Oral History Session with Germantown Historic Commission & Germantown News Articles
April 21, 2008
Jay Kahn (no middle name) was named for his grandfather, Jacob. Originally called Jacob, everyone referred to him as Jay. Jay was born March 3, 1926, in Bolivar, TN, a small town where they didn’t lock their doors and the children were out playing all day. He went to grade school and high school in Bolivar and his senior class had 40 people. Extracurricular activities were limited. Bolivar had football until WWII, so after that the only sport was basketball. Jay was a cheerleader at the basketball games and President of the Junior and Senior classes. He said that he is known for being an outgoing, nice, and honest person.
Jay’s first job was clerking in a grocery store in Bolivar when he was in high school.
He served in the U.S. Army in WWII in Italy. After the war, he attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he met Ruth Joan Manis, whom he married in 1950.
Ruth would play a large role in his career. They moved to Memphis and a job became available at a company called Margolin Brothers Realty Company. Ruth told him to go out there and get the job so that they could get married. Jay said that his wife had the most positive influence on his life. In addition to his work with Margolin Brothers, later National Mortgage Company, together Jay and Ruth ran Urban Realty, a small rental management company in Memphis.
Jay and Ruth had three children: Charles, Robert, and Steven. The most rewarding part of being a parent was watching his children grow from babies, each experience being different.
Jay was active in many organizations including serving as president of the apartment council of the Home Builders Association of Memphis in 1972. He served in various roles of leadership with Germantown Kiwanis Club, including president from 1969 to 1972, as president of the Germantown Civic Club in 1975, and as a member of the board of Plough Towers from 1989 to 1995.
Mayor Goldsworthy and the Aldermen recognized Jay Kahn for his service to Germantown including 28 years in his capacity as an alderman from 1970 to 1986. He played important roles in numerous projects such as the Germantown 2004 Plan, construction of the Municipal Center, several fire stations, numerous parks, the Germantown Centre, and countless roadway improvement projects. He also served as alderman liaison to each of the departments and chaired or was a member of most of the committees and commissions. Jay graciously consented to serve as the City of Germantown’s representative on the Shelby County Board of Equalization beginning in 1984, until his resignation in 1998.
Jay did not begin as Mayor, he began as an alderman. He never even ran for Mayor. Jay decided to run for Alderman at the suggestion of Bobby Lanier, and he won. Jay was an alderman in 1970, along with Boyd Arthur, Bobby Lanier, Dub Nance, and Boyd Maize. In 1970, when he ran for alderman, there were eight (8) running and the top five (5) were elected. He suggested that they set up five (5) positions to keep from having a complete turnover. In the next election, three (3) ran for a four (4) year term and three (3) ran for a three (3) year term. The three (3) who ran for a four (4) year term were the Mayor and two (2) Aldermen. He believed that changing from positions at-large to numbered positions was a good move.
Jay was also Chairman of the Design Review Commission whose purview was to review the aesthetics of a development. Jay was all about keeping Germantown a bedroom community, if possible. There were 1,800 people and growing, but he said that he wanted to contain it. At this time, only a few cities had a Design Review Board. Carmel, California was one. They investigated this idea as a good one for Germantown.
“We had people who tried to come into a commercial area wanting their logos and big signs. We had lots of controversy from them, but not the general public. I think they were behind us. The aesthetics we required were not what most developers were used to, especially colors. That was the biggest item. All complied with our requirements and we were generally not challenged.” Jay said that “one of the weakest points in the city was the relationship between city government and the merchants.” He stood up to those who claimed the government was anti-business, saying we just need more communication. He said that “the city wanted to keep the business we have and encourage new ones to come into the city.”
During his tenure, the establishment of the Design Review Board was one of the biggest items. Getting cable to Germantown was another. Jay was Chairman of the Cable Commission. There were six (6) or seven (7) companies trying to get the franchise and the board did not select his group. A Washington, D.C. consulting firm was chosen by the board to recommend a cable system for Germantown. Kahn voted for the firm that was given one of the best ratings by the consultants. The majority of aldermen chose to go with the locally owned Dowden Communications, which was rated last or next to last in most categories. They accepted a local company, to his disappointment.
Jay was appointed Vice-Mayor in 1980. Mayor Dub Nance wanted to run for the state legislature. He resigned and Jay became Mayor for a month or two. He was sworn in as Mayor on Monday night, November 22, 1982. At the next election, Boyd Arthur was elected Mayor. Jay served as interim Mayor between Nance and Arthur.
When Jay and his family moved to this community, the highway, or Poplar Avenue, was two (2) lanes and an access road. There were two (2) subdivisions – English Meadows and Poplar Estates. Germantown Road and Poplar were at the center of the city. There was a filling station and behind it a barbershop and a strip shopping center. The center, on the northeast corner, contained Posey’s Drug Store, McHenry’s Hardware Store, and a grocery store. There was one traffic light and several churches. Jay most enjoyed the small, town atmosphere, and the good government. He also enjoyed playing golf and bridge, and trains. In his predictions for the future, Jay foresaw 10 story buildings and more urbanization, the only way to keep the taxes down.
Ruth passed away in 2006. Jay passed away on September 20, 2019.