Mike Lebruno (left) and son Zachary take a break from remodeling the old Music Makers store on Cherry Street. Mike Lebruno and his wife Hope are planning to open H & M Armory there in November.
Sept. 7, 2018 – A new gun shop is opening in Dunlap. H & M Armory will be located in the old Music Makers store on Cherry Street, across from the Sequatchie County Courthouse.
“We're hoping to be open in November,” owner Mike Lebruno said Friday as he took a break from remodeling the building.
“We will have all kinds of firearms, ammo, targets...” he said.
Although they have no plans for a shooting range, the Lebrunos have been up to the Dead Zero shooting facility in Van Buren County and were impressed.
“It's a nice place, a beautiful place,” Lebruno said, noting that one of the big shooting competitions Dead Zero hosts is coming up in the near future.
Lebruno and his wife, Hope, moved to Dunlap with their three adult children in June from Florida. Their 22-year-old daughter already has begun a job with Hamilton County Schools teaching fourth grade, and one of their 19-year-old twin boys is working at the Sequatchie County Emergency Dispatch Office. The other twin was helping his dad remodel the store.
The family comes from the Orlando area. They had been looking at moving to a rural area, and following a suggestion from Hope's mother, who had been researching online, they decided on Dunlap.
“We really like the small-town atmosphere,” Mr. Lebruno said.
Lone Oak firefighters prepare to distribute food and toys to local families at Christmastime. Photo contributed.
Aug. 31, 2018 – They say that when a community loses its school, it loses its heart. The community of Lone Oak, on Signal Mountain, found that out first-hand 30 years ago.
It was late summer, 1988, and the children of the Lone Oak community were experiencing the familiar mix of anxiety and anticipation all kids do as the first day of school draws near.
Their parents had taken them to the mall, to Walmart, and the dollar store to get new clothes and shoes and stock up on notebooks and paper. The teens would be catching the bus to Dunlap for school, but the younger children would be dropped off by their parents at Lone Oak School, just down the road, where their siblings and parents had gone to school.
Only that year things were different. There would be no Lone Oak School the fall of '88, or ever again.
Families in Lone Oak found out just days before school was to start that the Sequatchie County School Board was closing their school. A cousin of the Johnson family who worked in the school system's central office called to tell them the news.
“It was just by word of mouth,” Barbara Johnson recalled. “She said they were going to come out here and take all the things pertaining to the students, and their records.”
The old Lone Oak School, back when its rooms were filled with children learning their lessons. Photo contributed.
Earlier this week, a dozen or so residents of Lone Oak were sitting around a long table in the old school building – a building now used as a community center. Gathering for a covered dish lunch after a meeting of the local quilters club, they recalled the shock they felt 30 years ago when they found out through the grapevine that they would no longer have a school in their community.
“We had a meeting on Sunday evening,” Barbara's husband, W.O. Johnson said. “The whole parking lot out here was full of people against losing our school. They had already closed the rest of them in the county. There had been a school in each district.”
Community schools in Cartwright, Daus, and Center Point (near Chapel Hill), and on Lewis Chapel, Cagle, and Fredonia mountains had all been closed down and given to their respective communities. Only Lone Oak remained.
“We approached the school board to try and get a reconciliation,” W.O.'s brother Joseph said. “But they closed our school over a deficit of $40,000.”
“We had been in the budget for 100 years,” W.O. added, “but they laid the burden on Lone Oak for that $40,000 deficit.”
Barbara Johnson, in the Lone Oak Community Center free library.
The children of Lone Oak stood that week waiting for a bus to Dunlap, while their parents brainstormed what they could do to keep their school.
They went to county commission meetings and school board meetings, but to no avail. The school board was determined to close the Lone Oak School. And that is when the people of the community realized there was a problem with their representation on the county board of education.
“Board members were elected to staggered terms, county-wide,” W.O. Johnson explained.
The at-large election of school board members meant that votes in the city outweighed those of the sparsely populated mountain communities.
“The mountains never had a school board member – Lewis Chapel, Lone Oak, Cagle Mountain,” he said.
Although the other communities had been allowed to keep their schools after they closed, there was a vindictive scent in the air this time. The school board decided to split up the Lone Oak school property into five parcels and auction them off.
