Retired ETSU Professor Recalls Junior High School Years

My two columns on Johnson City's Junior High School brought back treasured memories to an area resident. Dr. Jim Bowman, retired ETSU professor, provided me with an assortment of written reminisces covering his attendance at the school between 1949 and 1952, which he described as “three great years”:

 “I recall the perennial ‘coin drop’ when guys would flip a penny in someone's chili or vegetable soup – two staple items of Billy Carpenter (son of the cafeteria manager, Mary Carpenter). The victim had to make a hurried choice: either take a risk by devouring the contaminated substance or leaving the dining room hungry.”

An unusual act by a disgruntled student who assumed he was being punished too severely for playing hooky occasioned a second tale from Bowman: “The youngster retaliated by removing the handles from the water coolers' faucets. However, the brave plumber was smart enough not to tamper with the ones near the principal's office. The perplexed faculty and staff never knew the culprit's identity.”

The retired prof offered a third anecdote: “One of the oddest events involved Mr. Hart, the shop teacher. One day a husky ex-Marine appeared in class. The teacher welcomed the impromptu visitor. Standing by a mound of sawdust, the young man challenged the instructor to a friendly fight. A few seconds later, the able-bodied youth emerged from the room with a mouthful of sawdust.”

A fourth yarn occurred just after basketball practice: “I heard some guys yell for me to run. They related how they had managed to lock one of the coaches in the locker room.  I don't remember who let him out, only that it was far into the night.

“As a newcomer to the seventh grade, I was warned not to cross the path of our mechanical drawing mentor, Mr. Hillenbrand.  When I asked why, I was told his paddling would virtually lift its targets off the ground. When I saw the man's small stature, I doubted their word. Thus, I thought I'd find out for myself; I’d just put Mr. H to the test.  After all, Mr. Presnell, the physical education teacher, had struck me before, and I barely felt a thing. In this case, however, my first-hand experience led me to conclude that my peers were more right than wrong.”

Jim’s most vivid memory is of a newcomer to the faculty ranks, Mr. Terrell Ponder: “About all I had heard about the lanky teacher's past was that he was a good left-handed baseball pitcher. That set well with me. After all, Don Akers, Jack Parks and Marion Winebarger were three baseball gurus who captured my attention every day at lunchtime. But Mr. Ponder was more to me than a gifted athlete. Every day I noticed that he stayed at the rear of the line when his students filed in to the cafeteria, refusing to eat until all of his boys and girls had acquired their tray of food.  

“Terrell Ponder stayed in the education profession throughout his career. Eventually, the ‘you-first, me-last’ gentleman became superintendent of the Johnson City schools.  He had an uncanny knowledge of curriculum and an undeniable love for children. However, the economy took its toll on some of our other male teachers.  To make a decent living, four of them chose to estrange themselves from us, going to work with Tennessee Eastman Co., the FBI, Tri-Cities Airport and General Shale.”

Jim concluded his remarks with a positive recollection of the educational facility: “Our teachers always forgot our misdeeds at school and never entertained the thought of telling our parents about our silly misdemeanors.”