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One Hour and Five DecadesTour

“You know what I remember most about this quad?” Kathy asked.  Last week, four college girlfriends and I stood in the middle of the Tennessee Tech quad, the grass rectangle in front of Derryberry Hall and surrounded by buildings built in the early to mid-1900s. 

            “Lines!” Kathy said. “Remember standing in lines to register for classes?”  We all laughed. 

When we were freshmen in 1965, to register for fall quarter classes we were given packets that included a list of class offerings, including time, location, and teacher, and our advisors ‘signed off’ on the classes we needed.  

            Then began the quest to get IBM cards for classes and that required walking from building to building and standing in line.  First, I chose non-major classes, especially English and History and the teachers determined my choice.  

            “But, remember when you’d have all the cards you needed for classes, except one, and that one required class was offered at a time you already had a class?”  JoAnn asked.  That meant walking across this quad, returning a class card, and hoping you could get into another class. 

            Registering for classes was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and it usually rained on registration day.  A day of frustration.  “But just think, if Blondie and T. D. hadn’t stood in a registration line they might never had met,” said Kathy. That chance meeting led to a wedding in 1968, and as trite as it is, they have lived happily ever after.

            Ted McWilliams, assistant director of admissions and our tour guide, laughed at our stories.  “You probably remember going to basketball games in Memorial Gym right in front of us?”

            Yes, and because every seat would be filled, some of us went early to save seats for friends.  But, we most remember the gym as where we attended concerts and Public Programs and danced. Concerts by The Lettermen, Neil Diamond, Sam and Dave, Ray Charles, The Boxtops – big names in the 1960s. 

            Public Programs was a required underclassmen hour-long class in the gym on Wednesdays beginning at 10:00.  Students were assigned seats, by alphabetical order, and to earn an A for 0.5 credit hours, we sat while a student worker took roll, noting empty seats.  During Public Programs, school announcements were made and someone, a visiting dignitary or a faculty member, gave a short talk. 

            In the spring of 1967, Husband, then Boyfriend, invited me to the ROTC Ball, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps formal dance.  He wore a rented tux and I wore a floor length blue satin dress and elbow-length white gloves as we slow danced under basketball goals.  

            “Let’s walk toward the new science building,” Ted said. My friends and I recalled chemistry lab classes in Foster Hall, which is no longer used, and English classes in Henderson Hall, where students still write papers and study Shakespeare. 

Ted led us on a one-mile tour, one-hour tour.  We five friends traveled more than five decades and didn’t stand in a single line.


A Tech Homecoming Memory

When the phone rings close to midnight, it’s never good news.  “There’s been a fire.  Can you come help?” 

My friends and I wanted to, but we had a big problem.  We couldn’t get there.  Not because we couldn’t walk the half-mile there, but because we were locked in our Tennessee Tech dormitory.  In 1967, Friday night women’s dorm curfew was 11:00 p.m. and the doors were locked for the night.

At 10:59 we girls had stood on the well-lit steps of Meadows Hall and kissed our boyfriends good-night.  They left to put the finishing touches on their fraternity homecoming yard decoration which was to be judged early Saturday morning. 

The call for help had come on the hallway dorm phone. “The fraternity decoration has burned.  We have to help build it back!”  The message went from room to room along the hallway dorm.

Many of us had spent hours and hours that afternoon and evening stuffing 4-inch tissue paper squares into chicken wire.  In only a few minutes, the twenty-foot-tall Golden Eagle had gone up in flames.  Only the wire structure remained, but the fraternity brothers were determined to complete the decoration again..

Was there any way we girls could get out of the dorm and help? A loud siren alarm would alert the dorm mother, who was a graduate student, if we opened a door.  Climbing out windows that were covered with screens didn’t seem possible.  Besides, none of us were risktakers who were willing to break the rules and suffer the consequences.

What if we explained to the dorm mother what had happened and asked to leave for a few hours?  What if we begged? What were the chances she’d let us leave? 

Relying on the adage that the worst that could happen was that we’d be told no, a few of us donned our raincoats over our baby doll pajamas and knocked on our dorm mother’s apartment door. We must have looked desperate or frightened because she immediately welcomed us into her small living room.

