When we were 17, it was a very good year

By Yvonne Nelson

November 6, 2005

The boundaries of Whitehaven are Brooks Road, Airways, the state line and the ICC Railroad track just west of McCorkle Road, and Whitehaven High School has sat on Whitehaven Lane within the boundaries of Whitehaven for many years.

According to "Tales of Old Whitehaven," a book written by Anna Leigh McCorkle in 1967, Tennessee passed a law saying public schools had to be opened in 1872 and although Pisgah (also known as Edmiston School) was the area's first school established in 1843, under the new law, some of the first schools opened were the Tip-Top School, the Whitehaven Academy and Neel High.

The area's major land owner, Col. Frank White (for whom Whitehaven was named) donated an acre, and a 22-by-44 foot building (Whitehaven Academy) was built. When the county took over, the school became Whitehaven High School and by 1891 two rooms and a front porch were added by the county and two dressing rooms and side porches were added by the Dramatic Club, which used the building for its meetings. In those days, a director was elected from each district.

By 1911, the Tip-Top School on Airways consolidated with Whitehaven, which became an accredited high school two years later.

The school was attended by students from the nearby Raines, Horn Lake and Levi districts as well as some from as far away as Oakville, parts of South Memphis and Mississippi.

Declared a 12-year high school in 1914, the school had five graduates the following year; a 24-page school magazine called the Whitehaven School Journal featuring community advertisements, original poems, articles and pictures. It was produced from 1911 to 1928, and Whitehaven resident Ellen Clare Williams Loomis graduated from the school 10 years later.

The Whitehaven school burned three times and the old building (currently sitting on the southwest corner of U.S. 51 and Whitehaven Lane) was the new building when Martha Stroup Allen of Bartlett, the daughter of the custodian for 35 years, Silas F. Stroup, attended school there.

"My father came (to Whitehaven) to be the school's janitor in 1922 and I was born two years later," said Allen, who lived in what she described as an old wood-frame house with 12-foot ceilings that sat where the gymnasium sits today and was the original school referred to above. "I remember when my father would have to get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to fire up the coal boilers (to heat up the school building)."

In 1926, Fred S. Elliott began his long tenure as principal, and Tommye Russell obtained the position of English teacher. When the Great Depression came, it did not affect the farming community too much and afterward many of the students and teachers left to support the country during World War II.

The Whitehaven High School classes of 1938 and 1942 recently held separate reunion activities for alumni.

"Mr. Elliott announced during an assembly we should buy a war bond with our $18.75 instead of purchasing a class ring," recounts Allen, who graduated in the class of 1942. "They needed the metal for the war and principal Elliott told us we would not be able to purchase class rings. Polish those heels as well as those toes, Elliott would tell the boys; you need to look just as good coming as you do going!"

The class of '42 held its first reunion in 1988, 46 years after the class of 125 graduated. During that reunion program, everyone in attendance was presented with a costume jewelry class ring. Additional reunions were held in 1991, 1996, 2001 and on Oct. 18 (63rd). Alumnus and genealogy buff Martha Miller Coleman was fortunate enough to purchase Russell's grading book from an estate sale.

"That was a good purchase at $1.25!" said Coleman, whose husband, the late Clyde Coleman, graduated with the class and operated Coleman's Rexall at Mallory and Florida in South Memphis and the Mallory Heights Pharmacy before relocating to Walnut Ridge, Ark., where he was head pharmacist for 26 years until retiring in 1981.

Ellen Hatcher Holt wore a broach Charlie Holt, her husband of 63 years, bought for her in 1940. Knox Hardy mused at the book showing his senior grades in Russell's English 4 Period 8 class before opening the program and welcoming those in attendance.

"We'll arrange another (reunion) in a couple of years," said Hardy. "We're missing a few and will have a moment of silent prayer in their behalf. ... Thank you (Lord) for bringing us back together again."

On Oct. 26, the class of 1938 met at Loomis's home, built by her grandfather, John Williams, a conductor for the Illinois Central railroad. Hubert Threlkeld, Katherine Harty Trippe, Betty Haire Tidwell, Irma Hartsfield Roberts, Nancy Foster Spencer, Josephine Milani Sammons and husband Joseph, Harvey Carrington and wife Anita looked at class photos, a class picture, copies of articles from The Commercial Appeal and other artifacts Loomis collected over the years. They reminisced at her home near the original site of the Raines Station depot.

"I remember when Ms. Lee was the assistant principal," said Spencer of Bartlett. "I lived near third and Mallory and caught the bus to school from that location with a friend. Some of the best times we had were on the school bus. Well, we missed the bus one day and missed school. Boy, did Ms. Lee fuss at us for going back home. Well later on, we missed that bus again and boy were we scared. We didn't know what else to do so we started out walking (to school) and thank God this nice boy we knew came along and gave us a ride. We certainly didn't want to face Ms. Lee again!"