The King’s Academy’s Walter Grubb retires after 31 years with TBC entity
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SEYMOUR — Walter Grubb’s nearly lifelong affiliation with The King’s Academy (Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy) has come to an end, but his love and passion for the school will last the rest of his life.
Grubb stepped down as president and headmaster of TKA on July 31 after serving in that role since 1994. He had been with the school since 1987 when he was named principal.
But being a native of Blount County and the son of a Baptist pastor (the late Glenn Grubb who served at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Maryville for many years), Grubb was well acquainted with the Tennessee Baptist-affiliated high school. In fact, his dad attended the academy to complete his high school diploma after he was called to the ministry. “Not too many people get to see their dad graduate from high school,” Grubb said.
Grubb left Tennessee in 1965 when his dad was called to a church in California. He remained there after his parents returned to Tennessee in 1970 to attend California Baptist University in Riverside.
Except for one year to attend graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Grubb remained in California until he felt God calling him home to Tennessee in 1987 when he joined the TKA staff, a move he does not regret. “I had such a clear message from God that we were to move here. It was overwhelmingly clear,” he stressed.
Before long the academy’s enrollment had dropped to 89 students and the school’s Cooperative Program allocation was cut significantly. Michael Beane, a consultant from Texas, who had recommended the name change from HCBA to The King’s Academy, was hired as president but he resigned under pressure in early 1994. During that time, the school had encountered problems with its athletic program and had been removed from participation in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) football or basketball playoffs.
Grubb was asked to serve as interim president and he agreed. One of his first moves was to get the school reinstated by the TSSAA. He recalled that in May the trustees asked him to take the position permanently.
“I had a lot of reservations,” he admitted candidly. Finally, he said he came to the realization that the school’s situation “could not get much worse. What did I have to lose?”
Ultimately his passion for the school’s ministry won out. “I had fallen in love with the school and its very unique mission,” he recalled.
After accepting the position, he began working hard to improve the academy’s relationship with Tennessee Baptists all across the state.
Grubb also worked tirelessly to communicate the academy’s unique Great Commission vision of educating a number of international students who came to TKA for their high school education. “We have had many international students who came here as non-believers who left here as believers,” Grubb said.
“Our challenge for them is to return to their countries as ‘missionaries’ and consider launching new churches. We want them to be leaders in that context,” he stressed.
Grubb’s determination eventually paid off. The academy’s enrollment climbed from a low of 89 to a high of 524 in 2013. It has since leveled off and has remained in the 400s for the past few years.
Like all entities affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, TKA has had to adjust to fewer Cooperative Program dollars, forcing them to lean heavily on donations and gifts. And, with an older campus, a lot of energy, time and resources was spent in renovating older buildings. “With the support of Tennessee Baptist volunteers we have upgraded a lot of our facilities,” he said. With a grin, he added that the school doesn’t have any problems that “$20 million wouldn’t fix.”
Though faced with challenges (including a personal battle with cancer that has included multiple surgeries), Grubb led in the construction of the school’s first new building in 47 years — the Polly Enix Tibbetts Building, a multi-use building that is used every day for both academics and athletics. What’s more, Grubb said with pride, it’s debt-free.
And even with the constant and relentless struggle to raise funds and recruit students, Grubb sees that as “evidence that there is something very valuable going on in this place or Satan would not have fought so hard against it.”
Grubb is convinced that God has kept His hand on the school because of its unique mission. “We have had more than a thousand students from 98 countries (many of which were closed to the gospel) attend here. What a responsibility that has been,” he said.
Though he has numerous stories and testimonies, Grubb shared one that struck him most. He told of a young man named Jack who came from Taiwan to attend TKA in the 8th grade.
He was a non-believer and had still not come to know Christ by his senior year. TKA has a policy that students have to take a Bible class. Jack did not want to take the class so he left the school and moved to another state to complete his high school education.
Seventeen years later, Grubb was in Shanghai, China, in September of 2011 to meet with alumni and to recruit students and learned that Jack was living and working there. An alumnus of the school arranged for the three of them to meet for dinner one night.
Grubb said that the first thing Jack said to him was, “I have been thinking a lot about Christianity.” Grubb recalled they talked for more than two hours and then met again the next night. Seventeen years after he left the academy because he did not want to take a Bible course, Jack accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior that night.
One year later, in the spring of 2012, Jack spoke to TKA students in chapel via Skype. He gave his testimony and told the students, “I don’t have a perfect life but I do have peace in my heart.”
“I tell our teachers all the time, ‘Don’t ever think that what you do is unimportant,’ ” Grubb said.
Though he does not know what the future holds, he promises that his retirement plans “do not include a rocker.” Hopefully, he said, he will be able to spend more time with his wife, Diane, and their two grown sons and their families. He and Diane are in the process of building a house in Maryville where they are members of Madison Avenue Baptist Church.
In addition, Grubb will continue to be an advocate for new TKA president Matt Mercer and the academy. “I will help in any way that I can. My family and I invested 31 years of our lives here.”