I’m sure we poured out our hearts and probably shed a few tears, maybe from the nervousness of asking, as we explained what had happened and asked to leave the dorm to help rebuild the destroyed decoration.

Now, I wonder if our dorm mother confirmed the fire with the fire department? Did she call the Dean of Women to get permission for us leave?  Or did she trust us enough to take the responsibility herself to unlock the dorm front door and watch us pile in our boyfriends’ cars in the middle of the night?

Under the illumination of street lights on Dixie Avenue and the beams of cars’ headlights, we stuffed every chicken wire hole with tissue paper and the Golden Eagle stood to be judged. 

Neither Husband nor I remember if the decoration won, but we agree that it was the only time he picked me up at a Tech dorm after midnight.  

And it’s a happy memory.

College Days Reflection

I am officially a Golden Grad of Tennessee Technological University.  At a banquet last Thursday night, TTU’s president placed a medallion around my neck and offered congratulations.
During the reception hour before the banquet, we 1969 graduates mingled and squinted to read nametags.  We talked about where we live, how many children and grandchildren we have, and how long we’ve been retired. The longer I talked with someone the more I remembered. Wrinkles and extra pounds don’t hide eyes and smiles. 
The TTU alumni office published and gave each of us a Class of 1969 Memory Book which includes pictures of the university, then and now, and individual pictures and personal updates that we submitted.  We were asked to share treasured memories, favorite professors, and most celebrated life events. 
A treasured memory is when I walked for the first time across campus with Allen, who was Husband three years later.  Allen and I walked from the Student Center, across the quad, past Derryberry Hall, to the science building for my chemistry class. Mrs. Charlene Mullins, who taught family life classes in the Home Economics department, was a favorite teacher. With her gentle voice and calm demeanor, she created classrooms that were as secure and comforting as kitchen tables.  And my most celebrated life events are about people: Husband, Children, Grands.
Fifty years ago, I earned a B.S. degree and teaching certificates that qualified me to teach home economics (a subject in high school many years ago), general science, and grades 1-8.  But some of the greatest benefits of my college years aren’t printed on paper.
Four years of living in a dormitory, a two-person room, and a hallway bathroom shared with twenty other girls developed tolerance and patience.  And those girls, my roommate and hallway dorm mates, became life long friends.  Friends who have shared joys and troubles regularly; at one time by a chain letter, but now by texts and emails. 
As a member of a sorority, I learned to agree to disagree while maintaining respect for others, to accept majority rule, and to work with a committee (which to this day I don’t like, but the experiences taught me how). I learned that little things, like the color of napkins for a party isn’t important.  Respecting people’s feelings and accepting differences are. 
I was given the opportunity to be a leader and take on the responsibilities of an elected office.  If I didn’t complete a class assignment, I suffered the consequence of a bad grade. If I didn’t complete and turn in a required sorority form to the Dean of Women, my forty sisters suffered. 
My life would have been very different had I not attended college. Not left home and lived and studied at TTU.  Not been a member of a group and not completed a degree. 
Two days that made the great differences in my life were the day I enrolled and the day I graduated from college. Those deserve celebration. Thank you Tennessee Tech University for honoring us Golden Grads.

It’s All About the Suntan

imagesBeach towel. Spray bottle filled with water. Transistor radio. Baby oil and iodine. History textbook. Everything I needed to get a perfect tan. Actually, I didn’t need the textbook, but as a college student I carried it along just in case the mood to study struck while I soaked up the sun.

On sunny spring days in the late 1960s, the narrow yard between two dormitories and concealed from Dixie Avenue by a brick wall was filled with Tennessee Tech coeds wearing bathing suits. Like an overcrowded beach during vacation season, we laid towels in rows, side by side, and saved spaces for friends. Some places were like Sunday morning church pews – reserved, but unmarked. Ideally, spring quarter classes were scheduled around sunning time, early morning and late afternoon classes. Midday was for sunbathing.

