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First Free Will Baptist Church and Neyland Stadium places to be

This is one of Tommy V. Lillard Jr.s favorite photos made years ago at Neyland Stadium
in Knoxville. He has attended more than 342 consecutive UT home games.
Published: 9:18 PM, 10/18/2013 Last updated: 9:19 PM, 10/18/2013

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

The Hunter’s Moon ushered in the third weekend of October with hounds howling as if responding to the increasing Halloween displays about our town where folks continue to enjoy community festivals.

Last week we began visiting with Tommy V. Lillard, Jr. of Bogard to get a glimpse of his life and times especially his church affiliation, love of God and family plus his keen interest in sports. I wondered if his middle initial should not have been for “Volunteer,” as he is such a super University of Tennessee fan. He has been a UT fan since 1961 and has attended the Newport First Free Will Baptist Church since about 1965.


Take them to church


Lillard children didn’t have a choice as to whether they went to church or not. They went to Sunday School and church every week. “Dad went to the old Methodist church in Newport and was the treasurer.” And Tommy went with them and learned the good habit that he carried over to his children. Of his father, he said, “He was a faithful man.” When a big snowstorm rolled across the county, Tommy Sr. walked at least seven miles from his home to church in Newport and back. “I remember Jim Franks” and others. These strong Christian men were a big influence on Tommy Jr. His father developed leukemia and died leaving Tommy and Beth in the care of their mother. Hazel was a faithful and humble woman, too, and sought out a church for the children and so became the first charter member of English Creek Baptist Church in 1953. She led singing, played piano, and taught Sunday school until her death in 1994. Beth continues attending there to this day and carries on the family’s Gospel music tradition. Carl Ogle was an early church pastor. Tommy was baptized by Jim Holmes at the sycamore on Cosby Creek.


Neither snow nor illness


Thanks to Joe Kyker Sr., the English Creek Mission came to be as Joe provided his old store building that remains to this day on church property. He furnished seats, piano and upgraded the building for the small, new congregation. Joe also deeded the store and an adjoining lot to the church as long as it remained a Missionary Baptist Church. By 1953 the church was self-supporting.

In his scrapbook, Tommy has a copy of the Newport Plain Talk story on the 1952 Victory Crusade at which he was saved. He began his perfect attendance record at English Creek Baptist. To show how important church was to the Lillard family, another heavy snow closed the roads to vehicle traffic. So, Hazel bundled herself and the children up, got on the farm tractor, and Tommy drove it to church and back. It’s no surprise then that Tommy has 59 years perfect attendance. He collected the pins year after year but shared with me that during a home break-in many were stolen. “It was God’s way of keeping me humble,” he smiled. “I raised my children like I was raised. At one time we had over 100 years perfect attendance in our family.” To get over half century perfect attendance you can’t let many things become stumbling stones. For example, he was at Valentine-Shults Hospital admitted before Sunday and when church time came, he got out of bed and went to church. Even if he got sick at church he toughed it out. “I had a kidney stone attack but stayed until the service was over” and then he drove folks home in the van before daughter Kim took him to the local emergency room.

I wondered about the transition to First Free Will Baptist Church. And yes, a woman was behind it all. Carolyn also attended this church and was Tommy’s high school sweetheart. They were married July 5, 1964, while he was still at UT and she worked at the Magnavox plants. As a young couple they attended the old Gregg’s Chapel FWB Church. Let me introduce the children, Kim, Julie, Lori, and Vince, and grandchildren. Kim, a teacher at Cocke County High School, is married to Donald Suggs, who works at Sonoco Products. They have three children: Logan, 20, Hunter, 17, and Alexis, 15. Julie and Steve Souder, of Johnson County, have two children: Mackenzie, 12, and Karlie, 9. Lorie and Randy Runions, of Claiborne Co., have three children: Dylan, 13, Isaiah, 9, and Sophia, 3. Vince and Julie have son, Vinnie, 2

Julie is also a teacher with NGS where Steve teaches, too, and is boys and girls basketball coach. Lori is a Cosby School teacher and her husband Randy is a product engineer for Howmet of Morristown. Vince is a software engineer with Melaleuca of Knoxville and his wife Julie, takes care of the home. Carolyn Lillard was a long-time teacher and special aide assistant at Northwest School and is currently a substitute teacher at CCHS. She has been doing this work for 29 years.


Free Will Baptist home


Newport’s First Free Will Baptist Church was built in 1965, and early church pastors at First FWB were Harley Brown and later Eddie Young. The pastor I recall was W.H. Teague and his son, Jim. “My father and mother set the example and so all my children are in church today.” I believe they attend with the family but Kim and Lori go to Lincoln Avenue Baptist. Lori’s husband, Randy Runions, is interim pastor at Lincoln Avenue after the departure this summer of Craig Ward. Kim is the church pianist. At FWB church Julie Souder leads the choir. She and husband Steve are Sunday school teachers. Vince is an assistant Sunday school teacher and usher. He also operates the video camera for the church. You can tell that Tommy truly enjoys his church attendance and membership, and fellowship. He said, “I was born in a Catholic hospital, saved in a Methodist church, and baptized in a missionary Baptist church and am a deacon at the Free Will Baptist Church.”

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