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"TOMMIE" AND "SATCH"
By Marshall McClung
Mention "Tommie" or "Satch" and most people in Graham County will know who you are talking about, especially if they are involved with a rescue squad or emergency services in any way. Mention Lowanna or Farley, their real names, and probably almost no one will know who you are talking about.
"Tommie" or "Tommy" was nicknamed by Wayne Eller because she was such a "tomboy" Tommie was born in a house standing near the present Hosanna Baptist Church. When she was five years old, they moved out the street to a house near the old First Baptist Church. Her mother died when Tommie was ten years old and she went to live with her grandmother on Eller Branch. Tommie then moved to Clay County where she graduated from Hayesville High School in 1938.
"Batch" which is short for "Satchel" lived in Tellico Plains in Monroe County, Tennessee. He received his nickname from a man at a garage where Satch worked as a youth. Satch came to Graham County in 1942 to work on the construction of Fontana Dam. He and Tommie were married December 18, 1938.
They had one of the first CB (Citizen's Band) radios in the county. This is how they got started in emergency communications and went on to become the "Voice of 400", 400 becoming the call number still used. Satch recalled the fire truck being a 1947 model with a 250 gallon water tank.
Satch joined the Graham County Rescue Squad in 1966 as an equipment manager, a position he was specifically requested for. Tommie was the first female involved with the rescue squad, although she was not the first female member. It was not until she had been dispatching for the squad for several years before she joined. Sherry Collins, a registered nurse became the first female member of the Graham County Rescue Squad.
Three walkie-talkie radios became the next means of communications followed by a base set in the early 1970's. After an ambulance service was begun, Tommie also served as their dispatcher along with the squad until the 911 system with an emergency communications dispatcher was established in Graham County. Tommie has kept a log of all calls and missions she has handled since 1972 which would have to number in the hundreds. Tommie and Satch said Zollie Lynn was their most dependable person to call in the event of an emergency such as an ambulance trip for years.
To everyone around involved in search and rescue missions the clear, easy to understand voice of "400", "Tommie" became familiar, heard often while in a laurel thicket or rock cliff deep in the woods in the middle of the night. Tommie's voice has a way of getting your attention when she came on the radio.
It became an established fact that if you wanted something repaired or wanted to know where a particular item was, you contacted Satch. He often supplied food and drink to rescuers involved in missions, and provided communication links when there was a problem contacting search crews in remote areas
Tommie says the mission that stands out most in her mind was the search mission for Jim Michelic, 25, from Wisconsin in 1988 in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area. Tommie says the reason this one stands out that it was such a long and intense search that ended in tragedy. Michelic had last been seen on September 27 and was not found until October 17. Michelic had died from injuries sustained in a fall from a rock cliff on the upper headwaters of Little Santeetlah Creek which flows through Joyce Kilmer Forest.
Tommie and Satch have received some recognition, though probably not nearly enough for the countless hours of volunteer work they have provided serving the people of Graham County and visitors who have misfortune while in the area. Tommie and Satch have received a plaque from the Graham County Rescue Squad in appreciation of their efforts. Tommie received a certificate of appreciation from the town of Robbinsville for dispatching duties with the Robbinsville Fire Department and one from the Ladies Auxiliary for outstanding community work.
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
For additional information on Graham County Adventures
the Travel and Tourism Authority or
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina