Rena Jones Johnson was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, on December 31, 1937. She grew up in a loving home and tight-knit small community where she still has fond attachments to this day. She was an avid golfer and even placed in the state amateur golf tournament in high school. She graduated from Humboldt High School in 1955 and attended Randolph-Macon Women’s College for two years before she transferred to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and eventually graduated with a B.A. in English. While at UT she began dating, and eventually married in 1959, her husband of 61 years, the late William M. “Bill” Johnson who was a son of Sparta. After brief stints in North Carolina and Humboldt, the two were drawn back to Sparta when Bill was asked to head up the newly formed Sparta Savings and Loan in 1961 and eventually he became president of the First National Bank of Sparta. Bill and Rena had three daughters: Cynthea (Buz) Amason, Cathryn (Billy) Rolfe, and Carolyn (Tom) Bronson. Rena has 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Rena placed her faith in Christ as a young girl, and this decision molded and shaped her character and worldview. She has always seen herself as the recipient of God’s love, grace, and mercy and she has faithfully endeavored to share that same love and grace with those she encountered. Giving and serving have been foundations of her life. This was true as she began weaving her life into the fabric of Sparta and White County, a community that loved and welcomed her into its midst. To everything she touched she gave of her time, talents, and treasure.
In the early years she repeatedly was the homeroom and/or team mom as well as the Brownie/Girl Scout leader, and was for many years head of the PTA Fair Booth. She was a Director for the Little League and chaperoned her girls’ All-Star teams. In the community she served on the Library Board Foundation and was instrumental in getting the new library built in Sparta. Rena has always been a voracious reader, and she was passionate about having a topnotch library in White County because she knew the multitude of ways that it would benefit the lives of people here. She was involved in many aspects of the project, especially fundraising. This was not her first project in the community, as she was intimately involved in the design and decorating of the U.S. Bank building, formally the First National Bank, on highway 111. Her daughters say that she missed her calling as an architect because she has a wonderful ability to see and utilize spaces. She used these gifts to serve on a committee to revitalize the buildings on the Square where many were upgraded and fronts were enhanced to bring back the original styles. She also served on committees to improve the White County Schools and has been supportive of the FFA and multiple sports teams through the years.
As busy as these community involvements kept Rena, her passion and heart were always to serve the Lord through her local church and the body of believers there. When Rena and Bill returned to Sparta, she joined the Sparta First United Methodist Church which was Bill’s home church. They raised their three daughters there. Rena served as a faithful adult Sunday School teacher for over forty years. Many have been blessed to be a part of a class with a teacher who diligently seeks to know the Lord through His word and then obey what He has called her to do. Through the years she has served on the parsonage committee, assisted in Vacation Bible School, worked in church rummage sales, assisted in efforts to bring Christmas to underprivileged children, been a patron to the Help Center, and been involved with countless other endeavors of the church. She and Bill have also been faithful supporters of Young Life, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Sparta YMCA and Clean Heart Ministries. In all these she has served and given with excellence, grace, and love.
Bill and Rena’s love for the University of Tennessee is well-known. They felt blessed by the opportunities and education that they received while in Knoxville and have sought to give back to the university system in any way they could. Rena served for many years on the Women’s Council for UT and was a founding member of the Alliance for Women’s Philanthropists. Many of you may have seen the recent addition of a mural to the barn on Rena’s farm that reads, “Everywhere you look UT.” She was so delighted to host a gathering of UT alumni and the university president at the dedication of the mural because she wanted to bring attention to UT in this area. She has been a part of funding scholarships to White County High School graduates who attend any school in the UT system. What may not be so well known is Bill and Rena’s love for Tennessee Tech University. They have continued to support the foundation for the Robert Hill Johnson Award at Tech which was named for Bill’s brother who was killed in a car wreck in 1952 while coaching there. A few years ago, they hosted a luncheon for all past winners of the award to encourage support for the university.
Rena is an avid lover of history and has given back to her community by spearheading and editing, along with others, two history books on White County. Her first was A Pictorial History of White County which was funded by the First National Bank. Her second project was A History of the First United Methodist Church in White County. She spent countless hours researching and possessed an excellent eye for detail and accuracy as she chronicled these histories. They are a treasure. Along with these two books for the residents of White County, she also researched and compiled with others a history for her own Jones family. These are perfect examples of selfless giving with no thought of anything in return.
Those who are members of her family would say her love, hospitality, generosity, and kindness to them are some of her greatest acts of service. She has loved her family and those around her steadfastly, unconditionally, and selflessly her entire life. Her greatest joy is gathering with her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchild anywhere, but especially gatherings at Center Hill Lake. Her impact is seen through multiple generations. She is and has been a good neighbor in the fullest Biblical sense and a praiseworthy wife, mother, grandmother, and citizen of Sparta. If asked about her giving, she would, like a mirror, humbly reflect that praise right back to the Lord for His goodness to her. She either personally or by her giving has touched so many lives. The mural on Rena’s barn says, “Everywhere You Look UT,” but in a very real sense the people of Sparta can say, “Everywhere You Look Rena Johnson.”
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