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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.


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.

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.