Chattanoogans Get Serious About Their Hobbies
We all have hobbies, whether it’s collecting boomerangs, sailing, bird-watching, or simply reading a good book. They are our ways to unwind, indulge in things that we enjoy, build community, or pass on a family tradition. For some, what begins as a childhood pastime grows into a rich pursuit, and even a way of life.
By Laura Childers and Hannah VanBiber
The following six Chattanoogans are passionate about things you might call hobbies. But their interests are much more than fun and games; they have also become a pathway to enriching their family, work, and community. What started as recreation has become an expertise, a way to build relationships, or the means of keeping a memory alive. And in their pursuit of what makes them joyful, all have learned the meaning of the mantra to “do what you love, and love what you do.”
SUMMERFIELD JOHNSTON JR.
Game and Conservation
“It’s not a passion, it’s a way of life.”
This is how Summerfield Johnston, Jr. feels about Bendabout Properties, his more than 4,000 acre farm in the McDonald/Cleveland area. Mr. Johnston is a family man and businessman at heart—but his hobbies have always been hunting, fishing, and polo. Bendabout brings all of these things together for Johnston and his family, friends and community. It’s a world-class polo ground, a commercial hunting operation, a professionally managed wildlife habitat, and the site of the family home.
The Johnston family land dates back to the 1830s, when the Johnston and Tucker families made their living growing crops on property issued as a Revolutionary War grant. Later, the farm was devastated during the Civil War, and divided between family members.
During the early 20th century, much of the farm was repurchased by James F. Johnston, Summerfi eld Jr.’s grandfather. A Chatt anooga banker who would later purchase the fi rst Coca-Cola bottling franchise, James Johnston used the land for catt le and other farming operations.
When the land was passed to Summerfield Jr. in the late ‘70s, there were a few rabbits, a few squirrels, working cattle and horses, and no fishing ponds. But Summerfield saw its potential— both as a businessman and a conservationist— and quickly got to work.
Years of overgrowth were cleared, trees were planted, and a new 1,000-acre quail woods was added. Thus began the farm’s extensive habitat program, which now supports over 2,500 acres of quail habitat and has large open spaces with trees and grasses that support wildlife.
A portion of Bendabout has also been dedicated to “GJ Stables,” a steeplechase training and racing operation owned by Summerfield Jr.’s wife, Gillian. Having raced and trained horses for over 30 years, she is one of the most successful steeplechase owners and trainers in the United States. “
Every generation has done something different with Bendabout—whether that is cattle, horses, a nursery,” Mr. Johnston says. “The farm is not prime agricultural land, so we decided to build a nature conservatory, run a commercial hunting operation, and add the stables and track. It’s better for the land and helps us enjoy time with family and friends.
In addition to quail, the conifer-overhead ecosystem supports commercial turkey, duck, a heavy deer population, and all kinds of other wildlife including butterflies, sparrows, insects, and reptiles. The Johnstons and their patrons (many of whom come from all over the United States and the world) enjoy quail hunts, deer hunts and wild turkey hunts as well as fishing on one of the property’s 10 lakes.
For Johnston, it’s as much about enjoying the land as it is about the sport. “I grew up on a farm. I’ve always loved hunting—especially when you can kill 9 birds with 10 shots. But the shooting isn’t as important as much as being out there.”
Hunts at Bendabout are designed to accommodate four to six to a party in a mule-drawn wagon or on the back of trained walking horses. Parties are accompanied by a scout and a trainer with any number of the Johnstons’ 20-25 hunting dogs trained in Wyoming.
Ultimately, Johnston’s cultivation of the Bendabout property is about preserving a family legacy and a former way of life. “We get upset when a critical habitat is destroyed. We don’t have nature to do some things for us any more so we have to do it,” Mr. Johnston says. “What we’re doing is beneficial to the wildlife and the property. We owe something to the generations, and we have a responsibility to the animals. I want to leave the land in as good a shape as I can for the next generation with a forestry operation that can sustain itself.”
DR. JIM O’SBORN
“It’s such a rush.”
This is local orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jim Osborn, describing the feeling he gets on the racetrack. “Racing fuel and burning rubber to me are like the smell of hot cider and chocolate chip cookies in the fall. Everything else just gets washed away when you’re going 140 miles an hour.”
Cars are in the Osborn bloodline— Jim’s grandfather owned a dealership in Athens, Tenn., and his grandmother’s family owned one in Knoxville. By his teens, Jim was building racecars with his brother John and racing at the amateur level. He would continue to “race all the way through medical school,” competing at the amateur level from 1980 to 2001.
In 2001, the Osborn brothers started a professional racing team, Chili Pepper Racing, to raise money and awareness for charity. From 2001-2009, the team travelled across the U.S. and Canada successfully competing as privateers against factory team engineers including GM and BMW in the Speed World Touring Car and GT Series. In fact, John, a dentist from Knoxville, assisted with the design of the cars (including a BMW 325ci, Pontiac GTO, and an Mk V Volkswagen Jett a TDI) and did much of their assembly and modification in his garage.
Since 2009, Dr. Osborn has slowed his racing schedule to focus more exclusively on the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, which he founded with his wife, Amy Jo, after the passing of their 9-week-old son “Hatch” to a rare and aggressive form of cancer. “I’m very passionate about motor sports and speed,” Dr. Osborn says. “We’re also passionate about the foundation to help families with cancer.”
“There are beautiful rides here.”
