Remembering Russellville Class of 1969 from half century ago
By Jim Turner


Posted on January 3, 2019 9:21 PM




When my class graduated from Russellville High School in 1964, we had experienced the assassination of President John F. Kennedy during the school year, yet we were still living in our own version of Camelot. Our biggest concern was why we weren’t allowed to wear wheat jeans and penny loafers with our graduation robes.

When I returned as a member of the RHS faculty in the late summer of 1968, America was changing dramatically. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in the last four months, the Vietnam War was highly controversial, student protests were breaking out across the world, the most violent political convention ever had just concluded in Chicago.

Yet RHS was still a haven of tranquility in comparison to most of the country. Girls were still required to wear dresses instead of pants, and long-haired boys, headbands, tie-dyed shirts and hard drugs were a few years away.

Russellville High School had moved its location in the four years I was gone. The next class after ours, 1965, was the last to graduate in the gym on Summer Street. The Class of 1966 spent the academic year at the historic location but graduated in the new building on the Nashville Road. The Class of ’67 was the first to spend the entire year on the new campus, which was also the first year RHS students were bussed to school.

So the Class of 1969 was the third to make its home in that building. It was also the first year since 1924 not to have Mrs. John Carpenter, “Miss Ruth,” as its senior English teacher. That honor went to Joann Flowers, who had worked in business for several years before becoming a teacher. Her daughter, Kathy Holman (Flowers), was a member of the class.

Russellville was the largest high school in Logan County with 398 students, an increase of 32 from the year before. Lewisburg was the largest high school in the county system with 255 students and the smallest with Chandlers with 115.

My role was to teach sophomore English and a speech course along with coaching speech and tennis and directing plays.

Robert E. Stevenson, for whom the new elementary school was named in the mid-70s, was superintendent. He relied heavily on his wife, Harry Lee Stevenson, in the central office. Roy Dickey Reynolds was principal, and his wife, Carol, who died last month, didn’t work at the school but was his rock.

There was no assistant principal or athletic director. Glenn Baldwin was guidance counselor, a positon which included many of the duties that in later years would go to the assistant principal. Betty Black was the front office secretary and the legendary Mary Ewing Hart treasurer.

Members of the faculty were John Paul Allard, Bob Armstrong, Stumpy Baker, Ron and Lillian Beckham, Helen Carpenter, Hazel Carver, Russell Collins, Joanne Flowers, Jim Higginbotham, Katherine Jennings, David Johnson, Judy Lyne, John McCarley, Jo Michaels, Eleanor Piper, Martha Raymer, Clennie Sue Rector, Larry and Peggy Reeder, Mike Roberts, Kay Lyle Stengell and Marie Turner.

From that group, Judy and Mike are the only ones besides me still living in Logan County.

The cafeteria staff consisted of Emma Noe, Betty Kersteins, Eveyln Highsaw, Janice Motsinger and Mary Francess Stovall.

James Bibb and Jake Bell were the custodians with help from student worker Phillip West, a senior then who is now starting his 29th year as a member of the board of education.

The board at the time consisted of Chairman Robert L. Kirkpatrick, Buddy Duncan, Dr. R.L. Yokley, Ross Dowden and Bob Guion. Only Bob Kirk is still living.

Some of the well-known seniors from of that Class of 1968-69:

Brad Watson, the only Russellville Panther ever to make an NFL team. He is a pilot for Northwest Orient airlines and lives in Nashville.

Dr. Jim Dodson, the class president who is an internist in Russellville

Phil Gregory, who was just sworn in for his second term as Logan County Jailer. He has also been coroner and ambulance service director

Buddy Leach, long-time attorney based in Franklin

Johnny Cates, who owns a high profile construction company and the Marathon truck stop on Russellville’s North Bypass

Charlie Maxwell, who brought Arby’s to Russellville immediately across the street from RHS and still owns the building

Toby Nichols of Olmstead, who was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in Panther football history last year

Dr. Jim Luckett, who has spent most of his adult life as an optometrist in Louisville

Mike Simmons, who owned The Clothes Tree dry goods store along with his mother Flossie for several years

Beverly Terry, who has been a member of the Logan County Public Library staff for decades

Connie Murphy Thomason, owner of Thomason’s Decorating Center

Carolyn Wilson Mallory, who was co-owner of Mallory’s Pharmacy and has been a pharmacist for other drug stores in the community since

Jane Noe Duncan, a highly respected registered nurse

Vicki McMillen Coleman, a long-time deputy in the Logan County Property Valuation Administration officeDavid Bilyeu, who is retired from UPS and continues to raise cattle

Charlotte Williams Watkins, retired teacher at Stevenson Elementary School

Marvin Dennison, who has served as the chief administrator for University Heights Academy in Hopkinsville

Names in the News

Senior class officers were President Jim Dodson, Vice President Steve Tattitch, secretaries Marilyn Kay Lawrence and Joan Anderson, and treasurers Lloyd Chapman, Connie Thomason, Lucianne Forcum and Susan Neal.

