Alcoa City Schools had much more to celebrate Saturday night than award recipients at a record-breaking fundraising gala, with the announcement of a $100,000 donation to what will now be called its Gordon Wilkinson Advanced Manufacturing Program.
Wilkinson was a machinist at the Aluminum Company of America for 32 years, and the donation from his family will be used to fund equipment, software and training, as well as costs of student industry certifications.
“Even though he was not able to attend college, his love for education and Alcoa Aluminum will be memorialized in this gift,” Jerry Wilkinson, his son and a 1963 AHS alumnus, said, announcing the gift.
Saturday’s Alcoa City Schools Foundation Gala was held in the Myrtle Coker Wilkinson Student Commons at the high school, named for Gordon’s wife, who taught at Mentor School. The area was named for her four years ago, after the family donated $150,000 for the new high school and scholarships.
The Wilkinsons grew up during the Great Depression and raised five children, four graduates of AHS between 1957 and 1970: Joyce, Jerry Mitzi and Erby. All four earned master’s degrees and two went on to doctorates.
“The Wilkinson family believes in the mission of Alcoa City Schools,” Director Brian Bell said in announcing the donation. “They have changed the lives of so many kids with their generosity. Their parents would be proud of what they are doing.”
The Alcoa City Schools Foundation’s Fifth Annual Alumni Recognition and Legacy of Excellence Gala raised more than $60,000. The commons was packed with about 430 attendees, nearly 100 more than last year.
Blount County Circuit Judge David Duggan, who chaired Alcoa’s Centennial Planning Committee, shared the city schools history from the centennial DVD.
A member of the AHS Class of 1975, Duggan noted he grew up at a turbulent time in the nation’s history and that it also was “the time of liftoffs, splashdowns and moon walks.”
“May we always remember that there’s a lot right with our community,” he said, sharing some of his memories growing up in Alcoa.
Duggan encouraged everyone to lift a toast to the spirit of Alcoa, saying, “Here’s to another 100 years for the city of Alcoa, its schools and its people.”
Retired teacher Martha P. Cobb was the final of six recipients of the evening’s awards, which previously were announced, but she received a standing ovation.
“She still has those steely blue eyes she used to intimidate us with,” master of ceremonies Marc Burnett, Class of 1977, said as Cobb walked up to receive the award.
Cobb asked all of her teacher colleagues to stand, and then she thanked them, saying she could not have been the dedicated teacher she was without their support.
Alcoa teacher Mike McClurg spoke on behalf of his father, Harry B. “Mikey” McClurg, who received a Legacy of Excellence Award. “The years he spent on the school board were some of the best in his life,” Mike McClurg said of his dad’s 31-year term.
Clarence Williams, who also received a Legacy of Excellence Award, was a member of the Charles M. Hall High School Class of 1967, went on to a 32-year career with the federal government and now serves as executive director of the Richard Williams Jr. Leadership Development Academy, started by his late brother.
He thanked those throughout the community who have supported him and who support the work of the academy. “Thanks for helping me work to build tomorrow’s leaders,” Williams said.
Videos outlined the accomplishments of each honoree, and the Marsh family’s many athletic achievements were highlighted in its Legacy of Leadership Award announcement.
“You don’t do that by yourself,” said Steve Marsh, citing the contributions of coaches, teachers and teammates.
“We had a tremendous foundation in our family,” he said, citing his parents, Jimmy and Beatrice “Bea” Marsh. “We are what we are today because of them.”
The family never went to bed without prayer, he said. “You didn’t eat until you gave thanks. We were in church every time the door was open.”
Living to the age of 96, his father never had a television because he said it would take time away from reading the Bible, praying or visiting people.
The Legacy of Leadership Award given to the Sudderth family recognizes two branches, headed by Will Harshaw Sudderth and by Clarence and Alice Pauline Sudderth.
“You should never be ashamed of history, because it is what it is,” Renee Sudderth said in accepting the award and revealing that one ancestor crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains from North Carolina to Tennessee dressed as a woman to escape lynching after impregnating a white woman.
She challenged others to learn their histories, even though they may not agree with everything in the past. “Only you can make a change and make things better,” she said. “I try to make things better; you try to make things better, and we all do this together, it will be a happy world.”
The Alcoa High School Alumni Organization received the Legacy of Partnership Award, received by President David Mabry.
The gala also gave the schools an opportunity to recognize Herman Thompson, for whom the school board recently named the competition gym at Alcoa High School.
Thompson, a member of the AHS Class of 1953, was the first Blount County athlete to be named All-State in basketball and first from AHS named to any All-State team.
He holds the AHS record for most points scored in a game, 42 in 1953, and is in the top 25 all-time scorers at the University of Tennessee.