John Shearer: Random Thoughts About UGA Tragedy, Long Horn, Harrison School, And Black History In Yearbooks

  • Thursday, February 29, 2024
  • John Shearer

Amid the beauty of the daffodils blooming everywhere locally and the fun magic of Leap Day, there have unfortunately been some tragedies in the news, too.

One sad event of recent days that caught my eye as a University of Georgia alumnus was the killing of recent student Laken Hope Riley while she was jogging by the small Lake Herrick near the campus’ intramural fields in the southeastern corner.

It had come the day after the unrelated suicide of a student, which has become an all-too-familiar problem with college students everywhere.

Arrested in the Riley killing was a man from Venezuela, Jose Antonio Ibarra, whose immigration status was being scrutinized. That, of course, caused further discussion about the hot-button topic related to border control, etc.

Ms. Riley by all accounts was a wonderful student and person who was doing good in the world by pursuing nursing at an Athens branch of Augusta University near the lake and University of Georgia campus. The Woodstock, Ga., area resident had previously attended UGA and was involved in Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

That is the same sorority where my wife, Laura, was a member while attending Georgia decades ago. And it still sits by itself along Lumpkin Street away from most of the other sorority houses.

That lake on the end farthest from the Arch was unfamiliar to me, so I looked up some information on it and it was evidently developed by the School of Forest Resources about the time I was finishing college in the early 1980s. Since then, it has been changed to become more of a passive recreation area. That whole part of campus near the intramural fields is the area that has been mostly developed since I was in school, and very little of it looks familiar to me.

The killing there had taken place at a time when several other college murders have taken place in recent days, with the others allegedly carried out by acquaintances, while Mr. Ibarra reportedly did not know Ms. Riley. I wonder what background or experiences had caused Mr. Ibarra to take such an alleged action.

And let’s hope we can figure out a way to help more of those with suicidal thoughts, as was the case with the other Georgia student who died last week on campus.

The Riley case reminds me a little of the tragic 2008 robbery and killing of University of North Carolina student body president Eve Carson, who was from Athens, Ga. She, too, was on her way to likely many contributions to society – including possible future leadership positions -- before her life was cut short by two men struggling to find their proper and productive place in society.

I have seen some nice – although almost inconspicuous -- memorials to Ms. Carson on the UNC campus during my almost yearly trips to see some Tar Heel basketball games, and maybe some nice memorial can be dedicated to Ms. Riley, too.

I know it was sad to watch the highlights of the Alpha Chi Omega president give a tearful tribute to her during a campus event up on the bridge near the student center and Sanford Stadium.

Also sad in a much smaller way through seeing the end of an era was, of course, the closing of the Long Horn restaurant on North Market Street on Feb. 23. I know several nice stories have already been written about its closing and how the owners, Susan and Charlie Danner, are sad their lease is ending, but I decided to eat breakfast there on its last day. That was in part because I figured lunch would be very busy.

If I have eaten breakfast there before, it has been a while, but I arrived a little after 6 thinking they would be busy, and I walked in and found a stool close to the cash register. Maybe already 8 or 10 people were in there, and a few others came before I left about 6:45.

I ordered a waffle with sausage and a milk and enjoyed it greatly. It was maybe a little fluffier than an also-liked Waffle House waffle.

But it was not hard to see the seemingly deflated feeling on the staff. Not identifying I was a journalist, I asked the hard-working waitress what the property owners were going to do with the building and I believe I understood she thought they were going to tear it down.

Historic preservationists certainly hope not, as that is a classic example of the mid-century modern style architecture with its tilting rooflines and mostly glass exterior. I found online from 1959 a newspaper story saying that a group of three men – C.H. Anderson, architect Ted Franklin and Hugh Abercrombie were developing the Town and Country Shopping Center. They had also been involved together in the development of the Birnam Wood subdivision on Signal Mountain from that era.

So, I assume Mr. Franklin was the architect of the unique building. The stand-alone restaurant was initially going to be called the Town and Country Snack Bar, the article said, and was to be operated by Town and Country restaurant owner Bill Hall and Mr. Abercrombie. Further research would be required to see how the Long Horn name evolved, but, if Town and Country Snack Bar was to be its name originally, officials probably realized some confusion might result from having two eateries with a similar name.

