By Dave Ongie
Those who earn a spot on the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Wall of Fame usually feel a sense of pride.
But when Bill Francisco stood up to speak after it was announced he had earned a spot on the Wall along with Scott Lusk and Jeremy Stevens, Francisco admitted to having another feeling.
It wasn’t that Francisco did not deserve the honor, mind you. His resume includes years of service on several boards and committees, including the Johnson City Parks and Rec. He also served as a volunteer coach with the organization.
But during a stirring speech, Francisco admitted he did not deserve credit for his crowning achievement, a 28-acre environmental education park at Sinking Creek. Instead, all the credit should go to a 6-year-old boy named Jacob Francisco.
“It’s all inspired by a 6-year-old boy,” Francisco said as his voice cracked with emotion.
Jacob Francisco is Bill’s son, who passed away due to complications following an E.Coli infection. Jacob’s love of nature inspired Francisco to raise the money and turn the Jacob’s Nature Park at Sinking Creek into a reality.
In the days following Jacob’s death, Francisco remembers not wanting to talk to anyone. But his wife reminded him of a day back in 2004 when Jacob made an announcement.
“One day riding in the backseat, Jacob announced out of the blue to his mom, ‘I’m going to be famous. I’m going to be on the cover of magazines,’ ” Francisco recalled. “My wife reminded me that Jacob said he was going to be famous. I shared information with hopes that Jacob could be famous for saving lives.”
Once Francisco wrapped up his speech, the selection committee decided to add Jacob Francisco to the Wall of Fame along with his father to reflect the impact Jacob has had on the community.
Across the room, Debra Buford and Shamus Stevens could certainly relate with Francisco’s sorrow. When Jeremy Stevens was killed in a traffic accident, Buford lost a son and Stevens lost a brother.
Jeremy Stevens was best known for his work with Science Hill’s basketball team. He was a team manager under George Pitts and, later, Mike Poe, working with two state championship teams and one runner-up. It was Stevens who famously told Poe he had filled up the water coolers before a trip to Kingsport for a game against the rival Indians of Dobyns-Bennett because, “We don’t drink Kingsport water.”
Stevens was also a seasonal employee with the Parks and Rec for years before becoming a permanent part-time employee just two weeks before his passing.
Lusk was recognized for his work with the Johnson City Major Little League.
The 1973 graduate of Science Hill started out as a player in the league. He played for legendary Little League coach Arthur Lady. Lusk went on to serve on the Major League’s board of directors and served a term as the league’s vice-president.