Last week left me in the field house preparing to register for my first semester at ETSC.
I had dog-eared the pages of my catalog devising a plan to get through one semester. I decided on the general studies courses and an easy elective. Dr. Arnspiger, they said, was nationally known as the father of general studies and he required everyone to attend Forum Arts and take Personality Foundations.
My job started at one, so I had to get all my courses in before noon. I was making progress before I stopped at Dr. Elton Johnson’s table. The morning session of Business Math was full, he said, and I would just have to take it in the afternoon. I meekly protested that I had to work in the afternoon.
He removed his cigar and pointed it in my direction. “Work or school. You need to decide, boy.” I hid behind the bleachers and waited until he took a lunch break. The graduate assistant who replaced him took pity on me. Little did I know that I was destined to cross paths with Dr. Johnson many more times. I even grew to like him.
In freshman English, Dr. Fred Tarpley wrote a nice note on one of my first college papers. He asked me to consider English as a major. He doesn’t remember either of these, but his words made me think I might just be able to do this college thing.
I learned more about literature from Bill Jack and Bob Dowell and was privileged to meet and listen in on a discussion with Flannery O’Connor, though I am ashamed to admit I did not appreciate the significance of the event and the effort it must have taken to bring a legend of literature to Commerce.
Dr. Lawrence McNamee joked with me in German class and made me feel collegiate. E. W. Roland seated us alphabetically and separated the boys from the girls. He made showing up late a humiliating experience, but he and Dr. Joe Saylor taught me things about politics and government that I still use today. Hugh I. Shott asked me to join the honors program, but I declined, still not sure how I would ever make it to graduation, much less with honors.
When Accounting and Finance chose me (I did not choose them), I started to feel a part of a small circle of new friends. I met Carroll Kennemer, another small-town boy, and we have remained friends for almost five decades. Ken McCord and Emmett McAnally convinced me that I could actually get a degree. In Office Machines class, Weldon King told me I had excellent hand-eye coordination. Too bad it had to be with a ten-key adding machine instead of a baseball bat or the reins of a good cow horse.
Some students went to SMU in the summer to avoid Dr. Carroll Adams’ classes in economics, but that was impossible for me. He made me sweat, but taught me lessons that continue to serve me well.
Dr. Perry Broom’s statistics class featured tiny mechanical calculators with knobs that had to be rung backward and forward with ears pressed close until a bell sounded. Distinguishing my bell from twenty others was impossible. He taught from a book he had written instead of the text listed in the catalog. His book was long out of print, but I managed to procure a worn copy.
A tennis player in the class challenged the three-hundred-pound-plus Dr. Broom to a tennis match. The whole class watched as Broom beat him three sets without moving more than ten feet on the court.
When graduation moved from dream to reality, and E.T. changed from college to university, the school arranged interviews for prospective graduates. Dr. Graham Johnson took me aside and counseled against a job I wanted. “You’ll be bored in a month.”
I told him it paid twenty bucks more per month than the second best offer. He looked down at the shoes I had bought for job interviews and asked how much they cost. I said seven bucks. He looked down at his. “These cost twenty. You’ll get used to quality.”
With that analogy, he tried to convey the naiveté of a career decision based on the price of a pair of good shoes. I missed his point and took the job anyway. What matters is that he cared enough to take the time.
E.T. provided an opportunity that changed my life for the better. I have one of the last ETSC rings and one of the first ETSU diplomas. I was a student when the first doctoral programs were added and when the Memorial Student Center was constructed. I parked on campus years later and watched while they tore it down.
The Four Lads performed on campus when I was a student, singing “Moments to Remember”, the chosen song of my high school class. I was so disassociated with campus social life and so short of funds that I did not attend.
I regret missing that event and many others like it, but in retrospect, I appreciate the university more because the institution, the professors and fellow students pulled a green country kid along paths for his own good, even when he resisted.
The student center of my day may be gone and the campus changed forever, but I can still walk across it, imagine President Gee carrying his swagger stick, and have those “moments to remember”.