Upland Chronicles: Dr. Cope led Pigeon Forge flock for 28 years

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 09:12 PM

Dr. William Wayne "W.W." Cope served as pastor of Pigeon Forge First Baptist Church for 28 years. He is the longest serving pastor in its 100-year history. Dr. Cope began his long tenure at the church June 4, 1964.

Born at a lumber camp Nov. 9, 1927, at Tremont in Blount County, which later became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he was one of 10 children of Fredrick Arnold Cope and Dora Woodruff Cope. His family was immortalized in a popular book titled "Dorie: Woman of the Mountains," written by his sister Florence Cope Bush. It chronicled the life and times of their mother.

After the national park was established, his family moved to Sevier County, where he attended Oldham's Creek and Williamsburg schools. When he was in the seventh grade, they moved to Pigeon Forge. At Pigeon Forge School, Frank Marshall was his principal, math teacher and basketball coach. He attended Pi Beta Phi High School in Gatlinburg.

Shortly before Cope enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, the Cope family moved to Knoxville. Serving at Iwo Jima after the end of World War II, he spent his free hours studying the Bible and felt a calling to preach the Gospel. After three years of military service, Cope returned to Knoxville and enrolled in the University Of Tennessee College Of Engineering. While attending classes there he met Carolyn Fuson, who would later become his wife.

Struggling with his calling to become a preacher, Cope deliberately reentered military service to avoid the divine call. He trained young men at Fort Bragg, N.C., for duty in Korea. With guidance from a military chaplain, Cope made the decision to enter the ministry.

Cope married Carolyn Fuson Sept. 9, 1951, and was discharged from military service in November. He was recruited for the position of director of the Young Married Department at Lonsdale Baptist Church. He accepted the job and was serving there when they became parents of a daughter, Karen Elizabeth. He was ordained Aug. 11, 1953, at which time he became the pastor of Bishopville Baptist Church.

Cope attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Trinity Theological Seminary, Newberg, Ind., obtaining four degrees, including a doctor of theology degree.

Over the next decade, Rev. Cope served as pastor of several churches in Kentucky, and he worked for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, assisting in the establishment of new churches and facilitating the Mountain Missions Program in rural southeast Kentucky. He then served as pastor of Burkesville Baptist Church in Burkesville, Ky.

After Rev. James Lauderback, who was pastor during the construction of a new building, resigned in early 1964, a pulpit committee submitted Dr. Cope as their recommendation for pastor of the Pigeon Forge First Baptist Church.

Dr. Cope had been unaware that Rev. Lauderback had resigned when the pulpit committee traveled to Burkesville to hear him preach. He came to Pigeon Forge to deliver a sermon May 10, 1964, and the church voted unanimously to extend the call to Dr. Cope.

Immediately, plans were underway to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church on Oct. 4, 1964. The church was in debt for the new building, with bonds and interest being redeemed intermittently. The church still needed furnishings and equipment for Sunday school classrooms, the nursery and the music department, as well as equipment for the office. Other needs included an air-conditioning system and the paving of the parking lot.

With his wife Carolyn sharing fully in his ministry, his hospital visitation and counseling to the bereaved reached beyond the membership of the church. Meanwhile, Carolyn taught school in the public school system. He served as moderator of the Sevier County Association of Baptists from 1965 to 1967.

While serving as pastor at Pigeon Forge First Baptist, Dr. Cope was chairman of the Camp Smoky Committee when the camp was formed and assisted in its opening. He served on the board of trustees of the Baptist Health Systems of Tennessee, served on several committees of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and was appointed as a chaplain of the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville.

In the community, Dr. Cope was a member of the Sevierville Rotary Club and served as president. Later, he was cofounder of the Pigeon Forge Rotary Club and served a term as president. He was founder of the Pigeon Forge Community Chorus in 1992. He gave the invocation at the grand opening of Dollywood.

In 1986, Dr. Cope's television ministry was established. He preached for over three years on the Gospel of John. He led the church in various studies such as 13 semesters of Evangelism Explosion, studies for Deacons and Trustees, and Christian Survival Kit.

Dr. Cope suggested that the congregation build a building on church grounds that would be used to assist needy families with food and clothing. The Food and Clothing Building was staffed by volunteers from the church and distributed the items to those who qualified. The building is now used for LaPuerta Ministries, a ministry program for the Hispanic community. Each summer it is used for International Student Ministry.

After serving as pastor for 28 years and seven months, Dr. Cope retired at the end of the year in 1992. Since that time he has served as interim pastor at 10 churches in Knox, Jefferson and Sevier Counties. He returned to Pigeon Forge First Baptist in 2011 and sings in the choir. In addition to their daughter they have a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.

Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or ron@ronraderproperties.com.