Tennessee Mountain Stories

Clyde's College Years

In 1943 Clyde Whittaker graduated from Monterey High school and was promptly drafted into the United States Navy.  Like so many Appalachian sons he served his nation honorably when she needed him most.  In 1946 he was discharged and returned home to Monterey.  In September of that year he entered Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Clyde writes:

Two or three days after the college term started a meeting of all freshmen in the gymnasium was called.  A fellow who I think was president of the sophomore class got up and started talking about the initiation freshmen had to go through.  When I saw where his talk was going I stood and told the sophomores that I was too old and too busy to put up with such foolishness.  I told them I was not participating in any of it.  He said if we didn’t participate we could not expect to impose an initiation next year.  I told him I didn’t want to.  Most of the freshmen that year were veterans some with many years of service.  After I made my statement the whole thing was dropped.

The second year in college I got to be a lab assistant.  Since I had been an electronic technician in the Navy I was ahead of most students in the electrical area.  The head of the Physics department liked me.  Near the end of the second year the president of the physics club told me I was going to be the president next year.  I told him I knew nothing about that. 

I finished [college] in three years with one summer school and credits I earned at the schools I attended in the Navy.  Ellen [Bilbrey] and I got married in June 1948 before my last year at Tech.  I was going to school on the G.I. Bill getting I believe $90 per month which went to $115 after marriage.  Looking back I realize now that I shouldn’t have married until I was in better financial condition.

We stayed with Ellen’s sisters and my Mom and Dad until just before the fall quarter started.  In Cookeville we rented a two-room apartment where two couples shared a bathroom.  I think we enjoyed life even though we worked hard and had little money.  For several months Ellen worked in a shirt factory.  That is a terrible way to make a dollar.  As a lab assistant I made about $39 PER MONTH.

When the fall quarter started we had the first physics club meeting of the year.  A fellow I barely knew nominated me.  The nominees left the room and when we returned I was the president.  I think the department head asked someone to nominate me.  When we left the room he suggested I would make a good president.

I was taking an optics course taught by the department head [and] I was helping him grade some test papers for another course.  He handed me an optic test I had taken the previous day.  I had a high grade maybe 98%.  I looked at the paper [and] saw that a wrong answer was marked correct.  I pointed it out to him.  I know you knew the answer he said.  I said, “I know the answer now but I didn’t when I took the test.”  He refused to change it.

The physics club won first prize for its float in the homecoming parade under my direction.

At the start of the second quarter one of the professors quit for a better job.  Even though I didn’t have a degree yet the head of the department asked me to teach a couple of courses.  The course listing gave the department head as the teacher but he never appeared in the class.  It was an electrical course and I was good at that.

After I graduated and had a degree I was hired as an instructor for the summer.

I applied to the graduate school in physics and was accepted at Florida State University.

During the summer I had a man who had a small garage weld a frame and tongue on an axel and wheels.  I built a bed on the trailer frame.  I had just sold a beat up ’36 Chevrolet and bought a ’39 Studebaker Champion.  It was small and weak but we put our worldly possessions on the trailer and started to Florida.  The car had trouble pulling the loaded trailer.  So if I saw a stop ahead on even a mild grade I geared down and tried to keep moving because it was difficult to get moving if I stopped.

When we got to Tallahassee we found that the apartment we had reserved was on West Campus which had been an Army Air Base.  Barracks had been divided into crude apartments.  The partitions were framing with wall board on one side.  The 2x4’s were exposed on one side.  I think our building had seven two room apartments.  There was a ladies and men’s bathroom for the whole building.  WE got to be very fond of one couple and all the residents were friendly.  Our friends Bob and Ellen Cook didn’t have a car so we took them with us on our weekly trip to A&P.  Even though we had nice neighbors Ellen was disappointed that we ended up in such crude living conditions. 

I graduated without a job offer.  I thought I wanted to be a college teacher.  At the time there wrern’t many physicists available with advance degrees.  The first offer I got after looking for two months was with the Navy Mine Defense Laboratory in Panama City, Florida.

A week or so after I started working with the Navy Lab I got an offer form Virginia Tech as an assistant professor.  At the time I would have liked to get the job but the Navy people had gone to some trouble to hire me so I couldn’t quit after such a short time.  A couple of weeks after that I got the same offer from Louisiana Tech.  Then after two years I got a call from the ex-prinicpal of my high school who had become some sort of manager at the Tennessee Tech University.  He offered me an assistant professor job at Tennessee Tech.

I worked ten and a half years at the Navy Lab.