In a room full of Eagleton Junior High graduates, it can be hard to get a word in edgewise.
Not because anyone is rude; the former students who became educators, athletes, judges, doctors, Realtors and community leaders enjoy getting back together, and they have a lot of reminiscing to do. It’s time to do it again.
The school operated from 1962-80, and from there, students went on to continue their learning at Everett High School, Porter High or even Alcoa and Maryville high schools. On Saturday, July 20, former students are invited to come back, bring some old photos and start a conversation with “Do you remember when ...?”
In fact, anyone who attended Eagleton Elementary, Eagleton Middle or Eagleton Junior High is invited to attend, along with friends and teachers, too. Doors open at 1 p.m. at Eagleton Middle.
EJHS housed seventh through ninth grade. But there was also Eagleton Elementary, so for many, it was home for nine years. On a Thursday evening in late May, some reunion committee members gathered to make final plans for the upcoming gathering. It wasn’t long before the room was transformed back to the 1960s and ’70s.
“I was here from 1967 to 1969,” said Ed Mitchell, who is currently Blount County’s mayor. He attended Eagleton Elementary before that. “We were all excited to come here. It wasn’t just the kids from Eagleton Elementary. Rockford kids came here, too. It was some of my fondest memories of my life.”
quick trip home, back again
Mitchell said he remembers being pulled from class one day because the pigs on his family’s farm had gotten out.
“Our pigs were out on Wildwood Road,” Mitchell recalled. “(Principal) Maxey came and got me out of school and drove me to the house in his ’54 Ford truck. I ran the pigs back in. He helped me with the fence and then drove me back to school. I think about that now. What in the world would they do to him today?”
Greg McClain also attended Eagleton Elementary and then Eagleton Junior High. He has been Maryville’s city manager since 2006. Before that, he was deputy city manager and before that, city of Alcoa electric utility director. He attended Everett High and graduated from Heritage High School. His college days were spent at Walters State Community College and Tusculum College.
The community leader said he has always loved history. Teacher Calvin Lynch can take some of the credit for it, McClain said. He fondly recalls a Lynch-led trip to Gettysburg. Charles Riden confessed that he didn’t go to Eagleton Junior High but did teach at the elementary school — for 44 years. He taught fifth and sixth graders, retiring in 2012.
“It was the best place in the world to teach,” he said.
Another educator, Terry Bradshaw, did attend Eagleton, starting in 1959. She grew up in a house within throwing distance. Bradshaw just completed her 43rd year of service to Blount County Schools. She taught for many years at Heritage High School and is currently a literary coach for the school system. Her mom taught at Eagleton.
In addition, Bradshaw was a great athlete. “I played basketball for coach Simmerly,” she said. “That is my claim to fame. I survived coach Simmerly. We had great teams.”
David Simmerly taught in Blount County Schools for 41 years. He was both the boys and girls basketball coach at Eagleton. He was also head baseball coach at William Blount High. He currently resides in Florida but is making the trip back to Blount County for the reunion.
Never far to roam
Kathy Wheeler Stinnett most definitely can share plenty of Eagleton memories. She has lived in the area her entire life. She said she moved in with Riden and his wife, Marcia, who raised her. She went on to work at ALCOA Inc. for 38 years.
“My sister went here,” she said. “We all just grew up together. I’ve always been here.”
Another person who played basketball for Simmerly was Kim Anderson. She moved with her family to the area when she was in fifth grade. She attended EJHS beginning in 1969. She spent 32 years at Maryville High School as a certified educational assistant in special education.
The reunions are held every five years, this year being the fourth. It was classmate Paul Gilley’s idea, the group said. Debbie Payne is one more alumna who lived near the school and never ventured away. She had three older brothers, so teachers at Eagleton were familiar with her family.
“I had three brothers who did everything wrong so when I came it was, ‘Who are you like?’” she said.
Payne said algebra was her favorite subject, under the tutelage of Mrs. Barnes. “She was the best,” Payne said.
Husband and wife Ron and Lynn Waters were in school together at Eagleton. Ron said it was Simmerly who gave him the civics lessons he needed to learn about how government operates. He spent 30 years teaching at Heritage High School before becoming the golf coach at Maryville College. Ron just retired from that position after 10 years.
A part to play
Lynn is a longtime Realtor in Blount County. She said she didn’t play basketball for Simmerly, but she did have an important job for his teams.
“I was a cheerleader,” she said. “His teams had the success they did because I cheered them on.”
On July 20, McClain will be recognized along with fellow EJHS graduate Dr. John Neithammer, who is a diagnostic radiologist and chief of medical staff at Blount Memorial Hospital. Neithammer attended EJHS from 1973-76. He graduated from HHS and then went on to the University of Tennessee. The Neithammer family lived in Edgewood Acres. John’s brother, Jeff Neithammer, is a lawyer and also attended EJHS. John said his teachers were strict but fair. Some teachers who come to mind include Bill Evans, Lorena Coulter, Julia Copeland and Louise Barnes.
Several neighborhoods fed into the Eagleton system, Mitchell pointed out. There is Meadowbrook, Clark Edition, Rock Gardens, Eagleton Village, Wildwood, Overlook, Jackson Hills and Rockford, he said.
It makes sense then why the theme “It takes a village” was selected.
Riden and Simmerly will be honored educators at the July 20 gathering.
Leaving a legacy
At each of the celebrations, former students organize a fundraiser that benefits Eagleton Middle School. One year, they purchased a science table; in another, they paid for murals.
This year, the classmates are selling bricks that can be engraved and placed near the entrance to EMS. The cost is $50. T-shirts also will be available. The money this year, Bradshaw said, will be used to buy EMS a new sign. Mark Dowlen has just been named principal at EMS; he previously served as assistant principal. He said he loves the idea of the legacy bricks so that his Eagleton family can see what came before.
“They may not recognize the names, but they will see the history,” he said. “They will see that all of these people cared enough about Eagleton to purchase a brick and leave their legacy.” When the EJHS alum get together, old memories are sure to surface. Like the day coach Simmerly and his wife, Martha, got married. The couple invited students to attend.
“We had the whole school at the wedding,” Simmerly said. “It was just like a basketball game.” The Simmerlys have been married for 51 years.
Anderson said all she has to do is step inside the old gymnasium and her thoughts go back. It even smells the same, she said. Then someone else brought up coach Don Heatherly’s big paddle. Trips to the Maryvilla Swimming Pool also were conjured up and ballgames at the Little League field.
Mitchell said he wasn’t a great student, but he got the building blocks for success. He said he still feels a bit guilty about one of his pranks. It involved throwing sharpened pencils up into the gym ceiling. He still can see the holes they made.
“I feel sort of guilty every time they want more money for roofs where they are leaking,” Mitchell confessed. “I just sit with my head down.”