Story from Tech’s 1963-64 Associated Student Body President Phil Wheeler

Tech Anecdote from 1963-64 Associated Student Body President Phil Wheeler

Note: Occasionally the University Archivist hears a good story from an alumnus that she would like to share.  This story is told by Phil Wheeler and re-written by Archives Assistant Jennifer Dewar.


1964 Associated Student Body Officers Bill Luttrell, Phil Wheeler, Brenda Edgemon, and Roger Easley, 1964 Eagle.



Folk music was incredibly popular in the 1960’s, and the group Peter, Paul and Mary (Blowing in the Wind and Leaving on Jet Plane), top draw in college venues, charged a prohibitive booking fee, making securing an engagement seemingly out of the realm of possibility for Tech.  Moreover, any big-name entertainment campus booking brought a financial risk based upon attendance and whether the gate receipts would cover the cost of the performance.

Instead, for 1963 Homecoming, the Associated Student Body (ASB) booked the Smothers Brothers (Richard and Tom)—an American folk duo popular for their satire bits on variety shows. The booking looked successful, as gate receipts covered the expense and although Tech lost the Homecoming football game, everyone anticipated that spirits would be lifted by the Smothers Brothers’ performance.

The Smothers Brothers started their performance and all initially looked just fine… until the intermission break.  To the astonishment of all, the Smothers Brothers never returned to finish their scheduled appearance. What happened to the Smother Brothers during their brief performance and abrupt departure?  It turned out that they had gone to Judd’s Roadhouse and performed for beers!

Realizing the Smothers Brothers violated their contract by not performing their contracted time, the following Monday, then ASB President, Phil Wheeler, took his concern to Professor Poteet, a Business Law professor.  Poteet confirmed what Wheeler thought and informed him that if the case if this went to trial, Tech would try the civil case in Putnam County, Tennessee.  Armed with this understanding, Wheeler called their agent, Sherman Tankel, the next day.  Wheeler explained that the Smothers Brothers did not meet their contract and that Tech was damaged for having confidence in any future performances.  Tankel explained that “his boys” were not happy with the audience response they received, so they left.  Wheeler responded that the contract did not include audience response, but it did include performance length.

Smothers Brothers, 1964 Eagle.






Tankel offered to make a financial contribution to a charity of Tech’s choosing to which Wheeler replied, “With due respect, it was not a charity that was harmed, but rather the paying audience from our student body.”  Wheeler continued, “Sherman, ‘your boys’ left Tech without fulfilling the contract… if Tech litigated this, they could for up to treble dollars in a civil case here in Putnam County, Tennessee. After some deliberation, Tankel agreed to refund Tech for the undelivered half of the performance. Consequently, Tech was able to afford to book Peter, Paul and Mary for the following winter quarter—a concert reviewed in the February 7, Oracle by Phil Burgess as, “fabulous.”

Peter, Paul and Mary, 1964 Eagle.


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A Trip to the Grand Bahama Islands after Alan Shepard’s Space Voyage

Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961. Although Shepard’s mission was a mere 15 minutes, it held tremendous historical significance. Shepard, seated in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After travelling approximately 300 miles, Shepard splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean near the Grand Bahama Island (GBI). Soon after landing in the Atlantic, Shepard arrived at the Grand Bahama Island to be examined and interviewed. Reporters flocked to the Grand Bahama Island from all over the world to send information about the extraordinary event back home. Clyde Randolph, a reporter for RCA, was present on the island when Shepard arrived from his mission.

One report, from Lamont, Grand Bahama Island to Project Mercury Periodical Press Pool in Cape Canaveral, Florida stated,

“Sometime early today, weather permitting, America’s first astronaut will drop into the Atlantic 75 to 80 miles northeast of GBI, and the spatial part of Project Mercury’s suborbital launch will be over. The personal data-gathering aspect of the launch, however, will have just begun. The exhaustive medical examination and information gleaning of the astronaut will take place on a desolate strip of sand and pines just 55 miles from the Florida coast and 162 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral. After the astronaut has been fished from the drink and undergone his initial medical checkup on the pickup ship, he’ll be flown to GBI for a 48-hour de-briefing period.”

