John Shearer: Bright School Celebrates 100 Years, Part 3

Saturday, June 22, 2013 - by John Shearer

In recent months, I have written several stories about Bright School and some of my former teachers in connection with the independent elementary school’s 100th anniversary.

I thought I was finished with the Bright School history articles, but then longtime former teacher Mrs. Charlotte Mason died, so I did a story on her.

And then my first grade teacher, Adele Baker, recommended a story on how Martha Becton started the first library at the school more than 40 years ago, so I contacted her and had a delightful couple of conversations.

And while attending the centennial alumni picnic at the school back in early May, I was sitting at a table with a couple of graduates who attended Bright just a few years before me. However, their memories and perspectives were very different from mine, since the school was undergoing changes at the time they attended. As a result, I felt a desire later to interview them.

Then I started remembering that two members from my 1972 class – Larry “Buddy” Fogo and Beth Jenkins Fogo – ended up getting married after college. That seemed a little out of the ordinary, so I contacted them for a story as well.

Mrs. Fogo forwarded me their sixth-grade class photo when they had Mrs. Mary Alice Peters, so I have decided to put that with the one of my class under teacher Janet Reeve in an accompanying slide show. I have also tried to identify their full names, with the help of classmates Mrs. Fogo, Lucie Stephens Holland and Girls Preparatory School staff members (and Bright alums) Katherine Betts and Maria Kain Matthews.

Many of my classmates in both classes have gone on to enjoy obviously rich and rewarding professional and family lives, and a few who remained in town are familiar names in Chattanooga business and social circles.

Of course, a few disappointments have probably happened to us all along the way as well, and at least two classmates identified below are unfortunately now deceased.

Regardless of the highs and lows we have all experienced, I salute my classmates and all Bright graduates on this special 100th anniversary and wish them well.

So, here are three more stories that offer additional glimpses into Bright School’s long history.

Time of Transition

Helen Gaither Aiken and L. Stuart Folts Holt graduated from Bright School in 1964 and are two of a small number of alumni who experienced the old and the new of Bright School.

Not only did they get to spend time at both the now-razed old Bright School facility on Fortwood Street and the current Riverview campus off Hixson Pike, but they also saw a change in who was running the school.

School founder Mary Gardner “Mamie” Bright stepped aside in 1961 after nearly a half-century at the helm and was replaced by Dr. Mary Dalton Davis, who came from the University of Chattanooga faculty.

Both Mrs. Aiken and Mrs. Holt admitted they enjoyed the emotional warmth that seemed to be associated both with the old school building and with Ms. Bright, and that it was somewhat hard to readjust to changes at that age.

“The old building had much more atmosphere and more character because of Ms. Bright’s spirit,” said Mrs. Aiken, who now runs the Book Rack bookstore on Dayton Boulevard.

Mrs. Holt – who used to ride the Bright bus to St. Elmo and then the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain every school day – said that Ms. Bright had an obvious compassion for students.

“She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but you knew that she loved you by the way she interacted with you,” she said.

She added that Ms. Bright also seemed to have a dependable manner and consistency in her personality.

“I will always appreciate that,” said Mrs. Holt.

Mrs. Holt’s mother, Frances Folts, used to give a Christmas luncheon for the teachers from Bright School and would hand them a frozen homemade pie to take with them when they left.

At the same time that Mrs. Folts was providing these new and fresh gifts, Mrs. Holt’s father, Aubrey, was providing something old. Both he and Ms. Bright shared a love of antiques, as well as birds, so he gave her three Victorian chairs, which were given to Mrs. Holt following Ms. Bright’s death at Ms. Bright’s instructions.

Mr. Folts was an attorney who also developed such Rivermont area subdivisions as Stuart Heights, Fairfax Heights, Lockwood and Manchester Heights.

Among the other memories of Ms. Bright, Mrs. Aiken recalled that she would interact with the students during various activities, and that also endeared her to the youngsters.

“I can remember Ms. Bright getting out and playing baseball with the girls and boys,” she said.

The longtime educator also would take part in the annual school talent show with her terrier dog.

“It was so impressive to see her make her dog get up and do tricks,” Mrs. Aiken said.

Ms. Bright was also a little more lenient during recess. For example, she would let the boys and girls play together, but Dr. Davis would not.

