Sunday, August 5, 2012 - by B.B. Branton
They came from California and the northwest. From Soddy Daisy and Harrison. Down the street and across town.
Close to 350 Central High School alums, teachers and coaches gathered at McCallie School Saturday morning to renew old friendships, laugh, shed a few tears, remember and most of all to celebrate the past and present of the Central Purple Pounders.
Originally established in 1908 at the site of the current McCallie School soccer field, the first Hamilton County high school to offer a four-year curriculum moved to its present location in Harrison in 1970.
Saturday’s gathering was to honor Central High and witness the unveiling of a historical marker located on Dodds Avenue just beyond the soccer field.
Taking part in the unveiling were longtime radio personality Luther Masingill (’41), Mary Josephine Smith Bevilaqua (’33 – the oldest known living graduate) and Miss Bobbie Ruth Hodges (’41 – the senior surviving faculty member).
“The seeds planted here on Dodds Avenue are still bearing fruit on Highway 58 in Harrison,” said Central principal Findley King, a 1983 Central graduate, who wore a gold colored suit with a purple and white tie for the occasion.
“I came to Central on a free lunch program, the teachers helped me get a strong academic foundation and after earning a college degree and a master’s the Lord brought me back to Central.
“I remind the current students daily that they have a great school because of the alums.”
Chattanooga attorney Jerry Summers (’59) told his fellow alums that “it’s not the bricks and mortar that make a school, but what happened inside is what counted.”
“Look at any successful walk of life and you will find a Central Hugh graduate. Every year we send graduates into the work place as ambassadors for Chattanooga Central.”
Longtime Central teacher and coach John Crawford, now a teacher and coach at Heritage High School in Ringgold, shared his own success story.
“My dad left our family when I was in the seventh grade so coach Stan Farmer and my mom worked as a team to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow, graduated and went to college,” stated Crawford who coached the Purple Pounders to a state duals wrestling championship in 1990 led the three Johnson brothers.
“No telling where I would be today if it were not coach Farmer who was my coach, but more importantly a father figure.”
Central Scholarships: Summers noted that a student scholarship fund was established in the 1990s and today nine college scholarships – two fully-funded – are awarded to qualified students.
He also announced the establishment of a Spirit of Central Scholarship in honor of Ed Hoback (’59) and Connie Hay who have worked tirelessly to preserve the school’s history.
Presentation of the Colors: A quartet of current Central students in the GROTC presented the colors as the alums sang the national anthem led by Judi Downer Hoell (’65).
“I feel it is important that these ROTC students be here today to be part of this ceremony,” said William Brooks (an all-city cross country runner and 1970 graduate of City High School) who is the Senior Army Instructor in the GROTC Department at Central.
“I wanted these students to have the opportunity to mingle with the alums and meet successful Central High graduates.”
Opening Prayer: “ … The purple and gold thread runs long, deep and strong …” said emcee Bryant Millsaps (’65) during his opening prayer.
Still Cheering: Four former cheerleaders led the audience in the alma mater – Jayne Funk Hannah (’67), Loita Harless Grauso (’65), Judy Clevinger (’59) and Janie Young Potter (’65).
“Every Friday during football season we would have a pep rally in the morning and then a bigger one after lunch in the auditorium and sing the alma mater,” said Hannah.
“Every Friday was a big deal at school,” Potter stated.
Etter Brothers: former football players and sons of coach E.B. “Red” Etter Gene (’57) and Bobby “63) were in attendance.
“This day is a great testament to the school and how we feel about Central,” said Gene, the longtime Baylor School baseball coach.
He also pointed out the irony of the next to last line of the school alma mater that reads …
“What a wonderful school that I love so well,
With its wonderful rep so high,
so you’ve heard of the school’s true as blue;
What a wonderful school-Central High!”
“How interesting that the color blue is part of our alma mater and the location of the marker is at McCallie School, whose colors are blue and white,” Etter stated.
Thanks to the Organizers: Bryant Millsaps recognized three men from the class of 1965 who were instrumental in organizing the ceremony and handling all the details to make the historical marker a reality; Bobby Johnson, Bobby Bird and Ronnie Tucker.
McCallie-Central Connection: Current McCallie headmaster Dr. Robert Kirk Walker III is the son of the late Robert Kirk Walker, a former Chattanooga mayor and a Central HS grad who was named Mr. Central as a senior.
Contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com