East Tennessee State University

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The following was part of a series of articles on campus name origins published by the East Tennessean in 1985. A journalism class in the communication department wrote the series. This segment’s author, Frank Cannon, is now an editor at the Kingsport Times-News. Other parts of the series will be reprinted periodically.

Most people at East Tennessee State University do not know where or what the John Clack Building is, but it was named after a man who was very prominent both at ETSU and in Johnson City. 

Located across Dossett Drive from Warf-Pickel Hall, the building is the central cooling plant for the campus. 

It was named for John A. Clack, who became the business manager at ETSU in 1937. He left the job to join the Navy, but he returned to his position in 1945 and remained there until 1963. At that time, he resigned to become the president of First
Federal Savings and Loan Association, the job he held until his death in 1973. 

Clack earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration at the age of 17. He followed up on this feat by earning his master’s degree when he was 18. Both degrees came from the University of Texas in Austin.

Before coming to Tennessee, Clack was a music director for a high school in Odessa, Texas, and a statistician for the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas. After losing his university job because of the Depression, he became the superintendent of schools in Sweetwater. He left that position to come to ETSU. 

At ETSU, Clack was “kind of hardnosed because he had to make decisions,” retired History faculty member Dr. Frank Williams said. “He was very capable and highly competent.”

In fact, Williams said, Clack almost ruled the campus at times.

At First Federal, Clack put his business and statistical abilities to good use. His widow, Vera Clack, said, “He was very accurate. He had a tremendous ability to work out problems in his head in seconds.”

Reece Teague, an appraiser at First Federal (which is now First Leader), worked with Clack at the bank and also knew him when he was a student at ETSU and Clack was the business manager.

“He was a good person to work for,” Teague said. “He was a fine statistician. He liked to work with statistics and create them.  He had a strong accounting background.” 

Teague revealed another side of Clack. 

“He raised roses,” Teague said. “He had a lovely rose garden and wanted people to see it. Like everything else he worked with, it was near perfection.” 

Clack also did a lot of other things in his spare time, as he was very active in religious and community affairs. 

He also was an exceptional musician, playing the violin and many other instruments. 

In spite of all he did, “he was very modest,” his wife said.

Clack died of a heart attack on Aug. 30, 1973. His wife said his unexpected death was made worse by the fact that he was planning to retire on Sept. 15 of that year. 

The ETSU building named after Clack was completed in 1974. 

According to his wife, at one time he had said, “They’ll never name a building after me.” 

She said she was called and notified that the building was to be named for him “in appreciation for all he had done, as he was well-liked and respected for his ability.” 

What Williams said of Clack seems to describe him well: “He was a very capable man — a very good man.”

Note: This building is now named the Clack-Vanhoy Chiller Plant, also honoring Jerry Vanhoy, a now-retired Physical Plant employee of many years.



"Tales of the University" is a regular column provided by the ETSU Retirees Association about the university and the people associated with it through the decades.  Faculty, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to share their memories of ETSU with the Retirees Association for consideration for future columns.  Stories, comments and suggestions may be sent to Dr. Willene Paxton, chair of the Tales of the University committee, 1203 Lester Harris Road, Johnson City, TN 37601, or willenepj@charter.net.

Mailing Address:  Office of Human Resources
ETSU Box 70564
Johnson City, TN  37614-1707
Telephone:  423-439-4457
Fax:  423-439-8354
TDD:  423-439-4710

Office Hours:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. E.S.T. Monday - Friday
Office Location:  Rooms 307 and 311, Dossett Hall

Updated on 09/07/10