“She was extremely worried about injuries,” Mrs. Aiken said of Dr. Davis. “But Ms. Bright would pretty much let you be a daredevil.”

Mrs. Holt, a registered nurse, said that she kept up with Ms. Bright in her retirement and until her death in 1967 because she and her mother regularly visited Ms. Bright and Ellen “Mac” McCallie at their Lookout Mountain retirement cottage.

Dr. Davis recalled in a 1988 newspaper interview that she had been recruited to be the headmistress at Bright by both Ms. Bright and assistant school administrator Ann Zahnd Moon. Although she was not pushing for the position, Dr. Davis said that the more she talked with Ms. Bright, the more she realized they shared the same educational philosophies.

Regarding the old R.H. Hunt-designed school building, which was later taken over by UTC and eventually torn down, Mrs. Aiken recalled that it had a fantastic playground with swings at one end and a giant tree surrounded by a sandbox. Some challenging hand swings were also inside the gym.

Mrs. Aiken and Mrs. Holt began attending the new school building in Riverview after spring break 1963, when they were in fifth grade. They remembered that it seemed quite different from the other school.

“That’s almost like comparing black and white,” Mrs. Holt said. “The old school building had wood floors. You felt very warm and cozy. But the new one was pleasant.”

Added Mrs. Aiken of the new campus, which had been designed by Gordon Smith Sr. mostly in the mid-century style, “I remember it being a very clean and sterile facility and very hot.”

Both former students had sixth grade under Ms. Gaylor Raley in the class on the right of the covered concourse as one stands in the parking lot. Unfortunately, on Nov. 22 of that school year, Dr. Davis, who lived with her husband in the upstairs apartment of the colonnaded wing of the building, had to come into the class to tell them that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

“That was hard. Everything just stood still for awhile,” recalled Mrs. Aiken.

But they have fond memories of their overall time at Bright, particularly of Ms. Bright.

“To me she was a very personable lady,” said Mrs. Aiken.

The Book Lady

Much of Martha Becton’s working life revolved around seeing the world close up and the world far away.

Regarding the former, she has admittedly enjoyed reading books ever since she was young.

“I always liked to read,” she said. “I worked in the library when I went to college. I got bitten by the bug.”

Growing up in Murfreesboro, she went to Middle Tennessee State University before coming to Chattanooga, where her sister, Mary Park, lived. While in Chattanooga, she also received a master’s degree in elementary education from what was then the University of Chattanooga. 

After teaching briefly in the Chattanooga City Schools starting at Alton Park Elementary, she then began examining the faraway world by teaching at dependent schools for Air Force families in Germany and Japan.

“I enjoyed it. It was rewarding,” she recalled of her five years abroad. “I wanted to see the world, and I thought this would be a good way to see the world.”

However, her world soon became Bright School. She was a good friend of Bright School teachers Adele Baker and Shirley Norris Hodge, and they suggested her name to the Bright headmaster at the time, Dr. Mary Dalton Davis, regarding a teaching position.

Ms. Becton interviewed with her during the summer of 1963, and began teaching fourth grade that year.

Within a few years, though, Dr. Davis and the board decided that Bright needed a library. And they wanted Ms. Becton to run it.

A small section of the back of the school cafeteria was partitioned off, and Ms. Becton was trained by going to Emory University over the summers and earning a master’s degree in librarianship.

Ms. Becton also found herself having to run a larger entity – the entire Bright School. 

After Dr. Davis retired in 1969 and before Sib Evans Sr. was hired in 1970, Ms. Becton served as the interim headmistress for a year.

“I preferred the library,” she said. “I did not want to stay in that position.”

In 1974, after she returned to being just the librarian, a newer gym was built onto the North Chattanooga campus of the school, so the smaller and older gym – known as the King Room – was turned into the library.

Books in a library are usually enjoyed individually, but Ms. Becton remembers how they became part of a special collective moment for the school when the King Room remodeling was finished.

“When we moved, I had every student help move books,” she said. “Everybody got a chance to help move.”

Ms. Becton stayed at Bright until 1978, and then went back to the Chattanooga City Schools and retired from Hixson Elementary in 1993.

But she has not forgotten the 15 years she spent at Bright.

“It was a wonderful place of children and parents, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there,” she said.

A Bright Romance

The fact that high school sweethearts sometimes get married is not uncommon, but seemingly rare is the story of elementary school classmates eventually tying the knot.

