Hubert D. Lakin

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J.C. Tumblin, O.D., D.O.S.

3604 Kesterwood Drive, East

Knoxville Tennessee 37918-2557

Fountain Citians Who Made a Difference




Hubert DeKalb Lakin


For many of us our earliest memory is that of our grammar school principal as he or she met us at the schoolhouse door on our first day of school. Many Fountain Citians remember Hubert D. Lakin as the benovolent authority figure who greeted them on that day. His professional demeanor and his caring nature provided that memorable experience at Smithwood Grammar School for almost ten of the 38 years he taught in the Knox County school system.

Hubert DeKalb Lakin, the fourth of six children of John Henry Lakin (1869-1946), a dairy and produce farmer, and Vandalee (Parker) Lakin (1873-1966), was born on November 2, 1906, in the Graveston community of Knox County. Hubert attended elementary school in his home community and graduated from Gibbs High School (1).

The school that eventually came to be known as Smithwood Grammar School was the first grade school in the Fountain City area, supplanting the old Forest Hill School located at Greenway Gap. 

John Smith (1795-1883), the grandson of John Adair, was a visionary who greatly appreciated the value of an education. On May 26, 1880, Smith deeded two acres of his large farm to the directors of the second school district for the establishment of a school. As early as 1882 a small schoolhouse was located on the property. It grew to become a two-room frame structure with a traditional cupola and bell.

The school accommodated 50 boys and girls drawn from the 18 homes then present in the Smithwood community. Subsequently, a brick, two-story, six-classroom structure was built in 1915. In 1928 the auditorium was converted into two classrooms with a new auditorium and classrooms added above it. A cafeteria was built at the rear in 1934. This was the building the Word War II generation remembers (3).

Professor L.L. Ogle was the first principal of the school, followed by H.N. Brown, Elwin Bryant and H.T. Seymour. Mr. Seymour later became a Central High School algebra teacher and a Knox County squire.

Later Hubert D. Lakin joined the ranks of these esteemed principals. From 1926 to 1930 he had taught at Union, Thorn Grove and Carter Elementary Schools. Then he became the principal at Alice Bell (1930-1934) and Inskip (1934-1935). The twenty-nine year old educator became principal at Smithwood Grammar School in 1935. Although he was still very young, he had been elected the president of the Knox County Teacher's League in that same year. (2)

His former students described him as "strict, but fair," an apt description for a model principal. Mr. Lakin inherited some teachers and recruited others to form an outstanding faculty at Smithwood. It included many who taught several generations of Fountain Citians. Fond memories of Jessie Gouffon, Eva Bailey, Marguerite Mountain, Ariana Parkey, Esther Mae Ayers, Mattie Lou Johnson, Dale Kirkendol, Frances Wilkerson, James Guinn, Anna B. LaForge, Violet Tudor, Bernice Mays, Pauline Davis, Mary Foster and Kendall Dossett still remain in the hearts of the community. (3) 

With the school's rapid growth, it was recognized early in the 1940s that a larger, more modern building was required. Principal Lakin and the Parent-Teachers Association sought support for a new building. Fund shortages and inadequate supplies of building materials complicated planning and delayed the process as participation of the United States in World War II began.

In December 1943, Mr. Lakin joined the U.S. Army at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, and served from 1943 to 1945 in the European Theater and in the Southwest Pacific. He entered as a Private, but his superior service record earned him the title of Staff Sergeant before his enlistment was over. (4)

When Mr. Lakin returned as an ex-GI, he entered the University of Tennessee to complete his B.S. degree. He again became Principal at Smithwood from 1947 to 1949. It was during this time that he worked closely with the school board, the P-TA and the prominent architectural firm of Baumann and Baumann to design the new school which was occupied in 1950. The new building, dedicated on March 31, 1950, had 15 classrooms, an auditorium-gymnasium, cafeteria, clinic and many other features for the comfort and convenience of the faculty and pupils. Eventually, the school closed and most of the students were consolidated into the new Shannondale Elementary School.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Lakin again returned to the University of Tennessee and earned an M.S. degree. He was principal of the combined Gibbs High School and Gibbs Elementary School from 1949 to 1954, then served as principal at Fountain City Elementary School from 1954-1958. From 1958 to 1971, he taught history at Halls High School. Having served the Knox County schools for 38 years, he retired on March 6, 1971.

