HOW TO HELP
Donations for Y.B. Ashby can be made at any branch of Citizens Tri-County Bank in Bledsoe, Coffee, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, Sequatchie, Van Buren and Warren counties.
A Facebook page in Ashby's name provides more information on how to help.
GRUETLI-LAAGER, Tenn. -- Y.B. Ashby is a force of positive energy in Grundy County.
The 90-year-old's work as a volunteer is widely known, his efforts to preserve the county's military history unparalleled, his dedication to the community unquestioned, his friends say.
For many in Grundy County, Ashby is the man to turn to for help.
Now it's his turn.
On Aug. 29, Ashby's business and equipment were destroyed in a fire. He discovered that his insurance did not cover the building that housed his printing and trophy business and some irreplaceable records for the Grundy County Veterans Historical Society.
The building, a converted mobile home, and all its contents burned to cinders along with about $1,000 worth of U.S. flags intended for raising money for the veterans group. Information on the county's deceased veterans that was part of Ashby's efforts to preserve local veterans history was destroyed.
Ashby also is recovering from a bout with cancer -- not his first one -- and said there's only so much he can do to recover from this most recent blow.
"We're going to just have to be at the mercy of our creditors and the Lord," he said.
He stood at the fire site recently sifting through the ashes to uncover charred trophy parts and medallions meant for local schoolchildren.
He lost several computers, a number of printers, two offset printing presses, materials for making signs, trophies, plaques and some photography equipment, he said. He salvaged an aging cast-iron paper cutter from the ruins, but little else.
"The thing that bothers me most is in one of the filing cabinets we had all of the records of our deceased veterans," he said. Veterans' families over the years had filled out forms describing length of service, commendations and the like. The papers were to be preserved in a book.
The filing cabinets now lie on their sides, scorched a grayish-black with only ashes inside. Ashby, president of the Veterans Historical Society, said he desperately hopes that some of those veterans' families are still around to help him restore the collection.
Ashby has been an unexpected treasure for Grundy County, Grundy County native Gayle VanHooser said.
"I can't think of all the adjectives that would describe him," said VanHooser, the county register of deeds who's helping organize the help effort.
"Mr. Ashby has always been a person that was interested in uplifting the people and accentuating the positive for our area," she wrote about him in a Jefferson Awards nomination letter extolling his impact on the community.
"I have never known a more devoted champion for our veterans and their families," she said.
Ashby moved to Grundy County to retire in 1968, but stayed busy by opening his small business and launching the county's first Chamber of Commerce, VanHooser said.
In the mid-1980s, he started a small newspaper, the Grundy County Post, and in 1994 launched television station GCTV, broadcasting County Commission and school board meetings. Otherwise, he focused most of the content of both operations on local veterans, volunteerism and children, she said.
In 2007, Ashby worked with Tennessee Consolidated Coal Co. to obtain a museum home for the Veterans Historical Society in a Palmer, Tenn., church. The company built the church in 1923 during coal mining's heyday in Grundy County.
Ashby also is a Church of Christ minister and still fills in when needed at local churches, VanHooser said.
Using a self-playing bugle, he has volunteered to play taps at more than 400 local military funerals, she said.
A campaign to help "would be a very unique way to turn the tables and uplift Mr. Ashby for his kind deeds for others," she said.
VanHooser said she and supporters have established an account at a local bank to accept donations.
Sheriff Brent Myers, born in 1974, said he'd known about Ashby and his work for veterans most of his life.
"He's an exceptional person," Myers said. "He's one of those types of people who will go out of his way to try to help you.
"He's been an inspiration to me to see somebody put that much effort into what he does," he said.
A U.S. Army veteran of World War II, Ashby becomes most passionate when he talks about local veterans.
"The reason that we made the decision to move to this county is so we could do something for our fellow man and work for the Lord. And I borrow an expression from Gen. Douglas MacArthur," Ashby said, his still-strong, resonant voice filling with emotion under a cloudy September sky.
"I feel like I'm '... an old soldier who has done his duty as God gave him the sight to see that duty,'" he said, his eyes steel blue and sharp. "And I'm going to keep trying."
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...