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Remembering Dr. Byron Harbolt

Posted on Monday, September 4, 2017 at 10:08 am

Dr. Bryon Harbolt, remembered by many in Grundy County as the “mountain’s doctor,” passed away on August 21, at the age of 94.
Harbolt, was the son of William Henry “Hallie” Harbolt of Sticklerville, Missouri, and Ethel Amy Cummings of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Shortly after their marriage, the Harbolt family moved to Floral Crest, on Sand Mountain, near Bryant, Alabama. A sister, Elizabeth Bernice “Beth,” was born November 24, 1921, and Byron David followed, July 30, 1923.
The family lived in 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 1932-1936, the family lived in Summerfield, between Monteagle and Tracy City, occupying a log cabin that had many gaps in the chinking, holes so big that a “cat could go through the walls.”
As he got older Harbolt would help his father with the “rolling store,” which was a three-quarter ton truck with “Trailblazer” painted on the side.
Between 1936 and 1942, Harbolt’s parent’s lived in the Creston community, near Crossville. During their first year there, Harbolt returned to Sand Mountain to live in the home of Loren and Orpha Noble, parents of his best friend Elwood who later died in Europe, in WWII.
Later, Harbolt 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 Harbolt. He also continued working with his father, who had continued the rolling store business, and they later got a one and one-half ton truck for hauling coal and lumber across Middle Tennessee.
In 1940, Harbolt left Crossville, to train as a nurse at Takoma Hospital in Greeneville, Tennessee, This profession seemed suited for service in the military, as aggression in Europe foreshadowed 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-1940s, for religion and pre-medicine studies at Pacific Union College in St. Helena, California, Harbolt convinced Donaker to come west and marry him. They were married September 20, 1946, on the lawn of former missionary to Asia, Elder V.B. Watts of Upper Lake.
In 1954 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Harbolt studied medicine at the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine. Money did not come easy, and the family lived in a housing project. Genevieve worked as supervisor of a large nursery at the Research Hospital, and Harbolt drove for Yellow Cab. As a medical student, he also had employment as a nurse. Harbolt decided to expand on the 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 Harbolt who still had employment.
The family then moved to Cumberland Heights, near Altamont, and Harbolt became Tennessee-licensed on June 23, 1960. For a time, he leased the Cumberland Heights Clinic from the Edmister family, and his Michigan friend George Kendall was its administrator. Harbolt bought the Big Creek Ranch, home of Dr. Lester Littell (who then moved to Dayton). He had contractor Jim Fuller and others build Cathedral Canyon Clinic and nearby home on Big Greek near Altamont. Here he served as a country doctor, and, with the aid of Genevieve, also delivered about 2,500 babies over the course of 35 years (until more advanced medical facilities were mandated by government regulations).
Studying as he was able, while maintaining a solo practice that included many house calls and irregular hours, he left home in 1980, to take the National Board of Family Medicine examination.
His affordable, no-insurance practice has been featured on television in Chattanooga and in Nashville. The CBS news team from Atlanta filmed at the clinic, which aired across the country as the Eye on America feature.
Harbolt was involved in the founding of Heritage Manor (now The Bridge) at Monteagle, and for 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.
Harbolt was also instrumental in bringing Grundy County’s first radio station, WSGM 104.7 FM (We Sing Gospel Music), to the air in 1994. Radio was in his blood, from inspirational programs he’d present in the 1940s and 1950s in Greeneville, to programs aired from McMinnville, long before WSGM was founded.
Harbolt has received many awards over the years, including Altamont Ruritan Club Citizen of the Year, Grundy County Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Citizen Award, The Jefferson Award (founded by First Lady Nancy Reagan), and, in 1998, a bronze plaque from Grundy County, and one from 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.
Harbolt 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 stop serving Grundy County as a doctor in February 2014, at the age of 90, after 53 years in Grundy County. He then lived with his daughters Verna Marie Chuljian of Iron City, Tennessee, and Del Retha Haugen of Sonora, California. 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.
Harbolt was preceded in death by his parents, by both his siblings, and by his wife Genevieve, who passed June 16, 2006. He is survived his son Sam Harbolt (Susan) of Jackson, and his two children Bjorn and Elise; daughter Del Retha Haugen (Perry) of Sonora, California, and her eight children Thorsen , NIssa, Linnea, Kirk, Skip, Annaliese, Anya, and Kai, and her grandchildren Kal and Isla; and daughter Verna Chuljian (Mark) of Iron City, and her four children Teriz, Mark, Lilyana, and Isaac.
The viewing and funeral were held at Layne’s Funeral Home in Altamont, on August 26.