As a young reporter one of the first meetings I was assigned to cover was the Elizabethton Planning Commission. That was 40 years ago, and I knew nothing about planning codes, which referred to residential and business zoning, such as R-1 and R-2. I was smart enough to sit by a man, who did know, and he explained it all to me, and I was able to write an intelligent story. That man was John Fetzer, who proved to be an invaluable source of knowledge and help to me, not only that evening, but for years to follow.
John Fetzer was a man of convictions, and rarely did he back down from a challenge, whether it be as a member of City Council, school board, or the PTA. He was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in and what he thought was right. He always faced his critics head on, but with respect.
First and foremost, he was a family man, who loved and encouraged his children to be and do their best in life. He enjoyed the long-time support of his wife, Helen, an educator, who like John had served in the military, and she, too, was a strong, but gentle person.
John Fetzer was 95 years old when he died Friday. He had not only lived a long life by today’s standards, but a fulfilled one. He had accomplished much, having served as a pilot and flight officer during World War II, later as an ironworker for TVA, and as a businessman in the insurance industry.
Fetzer was born in Polk County, Tenn., where he grew up and attended school. However, he had spent most of his life in Elizabethton, having migrated here with TVA. He helped build the Watauga Dam as well as the Butler Bridge. On both projects he served as an ironworker foreman. Fetzer is often credited for helping save the Elk Avenue Bridge, when the state in the 1990s decided to replace the old bridge, known for its architectural value, with a more modern concrete bridge. Having worked for the Nashville Bridge Company in the late 1940s, Fetzer used his expertise in persuading the state to rehabilitate the beautiful old bridge rather than replace it with some plain slabs of concrete.
His service in city government was a result of his interest in public education and work toward obtaining a school for East Side, the community which he and his wife chose to call home. Long before he was elected to the Elizabethton City Council in 1965, he crusaded for better schools. East Side School began with three rooms, later three more were then added. Now, it is equal to any school in the city.
In addition to his strong stance on education, Fetzer campaigned hard for putting fluoride in city water, a very controversial issue at the time. He was also a strong supporter of the Elizabethton Municipal Airport and the Elizabethton Public Library.
Fetzer was a dedicated public servant. He never missed a meeting during his 16 years on the City Council. Fetzer took the time to educate himself on city and county issues, and to visit his constituents and to learn their thinking on matters. He was one of the city’s more informed public servants.
John Fetzer had a special appreciation for the Elizabethton community and he loved the people, with whom he worked and served. He was humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in local government.
He was long active in the Democrat party and once ran for state representative.
In addition to his family and his work as a public servant, Fetzer was a devoted member of East Side Baptist Church, where he had served in numerous capacities.
However, it was his support of public education for which he was most proud.
John Fetzer will be laid to rest Friday near his childhood home in Benton, Tennessee. It was there where life began for him, and the years that followed took him a long way from home.
His service and his name will long be remembered in Elizabethton. He was a champion of many good things, that have made our community a better place in which to live and work.
—By Rozella Hardin