Don Datisman made a report to the Gary Post-Tribune to NASA Press Pool Cape Canaveral which stated,

“Shepard had a statement of his own for newsmen Saturday. It was his first direct comment to the press since the space exploit. It was not made directly, however, but relayed by Col. John A. However, public information chief for Project Mercury. It was, ‘The only complaint I have is that the flight wasn’t long enough.’”

This scroll is a master copy containing the reports gathered before and after Shepard’s landing; this scroll was once owned by Clyde Randolph and was donated to Tennessee Tech Archives by Mark Dudney. The reports not only describe the events regarding Shepard’s mission, but also the conditions of the GBI in 1961. This scroll provides an interesting look into the history of the GBI. One report mentions that in May 1961, only 8,500 people lived on the GBI. Today, however, approximately 51,000 people inhabit the island.

Several of the reporters described the less-than-ideal circumstances on the island. The reporters who were staying on the island were not very impressed with their surroundings. It is possible that the reporters had never been to an area that had a climate similar to the Bahamas; many of the reports mentioned the unbearable humidity and heat on the Grand Bahama Island.  In the week leading up to Shepard’s arrival, there was a series of small fires all over the island caused by lack of rain. These fires caused much of the island to be covered in smoke; Al Erxleben, a reporter for Florida Times-Union, wrote “‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ could easily have been the island’s theme song.”


The scroll, originally encased in a brass tube, was removed and rehoused. Some rolled archival items are flattened; however, this scroll is being maintained rolled up in a protective bag.  The scroll has great value as an artifact and is a unique addition to Tennessee Tech University Archives.

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Pangle Family Papers: Civil War Letters and Internship Experiences

by Shannon L. Buford

Little did I know when I walked into the archives that I would be transported back to 1863, but that’s what happened when I began my first project as an intern: reading and digitizing (scanning) a series of letters from Confederate soldier Sergeant David “D.W.” Pangle to his wife, Delia Newman Pangle. These Civil War letters are the most personal part of the Pangle Family Papers collection, which also includes family photographs, receipts, deeds, weaving patterns, and other materials.

D.W.’s letters to Delia have research value not because they offer any revelations about the War or the 1860s, but because they represent the experiences of thousands of soldiers like D.W. He writes about the wretched conditions at the various camps his unit occupied (camps around Shelbyville, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Jonesborough) and the widespread illnesses that he and his fellow soldiers suffer: “I have been very sick but I think I am improving . . . We have no tents and just have to lay out on the ground and take the wheather [sic] as it comes . . . I never expect to see home again unless I get better treatment.” He tells Delia that he sees no quick end to the war and fears that he will never “see home again this side of the grave.”

He continually laments his separation from Delia and their infant son, Tillman, and their estrangement becomes even more disheartening as D.W. writes that he has received no letters from his wife or anyone else in their family. Given the unreliability of mail in the 1800s, such breaks in communication were expected, but D.W.’s pleas for Delia to write to him demonstrate how alone he must have felt.

Somehow, he never lost hope. In nearly every letter, he proclaims his faith in God and his belief that he will see his family again one day, whether on Earth or in heaven. Despite the pain that his words often show, his courage always shines through.

When I began researching the Pangle family genealogy, I discovered that D.W. did not survive the war. However, Tillman lived to be ninety-five years old, which surely would have brought D.W. joy.

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Tennessee Tech’s Derryberry Hall

by Jacob Johnson

Derryberry Hall, simply called the Administration Building up until 1962, is the oldest building on campus… more or less.

            When Jere Whitson donated land for the formation of the private school, Dixie College, which was the predecessor to Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (TPI) and Tennessee Tech, the Administration Building was the first structure on the land. Dixie College completed the building in 1912 and the State Legislature purchased it along with about 25 acres of land in 1915, making it a state school, TPI. Two residence halls, East Hall and West Hall, were quickly built following the purchase bringing the campus with three buildings.

            In its early years, the Administration Building was the center of most activities at the college. It held the offices and classrooms. In 1921, the rather simple building had an east and west wing added and was completely overhauled. After the additions and renovations, the building had three stories, 24 rooms, a library, and an auditorium. That was what TPI’s campus consisted of, with the exception of Tech Farm. As time went on and the campus grew, the Administration Building continued to be the main part of campus. It housed all the administrative offices, the Business Department, and the Home Economics Department.

