Well, folks, we did it!

The grand Cocke County High School Class of 1969 met our goal of having at least 100 classmates in attendance at our 50-year class reunion last Saturday, Aug, 17, 2019, at Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center.

When the dust settled, the official count was 102 classmates who had traveled from ten states (including points across Tennessee) and one foreign country. We were also blessed to have four of our beloved teachers: Beth O. Freeman, Elizabeth Parks, Douglas Millsaps, and Kenneth Newman.

Larry White, who came from Panama, took top honors for having traveled the most miles. Others coming from out-of-state were Dennis Gilland (Texas), Gary Lesley (Michigan), Billy Smith (Kentucky), Robert Valentine (Virginia), Berneice Coggins Cudzillo (Ohio), Michael Click and Violet Steelman Lindsey (North Carolina), Mitchell Hurst (Georgia), Beverly Sledge Hudson and Ronnie ‘Birdeye’ Williamson (Alabama), and David Jones (Florida).

It was indeed a weekend to remember. Earlier in the day, CCHS Assistant Principal Nancy Brawley welcomed about a dozen of our group to their alma mater where they toured their old school and especially enjoyed seeing the newly-renovated auditorium.

Most of the group arrived early and stayed late—some even overnight. Our official photographers, Rhonda Williams and Matt Winter, somehow managed to herd us cats together for our class photo. Rhonda then took additional pictures of each elementary school’s alumni, even including several who attended the old Irish Cut School! She also captured on film those of us who began our educational journeys at Mrs. Wood’s kindergarten, known more informally as “Coot’s Academy.”

After our delicious buffet meal, we honored several people and even sang “Happy Birthday” to Mrs. Freeman, who recently turned 93.

The dining room was decorated beautifully. I’ve probably attended more class reunions than anyone else in Cocke County in my role as newspaper photographer, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything to beat it. Red, white, and black roosters, bows, ribbons, candies, bottles of commemorative water, memorabilia, lanterns, streamers, and balloons abounded.

Everyone chuckled at the revelation that it took 507 pills for us to get there that night and that at least 55 artificial body parts (knees, hips, etc.) were in attendance. Mary Holdway Walker’s claim of having artificial fingernails was disqualified.

We remembered over 60 classmates no longer with us.

The highlight of the evening came when Helen Dockery Bailey came to the dais and led the presentation of over a dozen Quilts of Valor to our classmates who served America in the military. Our group graduated during the Vietnam Era, so there were several.

Helen sews with such a group in Talbott and broached the idea of honoring our classmates this way. Caroline Seehorn Brock also provided a quilt for the program. To say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of Helen’s presentation would be an understatement and our veterans certainly deserved the standing ovation they received.

Spirit of the Smokies, the quartet which includes our classmate Danese Turner Ball, plus Susan Burgin, Teresa Rice, and Tina Kilgore, provided timely music from our era.

I’ve been asked, “How did you do it? Our class has never had a reunion.”

The answer is simple.

The CCHS Class of 1969 reunions are for everyone who was ever a member of the class: not just for the athletes, the band members, the cheerleaders, the social butterflies, or those from a particular school. We like to think we have grown past the days of only talking to people who sat at our lunch table, and we certainly don’t feel the need to impress anyone with our clothes, cars, or success stories. We’re just glad to be here!

Our planning committee meetings usually saw about 20 people in attendance, representing seven different elementary schools: Bridgeport (Irish Cut and Edwina), Centerview, Del Rio, Edgemont, Northport, Newport Grammar, and West End. And, we’re all worker bees. No one person was saddled with all the work. And it showed.

Tina Kilgore, with Spirit of the Smokies, noted, “When I came into this room tonight, I could sense the love you have for one another.”

Several of us closed out the weekend on Sunday morning by coming together at Stokely Chapel at Carson Springs where classmate Kenny Jenkins led a worship service. Sharon Brown Ambrose accompanied us as we sang “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.” About 40 of us were there, joining together to say “Amen” to an absolutely perfect weekend.

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