Marilyn Kay was also Homecoming Queen. There was only one queen a year then and Russellville was Football City.  In her court were Shelly Steele, Carol Davenport and Barbara Williams.

Susan Kerr (Halbert) was valedictorian with Jim Dodson salutatorian and Cathy Carver third. The prestigious deGraffenried award chosen by the faculty went to Carolyn Wilson and was presented by G. Samuel Milam, the attorney who managed the deGraffenried Legacy diligently.

RHS alumnus Frank Gorrell, who was lieutenant governor of Tennessee, was the guest speaker.

The first Carpenter-Helm Scholarships—named for Miss Ruth and Miss Geneva—were presented to David Cornelius and Carolyn Wilson by Mrs. Helm herself.

Buddy Leach and Susan Neal were Mr. and Miss RHS. Others in the running were Mr. and Miss Senior Jim Dodson and Janice Guion (Threlkeld), Mr. and Miss Junior Paul Kerr and Therese Bonasso, Mr. and Miss Sophomore John Bonasso and Mary Crit Threlkeld (Johnson) and Mr. and Miss Freshman Stewart Wheeler and Sharon Griffith.

Coach Baker’s fourth football team finished 7-3. Senior Toby Nichols and junior Larry Duffey were all-state. Seniors Brad Watson and Frank Tinch joined Nichols and Duffey on the All-WKC team.  Senior John Cassidy Pulley was named MVP.

James ‘Slick’ Kees, Tinch and Nichols were the captains while Scott Neill, Billy Warden, Ricky Matar, Barry Parrish, David Guion and Tommy Silvey were also award winners.

Five members of that team were honored in 2017 among the 50 Greatest Panther Football Players. They were Nichols, Duffey and sophomores Billy Costello, Bobby Tattitch and Virgil Benton.

Jim Michaels was a highly respected assistant coach who implored his defenders to “put a hat on the cat.”

Buddy Linton coached the golf team which was a year away from winning the school’s first state championship in any sport. They were Gerry Switzer, Tommy Threlkeld, Hal Freeman and Stewart Wheeler, all underclassmen. Mr. Stevenson didn’t want his administrators coaching, so when Linton was promoted the next year Ron Beckham was officially the coach of the state champions in 1970.

Basketball coach Dennis Doyle was a professional baseball player who had played both basketball and baseball at Morehead State University. He and Principal Reynolds knew each other well because of their Cave City backgrounds. In fact, their Hall of Fame plaques are the first two on the wall at the Cave City Convention Center.

Doyle had played well along with his fellow middle infielder Larry Bowa in the Philadelphia organization at Class AA Reading in the summer of ’68. This was to be his last season at RHS, since in the summer of 1969 he was MVP and Rookie of the Year in the Pacific Coast League. The Phillies called him up to the majors for the 1970 season and he stayed their several years, including tying a World Series Record by hitting safely in all seven games against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in what is widely considered the greatest Series ever played.

The 1969 yearbook says that year’s basketball varsity included Danny Johnson, Joe Smotherman, Billy Warden, Virgil Benton, Hal Freeman, Keith Northern, Brad Watson, Mike Burchett, Charles ‘Star’ Duncan, Leonard Vick, Ronnie Yarbrough and John Richardson. Gary White was expected to be a standout, but when the team was running the steps in the preseason a big splinter sticking out from a bleacher went through his calf muscle and ended his career prematurely.

This was six years before Russellville and the rest of Western Kentucky fielded girls basketball teams. There was also no volleyball, softball or soccer.

The only sports for girls had been track. Cheerleaders were more dedicated to firing up the pep section and supporting the football and basketball teams than they were in competing themselves

Susan Neal was captain of the cheerleaders. Joining her on the sidelines were Joan Anderson, Therese Bonasso, Mary Crit Threlkeld and Pat McCarty.

The lack of sports opportunities for girls was one of the reasons Mr. Reynolds encouraged me to start a girls tennis team in addition to the boys. Beth McCutchen was the star. Fellow sophomore Mary Ann Emberger (Thompson) joined her as the nucleus of our first three women’s teams with classmate Lugene Rogers joining them the last two. Other key players on that historic team were Pam Howlett (Leach), Pam Hunter (Holdcraft), Lucianne Forcum and Joan Anderson.

Juniors Chet Ward and Charles Duncan led the boys team, although Duncan graduated a year early. Joining them were Buddy Leach, Ricky Keeton, Porter Carrender, Don Halcomb and Marvin Dennison. Ward was named Most Valuable Player.