I remember also eating at the Long Horn in still-standing buildings at 3501-A Dayton Blvd. in Red Bank and 4507 Hixson Pike near the intersection with Hamill Road about the time I was finishing high school in 1978. A city directory also said ones were at 3700 Rossville Blvd. and 3661 Brainerd Road before the Brainerd one was replaced with one at 4101 Ringgold Road in East Ridge. One had also earlier been located on McCallie Avenue near UTC.

In 1986, brothers Robbie and Greg Creswell, with whom I grew up in Valleybrook, bought it from Ron Putman and Fred Richardson, who by then owned Kay’s Kastles ice cream shops. I remember eating in the North Market Street restaurant about that time and seeing Robbie in there with maybe an early cell-type phone.

Robbie has enjoyed a successful business career and is president of Creswell Richardson. He is also on a mission to raise money to provide equipment in restaurants for those who might be choking after brother Greg died in 2022 following a choking incident at a local restaurant. He has created a website for that at greg02.org.

My North Market Street Long Horn story is that when I worked at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club around the pro shop, bag storage room and cart shed in the early 1980s, the dining areas of the club were closed on Mondays when I would work in the pro shop.

As a result, at lunchtime either as I was getting ready to start my shift or maybe taking a break with someone else watching the shop, I would call down to the North Market Street Long Horn and order some food to go. And it was always the same order every time – a burger – which I think they called a Supreme and was on a long bun. With it would be some French fries and a piece of pecan pie.

I am sure they got used to my familiar voice calling in, and it would always be ready to be picked up when I would arrive. I would then take it back to the club to enjoy. It was still mostly hot, despite the nearly 10-minute drive back, and I never got tired of that meal nearly every Monday for a couple of years or so. And I always enjoyed the pie, too, not knowing or even caring if it was homemade or from a restaurant food service provider.

Another local landmark I feared might be disappearing, but is not, is the old Harrison Elementary School on Highway 58 across from Central High. I had done a story in 2020 about plans for it to close as a new Harrison Elementary was being built and had quoted then-school board member and Harrison Elementary alumnus Steve Highlander about the school and its history. I had also interviewed some other alumni and it was a fun story to put together.

Dr. Highlander at the time was not sure if the building could be saved after its use as a school. So, for some reason I thought it might be torn down like the old East Brainerd Elementary or sit vacant and start looking rundown like the unfortunate situation with White Oak Elementary. I had also talked with him about touring the school at some point when the pandemic was still at its height, but that never happened, or I never followed up on it.

As a result, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the news reports a few days ago saying it had been opened as a Hamilton County community center. Wow, that is great news if you like old buildings. It was also not the fate I was expecting from the tones I heard when I wrote the 2020 story.

Unfortunately, as a freelance journalist, I am not on every entity’s email list, and I somehow missed out on knowing in advance about the dedication event attended by County Mayor Weston Wamp, but that would have been a really fun dedication gathering to cover.

Many believe an old school building adds a lot of warm memories to a changing community, even if it is no longer used as a school. So, I know many Harrison alums and historic preservationists are happy it has been saved and reused.

Some other tangible pieces of history that caught my attention recently were some old high school yearbooks at the Chattanooga Public Library downtown. Since I try to write at least one Black History Month story a year, I went and at different times found some yearbooks that in some way captured in my mind black history in Chattanooga.

Thanks to chattanoogan.com contributor Harmon Jolley, who has written a number of historical stories, the Howard High annuals from 1966 and 1978 were donated to the library by him, perhaps after he found them somewhere as a non-alumnus. As a result, I was able to peruse them.

Among the words and pictures on the pages that jumped out at me in the 1966 Howard annual was that the seniors who were mentioned had such dreams as being architects, jet pilots, architectural engineers, scientists, certified public accountants, airline stewardesses, and singers and actors. Evidently, the administration and teachers at the school taught them that a black person in the mid-1960s – a time when the world was just starting to become more equal -- could be anything he or she wanted to be.

The principal was William Murphy, while the yearbook was dedicated to Mary Ella Carter. Another teacher was Irvin Overton, who later became known for his leadership positions at Erlanger Hospital. The football coach was George “Chubby” James, whose outstanding football record of recent seasons was listed in the yearbook.

Besides the major sports, the school also offered such sports as swimming and tennis, and had band, which at Howard was called Howard’s Fabulous Marching 100.

