A SHORT HISTORY OF DR. BYRON HARBOLT
His father, William Henry “Hallie” Harbolt of Sticklerville, Missouri, was the son of a railroadman, in his youth joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, worked for a time as a colporteur selling religious books from home to home, and served honorably in the U.S. Army. In 1919, at Fort Riley, Kansas, Hallie married Ethel Amy Cummings of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, youngest of 6 sisters, but all of the girls older than their half-sister. The Cummings family operated a ferry on the Minnesota River and had a house-moving business, powered by a gigantic iron-wheeled steam tractor. Ethel’s pony “Dixie” was her slow ride to the school she taught, and her fast ride home. Also in her youth, Ethel attended the church’s Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Shortly after their marriage the Harbolt family moved to Floral Crest on Sand Mountain, near Bryant, Alabama. Elizabeth Bernice “Beth” was born November 24, 1921, and Byron David followed, July 30, 1923. Some of Ethel’s farming family visited the mountain-south, took a look at some clay soil, and quickly decided to return to the rich bottomlands of the Minnesota River. Hallie and Ethel taught church school in those years.
The family lived at Monteagle in 1930, but later that year moved to Madison, Tennessee where Hallie operated a delivery truck for the Madison Sanitarium. Their youngest child, Bruce Albert , was born there August 28, 1931.
From ’32-36’ the family lived at Summerfield, between Monteagle and Tracy City. The family occupied a log cabin that had many gaps in the chinking, holes so big that a “cat could go through the walls”. His father, struggling like most in the Great Depression, did some patching in time; although the cabin was never a palace, a photograph of it is one of Byron’s treasured mementos. There in Summerfield Byron recalls having a neighborhood bully whack him so hard with a big banana stalk that it knocked the wind out of him. Another story from that era was of Byron and his sister putting baby brother Bruce into a gunny sack to carry over to friends as a surprise. The only problem with this stunt was that after they’d set the sack down they discovered it was right by a snake – they scattered and left baby Bruce to fend for himself. As he got older Byron would help his father with the “rolling store’, which was a ¾ ton truck with “Trailblazer” painted on the side. His father would tuck a chicken’s head under a wing and then treat her to wild aerial gyrations - the thoroughly dizzied hen would then lie helpless for weighing.
In 1936, before the completion of either the Golden Gate or Oakland Bay bridges, the family crossed the bay by ferry to attend the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists in the Cow Palace of San Francisco. Paved transcontinental roads didn’t exist then, and it was a long trip in the family’s Model A Ford.
Between 1936 and 1942 Byron’s parent’s lived in the Creston community near Crossville, Tennessee. During their first year there Byron returned to Sand Mountain to live in the home of the Loren and Orpha Noble, parents of Byron’s best friend Elwood who later died in Europe in WWII. Against his fathers advice, Byron and Elwood used a holiday weekend to set out on bicycles from Sand Mountain for a surprise visit home to Crossville, surprising the Harbolts. A couple of days later and after almost 200 miles, they slogged the unpaved road up Sand Mountain through deep mud. Elwood said, “Byron, I feel like just sitting down and crying”. Byron replied, “ I do too, but it wouldn’t do any good”.
Later Byron too made the move to Crossville, attending a one-room church school taught by Inez Wren. From a class of a half-dozen or so, most students became physicians, including the teacher’s daughter Margaret (later married to Shelby Rinehart, a pharmacist and state representative from Spencer, Tennessee) and Byron. He also continued working with his father, who had continued the rolling store business and they later got a 1 ½ ton truck for hauling coal and lumber across middle Tennessee. Once at a coal tipple Byron was directed by his father to uncouple a rail-car and move it out of the way of their truck; this was accomplished but gravity took over and the car derailed!
In 1940 Byron left Crossville to train as a nurse at Takoma Hospital in Greeneville, Tennessee, a profession that seemed suited for service in the military, as aggression in Europe presaged the nasty WWII. He was the first and only student until four months later when he was caught off guard by the arrival of 13 girls. He particularly admired Genevieve Donaker of Allegan, Michigan. As time and distance came to play they began a brisk correspondence. In 1944 he graduated from the high school in Greeneville.
After going west in the mid ‘40’s for religion and pre-medicine studies at Pacific Union College at St. Helena, California, he convinced Genevieve to come west and marry him. They were married September 20, 1946 in a simple private ceremony on the lawn of former missionary to Asia, Elder V.B. Watts of Upper Lake.
