Jim Gerding, A Dangerous Man “Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.” ~ Author Unknown
It was 1960. Jim and June Gerding, having vacationed in Gatlinburg in previous years, decided to take the entrepreneurial leap. They would move to Gatlinburg from their home state of Indiana to open Tennessee’s first pancake specialty restaurant. And what a leap of faith it was…this was a new restaurant concept back in 1960 and Jim had no restaurant experience! With two sons, ages 8 months and 3 years in tow, Jim and June began to build their lives and business in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
As with any new business there were early struggles and much toil. But success did arrive. In 1965 they were able to purchase the land and building, a rare opportunity in Gatlinburg. The signature building with its majestic slate roof, gables, large windows and warm white oak interior was constructed under Jim’s vision and direction in 1975. The Pancake Pantry has now been a Gatlinburg tradition for over 50 years and Jim takes his role in the community seriously. Leading by example, Jim actively participates in his church, his alma mater and his community. One of his dreams was to have all the utilities along the Parkway buried underground so that tourists traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would enjoy the views along the way. Check!
And fortunately for Gatlinburg’s youth, his dream didn’t end there. Jim had a dream to build a Boys & Girls Club in his city and his eyes were wide open. Known and loved throughout the community, he first started quietly rounding up the support needed to run a Club in their local church, making personal asks to come up with the $100,000 cash and pledges for $125,000 to get the Club up and running.
But in the back of his mind was the bigger dream to build a stand-alone facility, so that more Gatlinburg youth would have a place to build their own dreams and plan for solid futures. So singlehandedly, Jim would graciously invite his peers to lunch at The Pancake Pantry, where they would receive lunch on the house in exchange for substantial pledges to build a Boys & Girls Club.
And you what? Over the next two years, Jim held 60 of these lunches – and only three people said no. He also personally secured an acre of property conveniently and spectacularly located adjacent to the high school, library, community center and track within 500 yards. In 2008, the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains Gatlinburg Branch opened on the Jim & June Gerding Campus and now mentors more than 300 Gatlinburg youth. This new branch took home second place for the Best Overall Program in 2009, a terrific start to a grand dream.
Even when the recession hit, Jim was not about to let his Club fade away. Every year, he and his wife make a generous investment to apply toward the principle of the remaining mortgage, determined to ease the operating burden so that more kids can reach for the stars. “The work Jim put into this dream is incredible,” according to Chief Professional Officer Mark Ross. “The blood, sweat and tears he put forth to make his city a better place highlights the commitment he has in leaving an amazing legacy for the rest of us to follow. Our youth are certainly the better for it.”