The standout students in the 1966 annual were class president Cheryl Marsh, Student Council President Cornell Hayes and Student Council Vice President Andrew Kitchen. Voted Most Popular and listed as Mr. and Miss Howard High of that year were Tempie Wardlaw and Charles Ballard. The students named Most Likely To Succeed were Iris McKeldin and Ronald Franklin.

What jumped out at me glancing at the 1978 Howard annual was that there were white faculty by this time – approximately 15 out of the 43 faculty members. One was Ms. Gilda Lyons, who coached girls basketball and maybe other sports. Another was Kay Kington, who lived down the street from me in Valleybrook in the former Joe Schmissrauter home.

The basketball coach was Henry Bowles, who would become a legend at the school and whom I once got to interview at his home in his retirement. He was also the baseball coach. Sullivan Ruff was the principal, while Mary Joyce Gee was the assistant principal of the senior high.

Among the students, the 1977 queen was Della Chislom, while La Verne Armstrong and James Cooper were voted Most Likely To Succeed.

And by the way, the sophomore class president was Reginald White, who would later become better known to football fans everywhere as Reggie White.

I know we played Howard High in football at Baylor when I was a senior that 1977 year, and I remember getting hit hard by one Howard player and having to leave the game. I glanced at all the photographs wondering who that was. I don’t think it was Reggie!

I also started looking at the Baylor, McCallie and GPS annuals accessible to the public to see when they had the first black students, although knowing a little of Baylor’s story since I was in school at the time. Of course, with private schools, Notre Dame High to its credit had black students as far back as the 1960s.

For these three independent schools, the 1970s was the height of integration. A look at the GPS yearbook, Kaleidoscope, from 1975 at the library shows that Mabel Thyra Cobb was the first GPS girl to graduate that year as a senior. In recent years, the school has done a brief interview with her that can be found at its website online.

Other black students photographed or listed in that yearbook were Teresa Lawrence from the class of 1976 and Harriette McKeldin from 1978. It would be interesting to learn if Harriette was related to Iris McKeldin mentioned as a standout student at Howard in 1966.

The 1976 McCallie yearbook, the Pennant, also at the library, shows no black seniors or juniors, although the Student Council president was longtime local sports columnist Mark Wiedmer. However, David Chapman had graduated in 1975 as the first black, according to one class member. The oldest in the 1976 yearbook was Mike Hinton from the class of 1978.

Other black students shown in that year’s annual were Charles Key and Sam Sims from the Class of 1980 as eighth graders and seventh-grader Eric Ayers from the Class of 1981.

I happened to have a 1978 McCallie yearbook I got at a yard sale a few years ago, and among the other early black students I found two years later included Quintel Williams from the Class of 1980, and Gerald Gordon from the Class of 1981. My father used to serve as a contact or liaison officer for the Air Force Academy as his Air Force Reserve assignment, and I remember he helped guide Mr. Williams through acceptance into the Air Force Academy. I remember Mr. Williams would come by later as a cadet and visit with my father and seemed on the road to a really successful career.

Baylor was apparently the last school to integrate, as I remember playing a seventh-grade football game against McCallie and tackling one black player at McCallie in 1972 and not basically thinking anything of it as a white person. But in the fall of 1973, with the push of enthusiastic headmaster Herb Barks Jr., Baylor began its efforts to admit several black students.

In the fall of 1973, Monty Bruell enrolled and would become the first to graduate in 1979. I believe there might have also been at least one older student, if memory serves me correctly, but he or they did not stay to graduate.

The next year, Wilford Ford, Eddie Hart, Grayland Hilt and Julian Pouncy enrolled in the seventh grade, followed the next year by Kevin Dodds, who would later go by Kevin Muhammad. Mr. Hart and Mr. Hilt would be the first black varsity football players for Baylor.

I remember a 1980 graduate and friend telling me that Mr. Hilt during the school’s annual senior trip had stood up and thanked his class members for helping him fit in, or something positive to that effect.

Regardless, these people were definitely stepping out, likely with the encouragement of parents, who wanted them to better themselves – and the world.

Now, all the local private and Christian schools reflect the diversity that exists in the world. And a few old buildings like Harrison Elementary and the Long Horn building (at least for now) are still around to help reflect the diversity of architecture in Chattanooga, too.

Now, if we can just stop all the needless killings of people from Chattanooga to Athens, Ga., and beyond, we might just finally be on that elusive road to wholeness.

* * *

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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