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National Bank says "goodbye" to long-time loan officer


National Bank President Keith Ketterman, at right, congratulates retiring long-time
employee Allen Freeman, who retired officially on August 31 after 46 years service
to the bank and customers.
Published: 8:42 PM, 08/31/2012

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

September has stepped in just in time for the Labor Day weekend and to usher in more high school football for our hometown, basking in the continued end-of-summer heat wave but far from Hurricane Isaac's rain.

When I noticed the two full moons in August I had no idea that my friend and yours at National Bank of Tennessee, Walter Allen Freeman, would be retiring on the last full moon of the month. So I had the good fortune to interview him last week and present this story here. So I will take a detour from where my last column left off talking with Von Smith of Bybee. Saturday a week ago I also stopped by the Tanner building and chatted with folks at the farmers market and you will be hearing about and seeing these folks soon.


Growing up off Rag Mountain Road 


He could not have foreseen a 46-year banking career, being a father, and grandfather, but Allen Freeman stands at the pinnacle of a life well-lived and worked as he eases into retirement.

Whether you are a customer of National Bank of Tennessee or not, chances are you know him, perhaps he loaned you some of the bank's money or gave you a free bit of advice. His work has always been about "people" whether with those he has worked alongside or those he served as bank customers. And all the skills he gained and utilized came from his desire to learn and to assist.

Born March 29, 1944, he was one of two sons of Charles and Pearl (Self) Freeman, who farmed, raising tobacco, in the Big Creek community, more specifically Rag Mountain Road. I have only this past year discovered and driven the road connecting to Gulf Fork.

Walter Allen Freeman and brother, Gary Freeman, who lives in Parrottsville, lived the typical rural mountain lifestyle in an era when electrification only arrived about 1950. Cocke County was still heavily populated with one-room schoolhouses so the brothers attended New Prospect: "one teacher, two rooms." But there were multiple teachers during the elementary years.

New Prospect no longer exists but was located at the convergence of Gulf Fork, Raven's Branch, and Bull Mountain roads. Some people refer to this as Big Creek. There were plenty of forest acres for hunting and fishing in creeks that flowed from the Gulf and mountains into Big Creek that flows into the Pigeon River.

Allen walked a mile to catch the county school bus for a ride to and from Cosby School where he graduated in 1962. At the time E.G. Bryant was principal and another man who made an impression on young Freeman was Bill Hartsell. The small school had, perhaps, 100-plus high school students.

You didn't get to waste much time on television as reception in the mountains was poor to none and that went for radio too. The Plain talk arrived in the next day's mail. I recall that during the 1970s Boyd Freeman, who lived at the upper end of Del Rio started a drive to raise funds for a tower to receive and retransmit TV signals. He is a first cousin to Charles Freeman.

The Vietnam conflict was beginning to perk in the early 1960s as America ratcheted up its involvement. Allen decided to enlist in the Marines and undergo the rigorous training at Paris Island. It proved to be an economical way to see the world. He served in Cuba, Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

"It was a valuable experience. I would recommend it to all young men and women," he said. Most of his four years, at least half of it, was spent stateside, including training in California.


Perchance, a wife and a good job


By October 1966 he was back in Newport, about 22, and job hunting. Sonoco Products was hiring and he was on his way to apply when he happened to stop by the new bank in town, and then named National Bank of Newport, established in 1957 and across the street from Merchants & Planters Bank. Allen happened to see J. Creel Helms, who apparently knew the Freeman family and their good reputation. Helms asked Allen if he had ever thought about working at a bank. Of course, Allen had not but filled out an application and left.

He never got to Sonoco and kept waiting for word from Mr. Helms, who was general manager. So Allen contacted him and Mr. Helms told him to report for work on Monday. He has missed few days ever since with the exception of his kidney transplant. We will talk more about his kidney transplant and how Allen overcame a major health problem.

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