On April 17, 1979, Hubert DeKalb Lakin passed away at St. Maryís Medical Center. Mr. Lakin was a veteran of World War II, a long-time member of Smithwood Baptist Church and a Mason. He was survived by his wife, Mrs. Verna (Smith) Lakin, an eighth-grade teacher at Inskip Elementary School for over 25 years; and by their two daughters; Mrs. Roger (Vanda Jane) Thayer (CHS 1951), who taught in Kingsport for over 25 years; and Mrs. Jack (Patricia) Watson (CHS 1957), who became director of the Knox County Libraries. 

During his lengthy career in education, Mr. Lakin provided inspiration and guidance to many students personally and through his faculty. Jointly, they stimulated a desire for lifetime learning in more than one generation of Fountain Citians. A high degree of academic accomplishment and a pursuit of vertical mobility, which would enable them to better serve their community, has often marked the graduates of Fountain City schools. Mr. Lakinís family typifies this frequently heard story.

The Lakinís daughter, Mrs. Patricia Watson, recalled that, as a 5-year-old in a period before Kindergarten programs were available, she often sat in her motherís eighth-grade classroom with her books, her paper dolls and her coloring book. Her mother had offered to resign to be an at-home mother, but the principal wanted to keep his proven eighth-grade teacher and asked if she could not just bring Patricia to school with her.

Mrs. Lakin had been the first in her family to graduate from high school and pursued her college degree for many years, even as she raised her family and taught school. The inspiration of her parents and her early start in academics launched Mrs. Watson's impressive career. After graduating from Smithwood Grammar School and Central High School, Mrs. Watson attained a degree in political science and sociology and was the University of Tennesseeís top liberal arts graduate in 1961. She returned for a masterís degree in library science in 1975 (5).

After working in the technical services department of the library and as an administrative assistant, she became head librarian at the West Knoxville Branch of the Lawson McGhee Library in 1979. The West Knoxville branch had long been the largest branch library in the system with a circulation of 14-18,000 books per month as early as 1983. When Paul Bartolini retired in 1985, Mrs. Watson was chosen to head the Knox County Library System (6).

At the time of her retirement seventeen years later, her responsibilities included supervising the Main Library, the Knox County Archives, the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection and seventeen branch libraries. As a result of her leadership the system accomplished these outstanding achievements during the last few years before her retirement (7):

While supervising that rapid growth and technological improvement, Mrs. Watson also served as board member and later as president of the Tennessee Library Association, spearheaded the establishment of the Friends of Tennessee Libraries, served in a Leadership Knoxville class, as a board member of the Tanasi Girl Scout Council and as an elder at Farragut Presbyterian Church. She was also the regular pianist for the Knoxville Rotary Club.

At the time of Mrs. Watsonís retirement, Leo Cooper, chairman of Knox County Commission, said of her, "She has kept a low profile and a quiet demeanor; and she has the knowledge and ability to get the job done. Thereís just been no glitches. Sheís earned the trust of everyone."

Hubert DeKalb Lakin and his family have made a major positive difference in the lives of many Fountain Citians and in the life of greater Knox County. They have collectively stimulated pleasurable lifetime learning experiences for many of us.


1. Willie A. Rodgers, Graveston, Knox County, Tennessee (History and Brief Genealogies) (Knoxville, 1978),  p. 227-8; Personal Correspondence from Patricia (Lakin) Watson, July 30, 2005.

2. Knoxville City Directories (1934-1955); ibid. (Watson).

3. Knoxville News-Sentinel, September 1, 1935.

4. The New Smithwood School, Souvenir Program (Dedicated March 31, 1950), McClung Historical Collection.

5. Jane Gibbs DuBose, "Librarian Turns a Lot of Pages to Help Readers Uncover Fun," Knoxville News-Sentinel, January 11, 1983; "Watson named Knox library director," Knoxville Journal, November 26, 1985.

6. Carmen Carter, "Patricia Watson new library chief," Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 24, 1985.

7. Marti Davis, "Library director closing chapter," Knoxville News-Sentinel, August 25, 2002; Ina Hughs, "Farewell to Watson must recognize accomplishments," Knoxville News-Sentinel, September 22, 2002.

D-LAKIN.DOC (8/30/02, 12/5/02, 12/26/02, 2/9/03, 4/2/05-39 para., 1391 words, 8/3/05: 32 para., 1461 words; 9/6/05) (Souvenir Brick inscribed: 1885-1980)