Mary Ann Steele was the girls track coach. Her star was her daughter Shelley (Cataxinos Greene), who now is a retired teacher from the Russellville schools. Judy Lennon, who became a teacher and now is employed at the Russellville TSC, was most valuable player.

The yearbook went to press before baseball season. Coach Larry Reeder’s best player was senior Billy Warden. We had hopes he would become a professional player, but it didn’t quite happen.

Senior R Club members (qualifying by having earned a letter jacket) pictured in the yearbook were Mike Burchett, Charlie Maxwell, Toby Nichols, Jim Luckett, Brad Watson, Danny Johnson, Joe Smotherman, John Pulley, Ronnie Yarbrough, Billy Warden, Leonard Vick, Gary White and Steve Tattitch. Notice that girls weren’t being awarded jackets in those days.

The Speech & Drama Club play, which was my first to direct, was The Diary of Anne Frank and starred sophomore Beth McCutchen in the title role. Her parents were played by Buddy Leach and Lynn Noe. Anne’s young male friend Peter featured sophomore Hal Freeman, who was a natural for the drama about Nazi persecution of Jewish people, since he was the school’s only Jewish student at the time. John Paul Summers and Lucianne Forcum portrayed his parents.

Other cast members were Jim Luckett, Johnny Tipton and Sherry Mayfield.

We were fortunate to have the assistance of Community Theatre Director Joe Johnson, who built the two-story apartment the Franks occupied on the deGraffenried Auditorium stage. I couldn’t have done it.

We organized a speech team for the first time. Lucianne Forcum was president. Other officers were Pat McCarty, Lynn Noe (Sahlin), Marvin Dennison, Carol Wheeler (Gaddie) and Celia Richardson (Haynes).

We went to five invitational tournaments with 32 different speakers/interpreters. Among those most active were officers Lucianne, Lynn, and Marvin along with Betsy Denning, Vickie Hankins, Mike Justice, Doris White (Moody) and Harris Dockins.

For the Senior Play we did The Man Who Came to Dinner, a Broadway classic that was too ambitious for a rookie director, but it went well. Steve Tattitch was awesome in the starring role of Sheridan Whiteside. Those in big roles included Buddy Leach, Janice Guion, Mike Burchett, Marilyn Kay Lawrence, Carolyn Wilson, Marvin Dennison, David Bilyeu, Pat McCarty, Susan Neal, Jim Luckett, Lloyd Chapman and Billy Warden.

Cast members included Joan Anderson, Judy Blankenship, Cathy Carver, Johnny Cates, Pamela Copeland, Johnny DeVasier, Kathy Flowers, Lucianne Forcum, Richard Friedel, Marion Fugate, Billy George, Wayne Greer, Carolyn Kees (Baker), Ricky Keeton, Charlie Maxwell, Sherry Mayfield, Vicki McMillen, Jane Noe (Duncan), Pat Pepper (Boleware), Johnny Poindexter, June Poor, Barry Smock, Joe Smotherman, Connie Thomason and Leonard Vick.

Hazel Carver’s music program was huge and impressive, as always. Her daughter Cathy was field commander of the Marching Panthers. Majorettes were Debbie Kemp, Jane Dowden, Vickie McMillen, Cathy Clark and Patti Vick.

Hazel fielded numerous vocal and instrumental groups. His senior star on an instrument was trumpeter Jim Dodson. Freshman Danny Williams was one of those who joined him frequently in playing “Buglers’ Holiday.”

Sophomore Robert Stuart was one Mrs. Carver counted on for everything, from playing an instrument to handling technical stuff. He was that important to me in my areas of the arts.

Charlotte Williams and Steve Tattitch were editors of the yearbook. Susan Neal and Therese Bonasso edited the school newspaper, “The Panther Chatter.”

Others in the class who have been important in my life include my cousin, J.D. Bayles, who established Russellville’s relationship with long-time WKU president Gary Ransdell as his first college roommate.

Gary White, who became one of my college roommates along with Dr. Paul Kerr, after I went back to Lipscomb to complete my teachers’ certificate.

Cathy Carver, Susan Neal Clapp and Pat Pepper Boleware, who make the Tobacco & Heritage Festival better for me most years when they return home from other states

Buddy Leach, who asked me to be in his wedding to Pam Leach. I remain enormously proud of both of them.

Debbie Lee (Gregory), David Bilyeu and Gary White, with whom our family has worshipped often

Jim Luckett, who honored Elaine and me by flying in from Houston to attend our wedding


To see the first article in this series on Russellville High School 50 years ago, go to http://www.theloganjournal.com/Stories.aspx?Article=features808 

 




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