Johnny Hooker spends a great deal of his time with the American Red Cross and helping area families in need.
“I strayed from my teachings in my younger years, just like a lot of people do, but I have always wanted to ‘Do unto others’ as I would want them to do unto me,” Hooker said.
“I failed in many ways,” he added.
In 2005, Hooker, a Cleveland native, suffered a heart attack.
He actually didn’t know it until his health continued to decline.
Hooker began searching his spirit and found comfort.
He has worked at Resolute Forest Products (formerly Bowater) since he graduated from Bradley Central High School in the mid 1970s.
After surgery to repair his heart, Hooker was able to return to his job.
Family has been an important part of his life.
In 2006, his son was shot during a robbery in Knoxville. He wasn’t expected to survive. His son recovered but lost an eye due to his injuries.
“As a parent, my heart was crushed,” he said.
Hooker once again encountered grave personal health problems when he was hospitalized with pancreatitis. Doctors were unsure if he would survive.
Through his misery and pain, Hooker said he found peace once again, and then committed to recover so he could bring out what he had failed do demonstrate earlier in his life — service to others.
“My life was a wreck. I felt I wasn’t being fulfilled. I wasn’t doing anything good for anyone else,” Hooker explained.
In March 2011, devastating and deadly twisters ripped into Bradley County, killing nine people and destroying homes and lives.
“That was when I discovered I could do something for others. I could volunteer to help,” he said.
Hooker also worked to help establish East Tennessee Disaster Relief which aided the Long-Term Recovery Organization’s efforts to help rebuild the community.
“I immediately went to Waterville Baptist Church, signed up and helped Bradley Baptist Relief’s efforts in cutting trees so families could get out from their properties. We put tarps on homes so rain wouldn’t continue to cause damage, assisted residents in searching through the remains of their homes and [helped] find sentimental and essential belongings,” said Hooker.
After daylight ended, Hooker then went to the Salvation Army Distribution Center to help sort through donations that were being received.
“All I could think of was ‘What else can I do for these people?’ I took off work to continue day in and out. A friend also joined me, then I became a crew leader over several groups of volunteers,” Hooker continued to explain.
“I kept running into the American Red Cross volunteers and was taking note of their actions. After speaking with several of them, I learned how to join them, also,” Hooker said.
After going through a number of intensive training programs, Hooker had found his calling — one he had searched for — one that he could relate to and through which he could offer his service.
After becoming a Disaster Action Team responder, he began the task of responding to residential fires.
In March 2012, another tornado struck Bradley County. Hooker took vacation time once again, but devoted it to the Red Cross and aiding families who were affected.
“Over these few short years, my interest has only increased. I continue to take courses and classes — anything I can do to assist families in need, I want to be a part of,” Hooker explained.
Just afterward, Hooker had an annual medical visit with his cardiologist.
A second open-heart surgery was on the horizon.
Hooker also is diabetic and has an insulin pump.
“I wasn’t about to quit or wave the white flag. I went back to my full-time job and work with the Red Cross,” he said.
At present, Hooker is the DAT’s captain and a front-line supervisor, as well as a coordinator for the American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee.
He has been trained in shelter operations, bulk distribution, mass food distribution, damage assessment, CPR/First-Aid, AED for adults and children, and Federal Emergency Management Agency versed.
He is also a member of Services to the Armed Forces for the Red Cross.
“What I found in life is that doing these things as a volunteer is rewarding in so many ways. I have met and worked with some of the most awesome, compassionate, giving and caring people. I am thankful to God that I can continue to volunteer and help others in the times of their need,” he said.
Hooker said his family was raised and taught to give to others and show care.
It took him a few years of his life to realize his purpose.
Just last week, Hooker was honored by the Red Cross for his work.
He received the “Volunteer Leadership Award.”
When he’s not volunteering his time, Hooker enjoys trout fishing and water sports as well as spending time with his family.