One of Knoxville’s greatest champions, Chuck Day, passed away Dec. 27, 2019, at the age of 94.
Day came to Knoxville to manage the Super Valu around 1958. This was a stepping stone to where he truly built his legacy in town, as Executive Director of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.
“He was the hardest working Chamber director I’ve ever seen,” former Mayor Graham Fee said. Fee and Day were friends for 60 years, with Fee often paying visits to Day in his final days at the veterans’ home in Marshalltown.
In his life before Knoxville, Day served in World War II. He was a tail gunner on bombing aircraft. Fee describes Day as a dedicated patriot, though Day didn’t talk about his service much – other than he was happy to be in the plane instead of on the ground during the war.
As Chamber Director for many years – no one interviewed could say exactly how many – he always promoted Knoxville. Though he would delegate work to others, he was never afraid to do the job himself. At many events in his time, he would set up chairs and do whatever it took to make the event succeed.
“He was 24-7-365 at his job,” former Mayor Mike Cunningham said. “He took great pride in promoting Knoxville.”
Day’s legend grew beyond Knoxville. While attending conventions in a Knoxville booth, Fee says Day was always approached by community tourism and economic development leaders for his help in filling out funding applications.
“He was the man,” Fee said. “He was known all over the state.”
Among his accomplishments as Chamber Director, Day worked with Fee and Donnie Rodgers to found what is now the Knoxville Heritage Community Foundation. The KHCF has done a tremendous amount of work around Knoxville over the years.
Day was also head of the former Knoxville Industrial Development Corporation. This was the group that took a gamble and constructed the spec building that has since become home of Weiler. Weiler, today, is one of Marion County’s most significant employers.
Former Mayor Craig Kelley said Day was met with some opposition to moving forward with the spec building’s construction. Kelley said he supported following through on the efforts, as the KIDC had been working to build. Day pulled him aside later thank him.
Though Day could be gruff, it was often due to his desire to be direct and to find success. Fee said what truly aggravated Day was when people were not genuine. If someone acted like they were contributing, but not really, Day got annoyed. He mentored several people around town, and he always wanted everyone to know where he stood and where they stood with him.
“That was just Chuck,” Kelley said. “That’s the way he was.”
He would pour himself into projects, and as Kelley says, his footprint is all over town. The Chamber, under Day’s direction, was very progressive and much was accomplished.
“Chuck was the glue that held it all together,” Kelley said.
Downtown Knoxville was not immune to the troubles all town squares experienced in the past couple of decades. Cunningham said seeing downtown diminish was really hard for Day.
“As things were going downhill downtown, he took it to heart,” Cunningham said. “He would keep fighting to keep people coming to downtown Knoxville.”
In Day’s later years, downtown has made something of a comeback. There are few empty storefronts today and many of the new businesses have become destinations for Knoxville residents and visitors. Cunningham said he was sure Day was pleased with this, and complimented the current Chamber.
Under Day’s leadership, the Chamber also held many golf tournaments. Day was slightly better than Fee, which Fee says made Day “an above-average golfer.”
Though he was a veteran and, clearly, a strong champion of Knoxville, Fee says Day never really bragged on himself. He was recognized by the Chamber for his contributions, as one of the first two inductees into the Ambassador Hall of Fame.
“He was a good guy,” Fee said. “I really considered him a good friend.”
Day’s son, Brad, tells the Tribune that Day is being cremated. A memorial service is expected to be held in April, when the weather should be better.