We didn’t protect our skin from the sun’s rays; instead, our goal was a perfect tan. Who dreamed up the notion that baby oil with a few added drops of iodine made good suntan oil? We smeared oil all over our bodies and lay for hours, or until our next class, baking our skin and we sprayed water on ourselves when we got hot.

The yard wasn’t the only place to sun or lay out, as we said. As a freshman, I lived on the 5th floor, the top floor, of Unit B dormitory, now M. C. Cooper Hall. Jill* lived in a single room across the hall and her room had a small dormer window that opened onto a flat roof over the building’s wide porch. One night Jill, and two other friends, Ada* and Kara*, and I decided to climb onto the roof.

We moved Jill’s desk under the window, removed the screen, and climbed as if we were heaving ourselves out of a deep swimming pool. The stars were close and the air cool. We could see and hear people, but no one knew where we were. We looked across Dixie Avenue, above the treetops, to the eagle atop Derryberry Hall. And then about mid-March, we realized the roof was the perfect place to get a tan and we could wear whatever we wanted. That black roof was closer to the sun and much less crowded than the sunbathing yard.

Only about fifteen girls lived on 5th floor, but we four friends didn’t share our sunning hideaway. We locked Jill’s door so no one, or so we thought, knew about our escapades. We whispered to each other, never played our radios, and even pretended to study. We weren’t scared of the height, but we were scared of getting in trouble. We stayed close to the window and left it open so we could climb inside quickly. Actually, we sunbathed on the rooftop only a few times. That black roof was miserably hot!

Thinking back to those days of sunbathing, my friends and I should have been scared that we were damaging our skin. I’ve had several basal and squamous cell non-melanoma skin cancers removed, most likely a direct result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays. But we had great tans, kept each other’s secrets, and I’m confident we were only four of many, many coeds who ventured out onto dormitory roofs.

During this year of TTU’s Centennial Celebration, it’s been fun to share some of my experiences as a student. Thanks to all who planned and carried out the many events. I hope the current students cherish their memories and appreciate their education as I do.

*Names changed because I promised my friends I would.

Walk to Ralph’s

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.35.25 AMIt’s about a mile from Tennessee Tech to Ralph’s Do-nut Shop. Close enough to tempt students – especially those of us who lived in the dorms. It seemed that donut cravings hit strongest late at night.

When I was a Tech coed, my friends and I sat memorizing history dates, late-night-before-the-test cramming, and the more numbers that swirled through my brain, the more I craved sugar. Sugar mixed with flour and eggs and milk and butter, and then fried in hot oil. Finished off with a sugar glaze. One mention of donuts and we all closed our thick textbooks, tossed our notes aside, and united in a plan: To Ralph’s!

We threw on our long Villager raincoats, or off-brand copycats, over whatever we wore. Pajamas or t-shirts and shorts, or sweat pants – no need to really get dressed. And we put a few coins in our pockets and headed out the dorm’s front doors to the railroad tracks. Yes, to the railroad tracks that led almost straight to Ralph’s.

Someone might have carried a flashlight, but most often not. The moon, stars, and streetlights provided enough brightness to illuminate the metal rails. We walked on the wooden crossties, careful to avoid tripping on uneven beams or slipping on the muddy ground between. It was a short walk, less than fifteen minutes, and then one block south at the train depot, right down Cedar Street.

We could pool our money for a dozen plain glazed donuts for 60 cents or splurge on individual choices. For less than a quarter, I chose a chocolate covered, creamed-filled donut. My friends and I took over one u-shaped countertop. Drinking chocolate milk and our favorite late night treats, we completely ignored the fact that at 8:00 the next morning we’d face a history exam.

The walk back along the railroad tracks took longer than going. That’s when we’d talk and giggle and share secrets that can be told in the dark when you can’t see anyone’s expression. We’d stop to marvel at the stars, locate the Big Dipper and try to identify at least one other constellation. We’d look for the North Star and wish for falling stars and meteors.

Recently, I told my 7 year-old Grand about walking the railroad tracks to Ralph’s. “Why didn’t you drive?” she asked. No one, except June, had a car and it was fun to walk. “That wasn’t safe!” I never saw or heard a train when we walked and we could jump off if a train came our way. And we traveled in groups – never alone. Things were different 50 years ago. “Did your mother know you were walking on railroad tracks?” No. “Was it really late?” Yes.