“They knew the community wanted to get this property,” Joseph Johnson said, “They stripped it to the bare walls. They took everything out of the kitchen and junked it. They even cut pipes out of the walls.”
Sensing the unfairness of their lack of representation, W.O. and Joseph Johnson decided to file a lawsuit against the Sequatchie County School Board. It turned out that a precedent only recently had been set, in a similar legal action against a school system near Knoxville, so the law already was on their side.
“When we filed it, we didn't know there had been a lawsuit like that,” W.O. said. “The school board said, 'What can we do to settle this lawsuit?' So the county agreed then to put a representative in each district of the county.”
Because of the staggered terms on the board, it took an election cycle or two to see a benefit to the rural communities, but by 1992 W.O. Johnson had been elected to the Sequatchie County School Board as the very first representative from Lone Oak. And all the other outlying communities soon had a representative on the board, as well.
W. O. Johnson looks through some of the historical records of Lone Oak. Johnson was the first representative elected to the county school board from Lone Oak (Dist. 8), and retired this year after serving 26 years.
“I had never been to a school board meeting,” he admitted, “but in 26 years on the board, I have only missed two meetings!” Johnson retired this year at the age of 81, proud of the fact that a school system that was operating at a deficit when he came in now boasts a surplus of several million dollars.
Even though the community pooled its resources to try and purchase the school property at auction, they were unsuccessful, and four buyers bought the five parcels. But the community was not about to give up just yet.
“We overcame losing the school,” W.O. said. “We bought the building and all the property back, for $70,000.”
“We started Election Day in 1990,” Joseph said. “We set up a tent out here. We had a list of all the registered voters in the community. We approached them as they came in, to sign a pledge for donations. People were very receptive.”
“We got over 17,000 pledges,” W.O. said.
“We started in August 1990,” Joseph added, “and by November we bought the main building, for $46,440.96!”
That was the building, with two lots. It was not too long before they had taken in enough donations to buy the remaining parcels, and Lone Oak School was finally in the hands of the community, for use as they saw fit. Since that day, fundraisers and donations have enabled the community to restore and repair the building.
The biggest blow to Lone Oak in the loss of the school was the loss of the children. Taking the school away took the heart out of the community. Some parents, not wanting their children to lose an extra hour or two of their day in bus travel, paid out thousands of dollars in tuition to send them just over the line to school in Hamilton County.
And for the same reason, fewer young families choose to move there, preferring a home closer to school so their children do not have to spend hours on a bus.
But the loss unified the community, too, and there have been positive results from the struggle.
Volunteers have come forward to offer their money, their work, and their support. The Lone Oak Community Civic League has raised money with breakfasts, Bingo, chili dinners, a Spring Fling, and renting out space to vendors for the World's Longest Yard Sale.
Donations raised ranged from the $8,000 or $5,000 check to the woman who pledged $100 and paid every bit of it . . . $10 each month.
A wide variety of services and outreach have developed through the community center, including a free health clinic twice a week, a free dental clinic by appointment, and a robust volunteer fire department, complete with fire trucks and bays to house them that were added on to the existing building.
There is a free library open once a month, a quilting club that makes a quilt once a year to raffle off at the Spring Fling, bread distribution to needy families with day-old donations from Panera, hosting the RAM (Remote Access Medical) clinic until it outgrew Lone Oak, hosting the MaryEllen Locher mammography bus, and distributing food and toys at Christmas.
The Johnson brothers initiated the lawsuit that changed representation on the school board after Lone Oak lost its school. Today, W. O. Johnson and wife Barbara (left) and Joseph Johnson, with his wife Bernie, stand in front of the renovated school, which now serves as the local community center.
They used to have a GED class at Lone Oak, until the government consolidated all the outlying classes to one class in Dunlap. The names of the graduates who got their GED certificate used to be written on the chalkboard in one of the classrooms, and numbered close to a hundred.
The people sitting around the long table this week all were quick to give credit to the myriad of organizations, groups, and individuals that gave Lone Oak its heart back.
“There are a lot of people who were not here at the beginning that are involved now,” Barbara Johnson said, “and we appreciate them.”
“And a lot of the people that were involved then are gone,” Pauline Geary noted.
“It was all done with fundraising and donations and volunteers,” Donna Wright said, “just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”