Fifty Years Later

by Brooks Clark August 12, 2015

Clara Childress Register’s fondest memories of her days at UT were as a cheerleader in the 1960s. One particularly memorable game against Bear Bryant and his Crimson Tide featured quarterback and future NFL star Joe Namath.

“They were beating us 35–0,” said Register. “In those days, the UT cheerleaders were on the sideline between the Alabama bench and the end zone.” Namath had bulled in for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak then thrown for the two-point conversion.

“On the zero yard line, he turns around, holds up his bird finger, and runs all the way down the sideline, letting the whole stadium know what he thought of us.”

Register and other members of the Class of 1965 reminisced about their time on campus during their recent fiftieth reunion, which included two days of speakers, tours, and dinners.

“I had always wanted to come back to campus,” she said, “but the dates had never worked out. This time the dates were perfect.” Register and her husband, Ted Jewell, flew from their home in Washington, DC, where she is a reading specialist in the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools.

A walk by the old Panhellenic Building and Strong Hall sparked other memories for Register.

“In those days, girls had dorm hours,” she said, “and no men were allowed in the girls’ dorm at any time. A childhood friend from Chattanooga, who became known as Pete the Prankster, climbed into a shopping cart, covered himself with a blanket, and had a friend roll him into the dorm. He was caught, expelled, and finished out at Chattanooga.”

Knoxville News Sentinel humor columnist Sam Venable, who spoke at a reunion dinner, remembers starting at UT in the summer of 1965 when a soon-to-be fashion trend was just appearing on campus. “Everyone on campus kept asking, ‘Have you seen him?’” Venable recalled. “Have you seen the guy with long hair?’ I was up by the library when I heard someone say, ‘There he is!’ He had shoulder-length hair. Just a few years later, he would have fit right in, but right then it was big news.”

Jesse Curtis (’65 BS, ’67 MS), a retired UPS industrial engineering manager, recalled that it was not unusual to wear a necktie to class.

“And we dressed up for games,” added his wife, Elaine Curtis (’76).

For Norman Elkins (BS ’65, MS ’70), who attended the reunion with his wife, Linda (’68), a once-in-a-lifetime event was getting to see President Lyndon B. Johnson at UT promoting the War on Poverty in May 1964. “His limousine stopped right in front of the University Center. His car had a built-in PA system, and he talked to the crowd. His older daughter, Lynda Bird, was with him. He looked just like he did on TV.”

Bill Kushner (’65) came to UT from upstate New York for the radiation biology program at Oak Ridge. When making his housing selection, he saw that Gibbs Hall had air conditioning, so he chose it, became an RA, and tutored many of the athletes there, pointing him toward his career as a teacher.

“I had the best time of my life here,” said Kushner. “Everyone was so nice to me.”  Kushner enjoyed the reunion with his old roommate Fred Jones (’65).

“This is the first time I’ve really returned to the campus since I graduated,” said Jones, who has served as the editor of a number of magazines since earning his degree. The reunion was also the first time back for Arena Groves, who got her MS in accounting in 1965, lived in Strong Hall, and went on to a career as an IRS auditor in Nashville.

Fred Van Zandt (’65), who began his career with Trane and the Vapor Air Conditioning Division in Alabama, was impressed with the current campus. “Everything has changed physically. It’s a much, much bigger campus. And everybody now carries backpacks. I carried my books in one hand. I lived on Deery Street near Fifth Avenue and walked to classes much of the time.”

“It’s so much larger now,” said Jesse Curtis. “It’s overwhelming. The scope has grown so much. But I’m glad that they’re keeping the university current and preparing students for an advanced technological society.”

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