So many community stakeholders are quietly humble and content to do good in the background, but the Exchange Club of Donelson-Hermitage goes to great lengths to bring them to the forefront and publicly acknowledge their efforts.
“This plague is awarded to a local individual who has been extremely involved in community activities, but has not received great recognition for their good deeds,” said Phil Ponder, renowned artist and chairman of the annual Exchange Club presentation.
The Book of Golden Deeds in an annual award the club bestows on whom it believes shines in the community. This year’s recipient was Bill LaFollette.
The presentation took place June 1.
“I have known Bill for over 30 years and have always appreciated his involvement, support and enthusiasm for our community projects and organizations,” said Ponder. “Bill believes in service to humanity, and he willingly accepts leadership roles that result in outstanding accomplishments for his charities. A great example is his role as president and chairman of the Tennessee Beer and Wine Festival held each October at Two Rivers Mansion. The considerable proceeds from the event go to help many local nonprofit and charitable organizations.”
LaFollette realized the results of his guidance give meaning and purpose to his life, and at the same time, benefit so many area residents.
Recently semi-retired at 70, LaFollette currently lives in Mt. Juliet, but spent the majority of the last many years engrained in the Donelson and Hermitage areas.
“It’s where my business was and I lived in Donelson from 1977 to 2003,” said a stunned Lafollette after he received the major recognition.
He grew up in Gatlinburg and this week is spending time away in the mountains. He’s been married to his wife, Marsha, for 27 years and their son, Will, is going into his senior year at Tennessee Tech University, majoring in business management. LaFollette went to the same school and holds a degree in business management.
“I was stunned when Phil Ponder called me and told me I would be recognized for this,” he said. “I have known so many people in this community and am floored. I was totally surprised.”
LaFollette has been in the Exchange Club of Nashville – currently the Economic Club of Nashville – for 44 years and started with the organization in the Nashville club.
His career highlight was as general partner and CEO of Sycamores Terrace Retirement Community from 1977-2019. He’s also been heavily involved with Fifty Forward and president of the entire organization, board member, president of its endowment board and currently serves on the organization’s advisory council. These days, he puts a lot of his attention to Donelson Fifty Forward.
Lafollette started out in the health care business and turned his career path to serve the senior population.
“Senior issues were my priority,” he said.
He segued to senior care living at 27 as a partner of Sycamores at 1427 Lebanon Pike.
An outstanding good deed for the community came when LaFollette, along with Brad Bush and Johnny Hobbs, founded the Tennessee Beer and Wine Festival in 2010.
“I went to a beer festival in Germany and came back and wondered why can’t we have one in Donelson,” he said. “I went to John Hobbs and Brad Bush, and we got it all together.”
This year will be the 11th-annual festival in October, with a no-go last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though LaFollette tends to do good work in the background, he’s proud to say the festival raised nearly $400,000 for charities in the Donelson-Hermitage area.
“And we are still going strong,” he said.
Recipients of the funds are Fifty Forward, Buchanan Log Home, Holy Rosary, VFW, Boy Scouts, Two Rivers Mansion and the Donelson-Hermitage Exchange Club, among others.
His community involvement that stretches far and wide includes on the founding board and served as president of Leadership Donelson-Hermitage and current president and founder of a nonprofit corporation since 2001. The nonprofit gives money to other small nonprofits and partners with them to benefit their goals and ideas.
The game changer said he was blessed by all the relationships he’s had throughout the community and the friendships.
“I am honored by this award that recognizes my career and endeavors,” he said. “They look at the social aspect of outreaches to raise money and improve the overall quality of life for others. I’ve enjoyed giving my time to make things even better.”
Because of the pandemic, Ponder gave Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse the award on his front porch last year. Syracuse said he’s proud of this year’s recipient and was honored he was chosen last year.
“The Book of Golden Deeds Award is the oldest and most prestigious award the Exchange Club can give, and it was quite an honor to receive it last year during a time when I felt the most helpless I’ve ever felt in being able to serve my community after we went through the tornado and then pandemic right after,” Syracuse said. “So, it was even more special for me to receive it then and has been a source of inspiration for me to keep focused and forge ahead to help us recover and rebuild.”