How do you define a prized possession? Is it an object characterized by craftsmanship, imbued with memory, or that simply makes life better?

Of course, there is no right answer. The sentiments we attach to meaningful objects are as unique as the objects themselves. What matters most to you?

In honor of Chatter's annual "Man Issue," we asked local men to share the stories behind their prized possessions.


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Jim Johnson poses at at his home with his prized possession, a 1931 edition of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

Jim Johnson, 65, owner of

Prized possession: 1931 edition of "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman

Estimated worth: $75-$100

Twenty years ago, when Jim Johnson's mother moved into an assisted living facility, she gave him her copy of "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. Johnson's father had given her the book for their first anniversary, following his return from WWII in 1945.

Many years after that anniversary, when Johnson was in college, his parents divorced. It was a tumultuous time for his family, especially for his mother, Johnson remembers.

"The book reminds me of the intense love [my parents] once had for each other. It also reminds me of my father's warm and romantic side, which he rarely showed," Johnson says.

Inside the book, Johnson's father's inscription to his mother reads:

"The leaves of grass on the lawn of time

Are stirred by the sweeping hours

And moments that were yours and mine

Give birth to the waking flowers.

A year upon the lawn of time

Has mowed and reaped anew

And life again has found the 'rhyme' —

Again I am with you."

"Although Walt Whitman far exceeded my father in fame and literary talent, there's nothing Whitman wrote that moves me more than my father's words. I read my father's inscription quite often," Johnson says.


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Kevin Hale has thirty years of Rolling Stone magazines on a rack in his home. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Kevin Hale, 44, director of digital marketing and e-commerce for Digital Ad Solutions and Sun Mills Floors

Prized possession: Collection of 800-plus issues of Rolling Stone magazine

Estimated worth: $6,000+

Kevin Hale's goal is to outlive his lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, which expires in 2050.

He first began subscribing to the monthly pop culture magazine in 1992, at age 16. Music had always been important to him, and he enjoyed learning what inspired his favorite artists — U2, Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example.

Now, his collection comprises more than 800 issues. He displays them in a magazine shelving rack system in his climate-controlled home office.

Over the decades, the magazines have come to mean more to him than just their content.

For a sociological perspective, he says, "it's interesting ... why something or someone becomes popular. The magazine symbolizes the moment we are in right now; the present."


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Dan Coombes's most prized possession is his dad's watch. / Staff Photo by Robin Rudd

Dan Coombes, 53, retired Marine officer

Prized possession: 1951 Bulova Ashford watch

Estimated worth: $550

Dan Coombes does not remember his father wearing much jewelry.

"Other than his wedding band, which he never took off, the watch was the only other piece of jewelry I remember him wearing," Coombes says.

The gold timepiece had been given to his father as a high school graduation present in 1951.

Sixty-five years later, in May 2016, Coombes' father was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that results in the eventual loss of all muscle control. The disease progressed quickly, and within six months, his father had lost the ability to speak.

Coombes remembers shortly before his passing, his father motioned him to his bedside.

"He handed me the watch with an earnest look on his face. I think it was the last one-on-one communication we shared," says Coombes.


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Mike Hemsley sits in his man cave with a Dan Gurney racing poster he treasures from a visit to Los Angeles in the 1980s. /Staff photo by Tim Barber

J. Michael Hemsley, 75, automotive journalist

Prized possession: Signed and personalized poster from late American race car driver Dan Gurney

Estimated worth: $400

In 1967, James "Mike" Hemsley witnessed American race car driver Dan Gurney win the Belgian Grand Prix.

Hemsley had fallen in love with the sport five years earlier and was fascinated with the design of cars.

Almost 15 years after Gurney's win, while on business in Los Angeles, Hemsley and a friend visited the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum. Among the private collection of historic automobiles was the Eagle F-1 race car with which Gurney had won the 1967 Grand Prix.

A poster celebrating the win hung behind the car. Hemsley pointed to the poster and told his friend, who worked in the racing industry, how he had witnessed Gurney's historic win and how much it had meant to him.

A few weeks later, Hemsley received a copy of the poster in the mail. On it, a handwritten inscription read, "To Mike Hemsley — with all the best — Dan Gurney."

"Dan Gurney is a true champion. He won in every form of racing he attempted," Hemsley says. "I met Gurney on several occasions and interviewed him twice for articles. He was a true gentleman and is one of my heroes."


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Rick Cadena poses at his home with his prized possession, his U.S. Navy ring, on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

Rick Cadena, 62, general manager of Chattanooga Courtyard at Hamilton Place

Prized possession: U.S. Navy graduation ring

Estimated worth: $230

For almost 40 years, Rick Cadena forgot all about the ring he had received at age 18 after completing Navy boot camp.

