John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Mayor’s Race, Charles Coolidge and Old Photos

Friday, April 16, 2021 - by John Shearer

The voters elected Tim Kelly over Kim White in the Chattanooga mayor’s race Tuesday by a 15,966 to 10,661 count. 


In 2005, the only other year in which a woman had been one of the top two candidates, Ann Coulter actually did a little better with 12,873 votes while also losing to Ron Littlefield’s 15,224 total.

That had come in a runoff after Ms. Coulter was actually the top vote getter in the regular election by a slim margin.


Chattanoogans are eagerly awaiting and hoping Mr. Kelly’s seemingly upbeat, amicable and outgoing manner, energetic style, and business and civic leadership experience will translate into a fruitful time for the city.


Of course, it is also not hard to feel empathy for Kim White and her obvious disappointment and the city’s opportunity for Chattanooga to have its first woman mayor. But any candidate who sticks his or her neck out to run with good intentions for public office is considered a winner in a lot of respects by many people.


Women did enjoy one high note, as Jenny Hill won the runoff for the District 2 City Council seat over Thomas Lee.


Although I was not really writing any stories about the election, I offered to do more personal profile interviews with both mayoral runoff candidates and enjoyed having phone interviews with both of them. Mr. Kelly had actually texted me back the morning after I sent an email to their campaign address, and I soon heard from a representative of Ms. White that she would be glad to talk as well.


They were obviously two among countless interviews the two candidates did, and I was flattered that several people told me they learned information about the candidates’ lives they did not know. Of course, I thought afterward of questions I meant to ask them, and I saw other media interviews in which the two had mentioned aspects of their lives I had not included.


But I felt after talking with both of them that Chattanooga could not go wrong with either candidate. 


Another Chattanooga public servant, 99-year-old Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge, was laid to rest Friday after a service at First Presbyterian Church and burial at Chattanooga’s National Cemetery. 


As I wrote last year when the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center by the Tennessee Aquarium opened, I had gotten to interview Mr. Coolidge in 1985 when I was 25 and had only worked at the Chattanooga News-Free Press about a year.


I was doing a story on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II, and I saw where they held a Charles Coolidge Day in Chattanooga in August 1945 when the war ended. To my surprise, I found he was still in Chattanooga 40 years later, and I enjoyed going by his printing company and talking with him.


He told me he was asked to speak to every civic club in town after coming back from the war, and he said in his typically modest style that he thought Charles Coolidge Day was actually for all the local World War II soldiers who bravely served, not just him.


I had actually gone to visit him one other time for a story, or so I thought. Sometime around the mid-1990s I learned that maybe he and some others had lost their actual medals for a period and were given fake ones by a con artist who had approached them at a Medal of Honor recipients’ gathering. Somebody told me I needed to call Mr. Coolidge, that he would be glad to share what happened.


I thought I was doing a story on it and that he maybe wanted some publicity about it. But after talking with him at his office for about 30 minutes and taking notes, he modestly said something like, “You don’t have to do a story. I just thought you might be interested to know what happened.” 


A couple of facts I would have liked to have known about Mr. Coolidge is how the family ended up living on Signal Mountain in the early days before World War II, and also his story about attending Baylor School from 1936-38 before graduating from Chattanooga High.


He was considered a genuine hero, and Chattanoogans are remembering him this week, and will in the future through stories, the museum, and the highway and park named in his honor.


And speaking of historical stories and memories, late last summer my wife, Laura, and I were stopping at an antique mall near Hammondville, Al., about an hour away after a brief overnight trip, and I suddenly had my attention taken by a long photograph. I looked at it more closely and realized it was of the several hundred students and faculty of the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, in 1928.


While I had seen similar old photos before, this one had such a clear quality about it that you could almost see the personalities of the students and faculty coming to life. 


I did not buy the vintage framed photo, even though it was only about $35, but I kept thinking about it after I got home. I looked online and realized that school was a women’s college that had later been merged with Miami University in Ohio.


I emailed the school and heard from the librarian and university archivist, Jacqueline Johnson, who kindly helped me get a high-resolution picture of that same long photo. I also got a print shop to print me a large copy – for about the same price I could have gotten the older picture at the antique mall.   


I felt content and looked several times at the energetic faces of the young women and faculty and thought about all the dreams they had at the time. I also even wondered how many saw their lives turned upside down in some ways by the Great Depression that would hit with a vengeance a year later. 


I even had a nice followup interview with Ms. Johnson over the phone, and she told me about the school’s interesting history educating women to be leaders or at least accomplished at a time when glass ceilings were everywhere.


These women had the spirit that inspired the Ann Coulters and Kim Whites and Jenny Hills of Chattanooga and beyond.


I intended to write a fuller story in late 2020, but I got delayed and have misplaced which notebook my interview notes with her were in. However, I wanted to at least mention it here as I point out several other photos I have accumulated.


Another picture was sent via email recently by former Valleybrook next-door neighbor Tommy McKenna, who now lives in Houston, Texas. His late father, Jack McKenna, actively held some junior golf clinics in the late 1960s and early 1970s at places like Valleybrook Golf Club and the Hixson Golf Center, and Tommy sent a photo of one of those events from about 1971.


It was taken at the Hixson Driving Range, a Pete Austin family business which was located in the area where Captain D’s and the former Ryan’s building are now and went back several hundred yards through the area that is now Northpoint Boulevard. It also had a par 3 course, and a Sir Goony Golf facility was next to it.


Brothers David and Tommy McKenna, who became accomplished high school and college golfers, are standing on the left and right, respectively, on the first row of standers. Others that can be found include Mark and Mike McColl, Jeff Brown, Marshall Reeve, Ricky Eberle, Michael Ullenberg, Sammy McMurray, Tommy Childers, Rick Glenn, David McKinney and Richard Smith.


Also, future UTC golfers Steve Parks and Mike Patrick are on the back row in the middle.

Among the adults, Mr. McKenna is on the back left, while helpers Al Stanfield and Jim McMurray are on the back right.


Five girls in those days when young women were just starting to have opportunities to play high school or college golf are also pictured, including a very young Nita Drinnon on the front right. She went on to enjoy a standout junior career and played at Kentucky. Behind her is Connie Smith.


And, yes, I also took part and am on the front right behind the table.


I would love to know the names of some of the others.


Some other photos came about more recently. About a month ago, my wife and I went out to an estate sale at the old Camp Dixie grounds by Lake Chickamauga in North Hixson. A home most recently owned by the Dillard Smith family had later been built there, and the items in the residence were being sold as the property was in the process of changing ownership hands.


While there, I could not resist taking a quick walk by the old Camp Dixie pavilion a hundred yards away from the home and looking in a window at the mid-century gathering room that featured knotty pine paneling. Some old playground equipment that dated back to when I was a kid was also just outside.


I had actually been to the old Camp Dixie once or twice before when I was quite younger and when it was still owned by Dixie Yarns. One of the times I think might have been with neighborhood and Bright School friend Tommy Childers -- one of those also in the golf picture. 


Some other buildings had been built there in later years as it had become an event/wedding center, and I am not sure what the future plans for the property are.


But it was a nice trip down memory lane, as were seeing the other photos, including the Ohio photo that was so lifelike I felt like I had been there, too.

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