The Cleveland native calls his responsibility as a parent, “My most defining role,” adding that his children’s success takes precedent over any achievements he might otherwise accomplish.
Yarber, a graduate of Bradley Central High School, attributes his parenting skills to his own parents, who raised him and his brother, Tim, to always make time and make room for their family. Yarber readily admits, however, that his early life was far from ideal.
“My mom, Deborah Humphries, had me when she was young,” he explained. “I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and cousins. At one point 25 of us lived in one house. We had beds in every room but the kitchen and bathroom. My mom was the best mom in the world, but I moved back and forth with my grandparents who lived about three miles away. I had two lifestyles. In one house we had our own cows that we milked, and at the other resident we were all cramped into a house. I was just raised a country boy with country values.”
Yarber would not characterize living in one house with 24 individuals as hard times, explaining, “It was just cousins, aunts and uncles piled in. You would think they were hard times but I didn’t feel like they were. You don’t miss what you never had.”
Having seen how families can stick together in hard times and the importance of supporting each other, Yarber said, “There was one thing we didn’t lack. We didn’t have a lack of love. I remember at one point when we moved to South Carolina and our trailer burned down, my cousins and I all slept on a hide-a-bed. We were poor as dirt, but we had love.”
Still, Yarber admits he was “an at-risk youth to some extent,” adding, “There were stages in my life where I could have veered the wrong way, but my mom always instilled values in me where I was scared to get into trouble.”
Yarber, in fact, hid a softer side of himself from the public. He found himself writing poetry as a youth and even won a poetry contest at Bradley Central High in his senior year.
“I’ve always enjoyed poetry as a secret way of expressing myself,” he says with a shy laugh. “That’s something few people know about me. I still write poetry, but I rarely share it.”
Most of his peers might be more familiar with Yarber as an amateur and professional boxer who became one of only two boxers from Cleveland to fight in the Southern Golden Gloves tournament since Conrad Fennell some 40 years ago at the time. Yarber made the most of his boxing skills for nearly a decade before hanging up his gloves around the age of 28.
“I became the three-time Chattanooga Heavyweight Champion, East Tennessee and Tennessee Heavyweight Champion,” he said. “Then I fought at cruiserweight and got hurt as a pro. I realized it was time to refocus myself on something that would support a family.”
The former champion admitted the boxing circuit “had more guts than glory” and boxers often spent more money than they earned. But Yarber said he learned an important lesson about discipline, dedication and determination as a boxer and appreciates what it’s like to be down but not out. To this day he works out at a local gym and recognizes the importance of staying in shape.
“People think boxers are aggressive and mean, but some of the nicest guys I’ve met were boxers,” said Yarber, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered individual who admit he’s never gone hunting.
“I would hunt if that was the only way my family could get food,” he said. “It’s never appealed to me.”
After ending his boxing career, Yarber pursued higher education in an area that would ultimately lead him into a life of public service where he says he is honored to be.
“It took me longer to get through college than most people because I had to pay my own way. I had to get loans. But I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. I concentrated on juvenile justice.”
A career in the Bradley County judicial system as a juvenile probation officer led to Yarber becoming a Bradley County commissioner. Although Yarber, who was married 17 years, is the first to admit he has gone through some difficult times in recent years, he maintains his personal challenges have not diminished his love for his family or his community.
“I’m just an average Joe,” he said. “I think the biggest misconception about me is that I might be brazen and brash. I’m insecure like anybody else. I’m very flawed and I know my flaws. I’m not arrogant. I believe family comes first. I believe it should be God, family and then everything else.”
Working as a media consultant for a local company, Yarber said he likes to stay busy. But it is his two daughters, Haley and Hannah, who put a sparkle in his eyes as he expresses great pleasure in their athletic and academic achievements.
“My oldest daughter, Haley, is 14. She’s a freshman at Bradley Central. She plays on the all-district soccer team in school. Last year she played on the State Olympic Development Team. She’s a very good player. She also played basketball this year. Hannah is 7 years old and she’s also very athletic. She goes to Waterville Elementary. She played basketball and soccer. Now she’s a cheerleader. I’ve very proud of them. For me, the biggest thing is that they are grade A students and well-behaved, good kids.”
According to Yarber, children’s conduct and their academic achievements can be traced back to better parenting skills, which he believes is diminishing in today’s society.
“I believe their mother and I have been very consistent in parenting,” Yarber said. “We both support one another as far as the parenting process goes. We raised them to have values and to be God-fearing and God-loving — and to understand that you treat others the way you want to be treated. Having been a juvenile probation officer for years, I believe that consistency and having boundaries are important.”
The outspoken father of two added, “Too many times today people want to blame the teacher. If the kid gets in trouble they get mad at the teacher or the principal instead of getting mad with the kid. It was different in my day. Communication with the school is also very important. I’ll send notes or make sure I go down and talk to their teachers just in case they need me. You want teachers to know that they have our support. We’ve always tried to make sure of that, as well as maintain that relationship and rapport with the school system.”
Yarber, a consultant with a local company, said, “The loves of my life are my children. I had a good mother and a good father. They were good to me. At the end of the day, when my life has seen its course, if my kids can look back and say, ‘He was a great father’ — that’s what matters.”
Yarber shared why he loves the Cleveland community, explaining, “This is where I was born and raised. It’s where my children will, hopefully, live and raise their children. I believe in the people here. I believe they have great values. I believe this is a great place to raise kids. When I was a kid I thought it was very boring. Now I realize that’s not a bad thing. I believe, overall, we do have good leaders in the community and we have very giving individuals in our community. I truly love my town.”
In the end, the “average Joe” from Bradley County said he would like for people to remember him “as a good father and that I always stood for what I believed in and I always fought for people like myself — the common person.”