Editor's Note: The following is a commentary sent to the Athens Daily Review by retired Dr. Janis Roan. She graduated from Athens High School in 1949 and now lives in Troy. She worked for 37 years in education as a teacher, counselor, administrator, superintendent and university professor in Texas, California and Alaska. She may be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Moving to Athens with my single mother at age 7, I had led a very sheltered life in Chandler, where the whole elementary school turned out to tell me goodbye when we moved.
In Athens in second grade, I immediately felt welcomed living right down the street from the school in a house owned by my uncles Len and Newman Larkin. Their mother, my grandmother, Ms. Fannie Larkin moved with us.
From 1939 to graduation in 1949, I walked to school each day joined by neighborhood friends John Pickens and “Butch Bedsole” and my mother walked to her jobs on the square. However, my senior year, uncle Len bought us a 1947 Ford station wagon, into which we piled as many kids as possible for “cruising.”
We were fortunate to have very dedicated teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators who cared about us both personally and academically. To name a few: Mastin Stover; Ms. Helen Barron; Mr. and Ms. Melvin Dunn; W.B. Rumbo; Ray Lowe; Jennie and Annie Boone; Stella Floy Pace; Ms. T.B. Owen who taught us social studies and government through several grades from elementary through middle and high school. Coach Lee Mitchell several others watched carefully over our various teams.
I was also lucky to have a friend, Mary Ellen Wolfe, whose parents (Mr. and Ms. E.T. Wolfe) included me in such precious experiences as summer musicals in Dallas and First Baptist Church where Rev. Walter Floyd was pastor. Ms. Esther Reynolds (Edwards) was both my Sunday school teacher and my English teacher at Athens High School, where I developed my love for writing.
I graduated from AHS in 1949 only to find myself already registered at Henderson County Junior College, where another uncle, H.G. Larkin was the first Dean of HCJC (later named Trinity Valley.) While there I dreamed of attending Baylor University, having no clue how I could pay for that. Again, fortunately, my uncles came through because they were proud that I wanted to pursue a degree. They also appreciated the fact that I have worked after school for several years for kind and helpful employers like Jake Townley; Scott-Crawford Tire Co.; E.W. Barron and Roy Parnell.
After I finished at HCJC, they took me to Baylor (then on the “quarter system.”) I got so homesick that my mom told me to quit calling home because we could not afford the phone bill and tuition; so home I came. Again, I was lucky enough to get a wonderful job with the Athens Amusement Enterprises, the three local theaters owned by Roy Parnell and Owen Killingsworth.
Both my mother (Hettie Pearl Chambers) and myself had learned to be hard workers, so she was sought out as Manager of Perry Brothers when her male boss was inducted into the army. At that time, she set up a high charge account for me at a hot dog cafe on the square where I thought I was supposed to use that to “treat” all my friends, until my uncle Len brought that mistake to an abrupt end when he discovered the balance I owed. Later mother also worked for Firestone Tire Co. (Fred Stone,) Stirman Drug, and Campbell Jewelers with B.O. Campbell.
Parents of many of my friends also provided care and supervision. Some I remember well were Buck Gibbs, Sr. and his wife, Willie Jo McMichael; Mr. and Ms. Herbert Gatlin; Mr. and Ms. Horace Rogers; Jake and Liz (Royall) Townley and Dottie (Ms. E. W.) Barron. We enjoyed social times together in groups which in retorspect seem quite innocent when compared to some youth activities of today. We loved hayrides, where we sang current popular songs of the day. We also walked most Tuesday evenings to the gospel singing held at the County Courthouse.
On one unusual evening, Athens had a beautiful snowfall. My mother agreed to allow me to invite my six closest girlfriends (Pat Jones; Mary Frances McGee; Mary Ellen Wolfe; Loye Bardwell; Alice Pugh and Doris Forester) over to spend the night and she would spend the night next door with her friend, Mabel Barnett; however the rule was that there would no boys in my house. Naturally, the seven affected boyfriends found out quickly where we all were. Buck Gibbs, Jr. worked nights at his dad's restaurant and offered to bring hamburgers for all of us. Of course , along with the burgers came all the other boyfriends! We did all stay outside, and my mother was just next door, but soon, every parent in the Athens Village was calling and telling their kids to get home immediately, which they did.
The next morning, without raising her voice, my mother explained to me that for one month, I would go only to school, church and work with no dates anywhere around. Since I was a cheerleader and very actively involved. I felt sure she would change that rule. Thirty one days later Mr. and Ms. Gatlin called and asked mother to let me go with them to the regional ballgame out of town and assured her that there would not be a boy involved at all. Mother simply looked down at her watch and replied.
“Sorry, there are 31 days in this month and today is only the 30th day, so she can't go out until the day after tomorrow,” she said. Nobody dared argue with my soft-spoken mom.
In my opinion, Athens deserves my sincere tribute for being the village that took responsibility for raising me in the many ways that were encouraging, wholesome and positive. The citizens held high expectations for me regardless of economic status, historical background or gender. I feel sure that there are others in my age bracket who could sat the same thing, assuming they are still around.
At one of our many high school reunions, Durwood Pickle (class of 1948) showed the magnificent oil painting he produced of the high school that felt like home to so many of us, a copy of which I am including.