Looking at the beginning 40 years later

By Joe Rector

I received a message on Facebook not long ago. Bill Fogarty contacted me with information that his class was holding a reunion and that I was invited. Just being thought of was enough, but this class is a special one; it’s the first one I taught. Yep, the class of 1975 is getting together to reminisce and renew old friendships. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about the whole thing.

In August of 1974, I received a phone call from Knox County Schools telling me I should be at Doyle High School for an interview. It was another one of those times when God takes care when I can’t do it myself. I showed up for the meeting with the principal, Billy K. Nicely. The man intimidated me mightily, even though he stood only about 5’5”. You see, Mr. Nicely had been my high school principal, and on more than one occasion, I fell out of favor with him during those years. To my astonishment, I was talking with the man about a job as a teacher. He hired me, and for the first year, every time he called my name over the intercom, I panicked at the thought of going to the office for a paddling.

On that first day, I was all nerves. My classes included senior English. The students that sat in my classroom were no more than four years younger than I, and one, Bill Fogarty, was 19, the same age as the girl I was dating and would later marry. Some of the teaching genes passed on by Mother helped me get by. The rest of the time, I simply bluffed my way through. Oh, I knew the material, but I wondered how much kids who were almost my age would listen to me.

That first year, I served as a chaperone on a band trip to Kingsport. V.C. Adcock asked me to help, and it served as a good way for me to be a team player. I made friends with teachers Bob Shoemaker, Jim Pryor, Jim Talent, Bobby Campbell, and Frank Kennedy. Fellow English teacher John Gilbert and I carpooled toward the end of the year, and we sang John Denver songs coming home from school. Linda Lyle was a rookie that year as well, and we became friends and colleagues. It was a good faculty that year, and I felt blessed to be a part of the DHS family.

That December, I was to marry Amy in Cookeville. My classes sent me off with parties and presents. Back in those days, I smoked, and one group bought me a carton of cigarettes. Another class presented me with two pints of pure-grain alcohol. The third class embarrassed me with items that I cannot mention in this column without blushing.

The evening of my wedding, things were hectic. The church was crowded, but I spied something especially heart-warming. On the last pew in the middle section of the church, three of my students sat. Mike Lowe, Randy Massey, and Cindy Fleming had driven 100 miles to Cookeville to be there. After all these years, I still consider that one of the kindest things any students have ever done.

In January, my life was once again filled with chaos. Amy and I lived in married student housing on Sutherland Avenue. She attended UT and worked part-time, and I was driving to Doyle and learning how to be a teacher. All the while, those students kept me going with typical teenaged things. We laughed, argued, and debated enough to keep class interesting much of the time.

Now, forty years later, I’m old, or at least I feel that way. This invitation to reunite has added just a bit of excitement in life. The anticipation of the event is mixed with nerves. Hey, I’ve not seen most of these folks since they were 18 years old. Now they’re 58 or more. I hope they have aged more gracefully than I have. I also hope that name tags are passed out so that I don’t have to put teenaged faces and names to people who are now closing in on social security checks. By the time the evening  finishes, I’m sure an assortment of emotions will have come and gone. What I know most of all is that I am honored to have been asked to attend this reunion of the graduating class of my teaching career. It’s nice to be remembered—good or bad.

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