Conrad Majors

Conrad L. Majors Jr. will be honored at the 16th annual Central High School Wall of Fame Banquet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in the commons at Gresham Middle School, 500 Gresham Road. The event will feature a video of the honorees: Majors, Hazel Ogg Costa (CHS 1912), Dr. Bob Collier (CHS 1957) and the Rev. Bill Nickle (CHS 1957). Tickets are $25 each and are available at the CHS office and from CHS Alumni and Foundation representatives. Info: R. Larry Smith, 865-922-5433, or Courtney Shea at courtshea@aol.com.

Conrad Leonard Majors Jr. was born on Nov. 19, 1936, in Knoxville, the son of Conrad L. Majors Sr. and Lucille M. Majors. Conrad Jr. attended Chilhowee Elementary School and enrolled in Central High School in 1950.

In his very interesting essay on his company’s website, Conrad describes events of his youth with amazing recall. He lived with his grandparents, Julian F. King (1892-1953) and Nettie Bowen King (1897-1986), who owned Greenlee Bicycle Shop located on Walnut Street and Western Avenue (now Summit Hill Drive). The shop was adjacent to Market Square which historian Jack Neely calls “The Most Democratic Place on Earth.”

Greenlee had been selling and repairing bicycles since its founding on Aug. 15, 1899.

Before most families owned a car, bicycles were a popular means of transportation for the adults in the community. But Greenlee also had contracts to sell and repair bicycles for the numerous members of the Western Union delivery team and the delivery men for the vendors in the Market House and those surrounding the square.

By the time he was 9 years old, Conrad was demonstrating his independent spirit most every Saturday. It was a quieter time and people were kind so Market Square was a safe place for youth and within easy walking distance of the shop. The personable youth knew all the cops on the beat, those keeping the vegetable and meat stalls in the Market House and the taxi drivers parked waiting on a fare. And it didn’t hurt that he was that “kid” whose grandparents owned Greenlee Bicycle Shop.

With the dollar he had earned running errands that week or performing some of the minor bicycle repairs or arranging the showcases in the shop, Conrad could explore the delights of the square. Within a one block area, he could attend a Gene Autry movie at the Strand for 9 cents while he enjoyed a 5-cent Coca-Cola and a 5-cent box of Milk Duds. After the movie he could feast on 5-cent hamburgers at the Blue Circle and drink a Big Orange. On some Saturdays, the large chocolate soda at Kress’ “Five and Dime” was more tempting than a hamburger. Occasionally, he proved himself a “young man of means” by attending a Lana Turner or Hedy Lamarr movie at the Riviera.

The highlight of his youth and early teen years was his membership in Boy Scout Troop 15 led by its scoutmaster, Jim Coppock, who devoted much time to building character. On one Appalachian Trail hiking trip one of his companions began spitting up blood on the snow-covered trail. The group chose Conrad to run the 15 miles back to seek a park ranger. He returned with the ranger who placed the boy on the horse they had brought and got him to medical care as quickly as possible. It developed that he had a ruptured blood vessel in a lung and quite likely would have died without Conrad’s feat of endurance.

He earned the highest honor the Boy Scouts can confer when he was awarded his Eagle Scout badge on Sept. 11, 1952, and followed up that high honor by journeying to Camp Philmont near Cimarron, N.M., on the historic Santa Fe trail for the camping experience of a lifetime.

Conrad matured very quickly when his grandfather died in 1953 at only 62 years of age. His will specified that Conrad, 16 at the time, had inherited Greenlee Bicycle Shop, already a 54-year old company. Unbelievable as it sounds, Conrad was prepared for the task of managing a sizeable company as a teenager.

Those idyllic days of his youth were over too soon. The bicycle shop had survived the Great Depression and prospered as new and better bicycles hit the market. Sometimes even the new and more complex models required new spokes or a tire repair, etc. The family prospered and moved to a larger home in Holston Hills.

Even a self-made man needs help along the way. He asked his grandmother to help him manage and, over a period of time, hired two expert bicycle and lawn mower mechanics, Jimmy Gibson and Glen Edwards, who both would be employed at the shop for several years. Conrad handled business matters and worked Saturdays and school vacations and the shop maintained its reputation and continued to prosper. In 1947, a lawn mower repair facility was added and grew to be even bigger than the bicycle shop.

For several years students living in Holston Hills were zoned for Central High School and school buses were provided, so Conrad entered CHS as a freshman in 1950. He managed his time so well that he kept his grades up even while spending the many after school hours required to practice and to play basketball, baseball and run track. After his sophomore year he also spent many hours each week managing his bicycle business.

His senior annual describes the highlights of his high school athletic career: At 6-2, he played center on the basketball team which advanced to the finals in the 6th District Tournament and lost to Catholic by only two points (66-64). They beat their arch rival West High by three points (67-64). Captain Gene Gilley led the team in scoring for the season with 281 points (11.24 average per game) followed by Majors with 279 points (11.16 average).

Conrad attended the University of Tennessee for two years and then was offered a partial scholarship to Carson-Newman College. He played on the basketball team for one year. The second year his friends encouraged him to participate in men’s intramural sports instead and he exceled in all the sports and was chosen the most valuable all-around player. In spite of the many hours spent in extra-curricular activity, he maintained his grade point average and graduated in 1959 with a joint major in history and political science.

He began his teaching career at Central High in 1964 and taught until 1998, teaching both social studies and business courses. From his first year of teaching until 1985, he also coached the basketball team with the lone exception occurring in 1978 when he had one of the first heart bypass surgeries ever performed locally. His teams were always competitive and the 1992 team was the district champions.

In 1994, he was given the H.G. Loy Teacher of the Year award by the Class of ’50 Alumni Association. Upon his retirement all the social studies teachers in the city schools held a banquet in his honor. Then, in 2012, he was inducted into the Knoxville Interscholastic League Boys Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Conrad Majors and Wanda Cochran, who was the school secretary at Halls and later at Central High School, were married in 1959. They are the parents of three children: Melody Majors Johnson, a guidance counselor with the Greeneville City Schools; Conrad III who is an environmental technician with the Lamar Dunn & Associates; and Mark, who is employed with Premier Tox Lab. The Majors have six grandchildren.

His daughter, Melody Johnson, sums up the contribution her father has made to the community thusly, “(Dad) possesses the rare ability to communicate with people from various backgrounds and walks of life in a way that makes them feel appreciated and accepted. This is what helped to make him so successful in the classroom, on the court and at his business. … Over the years he has carried on in the spirit of his grandmother, Nettie King. He gives work to those less fortunate whether it is the homeless, the illiterate, the disabled or former athletes who have hit upon hard times, all without bravado or judgment.”

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Written by Dr. Jim Tumblin