School days

Porter graduates meet monthly for breakfast and camaraderie

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By Suzy Smith
For Blount Today

On the first Wednesday of the month at the Maryville Shoney’s, not only can folks enjoy a hearty breakfast and a cup of
coffee, they can take a stroll down memory lane with members of the 1953 graduating class of Porter High School.

"We were a close-knit class, so we decided it would be nice to meet," said Johnie Hayes. Approximately 20 former classmates gather monthly to share laughs, console their friends’ losses and commiserate with one another’s aches and pains.

The get-togethers stemmed from a class reunion held more than eight years ago. Many of these friends have known each other since first grade.

"Those were the good old days when we had community schools," said Marion Hitch. She said that most of her fellow classmates attended Porter from first through twelfth grade.

The school is rich in history. It began as Porter Academy in 1806 in a one-room schoolhouse. During the Civil War, the school was torn down so the logs from the structure could be used to reinforce the Maryville Courthouse.

After the war, the school was rebuilt to serve students in the Wildwood community. The name of the school was changed to Porter High School in 1918. In 1921, using bricks from the old school, a new building was erected to make room for the increasing student body population. A fire destroyed Porter High School in 1968. The building was rebuilt in 1969 and now serves as Porter Elementary School.

The 1953 graduating class has had their share of firsts.

The 1953 Porter High School football team was the first to win a Blount County football championship. Ken Chambers, also known as the class jokester, shared his involvement with the team’s victory.

"I was the tight end, the right guard and left tackle," Chambers said. "I sat on the end of the bench, guarded the water jug and tackled anyone who tried to get it."

The graduating class of 1953 was the first class to travel to Washington D.C. for a senior trip. The students took on several fundraising projects to finance the trip. As a fundraiser, the school held an exhibition basketball game between Halls High School and a team from the school that used to be located on the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base.

The game was the first integrated basketball game with white students and black students playing on the same team.

The group enjoys sharing stories of a bygone era. On a chilly morning in March at their monthly gathering, the group reminisced about getting stuck at school during a snowstorm. The snow started falling early and by the end of the day, it had accumulated so deep that the bus could not pick up the children. One student’s father came to the school on a tractor and another parent showed up in a wagon to retrieve the stranded students.

Another fond memory the former classmates recalled was when the gymnasium was turned into a roller skating rink for the students to enjoy.

Some of the Porter School graduates have deeper connections. Several of the former classmates married one another. Out of the graduating class of 55 students, three classmates share the same birthday.

Today, these retired friends share hobbies. Some travel together to shop for antiques, some swap recipes, some exchange gardening tips and almost all of them like to brag about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Porter High School graduates of 1953 are planning their next class reunion for June 30, 2007.

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