already, the streets were encumbered with
tourists, both in cars and charter buses, who came seeking the majesty of
the country music venues.”
was a constant uproar at the council meetings in Lebanon from those that
wanted to prepare for the newcomers and the ones who wanted to keep things as
they were. “After all, why prepare,”
they argued when the town still had fields of corn and tobacco within the
to the economic downturn under President Obama; money was something that
very few had in the early 2000s.
They had cows, pigs, and chickens.
men hunted regularly and especially in the early fall for deer and
squirrels. Squirrels were always
plentiful and many nights tables were graced with the little yard cats that
tasted like chicken.
meat or venison, as it was called, had to be prepared a certain way to make
it suitable for eating. Few had
problems accomplishing the task after a few trial and errors. Many times before you got it right, the
venison was thrown out to the dogs.
And they seldom wanted to eat it either. Grandmothers straightened out the new
wives on the preparation process.
was not only a source of food, but one of the most popular past times. You could always come away with a nice
mess of catfish and every wife knew how to cook fish. Of course the house would smell like fish
for a week afterwards, but that was a small price to pay.
sit down with a platter of fried catfish, homemade biscuits and
catsup. Along with a big glass of
fresh buttermilk, was a meal fit for a king.
concerns of the community were decided by the men on the fishing
banks. They had several special
fishing holes on the Cumberland River just north of town.
were selected or dismissed based on the pros and cons of their policy
positions. Everyone had an opinion.
was not a problem that could not be solved while catching fish. Plus you get to have a great catfish
dinner as well.
was more of a community than a town.
In the early 1800s, neighbors joined together from time to time to
help each other. They would gather
to butcher a steer. Everyone shared
in the meat.
men butchered and quartered the animals for their steaks while the women
ground the left over beef into hamburger meat. The hides were sent to a rendering plant
for leather products.
the best time to ‘skin a pig’ was usually after the first mild cold
spell. It was a real community
gathering. The pork cuts were saved
in whole quarters, large hams, and bacon slabs.
pig intestines were stuffed with ground pork mixed with spices that made a
great breakfast sausage. Usually one
man had the secret on properly mixing the spices with the right amount of
pork to have the sausage in a mild, regular or hot blend.
the early 1900s, they stored the quarter cuts and the large hams along with
the bacon slabs in a small building called a ‘smoke house’. They kept a continual smoking fire just
hot enough to cure the meat. They
would retrieve a portion when needed for cooking and family meals.
into the early 1900s, Lebanon had become sophisticated to know about
professional meat processing facilities for pork and beef but there were
still a small number of people of the community who would not give up the
the Great Depression in the United States in the 1920s through to 1930s, it
was the fortitude of the people like those in Lebanon that allowed them to
fare better than most of the country.
While the cities were without food; work; and shelter; those in the
country found little change in their lives.
folks were accustomed to providing for their families off the land. If they did not have it, they just did
without it. Since no one had
anything anyway, it was not known that they did not have it – thus they did
not miss it.
was on the verge of this philosophy that the town of Lebanon survived and
became a thriving farm community in the early 1900s. Live and help others live served as the
motto of the day.
by the mid 1900s, Lebanon began to have growing pains. Folks began seeking services provided for
them that others could get in larger towns especially like Nashville. They wanted doctors, hospitals, law enforcement,
fire departments, banks, and grocery stores.
liked water, sewer, trash, and utility services provided for their
homes. But many lost sight of the
expense and the loss of family traditions experienced with these changes.
Johnson was born shortly after the turn of the 20th century to
parents who had very little, but the house was filled with love. While others had problems making ends
meet, Walter’s parents had a garden that filled their table every day.
dad worked from ‘can to can’t’ and from ‘sun up to sun down.’ Odessa (called Dessie) Olson Johnson, his
wife, canned and preserved the vegetables from the garden for the
winter. Gracious in character,
Walter and Dessie shared their bountiful supply from their garden with the
had inherited his dad’s work ethic.
