Collegedale seeks growth, builds on unique history under Mayor Lamb

BY KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb has lived in the community located two miles north of the Georgia state line for 47 years, the past decade of which she has spent in various roles on the Collegedale City Council.


A native of Texas, Lamb earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing education from Union College in Lincoln, Neb., before going on to earn a master’s in nursing (MSN) from the University of Central Arkansas and a doctorate in nursing administrator and higher education from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Her husband’s military career and work as a college professor took the family across the country, including stints in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Georgia before finally bringing them to Tennessee.


Lamb moved with her family to Collegedale in 1972, and she took a position at the town’s namesake, Southern Adventist University, that same year. Lamb taught nursing at the university, eventually becoming dean of the school of nursing, associate vice president for academics, and dean of graduate students prior to her retirement in 2006.
In 2009, Lamb ran for the Collegedale City Commission and was selected as the city’s mayor in 2014, a position she has held ever since.


In the years since her move to Collegedale, Lamb has seen the city grow from a small college town outside Chattanooga into a city that has cultivated its natural assets surrounding White Oak Mountain and grown its economic base, which includes both the university and Little Debbie snack cake manufacturer McKee Foods.


She has been married for nearly 60 years to Ed Lamb, a professor of social work and sociology. She is also a mother of two and grandmother of two. When not with her family or working on behalf of Collegedale, Lamb is a volunteer for the United Way and enjoys hobbies including quilting, reading, antiquing, and traveling.

 

TT&C: You and your family lived several places before ultimately settling down in Collegedale. What did you do before coming to Tennessee?


Katie Lamb: My background is in nursing and my husband is a social worker. I’m originally a Texan. I grew up in King, Texas, and spent most of my early life there. I went to a Seventh Day Adventist junior college there for a year and then transferred to Union College in Lincoln, Neb., for the last three years. It was a Seventh Day Adventist school as well. My husband and I met during my senior year of college.


After we got married, we went to Denver, Colo. He worked for a time at the welfare department for Denver city and Denver County. I worked at Porter Memorial Hospital in their operating room.


After my husband was drafted into the Army in 1963, we were sent to Washington, D.C., and he worked at Walter Reed. In fact, that was the hospital where our son was born. The day I was checking out of the hospital so was Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, so I got to meet him in the admissions office.
My husband was officially stationed at Fort Detrick where he did the Operation Whitecoat experiments. That was where they took several men from similar backgrounds, similar diet, and healthy living and did germ war experiments with them.


During that time, I was working in the operating room of a hospital in Takoma Park, Md. Then we moved back to Denver where I worked in the operating room again at Porter and as a stay-at-home mom.

 

TT&C: What made you decide to pursue a career in nursing?


KL: All my life I was attracted to nursing. I didn’t have any family members who were nurses, but my closest friend’s mother was a nurse.
I decided that was the career I wanted to choose, so I went after it. I love working in the operating room. My first job out of nursing school was in a clinic in Lincoln. My husband still had a year to finish before he graduated, so I worked in a physician’s office during that time.
There is just something about the operating room for me. I just like knowing how things are put together and how they work. It also meant I had weekends off and major holidays, which was an advantage.


TT&C: What first brought you to Collegedale?


KL: We moved to Collegedale in January 1972, when my husband was hired by Southern Adventist University to head up their school of social work. We have stayed here ever since. When we came to Southern and Collegedale, they needed someone to teach the students in the nursing program operating room. I started teaching part time and taking the students to the operating room at Memorial Hospital.


I went to school, got my master’s degree, and taught cardiac and intensive care. From there, I got my doctorate and became dean of the school of nursing for a few years. I then moved down to academic administration and then graduate dean at Southern after my doctorate degree was finished.

 

TT&C: What first prompted your decision to seek public office? Was there a particular issue or cause that drew you to politics?


KL: I have always been interested in politics. I don’t know why. As a kid, I didn’t care much about it and it wasn’t really a big topic at home. At that time, my parents had to pay a poll tax in Texas, so they didn’t always vote because they didn’t always have money to pay the poll tax. As an adult, I have always been interested in politics and areas that would work for the people.