But that happened with two members of the Bright School sixth-grade class of 1972.

The story began when Larry “Buddy” Fogo arrived at Bright School in the sixth grade in the fall of 1971 after having attended Woodmore Elementary.

He was assigned to the class of Mrs. Mary Alice Peters, who taught sixth grade at Bright along with Janet Reeve.

“Mrs. Peters was one of the best teachers I ever had,” Mr. Fogo remembered.

He would also eventually sing praises about one of his classmates, although he likely did not realize it at the time. Among the approximately 25 other students in the class was Beth Jenkins, who had started at Bright in the first grade after attending kindergarten at Missionary Ridge Elementary.

She lived in Shepherd Hills, and they would ride the same Woodmore/Brainerd bus home.

But, as was typical at that age, interest in romance or even flirting was at a minimum.

However, when the two sixth-grade classes took their annual fun trip to Lake Winnepesaukah a few days before graduation, Mr. Fogo had asked Beth if she wanted to ride the rides with him. Her answer was no.

“I think I just wanted to ride the rides with the other girls,” remembered Mrs. Fogo with a laugh.

After graduating in the spring of 1972, they went their separate ways, with Mrs. Fogo heading off to Girls Preparatory School, and Mr. Fogo to Baylor.

However, if the Cannonball of Lake Winnepesaukah could not bring them together, the disco ball of the 1970s did.

GPS would periodically hold dances, and the girls had to ask the boys. So one time during her underclass years, she decided to ask Mr. Fogo to a dance. And he accepted.

They went to some other GPS and Baylor dances together. Also, they both found themselves living near each other in the Stonehenge subdivision in the East Brainerd/Ooltewah area later in high school and began playing tennis together.

As fate would happen, love became a word they started using even when they were not talking about the score of one of their tennis games.

“We got reacquainted and became friends. She decided she wanted to go with me,” said Mr. Fogo, proud of his persistence.

They had begun dating seriously during their senior year beginning with a Baylor-McCallie game, even though Mrs. Fogo said she had mostly dated McCallie boys before.

They continued dating while attending UT-Chattanooga and were married in 1983. The marriage – the 30th anniversary of which they just celebrated – brought three children: Katie Terry, Elizabeth Sexton and Stewart Fogo. The Fogos are also expecting their first grandchild in November.

Mr. Fogo has worked in real estate development during his professional life, but the couple is also now involved in a shipping-related business, InXpress.

Life has been a blessing, they admit, and it all started at Bright School.

“Bright School gave me a wonderful and solid foundation for the rest of my academic career,” said Mrs. Fogo. “It was also where I met the boy who would one day become my husband.

“For me, Bright School is a pretty special place.”

* * * * *

Among the students pictured in the Mary Alice Peters’ sixth-grade Bright photo accompanying this article are, front row, l-r, Julie Sinor, Felicia Miller James, Beth Jenkins Fogo, Michelle “Mikki” Moore Schnur, Jhan Erwin Shaaber, Wendy Hays Clark, and Ebbie Rowe (Royal) Cruddas.

Second row, l-r, are Kate Jackson Dyer, Liza McGrath O’Dell, Cathy Hayden, Carolyn “Lyn” Beyer Marvil, Lisa Lowe Stauffer, Allison Byrd, and Beth Lewis. Third row, l-r, are Scott Seretean, Bob Franklin, Steve Jacoway, Francis Fesmire, Chip Martin, Russell Craig, David White, Paul Turner, David Connell, Buddy Fogo and Brian Banks.

Students pictured in the Janet Reeve sixth-grade Bright photo are, front row, l-r, Boofie Lupton Crimmins, Margaret Patten Faureau, Virginia Anne Corey Manson, Kathaleen Scott Hughes, Jan Spangler Harley, Bonnie Wilson Shirk, and Lucie Stephens Holland.

Second row, l-r, are Trey Monroe, Rick Crawford, Candace Elkins Freeman (died October 2012), Penny Shirley, Leone Ciporin, Lydia Fox Cooper, Mary Claire Pruett Thompson, Freda Vance Keener and David Christian. Third row, l-r, are Eric Knospe, Bobby Hawk, Chris Miller, John Shearer, Billy Bass, Ben Probasco, C.K. Nichols, Mickey Kosanovich (died July 1994), and Herndon Elliott.

(To see the previous two stories written in this series, click here and here.

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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