Classes of 1959-61 Take a Stroll Down Old Science Hill Memory Lane

A few weeks ago, about 200 SHHS alumni from the classes of 1959-60-61 celebrated a milestone “50-year” reunion. The dinner meeting was held at the Johnson City Country Club. Tim Jones, moderator of the event, had me give a short history talk. Several classmates requested that I reproduce it in my column. This is the text from my talk:

“We are about to embark on a sad yet nostalgic memory tour of the old downtown Science Hill High School. It is early 1979 and the big building on “The Hill” is just days from demolition. As we ascend the 88 steps between Roan Street and the front door, our minds drift back to 1960. We initially observe the Daniel Boone Trail Marker to our left and the school’s Tennessee Historical Marker on our right.

“Just before entering the school, we respectfully pause long enough to observe a group of ROTC students raising the American flag on the flagpole while the National Anthem is played over loud speakers. We enter the creaky front door and stroll down the quiet, chilly, musty, hallways.

“As we amble along the ground floor, we glance into the ROTC drill hall where we see Captain John Culpepper. He recently replaced Captain Charles East as PMS&T. One company is practicing drill formations. We recall the time when Willie Muston, the school’s jovial custodian, entered the drill hall just as a volley of M-1 rifle blanks were being fired. It took him ten minutes to recover from the blast. The students never let him forget it. Everybody loved Willie.

“Moving forward, we approach Thomas Boles’ classroom 18 and detect music being played. Then, we smell the aroma of food being prepared in home economics room 16 under the direction of Hattie Hunt. The next stop is Paul Slonaker’s room 10, which is used to teach industrial arts and mechanical drawing. Adjacent rooms, 12 and 13, are intended for English, languages and ROTC.

“We enter the cafeteria and find Mary DeGroat and her staff preparing lunch. We grab a tray of food. We can eat in the cafeteria, drill hall or gym. Maybe during lunch, we will hear Bill Sell bellow out his famous Tarzan yell to the delight of students and the chagrin of teachers.

“We go up the stairs to the second or main floor and immediately pass C. Howard McCorkle’s (Superintendent) and George Greenwell’s (Principal) offices. Across the hall are Dessie Payne’s Library, the auditorium and study hall. We peek in room 26 where Grace Bradshaw (world history) is attempting to make the subject palatable to her students. Room 25 reveals the presence of Howard Dyer (math, general business). Room 23, overlooking the grassy courtyard between the school and gym, belongs to petite Mary Crocker (English). Next, we see J.F. Copp (math) walking around assisting students. Who is that teacher standing beside his door looking in? It is Pauline Ritchie (English).

“Let’s mosey into the gym where we spot Sidney Smallwood (Athletic Director). Coaches are Bill Wilkins (basketball), Kermit Tipton (football) and John Broyles (baseball). Dick Ellis offers play-by-play broadcasts of many Topper games over WJHL radio. Before leaving the gym, let’s not forget the ROTC ball. It is a night of company rivalry, enjoyment for cadets and their dates and a time of promotions for selected cadets entering their senior year.

“Additional classrooms are located on the third floor: Earl Lane (geography, business arithmetic, boys’ gym), Cot Presnell (biology, football, golf), Dorothy Broyles (English), Juanita Jones (English), Ruth McPherson (biology, physics), Bill Wilkins (economics, sociology), Bob Evans (driver’s education), Nona Siler (History), Estelle Thompson (Spanish), Frank Tannewitz (typing), Zeb Presnell (chemistry), Louise Huddle (art) and Warren Weddle (band).

“Sadly, it is time for us to say goodbye to ‘The Hill’ one final time. The building we cherish so much is soon coming down. The city can raze our favorite school, but they cannot destroy our beloved memories of it. After 50 years, we still miss you, old Science Hill. You served us well.”