Nolen Rollins (’72)

Category: Accomplished Alumni | Awards

Nolen Rollins had earned his degree in industrial management, become assistant quality control manager at his hometown textile mill, and prepared to start on his MBA when, on March 11, 1973, something happened. At a weekend revival at the Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir City, Tennessee, he recalls, “I felt a call to pursue ministry as a full-time occupation. It was something I had not thought about previously. It was a moment of sensing God speaking to me and giving me that direction.”
James and Reba Rollins with their seven children
Rollins had grown up in a sharecropping family in Loudon County, Tennessee, next to the youngest of James and Reba Rollins’ seven children. “We were a strong family of faith,” says Rollins. “From the time I could walk until my graduation from Loudon High School, I worked alongside my family in the tobacco fields.” In later years Reba worked in the Yale & Towne lock factory and James got a job at working with asbestos smelting pots, which later gave him the lung cancer that took his life.

None of Nolen’s six siblings had gone to college. But in 1967, the year he graduated from Loudon High, the Charles H. Bacon company offered a full scholarship to one student from Loudon High and another from Lenoir City High. Rollins got one and enrolled in UT’s Haslam College of Business. “They were five of the best years of my life,” he says. “I say five because I was the first business co-op student, in a pilot of that program.” Rollins interned at Bacon in various departments for three years and in his last two years alternated semesters between UT and Bacon, learning all aspects of the mill firsthand.
The first semester Rollins worked full-time at Bacon, he says, “I walked by and I saw working in the mill the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I determined immediately, ‘I want to get to know that lady.’” He did indeed get to know Clarice Cusick, and they were married July 31, 1971. After Rollins graduated from UT a year later, he started as Bacon’s assistant quality control manager. Then came the call.

Turning away from his plans for an MBA, Rollins earned a BA in religious education from Tennessee Temple Baptist Seminary in 1975 and a master’s from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1980.

Over the years he served churches in Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida. As executive pastor at First Baptist Church of Atlanta, he led the project to relocate to a $54 million campus in Dunwoody, Georgia. In 2002 he was recruited to the First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida, to help carry out a similar relocation. “At the end of that I had another epiphany,” says Rollins. “It was a sense of calling. I needed to discover a way to get high-capacity leaders in some type of service or initiatives that truly made a difference in the world.” To that end, Rollins launched Kingdom Mobilization. “We developed a process, GPS Life Journey, a coach-led workbook, helping people discover ‘Who am I? What is my unique giftedness?’ and develop a strategy for fulfilling that sense of purpose.” Since 2003, 10,000 people have been through the training process, and the workbook has been translated into six languages. Graduates have created many nonprofits for purposes such as tutor kids after school, dig water wells in Nigeria, and build dorms in Cambodia to rescue girls from human trafficking.
Clarice and Nolen Rollins
Since 2009 Rollins has been the lead pastor of Legacy Church in Estero, Florida, once again helping build a new church plant, and building a ministry helping people find their life focus.

Recently, Rollins revitalized the Southwest Florida UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter, putting together a new board and recruiting an alumni base from around the area. “In just over a year’s time, Nolen took a dormant chapter and made it into one of our more active ones,” says Director of Alumni Chapters John Young (’09). “They have hosted many successful events and focused on student engagement, philanthropy, alumni engagement, and university initiatives.”

Rollins has worked with fellow UT alumnus Clay Jones (’71) on lunches teaching leadership principles to young professionals. Chapter members have helped senior adults, bringing them Christmas presents and seeing to their other needs. Rollins led the fundraising to endow a Southwest Florida UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter scholarship, and now he and Clarice—who have two grown daughters and seven grandchildren—have created the Nolen and Clarice Rollins UT Knoxville Alumni Chapter Scholarship Endowment, which will go each year to a student from either Loudon High or Lenoir City High.

“Paying it now and forward,” he says. “It’s a thorough joy being able to work with the alumni in our area, celebrate our heritage, and make a difference in our community.”