The Vietnam War had just ended, and back then, says Cadena, "Americans did not appreciate the military or veterans as most do now. ... My parents were proud of me, but there was no one else ... in the world patting you on the back for serving your country.

"Between my age and the feeling in America at the time, I just did not end up caring about [the ring]."

So he gave it to his father, a veteran of the Mexican army, who deeply believed in patriotic duty.

In 2016, on the 40th anniversary of Cadena's military graduation, his father returned the ring to him.

"It means so much to me that my father protected it all these years. I remember how proud my father was of me when I graduated from boot camp," says Cadena, who now fully embraces the significance of that ring.

"That rings tells my kids that I served our country and I am proud of it," he says. "I hope it instills in them the desire to serve others in some capacity on behalf of their community and country."


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Frank White sits holding his Kindle at his home in Chattanooga. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Frank White, 66, house-husband and retired registered nurse

Prized possession: Kindle

Estimated worth: $140

Frank White has always been a voracious reader.

"Reading has informed, distracted, entertained and comforted me since infancy. ... Reading has provided access to swaths of the world that my origins, circumstances and inclination denied," says the self-described poet and philosopher.

Throughout his life, he carried books with him wherever he went.

"If I went day hiking, backpacking or motorcycling, books had to be accommodated. Any sort of travel required careful selection to minimize bulk and weight, he says.

Then, in 2009, White ordered a Kindle, a small electronic tablet designed for downloading and reading books. The device cost him $140, but he estimates he's now spent more than $2,000 downloading content — about 400 books, and he's read them all.

"Now I carry an entire library on my thigh the size and weight of a thin trade paperback," says White. "If it [my Kindle] symbolizes something, I suppose it is mobility, freedom, opportunity and options."


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Randy Whorton loads his standup paddle board onto his truck at his home on the side of Lookout Mountain. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Randy Whorton, 59, founder and executive director of Wild Trails

Prized possession: Bote Gonzo stand-up paddleboard

Estimated worth: $500

Randy Whorton says that most would call his stand-up paddleboard ugly.

"[It's] really dinged up with loads of repairs and not much effort to repaint," Whorton says. "But I think it's gorgeous."

Aesthetics aside, he says, "That piece of fiberglass has allowed me to connect with nature and challenge myself in a way that has no equal."

A longtime ultra runner and endurance athlete, Whorton estimates he has traveled more than 7,000 miles on his SUP since taking up the sport in 2012. That mileage includes his annual paddle across the state of Tennessee, covering about 290 miles in seven days or less.

"I can cover 40-plus miles per day [on my SUP]," he says. "My record is 80 miles in one day. That is just not possible on foot or with any other watercraft."

Moreover, he says, as he gets older, SUPing is easier on his body than other sports.

"So what this means to me and my wife," says Whorton, "is that our connection with nature should continue well into old age and being surrounded by the natural world is the most valuable part of our lives."


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Michael Moore rearranges ticket stubs that are part of his prized collection that spans more than 20 years. This is just part of the collection. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

Michael Moore, 32, Realty representative for Tennessee Valley Authority

Prized possession: Collection of every movie, festival and sports event ticket attended since age 10

Estimated worth: $0

Michael Moore keeps his collection of 600 or so ticket stubs in a small fireproof safe. Occasionally he sorts through it, reliving each event: the UTC basketball games he attended as a child with his father; the movies that helped shape his outlook on life; the hundreds of music concerts, from Drake to Dave Matthews Band, that bolstered his sense of belonging.

"I have been a music fan as long as I can remember," Moore says.

He's now seen his favorite group, Georgia-based jam band Widespread Panic, almost 100 times.

"Being raised on the Grateful Dead ... I always appreciated the art of the extensive musical performance in a song," he says.

But the value of these experiences extends beyond their entertainment. To Moore, events big or small represent camaraderie and collective joy.

"Of all the shows I've been to, about 30% of them I attended by myself. And guess what?" he says. "I've never felt alone."


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Joe Ferguson enjoys his 2016 Porche at his home in Signal Mountain. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Joe Ferguson, 85, retired chairman of EPB

Prized possession: 2016 Porsche Macan S

Estimated worth: $40,000-$50,000

For years, owning a Porsche had been on Joe Ferguson's bucket list.

"I have always been a car guy," he says. "While some people see a vehicle just as transportation, I have always felt a car to be an extension of me and a real source of enjoyment."

Throughout his career, Ferguson specialized in engineering and manufacturing processes. Both on and off the job, he developed a deep admiration for precise machinery.

The Porsche, he says, embodies excellence, which is illustrated by its history in racing.

"I think it was the famous [race car] driver Dan Gurney, when asked years ago why he stayed with the Porsche team, remarked, 'Because their cars don't break,'" Ferguson says, adding, "The Macan S is a true sports car in SUV clothing. Precise, agile, powerful and comfortable."

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Local men's prized possessions