Written by SJC Summer Journalism Campers Grace Federspiel, Sedona Farquharson, Aleson Moralde, Caron Ross, Warren Jefferson and Maria Moraes
Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb shared her story on June 14 with a group of summer journalism campers during a “mock press conference” organized by the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) at Southern Adventist University. The event, held via Zoom, took place as part of an annual three-day program that exposes high school students to journalism practices and techniques in a hands-on environment.
After serving as a nursing professor and administrator at Southern Adventist University for 33 years, Katie Lamb wondered how she could further help the community. So, in 2009, she decided to run for a Collegedale commission seat, which in turn led to her position as the city’s first female mayor.
Now, Lamb — Collegedale mayor since 2014 — leads the fastest-growing city in the greater Chattanooga area, according to recently released U.S. Census statistics.
“I enjoyed living in Collegedale, and it’s a great place to raise a family,” she said while reflecting on her initial decision to run for office. “And so I thought, ‘Well, if I can contribute in some way, that’s what I will do.’”
The City’s Religious Roots
Lamb said she grew up in the hilly countryside of Keene, Texas, where her parents instilled in her a passion for community service. In 1972, she moved from Denver, Colorado, to Collegedale with her young family so her husband, Ed, could work as a social work professor at Southern. Over the years, Lamb also worked at the university, serving in various capacities, including as a nursing professor, dean of the School of Nursing, associate vice president for academics and dean of graduate studies.
Reflecting on her initial move to the area, Lamb said Collegedale was a different place when she relocated here nearly 50 years ago. She said the city — originally founded as the location of Southern (then Southern Junior College) — was officially incorporated in 1969 to accommodate Seventh-day Adventist residents negatively affected by Sunday Blue Laws in Hamilton County.
“Blue Laws are where you could not have any stores open or you could not buy or sell anything on Sunday,” she explained.
Lamb said Collegedale consisted mainly of Adventist residents at the time, and most businesses closed on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath. Being closed two days of the week infringed on some business owners’ ability to make a living. Once the city incorporated, residents (who at the time were mostly Adventists) set their own policies and regulations and were able to open their stores on Sundays, the mayor said.
Today, the city’s Adventist to non-Adventist ratio is reversed, according to Lamb. She estimates there are about 85% non-Adventist to about 15% or less Adventist residents now living in the city.
A Rapidly Changing Community
Throughout her nearly 50 years in Collegedale, Lamb said she witnessed many changes, one being the growth of the city. Since 1969, the population has almost doubled from about 6,000 to 11,000 residents and is still growing, Lamb said.
According to the recently released U.S Census statistics, Collegedale is the fastest growing city in the Chattanooga area, boasting an increase of more than three times the statewide growth of Tennessee in the past ten years.
Lamb said the proliferation of multi-family units has caused some consternation among long-time residents.
City officials wanted to keep apartments from “exploding everywhere,” she explained, so the commission developed a land-use plan for the area.
“Our land-use plan has really helped us a lot in determining the percentage of property — what will be utilized for apartments, for commercial and for single residents,” she said. “And that has been very helpful in … organizing the city to make it more family friendly.”
Through upcoming projects and present ones such as the Greenway, park facilities and other recreational areas, Lamb said she hopes to cultivate an inclusive, secure and pleasant community, as mentioned in her biography on the city’s website.
Another way Lamb plans to effect change is through listening to citizens.
“… We have to look at what all of the citizens of our town would like in developing our policies and regulations much more now than we did when the city was first organized,” Lamb said.
When asked what was the hardest part of the job, she said, “… You can’t please everyone. .. .I’ve learned that when people say, ‘Will you promise me that you won’t vote for this?’ I can’t make those promises because what may not be good for them may be what is needed by someone else. So, I have to look at those issues very, very carefully.”
Planning for the Future
Now, Lamb said she looks for ways to improve the quality of life for her constituents. One service she would like to improve and expand is the Collegedale Public Library.
“It is one of the busiest city libraries for its size in the state of Tennessee,” she said. “… People said you don’t need the library because everyone is going to start reading books online. Well, that did not happen in Collegedale. That library is busy all the time.”
Lamb expects the city to grow exponentially over the next five years, and she hopes there will be new development in the Four Corners area, where several vacant commercial buildings now exist. She said city commissioners have already started working on creating a five-year plan.
“It will be a busy time,” she said. “… We’re going to try our best to come up with a really good strategic plan that will guide us in our growth over the next five to 20 years.”