“Did the donuts taste the same?” Yes. When my college girlfriends spent the night with me recently, the donut cravings hit about 10 p.m. Thankfully, not many people were in Ralph’s and heard six women giggling and arguing about which donuts were the best. Coconut cake. Apple fritters. Chocolate covered creamed filled. Twists. We each chose our favorite, a carton of milk, and sat at the same u-shaped counter.

We agreed on a few things. The donuts tasted just as good as we remembered. We were glad we didn’t have to walk home on the railroad tracks and we didn’t have to study for tests. And those late night adventures to Ralph’s helped cement our friendship.

Lines and More Lines

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.47.14 AMThis week, Tennessee Tech students return to campus and most have completed registration. According to the TTU website, students meet with their advisor, receive an advisement sheet, and complete registration online. Not so in 1965.

To continue Tennessee Tech’s Centennial celebration, my friends and I reminisced about our college registration days. We, too, met with advisors and determined our class schedule. Then we collected admission cards – computer cards with tiny rectangular shaped holes – for each class.

The thirty-five students (I really don’t know the exact number) who secured a card were admitted to the class, assuming we kept that card and presented it on the first day of class. So I determined which class time and teacher I most wanted. I stood in line hoping there would be a card for me. Yes! My first choice history teacher and a MWF class. On to the chemistry building.

The only organic chemistry lab open conflicted with my history class and I had to take the chemistry class. I hiked back in the history department and hoped to get in another class taught by Mrs. Delozier. I stood in line clutching my history card, a valuable card. Students behind me in line knew the card I was for closed classed and if I could have sold that card, I could’ve bought a good looking Villager sweater.

We students hiked from building to building and collected cards. Changing schedules. Swapping cards. Standing in lines. My friend Alicia wrote, “I clearly remember standing around the quad for three days waiting to get into a building to pull a card for a class.” She hoped someone would return a card for the class she wanted.

Memorial Gym was registration central. Students huddled in seats trying to determine their next choice, their next line to stand in. June remembers, “We went back to the gym. Back to the buildings. Lines everywhere. We usually only got about half of the classes and at the times we wanted and everyone tried to avoid Saturday classes.” Saturday classes! I hated that the only history class available taught by Mrs. Delozier met at 8:00-9:00, TTS.

When I finally secured cards for all of my classes, I headed back to Memorial Gym where tables were set up on the gym floor and Tech employees waited to collect fees. Registration fees. Housing fees. Meal tickets. Lines and more lines.

And it always rained on registration day! Always. As I write this, a painting hangs behind me. It’s entitled Sudden Rain, a painting by Joan Derryberry, first lady of Tennessee Tech from 1940-1974. The painting depicts a typical registration day. Students, in a long line, carry brightly colored umbrellas and walk toward Derryberry Hall.

Registration was also a time to meet other students. When my friend Blondie saw a high school classmate at the front of a line, she casually meandered beside her friend. T. D. stood behind Blondie’s friend and he began the conversation by saying that cutting line wasn’t fair. That night T. D. recognized Blondie at the freshmen mixer and invited her to dance. Blondie and T. D. dated during their college days and married after graduation. This year they’ll celebrate their 47th anniversary.

Registration, 1965. Long lines. Time to talk. Person-to-person contact. It wasn’t all bad. Even on rainy days.

A Homecoming Remembered

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.47.14 AMThe perfect suit hung in my closet. A three-piece wool suit Mom had made. Two-button jacket, A-line skirt, sleeveless top – all lined. We coeds dressed up for Tennessee Tech Homecoming in the late 1960s.

I loved the fabric of my suit – dull, rusty orange with flecks of gold and brown. But I didn’t like that the only dark-colored high-heeled shoes I owned were black. Mom thought they looked fine with my orange suit. My friends agreed with me that I needed brown heels.

