Powell Alumni Association is very young 100

Marvin WestPowell, westwords

The Powell High Alumni Association is not showing its age. At 100 years old, it is skipping merrily along, soliciting money for more and better scholarships and making big plans for the future.


The first century gala will be a semi-formal dinner at the school on Saturday, April 7. Deadline for reservations is March 16. Tickets cost $40. Contact is Vivian McFalls (607-8775 or vmcfalls60@gmail.com). Alumni president is Justin Bailey. His ideas are all around.

By my count, Powell High School is 102. It makes sense that the alumni group is younger. It had to wait until there were enough graduates for a genuine quorum. There were only four the first year.

If you are keeping score, Powell schools are not exactly as they were in 1916. In the beginning, the elementary and high school shared a two-story building facing Spring Street, atop the hill overlooking the spring, railroad depot and the brickyard.

Pearl Bishop Garrett delivered the dedication speech. A copy of her remarks was placed in a corner foundation of the school. Construction was a big deal back then. I’ve been told a large audience actually listened.

The cost was $15,000 to build three classrooms on the ground floor for young students and three upstairs for high school studies. A largo combo room served as library and study hall. Two sets of stairs (prominently labeled boys and girls) led to basement bathrooms. Now and then a supposedly misguided boy approached the wrong stairs. Girls giggled. There was no such thing as sexual harassment.

Records show that Knox County hired S.H. Thompson as the first principal, $1,200 annual salary plus $400 to rent a convenient cottage. He never showed up. Thompson sent a telegram saying he had just returned from a thousand-mile trip and was tired and could not keep his appointment.

He did not say where he had been but the outing saved the county 25 per cent. G.W. Morton took the job for $900. Glenmore Garrett was the other teacher. There were nine elementary students and 16 high schoolers at different levels.

Almost immediately the Powell Station Parents and Teachers Association organized. Parents were in the majority. Mrs. A.O. Child was the first president.

The next landmark was a giant negative, the terrible flu pandemic of 1918. Supposedly one in every four citizens was afflicted. Millions died. Public gatherings, including religious services, were canceled.

It appears Powell escaped the worst of the tragedy. The school got sprayed with disinfectant. Two neighborhood dogs supposedly transferred to Heiskell.

World War I caused strain and consternation. The school stopped offering German as an elective language.

By 1923, historic Powell Station was in a growth spurt. Classrooms and steam heat were added. The community pledged $3,000 for an annex.

Electricity arrived in 1926. Before that, batteries provided night light.

In 1929, A.G. Haworth came from Carson-Newman College to teach science. He became coach of everything. He headed the community committee that lobbied for a gymnasium and the building committee that oversaw eventual construction.

H.J. Fowler joined the faculty in 1932. This was a happening. “Fessor” Fowler stayed 33 years. He taught agriculture and vocational skills. He loved and was loved by “his boys.” They all wanted to play on his Future Farmers of America basketball team.

Late in his career, Fowler spoiled his good-old-boy image. He emerged as teacher of physics.

Another famous name, Mildred Patterson, came in 1937. Amy Armstrong (later Moyers) arrived a year later.

Teachers took a pay cut during the Great Depression. After economic recovery, Knox County published a revised scale: $105 per month for one to nine years of experience, an extra $5 for a master’s degree; $150 per month for 10 years of experience; $170 for 25.

Teachers who endured me deserved far more.

The new high school and I arrived on Emory Road in the late 1940s. W.W. Morris was principal. Eleanor McCaskill and Floy Bell taught English.

At 15, I knew I could cut it. I became prominent. Mr. Morris, big and boisterous, once tried to stuff me into a hall locker. My peers cheered him on.

Actually, the principal was my friend. He provided golden opportunities. He allowed me to skip his history class and escape study hall to sell ads for the annual.

Persuading merchants and business leaders to part with their hard-earned funds was an enriching experience. I set a sales record and considered myself very successful. Only later did I understand that those good people supported school projects year after year. All I really did was not foul up the process.

Mrs. McCaskill was a disciplinarian. She once ordered me out of her classroom just for talking too much. She sent me to the principal’s office. He said “Not you again!”

He wouldn’t let me in. He made me sit outside his door in public humiliation – and listen to the World Series on my transistor radio, Yankees with Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto against the Dodgers.

Mr. Morris stopped by every inning or so to check on the score – as if he had a bet on the game.

Mrs. Bell was an enthusiastic booster. She assigned me 459 lines in the senior play. Much later she admitted I was a teacher’s pet.

Floy had some of the same phrases my grandmother used. One of her themes was unlimited potential. Long before the Nike commercial, she said “Just do it.”

Eventually I became a graduate. I went away, to the university and on to the world. Once, I returned to address the Powell High Alumni Association. I doubt that my remarks were of historical significance. I do know I was not asked to speak a second time.

There are a thousand other stories about Powell people. Some are true. Many Powell people have achieved greatness. John Cooper is in the college football hall of fame.

Come early to the dinner. If you follow a strategic route in table-hopping, no telling what you may hear. Be advised that my comments will be guarded. Keep in mind that I am limited. I am not quite 100.

(Marvin West invites comments about Powell High, old grads or anything else. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com)

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