These are the words of Chattanoogan Bobby May, a life-long lover of motorcycles. May got his first motorcycle as a Christmas present when he was 12 years old. “I still get that same feeling and enjoy it as much today as I did back then,” May says. But what started out as a hobby and a means of transportation is now a business, a social outlet, and a serious talent. You can find May restoring and maintaining as many as 15 motorcycles at one time at his business, May Bros Auto Sales.
May was a teenager at Brainerd Junior High School when he got a job at a local motorcycle shop in Brainerd. That’s where you could say he “caught the fever.” It’s also where he developed lifelong friendships within Chattanooga’s motorcycle community.
Now, May has a small riding group of motorcycle buddies that began with the shop. His regular extended road trips have taken him to Key West, the Grand Canyon, and Daytona Beach for Labor Day Weekend. Still, May says some of his favorite rides are right here in the surrounding country of the Scenic City. “You don’t have to go out of town,” May says.
When he’s not on the road, May is content to do what he loves for a living, whether that’s working in the shop or showing bikes at local and out of town shows. “Motorcycles are just as much fun to show and keep clean as they are to ride,” May says. “It’s a big stress relief for me. There is a lot of stress involved in running a car business and I get to work with motorcycles almost every day.”
His favorite? “I don’t really have one. They’re all favorites for different reasons.”
“It’s empowering as a woman.”
This is what 27-year-old Denise Wright has to say about her work with Arabian racehorses, known for their wild and spirited temperaments. A true horsewoman, Wright manages the breeding and training of over 10 black type Arabians at Bayview Farm in Ooltewah, Tenn. “[Arabians] are known as ‘crazy.’ We constantly get that. But it’s how you deal with them,” Wright says.
Bayview’s breeding program started in 1992, the year Wright’s father, Dr. Ted Kinsman Wright, met Arabian enthusiast Sam Harrison. “Dad invested in a polish mare and it just went from there,” she says. “It was like a gambling game—‘What stallion goes with what mare to produce the fastest race horse?’ We started playing with diff erent types—Polish, Egyptian—we came out with some really cool horses.”
As early as the age of twelve, Wright was handling stud colts. Then while studying disability studies at Berry College, she worked at Berry’s Gunby Equine Center. “That’s where the concepts just clicked,” Wright says. “I started wanting to learn how the physical diff erences in the horses could help us play to their strengths.”
Now, the father-daughter Wright team work as business partners at Bayview— he manages the purchases and international sales, and she manages national sales and training. “People get very specific with their breeding. But we experiment—kind of let the horse find itself,” Wright says.
“Horses are empowering,” Wright says. “They are these huge animals that you get to train and build a relationship with. I love finding homes for them and finding out their potential. They are complex and huge and they each have a personality.”
“I find that flying keeps me closer to God.”
These are the words of pilot Tom Snow, a resident of Signal Mountain. “There’s a famous book by a World War II fighter pilot titled ‘God is My Co-Pilot,’” Snow says. “I’ve adopted that phrase as my motto.”
During his lifetime, the aviation enthusiast has owned all or part of 14 airplanes. Currently, he has ownership in three—a 2000 Mooney Ovation, a 1987 Beechcraft Bonanza for personal and business travel, and a 1999 American Champion Super Decathlon for recreation.
“My father had soloed in a Piper Cub in the 1940s, but he was never able to master the depth perception required for good landings due to having only one good eye,” Snow says. “Although he passed on his interest in aviation to me, I didn’t think I could handle the required radio communications because I’m a lifelong stutterer. But after completing an intensive three week speech therapy program in Virginia, I gained the confidence to start taking lessons in 1981.”
One of Snow’s best memories is landing for the first time at the world’s largest air show and flyin— AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. “I had driven up there for several years when I wasn’t even a pilot,” he says. “That was a real thrill to fly up there in my own airplane and land successfully with all the traffic. My son, Sam, went with me—he was about nine at the time. We pitched a tent under the wing and spent the better part of a week there.” Now Snow has attended AirVenture for over 30 years, and Sam, 36, has been flying since his days as a student at Auburn.
BILL & RITA LIVEZEY
“For us, its about being with our friends.”
This is how Bill and Rita Livezey feel about being a part of the yachting community on the Tennessee River. “We love camping out all night. Inviting people to come and cook out and spend the night with us.”
However, the Soddy-Daisy retirees have just returned from a year-long trip on their 41’ Meridian—an expedition that took them to Mobile, Ala., the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Jacksonville, Ft. Myers, Mobile again, and back to Chatt anooga.
Bill’s love for boats began at an early age; every summer weekend, he would go with his family to the Tennessee river near Scottsboro, Ala., for camping and water skiing behind a 14-foot runabout boat. He and Rita were able to share that passion, owning smaller boats including an 18’ SeaRay and a 34’ Rinker. Then in 2006, the couple “bit the bullet” and upgraded to the Meridian. They’ve never looked back.
The Livezeys’ first long trip on their Meridian was to Knoxville to be a part of the Vol Navy, a Tennessee football tradition in which fleets dock at Volunteer Landing each Saturday during football season. Now the Livezeys have made the Vol Navy their own personal tradition, having att ended the games by boat for five or six years.
In the future, the Livezeys say they’d like to go to Nashville via the Cumberland river. But for now, they’re home right here in Chattanooga. “The main thing is—we really enjoy the Chattanooga waterfront. It’s a big asset for the city,” Bill says.
And the Meridian Sedan Bridge model with two staterooms is perfect for sharing the yacht with friends, family, and the yachting community. “You can walk straight in from the back with some groceries and beer,” Bill says. “We really enjoy the friendships on the Tennessee River.”