During a gathering at Boyfriend’s (who is now Husband) fraternity house the week before Homecoming, I whined that I wanted new brown shoes to wear on Homecoming day. I wore an 11 AA, a shoe size not available in Cookeville, but I knew several stores in Nashville where I was sure I could find the perfect shoes. I didn’t have a car, and Boyfriend, who did, couldn’t take me shopping because he worked on weekends and after classes.

However, Boyfriend’s fraternity brother, Jim “Worm” Miller, heard my whining and offered to help. So on Saturday morning, Worm and I took off to Nashville so I could shop along downtown Church Street. We walked from store to store. Worm was patient and insisted that I try on many pairs of shoes, even ones that weren’t brown or high heeled. Finally, I bought a pair of leather, 1½” heels with crisscross wide straps and the perfect color, not just brown, but dark caramel. I was so proud.

On Homecoming morning when I put on my new suit and shoes, I was happy and felt good about my whole outfit. Even the cloudy, rainy day didn’t dampen my spirits. Boyfriend pinned a yellow rose corsage on my lapel, held an umbrella over our heads, and we walked across campus from my dormitory to the football stadium. Although it rained during the game, no one considered leaving. We put on raincoats and huddled under umbrellas, and my feet, and everyone else’s, got wet. Soaking wet.

Late that night when I finally took off my shoes, I poured water out of them and stuffed dormitory bathroom brown paper towels inside each shoe. I expected them to dry and be as good as new. Days later when my shoes finally dried, the shape was fine and I could wear them, but wavy lines and spots marked the leather. I scrubbed with leather cleaner and shined with clear shoe wax – caramel colored polish wasn’t available – but I couldn’t hide those ugly watermarks. My new shoes were ruined and I never wore them again. I hated that I’d spent so much of my clothing allowance for shoes I wore once, and I was disappointed that my beautiful shoes turned hideous.

You’d think I’d be the only person who’d remember this shoe story, but Worm never forgot. The times that I’ve seen him during the past almost fifty years, he always asks if I ever bought another good-looking pair of brown shoes. And then he reminisces about taking me shoe shopping and how I ruined my brand new Homecoming shoes in the rain. But neither of us remembers who won the football game.

Tech’s Homecoming is Saturday. I hope Worm and many other friends come for the weekend. We’ll laugh and tell stories of our college days. That’s what Homecoming is about now. Friends. Football. Stories. Laughing. Catching up on life.

And it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a new suit or shoes to wear.


TTU Centennial Exhibit and Shinny Ninny

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 9.36.35 AMHave you seen the Tennessee Tech Centennial Exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum? If not, get on downtown, right beside the Putnam County Library on Broad Street, and take a stroll through the last century.

Vicky, the museum’s volunteer, and I reminisced about the many artifacts and pictures on display. One caught my eye. A totem pole. “That’s not the real Shinny Ninny!” I said.

“No, that’s a replica,” said Vicky. I knew it was a fake – it’s too small and looks happy. Shinny Ninny is big and fierce. I know because I slept with him, or rather, Shinny Ninny stood in the corner of Husband’s and my bedroom.

Fall, 1969. Husband and I had been married three months. He was a Tech senior and president of ASB, Associated Student Body. One night when I was sound asleep in our two-room apartment, I was awakened by the sound of our front door opening. Husband was returning from a student government meeting. He didn’t come inside immediately, and when he finally stuck his head in our bedroom doorway he said, “I brought something to keep here until the ballgame.”

The ballgame. A football game between Tech and that team in Murfreesboro that wears blue uniforms. I knew the game he meant, but I was shocked when he lugged Shinny Ninny into our bedroom and propped him in the only vacant bedroom corner. Just a few feet from our bed and partially blocking the bathroom door.

“Why?” I asked.

“So no one will steal him,” Husband said. No one, meaning students from Middle, aka Middle Tennessee State Teachers College.

In 1960, the student body presidents of Tennessee Tech and Middle had decided there should be a winner’s trophy to show the rivalry between the two schools. Mr. Fred Harvey, owner of Harvey’s department store in Nashville, donated a fierce looking, Native American, fifty-year-old pole that he’d bought in Alaska.

