Chattanoogan: Mary C. Monroe Remembers Working With Joe Engel

Saturday, March 10, 2018 - by John Shearer

Chattanoogan Mary Campbell Monroe has lived in several places and seen a lot of different people in her 96 years. And that included occasionally spotting movie stars in restaurants around Los Angeles when she lived in California.

But she met perhaps the person who could put on a show as well as anyone early in her life in Chattanooga. That was when she worked for legendary Chattanooga Lookouts head Joe Engel.

Not long after Ms.

Monroe graduated from Chattanooga High School on Third Street in 1940 after her family was barely able to survive the Great Depression, she began working at WDEF radio station when it was located in the Volunteer Building.

The owner was Mr. Engel. He had arrived in Chattanooga before the 1930 season to head the Chattanooga Lookouts and oversaw the completion of Engel Stadium that year.

Ms. Monroe’s job was to type ads and announcements after being given information about what to put in them. She remembers typing one for Kay Jewelers promoting its sparkling jewelry.

But what shined the most in that job was Mr. Engel. “He was from the North and he had an air of showmanship about him,” she recalled with a laugh during a recent interview at the Panera off Gunbarrel Road.

As a result, she genuinely liked him. “He was wonderful. He had a great sense of humor,” she added. “He had a broad perspective for the station.”

That apparently included getting a top-notch staff. One of those who came to the station shortly after she did was Luther Masingill, the longtime voice of WDEF until his death in 2014 at age 92.

Ms. Monroe said Luther had so much talent for radio work that she figured he would end up working in a bigger market.

“Luther had a sense of humor,” she recalled. “I didn’t expect him to be in Chattanooga. He was so funny, so smart.”

Another employee was Tom Nobles, who did some announcing of the Lookouts games – including by getting the information by wire when the team was playing out of town. Ms. Monroe was married to him for a period and they had a son, Tom Nobles Jr.

At the time that Ms. Monroe worked for the station during World War II, many of the American ballplayers were off serving in the military, so the Lookouts used a number of players from Latin American countries, she recalled.

Rachel Simmons, now about 103 years old and still living in Chattanooga, was actually his secretary. Although Ms. Simmons was unable to get together for this interview, Ms. Monroe said Ms. Simmons came to the station before her.

“He sent her to business school to be his assistant,” Ms. Monroe said. “She took care of all of the personal and administrative work.”

Ms. Simmons’ sister, the late Ruby Williams, handled the concessions at Engel Stadium during the Lookouts’ games for years, Ms Monroe added.

Several of Mr. Engel’s former employees used to get together about once a year to reminisce about the old days, but Ms. Monroe said that she and Ms. Simmons are about the only two left.

Ms. Monroe’s brother was Van Campbell, who married longtime Chattanooga News-Free Press employee Bonnie Campbell.

Ms. Monroe’s other work at the station included coordinating an hour music program by picking out the music. Big band music was popular at that time among the younger people, and a number of bands would appear at Memorial Auditorium, so she had no trouble finding inspiration for the show.

“We were young and going dancing a lot,” she recalled of those days. “We were lucky. That was a wonderful time.”

Ms. Monroe worked at the station for a period and then went on to work in another part of the Volunteer Building. She later moved to Colorado and eventually settled in California for several decades.

Among her jobs in the Golden State was working for Mattel toys for about 10 years in personnel, which included doing safety training with factory workers. She also became an avid tennis player.

Ms. Monroe later moved back to Chattanooga and has still been able to enjoy independence, including by attending Pilgrim Congregational Church.

Mr. Engel -- a former major league player for such teams as the Washington Senators, Cincinnati and Cleveland – went on to head the Lookouts until they left town after the 1965 season.

The Washington, D.C., native and son of a hotel proprietor maintained an office at Engel Stadium as he transitioned back into scouting supervision until his death in 1969 following declining health.

Known as a promoter of such stunts as signing girl pitcher Jackie Mitchell to pitch against the Yankees during an exhibition game in 1931 and giving away a home in 1936, he was also remembered for his public service. That included heading the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Interstate Fair for several years and helping form the Knot-Hole Gang here for youth to enjoy games and other activities.

He had organized and headed WDEF as president and owner from 1940-52.

The eclectic man also was a sportsman. A horse with which he had a stake, Hallieboy, finished 10th in the 1950 Kentucky Derby. The horse was named for the former Hallie Brickhead, his wife.

Ms. Monroe said she also remembers Mr. Engel’s wife, who was from Washington, D.C., too. “She was cute and petite,” she said.

As for Mr. Engel, Ms. Monroe has nothing but praises.

“He was a dedicated person to his work,” she said.

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