After his graduation from college in 1950, Byron and Genevieve returned to Greenville where they resumed work at Takoma Hospital. To the dismay of Dr. Leroy Coolidge, founder of Takoma Hospital, Byron built a humble cabin on the shores of Davy Crockett Lake on the Nolichucky River just a few miles from Crockett’s birthplace at Limestone, Tennessee. He didn’t get encouragement either as he tried to garner support for dream of becoming a doctor. In 1950 Harbolts lost a two-day old son Daniel. Sam was born at Wildwood, Georgia August 17, 1952, but within days the family was back to Greenville, where his first home was the humble half-finished cabin. Also in 1952 Byron attended his church’s Youth Congress in San Francisco.
In 1954 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Byron studied medicine at the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine. Money didn’t come easy, and the family lived in a housing project. Genevieve worked as supervisor of a large nursery at the Research Hospital, and Byron drove for Yellow Cab. The drivers were taught to drive defensively, and that if there was an accident it was their fault. Byron, as a medical student, also had employment as a nurse. He decided to bone up on nursing skills he’d learned and to take the examination for licensed practical nursing. Fellow medical students saw that as a waste of time and money, as they planned to be physicians soon, but with the passage of new state regulations, it was Byron that still had employment. Del Retha was born into the family March 28, 1957, and Byron graduated from medical school in 1958. There was then a brief delay as the family waited for Verna Marie, who was born June 27, 1958, after which they departed for Traverse City, Michigan.
There Byron interned at the Osteopathic Hospital for a year, and then took an additional year of training specifically in surgery. Just in front of the hospital was the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, where one could see scores of fisherman’s ice shantys dotting the thick ice.
The Harbolts then moved to Cumberland Heights near Altamont, and Byron became Tennessee-licensed on June 23, 1960. For a time he leased the Cumberland Heights Clinic from the Edmisters, and his Michigan friend George Kendall was it’s administrator. The Harbolts bought the Big Creek Ranch home of Dr. Lester Littell (who then moved to Dayton, Tennessee), but Byron had other dreams and in the early ‘60’s’ he had contractor Jim Fuller and others build Cathedral Canyon Clinic and nearby home on Big Greek near Altamont, where he gave his life as country doctor and with the aid of Genevieve also delivered about 2500 babies over the course of 35 years, until more advanced medical facilities were mandated by government regulations. He never lost a mother in delivery, but one mother showed severe hemorrhage. In those days he did his own type and cross matching, and being a universal donor he laid on the table and had Genevieve draw blood for the mother, who was thus saved. He found continued satisfaction in the painless deliveries he could offer in his rural clinic after mentoring in the technique of caudal anesthesia at the Baroness Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.
On one occasion schoolchildren were herded to the office for their shots, and one particularly apprehensive young lady was reserved for the last. When it was over Mama cheerfully remarked: “Now, that wasn’t bad, was it” “Yes it was” said the child. “It wasn’t really bad was it”, countered Mama. “Yes it was” replied the girl. “But it could have been worse, couldn’t it” Mama offered. To which the lass replied: “It could have been and it was”. Daddy loved to tell that story as an example of the only argument Genevieve ever lost.
Studying as he was able, while maintaining a solo practice that included many house calls and irregular hours, he left home to take in 1980 the examination for the National Board of Family Medicine. Discouraged by the prospect of the impending comprehensive examination, he decided to give up on further study, and read Nehemiah instead, from the Gideon’s bible in his room. Thus encouraged he passed the exam and subsequently wrote to Gideon’s International of his experience. Of inestimable importance to the success of the clinic was the faithful service of his wife Genevieve and Sue Dyer, who worked there from early years until his recent retirement in February, 2014.
His affordable no-insurance affordable practice has been featured on television in Chattanooga and in Nashville. The CBS news team from Atlanta filmed at the clinic in the summer of 2005 or 2006, and on July 4 of that year this was aired across the country as the Eye on America feature.
He was involved in the founding of Heritage Manor (now The Bridge) at Monteagle, and for probably a quarter of a century he could be found there with friends almost every Saturday afternoon (his Sabbath) having a worship service with music for the residents.
None of his activities gratified him more than his role in bringing Grundy County’s first station WSGM 104.7 FM (We Sing Gospel Music) to the air in 1994, after about 6 years of work with fellow board members, generous supporters, lawyers, engineers, IRS, FCC, and FAA. Radio was in his blood, from inspirational programs he’d present in the 40’s and 50’s in Greeneville, Tennessee to programs aired from McMinnville, Tennessee long before WSGM was founded. This was from the days when recordings were made on wire one tried not to tangle or from reel to reel tapes that also were designed to snarl. Verna reports an occasion when Daddy and his father strung wire all about the house in an effort to untangle it.