            In 1960, TPI tore the Administrative Building down so that it could be rebuilt better than before. The new building was doubled in size, fireproofed (it is a surprise it was not before with the smokers on campus), and modernized. In 1962, the State Board named the new building after the Derryberrys. At that time, Everett Derryberry served for over 20 years as the University president with his wife, Joan Derryberry, who was a major supporter and developer of the Art and Music Departments at Tech. As of 1965, according to the annual bulletin released by the University, Derryberry Hall housed the “administrative offices, an auditorium, classrooms, and facilities for the Music Department.” Through the years, many offices have circulated through the building including the library, the Home Economics Department, and Business Administration.

            As you are walking around campus, look up and you will see a landmark perched upon Derryberry Hall. An eagle sits in front of a clock tower that has a carillon bell that chimes every hour and quarter hour. This piece is well known and an extremely popular to photograph through the years. The clock tower, bells, and eagle were already on campus before Derryberry Hall’s completion, buWingst they nested atop the Jere Whitson Memorial Library (Jere Whitson Hall). They were moved to Derryberry after the building’s completion. The original eagle statue came to Tech in 1952, after being lifted from the Monteagle Hotel in a heist by three students. The current eagle atop of the hall is one of two replicas made by the Appalachian Center for Craft. Tech gave the second replica to the town of Monteagle to replace the one lifted in the student heist. The piece is quite beautiful and if you are ever lost, just look for the eagle roosted upon Derryberry Hall or listen for the carillon bell chimes.


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Watergate the Cockroach: The Story and Celebration of Tech’s Unlikely Champion

by Mikayla G. Wood, student

On October 18, 1986, a Tennessee Tech champion was crowned at Palm Beach Atlantic College (PBAU). The athlete had given his all, darting past all of his opponents and running towards the finish line. The underdog competitor from Tennessee Tech triumphed over his Floridian competitors. Unfortunately, the athlete did not have much time to celebrate his victory or receive honors at Tech; just seconds after crossing the finish line, a lizard devoured the athlete. The competitor was not a typical track athlete…the competitor was a cockroach.

Since 1982, PBAU annually holds the Great American Bug Race. The race is not for just any type of bug; it is for cockroach athletes. In 1986, PBAU sent out a press release regarding the bug race; it was this press release that sparked the interest of Tech’s Oracle staff. The students searched all over campus to find a suitable athlete to send to the race in Tech’s name. A mere thirty minutes before the deadline to send in a bug, the photo editor for The Oracle found a willing cockroach named Watergate in Miller Hall. The students put Watergate in a film canister, poked the necessary holes in the top of the canister so Watergate could get the oxygen he needed to be a healthy contender in the race, and then mailed the canister 800+ miles in a FedEx envelope.

Although Watergate’s life was brief following his victory, his legacy and fame was astonishing. Several newspaper articles were written about Watergate and his journey to the finish line (and shortly after, the lizard’s mouth). Articles were written all over the state of Tennessee; there was also an article written in a newspaper in Anderson, Indiana. In addition to the many articles celebrating Watergate, there was a large memorial service at Tech for Watergate held on October 28, 1986. Roughly 1,000 people attended the service for Watergate, many dressed in black to mourn the loss of a remarkable Tech athlete. President Wallace Prescott spoke at length about how Watergate served Tech well.  He felt Watergate should be remembered forever in Tech history and did this by declaring October 28 as Watergate Day at Tennessee Tech. Tech’s Alumni Association honored Watergate with the “Extinguished Alumni Award.” May you remember Watergate this October as not only a cockroach, but a unique and special part of Tennessee Tech history.

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Welcome back and come check out the archives!

Welcome back Tech!

Have you ever been to Tech’s Archives and Special Collections? Did you know Tech had an Archives and Special Collections? Whether you are new or experienced with working in Tech’s archives, it has many changes that you should check out, especially with its online presence.

Archives has a web page that is linked to from the Library’s web page, but you can also access it directly here:  On this page, you can learn about how to use archives, research the archives catalog and digital collections, set up an appointment, and see what exhibits the archives is displaying.

Do you have a creative idea for using archives in a project?  Let the archivist know!

Subscribe to this blog for more details on collections, projects, exhibits, and findings at Archives.

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