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Former students, teachers return to Sam Houston Elementary

Former students, teachers return to Sam Houston Elementary

Former students, teachers return to Sam Houston Elementary

The Daily Times

By: Scott Keller

September 9, 2023



Sam Houston Elementary brought together scores of former students and educators from across generations Friday night for its “70th and counting” anniversary.

Current students had drawn illustrations for a school timeline on display in the hallway near the library, highlighting key events like Adah M. Cooper becoming Maryville City Schools’ first female principal in 1973.

Some of the students and recent alumni, like fourth grader Abel Dixon, served as ambassadors welcoming and directing visitors.

Older alumni and their teachers going back to at least the 1970s gathered in clusters, sharing memories, searching photos, singing songs and taking selfies.

Artifacts on display in the gymnasium started before the construction of SHE in 1952, with records of the PTA from its predecessor, Westside Elementary, in neatly handwritten notebooks dating back to 1933.

Along an entire wall, photos, newspaper clippings, programs, “Smokies’ Scribbles” booklets of student writing, T-shirts and other memorabilia displayed the school through the decades, with printed signs reminding viewers what else was happening in each era.

For example, “Charlotte’s Web” was first published the year SHE opened; Elvis and Barbie made their debuts in the 1950s too.

Tables on the gym floor held yearbooks for visitors to flip through, and former teacher Jill Mertz provided binders full of class photos lined up on tables in front of the stage.

“It’s just like no time has passed,” she said as she chatted and joked with former colleagues from her four decades at Sam Houston, 1973-2013.


More than one retired educator said Sam Houston Elementary was home for them, with some who started at the school in their first job and stayed to retirement.

Music teacher Pam Gildrie not only wrote the school’s alma mater but updated it throughout the years. She called her colleagues her “work family” and said the they created a culture where every child who came through the door had a sense of belonging.

Educators said the continuity in the staff contributed to the family culture. They were dedicated to students, taking them on adventures including a trip to the World’s Fair when it was in Knoxville.


Teacher Gladys Delozier was known for doing a handstand each year when the Sam Houston students visited the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, her niece Sarah Shepherd recalled.

Then Sarah Phillips, she was a second grader at Sam Houston in 1972, and 40 years later her daughter had the same music teacher, Gildrie.

Looking around the gymnasium and remembering math competitions there, Shepherd said, “It’s amazing how similar it looks.”

Along with the serious work the staff enjoyed a lot of silliness too.

Patti Cleavenger laughingly recalled when “Jimbo” Berrong — then a Maryville Police officer and now Blount County sheriff — “arrested” her at the school for a March of Dimes “jail and bail” fundraiser.

Others remembered wheeling Assistant Principal Glenn Doig through the halls on a cart, while he wore a robe and crown for his birthday. He acknowledged the hard work of educators in the classrooms and cited the benefits of having a positive culture.

Ron Hess fondly mentioned several of his teachers from the 1970s, such as Miss Harvey telling the students stories in fifth grade. “I really loved Miss Morelock,” he said, citing her patience during his fourth grade year.

In sixth grade, teacher Fred Condry was “phenomenal,” Hess said. “He was stern, but he absolutely loved his students.”

When he played hooky, Hess said, his mother insisted Principal Cooper paddle him, although she didn’t want to.

Recalling her time teaching at Sam Houston from 1992 to 2007, Barb Piep said, “It was just heaven.”