An awards ceremony to be conducted by University of Tennessee lettermen Saturday at Neyland Stadium may not rival the return of Lane Kiffin for excitement but it will be meaningful.
Lowell Luther Woods, 85, an old track Volunteer from the long-ago coaching days of John Sines, will receive a service award from the T Club. Indeed, Tennessee had one part-time track coach and a cinder track way back when, a path around Shields-Watkins Field.
Lowell will no doubt be pleased to be remembered but he would never have mentioned his accomplishments as an athlete or the million or two dollars he has donated for scholarships at UT and Walter State Community College.
“Lowell has always been a giver instead of a taker,” said Norm Stone, teammate in the late 1950s and a fellow industrial engineer.
Woods was a story long before he was a Vol. He grew up on a 15-acre farm in Jefferson County and attended Maury High in Dandridge, class of 1955. From first grade forward, he was youngest in the group and stood in a few corners for fighting back against bullies.
His mother, Nola, was a strong advocate for education so he would not have to do what the family did for a living – hoe weeds in summer, tend the livestock and handle the tobacco crop.
His dad, Luther, worked for TVA. Son was allowed to play baseball with the stipulation that he arrive for home chores by the time the school bus reached their road. Lowell checked out logistics. School and home were 2.7 miles apart via a shortcut. He found he could practice for 20 more minutes after the bus loaded and departed and outrun it with 15 or 20 seconds to spare.
The bus had to follow a prescribed route and make stops. He didn’t.
Lowell saved $897 toward his college education by working extra on other farms and trapping muskrats and the occasional mink and selling pelts. Furriers paid a premium for skunks.
When it was time to leave for the big city, his mother dusted off his dad’s 30-year-old cardboard suitcase and packed a half-gallon of milk, a quart of pinto beans and clothes. She helped him flag down a bulk milk delivery trunk to hitch a ride.
The wise driver said if Lowell felt lost in Knoxville and just plain couldn’t find the university, he should listen for and walk toward the bells.
The driver said bells atop Ayres Hall tolled out the time of day, one for 1 o’clock, two for 2, three for 3.
The late UT professor Sam Venable was first to recognize Lowell’s elite athletic ability. He was fastest in his physical education class. Venable told Coach Sines – and kept telling him until John offered a scholarship.
“When Lowell started running as a freshman, he looked like a farm boy crossing over corn rows,” said Stone. “He improved greatly over time.”
Stone treasures a favorite race recollection, dual meet, Tennessee versus Georgia. Coach Sines had the mile relay team all set but changed his mind. He said the team score was tied and the Vols could win if Stone would run the third leg of the final event.
“I was not a good quarter-miler, but I agreed to do it. Our team was behind quite a bit when I passed the baton to Lowell.
“He ran the curve well and about midway on the backstretch pulled up even with the Georgia runner. Lowell was breathing smoothly and told that Bulldog ‘I got you beat’ and sure enough, Lowell won the mile relay for us and the meet.”
Woods was unique in that he later started running and scoring in a variety of events from the 100-yard dash all the way up to cross-county races on Cherokee Boulevard. That distance just happened to be 2.7 miles.
Lowell Woods remains unique. He earned an engineering degree in 1960 and was employed with Alcoa Aluminum. Six months later, he was drafted and became an Army private. After basic training, he was directed to officers’ candidate school. He earned a second lieutenant commission. He was assigned as a big gun fire director. He won the unit’s Most Outstanding Officer award the following year.
In 1969, Woods was engineering manager with Boise Cascade. In 1972, he was operations manager of Clayton Mobile Homes. He soon became vice president.
When good things happened and he cashed in, he sort of retired to his hobby, analyzing the stock market. He has spent four decades selecting, buying and selling. One of his sidelines is purchasing and refurbishing old homes for resale. He is owner-general contractor of Woods Construction, Ogalla Properties. He lives in Seymour. He goes to work every day.
“With knowledge, perseverance and smart investing of my salaries, I got in position to be able to give back. That was a promise I had made to my folks and to God. I am truly blessed.”
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.