The man who played an instrumental role in starting one of the state’s largest state parks has passed, leaving many communities mourning in the wake of his loss.
John Greeter, a beloved member of the Tullahoma, Manchester and Sewanee communities, among many others, died over the weekend at age 85. Greeter was a prominent businessman in the Grundy County area, owning and operating the Greeter Building Center for many years before his retirement.
Greeter was also a prominent member of the Friends of South Cumberland State Park, serving as a past president and working on several committees for the Friends, including the Land Conservation Committee.
According to John Hille, the current president of the Friends, Greeter’s legacy will include not only the existence of the park itself, but also continued efforts to grow and better the park lands.
“He’s played a major role in conservation of additional land,” Hille said. “He served on our Land Conservation Committee and was very active in helping us to secure additional properties that have helped around the park. We’re now over 30,000 acres, which is now the second-largest park in the state, just behind Fall Creek Falls.”
Greeter was instrumental in several of those land acquisitions, Hille said, as the Friends worked with state officials to purchase the land and sell it to the state to grow the park to its current acreage.
“The park — not just in the beginning, but how the park has developed and grown — is an important part of John’s legacy,” Hille said.
According to Susan Campbell, another Friends board member for the past several years with Greeter, he and his family essentially founded the state park through a generous gift to the state in the 1970s. It all started when his family, who were Swiss immigrants, settled in the area now known as Gruetli-Laager in Grundy County.
“I heard him say once that when they got up there and realized how hilly and mountainy and rocky the land was, they couldn’t farm it, so they started a lumber business,” she said. “They had a very successful lumber business. Then in the 70s, John helped get the land sold. The land was sold to the State of Tennessee, which was the impetus for starting the South Cumberland State Park.”
Avid hikers are no doubt familiar with the Greeter Falls Loop Trail and the Greeter Trail, which make up about two miles of the hiking trails in the Savage Gulf Natural State Area. The trails and the fall itself were named for the Greeter family as recognition for all they contributed to the local area, including the lumber mill.
Park officials confirmed that the Greeter family homestead foundation is still standing in the area, attracting many tourists each year.
Additionally, Campbell said, Greeter’s knowledge of the land is something the community will be missing now that he’s gone.
“His knowledge, I think, will be missed more than anything—the knowledge he had and the connections that he had; his love of that area and the community and the fact that he’s a vital part of the Friends group and the state park,” she said. “He was very involved in the Friends of South Cumberland for a long time. I’ve been on the board for the last two or three years, and in that time, I’ve been able to get to know him more.”
Hille agreed, saying his local community connections and his love for the area will be missed, as well as “his generous spirit.”
“He could always find a way to help people make good decisions,” Hille said. “If people were somewhat at odds with each other, he was a bit of a peacemaker. John never took sides. He always was one of those guys who tried to find a middle way when people had a division of opinion.”
Those qualities and more were why the Friends agreed to name Greeter the Jim Prince Award honoree last year. The Jim Prince Award is the most prestigious honor the Friends award each year and is reserved for a person (or persons) who “most exemplify leadership in outdoor conservation for the region encompassed by the South Cumberland State Park.”
Hille said Greeter’s whole person as well as the work he has done over the last several decades to grow and improve the park were some of the reasons he was the obvious choice for the award last year.
“He was an incredibly gentle spirit who worked well with other people and encouraged other people to be generous as well,” Hille said. “He had so many contacts at the state level that often played an important part in getting the support we needed for the rangers and the amenities at the park.”
Hille also recalled stories friends, acquaintances and former customers of Greeter’s would share, citing his generous spirit in business as well as in conservation.
“I’ve talked to people who did business with him years ago that said he was always one of those people who didn’t try to gouge you and instead just always tried to help you do what you needed to do,” he said.
Visitation for Greeter was held Wednesday at Moore-Cortner Funeral Home in Winchester with funeral services following in the chapel. Rev. Amy Lamborn and Rev. Jim Pappas officiated. Interment followed at Monteagle Cemetery.