Once I retired from Southern in 2006, I thought ‘now what am I going to do with my life?’ My grandchildren were both living with us at the time because both of their parents were in the Navy and were deployed at the same time. My granddaughter was two years old and the youngest one was about a year old. That kept me busy, but after that I decided I wanted to give something back to Collegedale.


I liked the town and the way it was progressing. It was just my way of saying thanks and that I wanted to be part of the town as it grows.

 

TT&C: While Collegedale itself was first founded in 1968, the community had already been growing around Southern Adventist University since its founding in 1916. What is the relationship like between the city and the university? How do the two support each other?


KL: There is really a good relationship between the two. The area where the city is building a Commons area once belonged to the university and the area where city hall is located once belonged to the university. We have a really great working relationship. When they have issues on campus, they call and ask how we can work together on this or that. It’s been pretty much that way most of the time through the city’s history.

 

TT&C: How has Collegedale changed since you first moved to the area?


KL: When it was chartered back in 1968, the town was mostly Seventh Day Adventists living here, but that has totally switched. The population is probably now about 60 percent non-Adventist and 40 percent Adventist. Not everyone on the commission is a Seventh Day Adventist either.
We have to look at what is good for everyone not just one segment of people. At one time, there wasn’t the best relationship between the Seventh Day Adventist and the non-Adventist population.


There were people in the old town Ooltewah area who did not want to be part of Collegedale, possibly because of some of the interactions with the early founders who tried to focus it more on one religious aspect than another. That was not right. Those of us who have been on the commission in the past 10 or 12 years have really worked to represent everyone, not just one religious faith.

 

TT&C: The city has been experiencing a lot of growth in recent years and was recently named one of the fastest growing cities in the state. How do you foster growth without compromising the community’s identity?


KL: Early on, when I first came on to the council, we started putting together standards. We decided there was a certain look we wanted Collegedale to have so it didn’t grow-up willy-nilly.


We wanted to make the town attractive. We wanted to attract families and make the city family-oriented. We wanted Collegedale to have a distinct look and not be cluttered. We wanted to preserve the rural atmosphere. We don’t want someone to come in and clear off White Oak Mountain to put in houses.
We have all sorts of recreational areas out there that people don’t know about, but we try to tell them. Collegedale has a lot to give anyone who wants to live here. We don’t want to be just a bedroom community for Chattanooga. We have thousands of people who come in every day to work at McKee Foods and to attend classes at Southern.

 

TT&C: What city project are you most proud of?


KL: The Commons area, which we are building up as a town center where people can come and participate in all sorts of activities. The Commons and Founders Hall have brought a lot of different types of entertainment to the area. It hosts a Farmers Market throughout the year on Sundays and during the summer operates on Sundays and Wednesdays. We have movie nights there a couple of nights a month and music programs and concerts. Our Commons and its Founders Hall is really attracting a lot of different types of activities. We are very pleased with that.


I am also proud of our greenway and bike trails. There is so much out there to do for those interested in physical activities. Our new parks and rec department is really growing and putting us on the map.

 

TT&C: What are some of the biggest challenges the city faces? How are they being addressed?
KL: We would like to attract more commercial, but we as a city don’t own any land. Those who do own the land either want to lease the land or want to offer it at too high of a price. We would love to attract more nice restaurants. We have a lot of fast-food type things, but we would like to have some more sit-down restaurants and places we can walk to and enjoy.


We have a lot of apartment buildings and are working to attract more commercial to bring in more revenue. We are looking for more retail. We have a lot of banks and medical centers, but would like something more in the smaller retail area. The area on Lee Highway is also a great place for industry because it is along the railroad tracks.
We worked for a while with an organization who dealt with attracting development, and our strategic planning and economic development person now works quite hard with various organizations. We have had a lot of inquiries.


Part of the issue is people don’t know the difference between Collegedale and Ooltewah, so we have to explain to them that Collegedale is part of the greater Ooltewah area. It’s a matter of getting our name out there and letting people know what we can offer them.

 

TT&C: What goals and objectives do you have for the city moving forward?


KL: Right now we are trying to get that Apison Pike widening completed. Once that project is through, I think it will attract even more people to the area. We are also trying to catch up with various roads and safety projects around town. We are constantly working with individuals who have interest in our area.