The winner of the annual football game kept the totem pole until the next year’s game. Middle named the pole Harvey, but Tech students chose a different name. One based on the antics of Tech football player Joe Mac Jacques who flopped himself onto the ground and threw a fit, also called a shin-a-ninny, on the sidelines when Tech scored. So Tech called him Shinny Ninny.

Because the rivalry between the two schools was intense, kidnapping became part of the totem pole tradition. Shinny Ninny was in danger of being abducted from a glass case in the Tech student union. Husband and other student leaders were determined to keep the trophy secure.

What better place to hide a 6-foot totem pole than in a student’s bedroom? At least, that’s what Husband thought. And I loved keeping that secret. Shinny Ninny went missing from campus for about a week, and every morning as I brushed my teeth, I studied his evil eyes, white furrowed brows, sharp long nose, toothy frown, smooth brown wood, white markings. On game day, Tech students proudly carried Shinny Ninny onto the playing field before the opening kickoff. And Tech players hoisted Shinny high and carried him off the field after beating Middle, 21 – 7.

The totem pole tradition ended in 1998 when Middle moved to a different athletic division. Now Shinny Ninny sits inside a locked glass enclosure in Middle’s Hall of Fame building. Poor thing.

The Tennessee Tech Centennial Exhibit will be displayed only through November 7. Wednesday- Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. You don’t want to miss it. Even though you won’t see the real Shinny Ninny.

Words Remembered Fifty Years Later

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 10.21.02 AMI saw myself as a college freshman while I watched the performers last Saturday night at the kick-off of the Tennessee Tech Centennial Celebration. When Tech marked its fifty-year anniversary, I was there. I’d graduated from Pickett County High School and enrolled in Tech two weeks later. Summer quarter felt like the days I’d spent on Tech’s campus for 4-H meetings and contests. Not many students, laid back attitudes, and I took one class, a whole year of biology.

In September, the atmosphere morphed into real college life. Hectic schedules, crowded sidewalks, full dormitories, many people. It was overwhelming and frightening for this girl who’d walked the graduation line with only fifty high school classmates.

I would’ve been happiest weaving my way on the paths I’d learned during summer school and pretending I wasn’t a newcomer, but like every other freshman, I wore a beanie, a gold and purple hat. I stuck it on the crown of my head and snatched it off in all-freshmen classes, but when I walked across campus, that beanie balanced on my head, less an upperclassman see me without it. Most simply reminded us newbies to cover our heads, but I lived in fear that one would ask me to sing the Tech hymn as had happened to a friend.

Some freshmen events were optional, but no one was exempt from the President’s Welcome Reception, hosted by President and Mrs. Everett Derryberry. We students were expected to dress up, and not wear our beanies, even though the reception was held in Memorial Gymnasium. I put on my best Sunday dress, hose, and high heels and walked with friends across campus from Unit B dorm on that warm late afternoon.

The gym was hot and packed with people. Students coiled around the basketball court and zigzagged in the middle forming a seemingly endless line to shake hands with President and Mrs. Derryberry, who stood close to the bleachers at the basketball half-court line.

Secretly, I was excited to meet Mrs. Derryberry. I didn’t know anyone from England. Senator Albert Gore had visited in my home when I was a child, and I’d shaken hands with Governor Buford Ellington. But I’d never met someone who looked like royalty, and Joan Derryberry had the look of a queen.

She wore a blue dress that day. A string of white pearls circled her neck. Her hair styled in a loose French twist and a soft wave swept over her forehead. I was nervous. What would I say to such important people? I watched as other students shook hands with President and Mrs. Derryberry. A quick handshake and a few words.

Finally, it was my turn. President Derryberry clasped my hand and I told him my name. He nodded, welcomed me, and introduced me to his wife. Mrs. Derryberry leaned toward me, her face just inches from mine. Her eyes squinted with her smile. She enclosed my right hand in both her hands and in a soft voice she first complimented me on standing tall and straight and whatever she said after that included the word beautiful. Then she asked me where I was from. “Byrdstown,” I said, and she nodded and assured me she knew exactly where it was and she wished me well at Tech.

A brief mandatory conversation. A greeting that made a small town girl feel important. Words I have carried for fifty years.