by Lori Shull
One night in September, business professor Mary Pashley was part of an effort by the Cookeville History Museum and Depot Museum to bring Tech’s first century to life, a series of short skits up and down the West Side of town. At the end of her short monologue, she was to sing the Tech Hymn, written by former first lady Joan Derryberry.
Unprompted and unplanned that warm fall evening, three women watching her perform joined her. Pashley stopped her soprano rendition and let them sing both verses on their own.
“The Centennial has been a significant effort to bring together the campus and the community. We talk about the importance of town and gown but other than at football games or basketball games we don’t really see it all the time,” said Centennial coordinator Laura Clemons. “If that moment doesn’t say community, I don’t know what does.”
For the past year, Tech and Cookeville have joined together, on campus and off, to celebrate the university’s Centennial and the community without whose efforts there would not be a university in the Upper Cumberland.
“The town-gown relationship was one-sided in the very beginning; it had to be because 100 or 105 years ago, campus wasn’t here,” Clemons said. “It’s easy to say we’ve been here forever; it’s always been like this. But it hasn’t. It’s good to be mindful of where we came from and grateful to the people who got us where we are today.”
Moments of the town and campus coming together have been a staple of the events, initiatives and conversations of the Centennial celebration. Cookeville residents, including alumni, packed the 800-seat Derryberry Hall Auditorium to mark Charter Day, the day 100 years ago that Tennessee Polytechnic Institute was founded.
Tech’s Centennial celebrations touched all parts of campus: the drama group Tech Players performed Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in tribute to the first Tech theater performance. A new award, the Centennial Scholar Mentor Award, was created as the highest honor a Tennessee Tech faculty member can receive from the university.
Hundreds marched from Centennial Plaza, previously known as South Patio, to Dogwood Park for the Downtown Kick-Off. The march culminated in a skit showing antics and personalities from Tech’s history, and introduced at least a portion of the student population to Dogwood Park.
Tech music professor Greg Danner wrote a fanfare and march, “With Wings Like Eagles,” that is one of the three original music pieces connected to the university, with Derryberry’s Tech Hymn and the TTU Fight Song. Its title is a reference to the Bible’s Isaiah 40:1-31, which is often referenced at commencement and other key university events.
Many alumni came back throughout the year – and are invited to take part in all future events – but one event, an art invitational, was designed with them in mind. The Joan Derryberry Art Gallery hosted several of the Appalachian Center for Craft and art department’s most successful alumni in a show that lasted more than a month.
More alumni came back to join with current students, and the rest of Cookeville, for a Centennial-themed Homecoming. As an added bonus, the Golden Eagles beat the Austin Peay Governors, 42-24.
Even more meaningful, a class of honors students worked with about 10 Upper Cumberland organizations as part of the “Centennial Challenge” to find help and solutions for people in the area struggling with food insecurity by establishing a food council.
Cookeville’s role to help Tech celebrate is important. This year, Cookeville downtown revitalization non-profit CityScape turned the university’s centennial mark into one of its keepsake ornaments. The Cookeville History Museum and Depot Museum’s annual Night at the Museum focused on the stories and hijinks town residents and college students have shared over the years and the annual Christmas parade gave a nod to the campus celebration with its theme: 100 Years of Happy Holidays.
The Centennial project that probably speaks most to the future is sculpture to be commissioned in time for the start of Tech’s next century. Positioned on Centennial Plaza — with plans to install it near North Dixie Avenue — the sculpture will be “public art,” not a piece tucked away in a gallery or museum, but in plain view of all passersby and a part of daily life on campus. Its intent, while giving a nod to the past century, is aspirational and a beacon to the future of Tennessee Tech.
The Centennial piece with the most lasting impact is likely the book, written by Clemons after hours of interviews and time in the Tech archives. Rather than write a conventional history book, Clemons collected photos and stories into a series of essays based around common themes, including generosity and economy, love and devotion, practical work, and courage and respect. The book, “The Tennessee Tech University Centennial: A Collection of Essays and Photographs,” is available in the TTU bookstore, at the Cookeville History Museum and online through the Alumni website at www.ttualumni.org/merchandise.
As Tech ends its first century celebration, Clemons says she believes Tech is positioned to determine what will make it distinctive in its second.
“The Centennial has gone beyond expectations,” Clemons said. “We did exactly what we said we were going to do but we did it in a bigger way. We created things and are still in the process of creating things that are going to live beyond us, which, in my mind, is the sole reason to have an anniversary celebration.”
The Centennial also included a retrospective of work by Joan Derryberry in her namesake gallery and a gala celebration on April 1.
“As we contemplate our rich history of community and tradition, we also reflect on what makes Tennessee Tech University exceptional,” said TTU President Phil Oldham. “This university is ready to provide the next hundred years of education, innovation and student success to the region and beyond.”