Officially Saturday morning’s event, Sept. 28, was a celebration of the school’s centennial, but in Friendsville, school, community and family are inseparable.
Hundreds of people crowded Friendsville Elementary School hallways to see displays from every decade since there has been a school, with annuals, photos, newspaper clippings, trophies, signed game balls, uniforms and more.
Among the people were multiple connections of alumni and their teachers, as well as family ties.
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, on hand to present a congressional proclamation for the event, called schools “the backbone of our community and our country.”
“One of the worst things we ever did when we let these knuckleheads take over our country and our educational system was that they closed down these community schools,” Burchett said to applause.
“There’s something that’s very cool about growing up in a community, walking to your school, knowing the people your entire life,” he said.
Marifloyd Hamil, Class of 1954, lives in Phoenix today but returns to Tennessee in the summer and still stays in touch with some classmates. What makes Friendsville special is the people, she said, a sentiment echoed throughout the day.
Everyone is family
LeRoy Painter told an audience of several hundred in the school auditorium, “I’ve spent more time on this campus than anyone that I know of.”
He attended school in Friendsville from first grade through graduation in 1952 and returned as a teacher in 1960. He became principal in 1967 and served until his retirement in 1997. These days he’s known as the principal’s dad, since his son Stan has been Friendsville’s principal for the past decade.
To show the family atmosphere at Friendsville, LeRoy shared a story from his late wife, Carolyn Lovin Painter, who had forgotten to bring money for a class ring to school the day it was due. Her family lived on a farm in Greenback and her father had the only car at work that day.
She went to the principal, J. Fred Sentell, affectionately known by everyone as “Prof,” who thought for a minute and asked her a few questions. “He reached in his pocket and pulled his car keys out and gave them to her and told her to hurry back with the money,” Painter said.
LeRoy Painter said he knows that’s pretty extreme by today’s standards and was pretty extreme back then, but even today Friendsville’s staff may reach in their pocket to help a student, such as buying supplies.
Don Moore Sr. came to Friendsville in 1956, serving as a teacher, coach and principal at Friendsville High School before becoming athletic director at William Blount High School when it opened and then serving on the county Board of Education.
At one point, Moore said, the superintendent and two-thirds of the principals in Blount County Schools were from Friendsville.
Arguably the most influential graduates are the ones who became teachers, he said, with an influence that is exponential as they “ignite the fires of learning in young minds.”
Other notable Friendsville alumni mentioned during the program included John D. Harper, who started working at the Aluminum Co. of America summers while at Friendsville High School and later became CEO of ALCOA.
Andy Landers, a 1970 graduate of Friendsville who coached the University of Georgia’s women’s basketball team to more than 800 wins and four Final Four appearances, reflected on what made Friendsville stand out for 100 years.
It was more than the subjects taught in the classroom, he said.
“Our teachers were good about making us feel important,” Landers said in his keynote address. “This was an environment where you could dream and believe you could do special things.”
A proclamation from the Tennessee General Assembly presented by state Rep. Bob Ramsey notes that the first four students graduated from Friendsville in 1922, and by the time the high school closed in 1979, there has been more than 3,200 graduates. Later the school served kindergarten through grade eight and now it serves kindergarten through grade five.
George Henry taught at Friendsville for 35 years in grades seven and eight, and his late wife, Martha “Betty” Henry, taught elementary grades at the school. “It was a wonderful experience,” he said.
Paula Greene Rogers, one of his former students, stopped to say hello. She attended Friendsville from 1957-69 but was stopping to see the displays from other decades as well, recognizing people who were her teachers, friends or who later became family members.
Teaching assistants Tammy Turner and Tiffani Russell were among those who brought together the artifacts, searching in old portable classrooms and under the gym to find treasurers such as silver cups from spelling bees in the 1920s and a blue frame with “Friendsville Falcons,” which became part of a “selfie” area with props for alumni to take photos Saturday.
Today’s Friendsville students have been contributing some of their favorites items, such as a fidget spinner, and thoughts for a 2019 time capsule, which probably will be buried this week.
“We’re going to document it well,” said second-grade teacher Kari Sharp.
The school is still searching for six or eight previously buried time capsules that community members recall but they haven’t been able to pinpoint, even with metal detectors.
The topic has generated about 150 messages on the Facebook page “You Know You’re From Friendsville, TN, If,” she said.
They think they have located one on the front lawn and hope to dig it up when also planting a crepe myrtle donated by faculty and staff.