John Nolen: pilot, scientist, teacher, cattleman, community
and church leader
John Nolen graduated from high school in Houston County, TN in a class of 28. His wife Joan graduated in nearby Stewart County in a class of 13. This was a modest launch into a colorful and productive future. When John enrolled in Austin Peay at age 16, his dad told him, “I’ll give you $10 a week and you find the rest.” He majored in agriculture, biology and chemistry. He paid for his first year and bought a truck playing pool. The next 3 years he worked 56 hours a week. John volunteered for Air Force Pilot School in 1954, but, because of too many cadets in the class, he and others were transferred to the Airport Operation Squadron and was eventually sent to Libya. “Our job was to fly paratroopers, but I only saw one. The Air Force was really good about coordinating stuff,” John said with a grin. John wryly described Libya as “a really nice place. It was officially 136o F. in the shade, but you couldn’t find any shade.” The entertainment consisted of motorcycle races. “If you had a bike, you were expected to either race it, or loan it to somebody.” Food was a challenge. The food boat came in once a month. Fresh tomatoes were the size of a hen egg, eggs were the size of a bird egg and carrots were turned green by the sun. They never had ice and they drank warm tea out of soup bowls. On the positive side, John soon discovered that if a plane was leaving with an empty seat, he could book himself on it and stay at the destination until the plane came back. “I saw every non-communist country in that part of Europe,” John remembered. After his fourteen month enlistment expired, John and Joan were married and John worked for Swift’s American Agriculture Chemical plant in Illinois until he returned to Austin Peay for a Masters in Education Administration. In 1957, John accepted a position at Moore County High School to set up the chemistry program. An enticement was a house that was owned by the county for the use of a science teacher for $30 a month. To prove Joan’s point that he has always had 3 or 4 jobs, John declared, “I was full-time teacher, full time bus driver, part-time at Jack Daniel’s and, in my spare-time I put up TV antennas.” Later, when full-time at Jack Daniel’s, John raised Longhorn Cattle and made “slop” troughs which he delivered on a rig he created. When John was offered a principal’s position in Illinois, Lem Tolley matched his salary as a full-time chemist at the Distillery. Five years later, he would again fill a need by teaching high school chemistry at 8 am before his job at Jack Daniel’s. Until hiring John, the Distillery had no one with a scientific background. John explained his duties: “Anytime we got new equipment, I had to learn how to operate it and take care of it. EPA got on to us for smoke from charcoal burning. I was involved with making hoods to work with that.” While Graddy Richard was General Manager, John was put in charge of the newly created Production Control Department, which would later become Quality Control. He worked with the manufacturer to purchase the stainless filtration system for the bottling plant. He purchased the Distillery’s first tanker to transport whiskey between the Distillery and Bottling. He designed a system that made it possible to bottle miniatures and provide more jobs. Jack Daniel’s sent John all over the country as a knowledgeable representative, including to Washington D.C.to resolve a distilling mistake with the Federal Government and, at another time, to testify in Federal Court that Jack Daniel’s is distilled no place other than Lynchburg, Tennessee. In 1983, John attended a seminar regarding new products, where a double charcoal mellowed Jack Daniel’s was discussed. Art Hancock from marketing encouraged John to work on it. It took 5 years, but by 1988 John had created Gentleman Jack. John became Secretary of the Tennessee Squires when Charlie Manley retired and Tommy Beam was to become General Manager. The Manager normally signed Squire Membership cards and letters. However, the Distillery had a problem with the name “Beam” on those communications, so John was appointed as Squire Secretary. The outlandish letters sent to Squires are the products of creative writers whose quali cation, John was told, is “being able to lie with good grammar.” John retired from Jack Daniel’s 3 times: As manager of Quality Control in 1993; As Secretary to the Tennessee Squires in 2006; As Master Taster in 2016. In the early 1960s, John and Joan bought a home on Motlow Barnes Rd. that had been built in the 1840s and had been the first home of Jack and Mary Evans Bobo. Prior to the current Metropolitan Government, John served as County Magistrate and completed the term of County Judge Parks Hayes. Interestingly, in 1978, Joan was elected to the same office, which was then called County Executive. During her term, Wiseman Park and ball fields were built and the first ambulance and jaws-of-life were purchased. John was a volunteer fireman. He served on the local library board, the regional library board and 13 years on the Tennessee Elk River Development Agency. He was a deacon for several years at Arbor Baptist Church, now Jennings-Moore Cortner Funeral Home. He literally built the church parking lot. John was recently recognized by Bill Thomas, Commander of the Moore County American Legion, for his 60 years of service to that organization. John was Commander in 1962 when the first Frontier Days Celebration was a trail ride and camp out available for local use. Scientist, teacher, innovator, cattleman, property developer, community and church leader—85 year old John Nolen continues to live an amazingly fruitful life and Moore County has been the beneficiary for 60 years.