Awards he has been honored to receive include:
December 1979: “Citizen of the Year”, by the Altamont Ruritan Club.
March 7, 1987: Distinguished Citizens Award, Grundy County Chamber of Commerce
March 29, 1996: The Jefferson Award, founded by First Lady Nancy Reagan.
August 30, 1998: A bronze plaque from Grundy County, and another from the City of Altamont, both presented for many years of dedicated service, in a ceremony at the City Gazebo Park in Altamont, on the site of the old courthouse.
Whatever shortcomings he may have displayed on occasion, he was devoted to the core to his life of service. Trying to light a fire beneath him never worked, as he was always cool and deliberate. Always generous, his trust was at times misplaced. His zeal has been known to create differences of opinion with fellow believers, but he never wavered in devotion to the church he loved, and actively supported it with his means, his love of music, sermons, and as a church elder. I’ll never forget the joy he got from music whether singing or playing an instrument he literally bounced on his toes, body and soul, like a Carolina wren singing it’s heart out. He didn’t seek conflict but never cringed about matters of conscience, once grinning and saying that “life wouldn’t be much fun without some trouble”. However, his humble unassuming ways and patience were ever-evident, and he was never mean-spirited or retaliatory in quests for justice. Once I asked him how he might have lived life differently, whereupon a subtle shade of puzzlement and amusement slipped over his face as he dead-panned – ‘ It might go worse if I did it again’. Human as we all are, he nonetheless always aspired to perfection.
He once said that he “got up every morning to thank God he could work another day”, and he dreaded the aspect of having nothing to do. However, the years took their toll, and he had to quit in February of 2014 at the age of 90, after 53 years in Grundy County. He then lived in the loving care of his daughters Verna Marie Chuljian of Iron City, Tennessee, and Del Retha Haugen of Sonora, CA. He was greatly pleased by the dozens of birthday greetings he received in July for his 94th birthday, pointing to them with pride where they adorned the walls of him room.
After a 2 ½ hour drive from home on August 21, 2017, to an ideal place to view the solar eclipse, I learned that Daddy had passed quietly to his final rest. Astronomers can accurately predict eclipses thousands of years in advance. I like to think that God, from the far reaches of eternity, said to himself:
‘On the day when I give rest to Byron the sun will briefly hide it’s face, and
after they’ve both rested they will be reborn to the radiant perfection to which
Byron always aspired’
His older sister Beth Pearman was for many years the beloved administrator of a nursing home near Louisville, Kentucky, and his younger brother Bruce was an agricultural engineer who ran a staff at the Union Oil Company, Collier Division, headquarters in Los Angeles, California, and traveled widely and often for the company. A spirited and gregarious man, he loved gardening, scuba diving, and fast cars and motorcycles, always close to losing his drivers license due to his need for speed.
Byron was preceded in death by his parents, by both his siblings, and by his wife Genevieve who passed June 16, 2006, and he is survived by 3 children:
1. Sam Harbolt (wife Susan) of Jackson, TN and his 2 children Bjorn and Elise
2. Del Retha Haugen (husband Perry) of Sonora, CA and her 8 children Thorsen , NIssa, Linnea, Kirk, Skip, Annaliese, Anya, and Kai and her 2 grandchildren Kal (son of Thorsen and Krimzen) and Isla (daughter of Linnea and Ivan Buchheim)
3. Verna Chuljian (husband Mark) of Iron City, TN and her 4 children Teriz, Mark “Twain”, Lilyana, and Isaac.
The viewing is to be at 1:30 P.M and the funeral at 3 PM Saturday, August 26, 2017 at the funeral home in Altamont, Tennessee. He was truly delighted by the outpouring of birthday cards received in July on the occasion of his 94th birthday, and we sincerely thank those who remembered him.
As time permits we hope that at the service those who have memories of him will share them. It would be particularly gratifying to the family to hear stories not only of what he meant to them, but to hear humorous human interest stories about or by him or similar stories about Genevieve. To many he may have seemed a most serious man, but he could tell some fine stories of his own, and loved a good laugh. We would also welcome any such anecdotes mailed to us, as we hope to make a collection:
158 Whispering Hills Drive
Jackson, Tennessee 38305