Like his dad, he was very conscientious about his work, his
reputation, and the family name.
did he let a day go by that he did not accomplish what he set out to
do. He never met anyone that was a
stranger and he was quick to speak to all with whom he came in contact. He was held in high regard by all who
was 20 when he met Dessie at a church ice cream social. One of the members had a cave where they
kept large ice blocks and on occasion – they would get together after the
Sunday evening preaching service and break out the hand-cranked wooden ice
women would mix the raw cow’s milk and eggs with vanilla, sugar, and flour
while the men broke up the ice. The
creamy mixture would be put in the canister connected to a crank that had a
stationary dasher inside.
would be added to the barrels mixed with salt – which preserved the
temperature right at freezing – and they began to crank the canister. The canister turned clockwise and the
dasher was designed to stay stationary.
It scrapped the inside of the canister thoroughly with its wood
the canister turned clockwise, it moved the creamery mixture past the
dasher in a reverse horizontal upward motion turning it over and over. One of the joys for the children was licking
the dasher after the ice cream was formed.
The young boys would take turns sitting
on the ice cream barrel so that the wooden barrel would not turn over with
the torque of the cranking motion.
As the cream began to freeze, the turning of the canister by the
crank became harder and harder. Soon
it could not be turned anymore and the ice cream was done.
was thought that Americans consumed 3 gallons of homemade ice cream each
year per person, but in Lebanon it was more like 10 gallons especially for
Walter. He loved it.
was one who loved to investigate how things worked and see if he could
perfect it. But in all his attempts
in making it better; the evidence proved the ice cream mixer still remains
today as it was in the early 1800s with the exception that the crank is run
by electricity. He could never
improve on the ice cream freezer.
Johnson, a young man with a vision for his community, began to expand his
horizons beyond his little family and the surrounding areas. He wanted the best for them and the best
could not be limited to farming and his little house.
began to look around to see how he could help Lebanon and prosper his
family as well. The effects of the
depression of the late 1920s were beginning to wane in the late 1930s.
wanted Lebanon to become a society that met the needs of its citizens. As he studied the area and talked with
his friends around the fishing hole, he determined that one of the first
services the town needed was a bank.
his wife Dessie, he started a local bank in the Lebanon community. Knowing Walter and Dessie was all that
anyone needed to have faith and trust in the new banking
establishment. Walter named it the
Community Bank of Lebanon, Tennessee as a statement that it belonged to the
people of Lebanon.
town was proud to have a bank. The
entire surrounding community supported it.
And Walter was proud to have established the bank.
the early years of banking, banks depended upon the integrity of the owner
or board of directors to make sure their deposits were secure. Trust was a primary factor in the success
or failure of a bank. “If you could
not trust your banker, who could you trust” was the thought of the day.
accounts both personal and commercial were protected by the bank or more
specifically by the owner of the bank.
Banking had not yet formed the federal insurance corporation to
wife, Dessie, was a constant companion with him at the bank. She was in on every decision including
each employee that was hired by the bank.
was there to greet the first customers who came in every morning and the
last to bid farewell the last customer as they left the bank in the
oversaw all the inside work of the tellers of the bank. Many days, she and Walter worked long
hours after the close of the bank making sure that every ‘i’ was dotted and
every ‘t’ was crossed.
business of banking with Walter and Dessie did not take a back seat. It was first and foremost in their minds
had a unique ability to size up people.
He could tell you if a farmer was going to make it by just the way
the man walked into the bank.
watched the natural forces of nature and the economy. He seemed to know when the heavy rains or
no rains were going to present a threat to the success of farming.
relied heavily on the old Farmers' Almanac for weather reports. The publication had been in print since
the early 1800s and that was good enough for him.
the early days loans primarily consisted of farm loans. Folks wanting to buy land or to build
homes or barns accounted for most of the banking business in Lebanon. The need was there and the bank helped
the little community to grow and succeed.