A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bill Yates, President

My wonderful tenth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Melba Owens, passed away this week.  This is a reposting of a previous blog entry that mentions her.  Melba was a kind, caring, and dedicated teacher.  We will all miss her very much.

I was not much of a joiner in high school.  I didn't participate in athletics (no confidence), I didn't participate in band (no talent), and I didn't hang out on the back porch of the high school and smoke (afraid of what my Mama would do to me).  However, there were occasional club meetings throughout the year, and during my sophomore year I found myself attending the meetings of the English Club. 

The English Club was the largest of the high school clubs.  It was sponsored by Melba Owens, who was a much beloved member of the WHS faculty.  She was kind and even-tempered, and her students thoroughly enjoyed being in her tenth grade English class.  Our main activities were a Halloween Hayride and a float for the Homecoming parade, and surely somewhere in there we must have worked to promote the proper use of the English language. 

Well, I loved to write, so English was my favorite class.  So, when selecting a club in which to belong, I easily overlooked the other options (Chess Club, Letterman's Club, Spanish Club, Future Nurses Club, and Library Club) and settled on the English Club.  I think I pretty much faded into the background during that sophomore year.  I'm sure I worked on the float and probably went on the hayride, but I don't remember it.  We held our meetings in the library/study hall, and there were so many of us that we pretty much packed the place out. 

So it was that on that last meeting of the 1971-1972 school year, when we were voting in new officers for the next school year, I heard someone speak out "Bill Yates" when nominations were taken for the office of President.  Somewhat incredulous, for I had never been particularly popular, I stepped outside into the hall while the voting transpired, and came back in to the library announced as President of the English Club, to what in my mind today is recalled as thunderous applause.

Me, in my triumphant Junior Year
This, I told myself later, will change things.  In the exalted office of President of the English Club, I will undoubtedly be seen by the girls as what might be referred to as Really Something, and my social calendar, up to that point devoid of interaction, would undoubtedly soon fill up.  I would have to await the beginning of the new school year to see any benefits, but being the upcoming President of the English Club certainly put an extra spring in my step.

The beginning of the 1972-1973 school year, my junior year, finally arrived.  I had been looking forward to being a junior for a long time.  Juniors got to sell those World's Finest chocolate candy bars, which cost fifty cents each and were twice as thick as the dinky little World's Finest chocolate bars that you get today.  Juniors also got to order their Senior Rings.  I can still vividly recall the meeting where we met with the representative from Balfour, the company that made our rings.  The guy passed around some sample rings for us to look at, and the excitement grew as we grew closer to selecting the ring we wanted.  I personally was going for the most economical ring, which was the basic gold with a blue stone.  The cost of my ring was $32.  The Balfour representative explained the reason for such an exorbitant price by telling us that the price of gold had gone up to $77 an ounce.  I saw on the news the other day that the current price of gold had passed $1,500 per ounce.  If I only knew then what I know now. 

But, I digress.  Back to the English Club.  As time for our first club meetings of the year drew closer, my anticipation increased proportionally.  I would be leading the largest club on campus.  Could I handle the responsibility?  What lasting impact would I leave on hallowed WHS?  Would I maybe get a date out of this?

On the morning of club meeting day, Mr. Davis, our principal, made an announcement about participating in clubs.  In so doing, he delivered a bombshell.  WHS, he said, was very proud to announce a new club:  The Student Arts Guild.  This club was designed for students interested in music, art, and theater.  Oh, brother.

The Student Arts Guild.  First of all, it didn't even have the word "club" in its name.  Suddenly, the English Club, Spanish Club, and all the other clubs sounded a bit archaic.  The Student Arts Guild sounded cool, and fun, and oh, so seventies.  As you might expect, on the first day of clubs, students flocked to the auditorium to sign up for the Student Arts Guild.

There was, however, a reservoir of traditionalists, and we gathered defiantly in the library for the first English Club meeting.  Actually, the turnout was pretty good, considering.  With Mrs. Owens' assistance, I led the meeting without too many stumbles, and my tenure as President of the English Club was off and running.

Melba Owens, a kind and gentle teacher
The Halloween Hayride was our first big event.  The hayride was conducted at the Fox and Wolf Hunters ground at Keener, and I remember we had a sound system set up and I had to reluctantly get up and speak into a microphone for a bit.  We then loaded onto a trailer that was connected to a tractor being driven by Melba's husband, Mondell, and had a pleasant little drive along the back roads of Keener.  Overall, a very nice evening and certainly a success.  (Mondell, by the way, once told me that we were distantly related, and so everytime he saw me he would drawl, "Hello, Cuz.") 

Problems occurred, however, with our next big event.  We were constructing our float for the homecoming parade, and we were building it in the parking lot of the old, old bus shop, just east of the gym.  Several of us were going to go work on it during our study hall, and Mrs. Owens was kind enough to tell us that we could go over to Kathy's Candy Store and get Cokes to drink while we worked.  Well, the WHS campus had been "closed" that year, and technically we weren't supposed to go off campus, but Kathy's was adjacent to school property so we didn't think it would be that big of a deal. 

Gilbert Davis.  Probably a nice man in real
life, but he wasn't going to let any of us know it.
We were mistaken.  As we happily worked on the float and sipped our Cokes, we were surprised to see a dark, ominous presence in the form of one Gilbert Davis, Principal, suddenly in our midst.  "Someone called me," Mr. Davis strongly intoned, "and told me that you were drinking Cokes up here.  You are forbidden from leaving this campus."  Mr. Davis looked around the group with cold, steely eyes.  "I had better not hear of this happening again."  With that, he left us, chagrined, to finish our Cokes and ponder the error of our ways.

Assuming the mantle of leadership, I decided that I should report to Mrs. Owens exactly what had transpired.  I went into her classroom and told her what had happened.  She never demonstrated any disapproval of her boss, but judging by her facial expression, I'm pretty sure she didn't agree with his actions.

Well, the rest of the year tooled along uneventfully.  We had occasional meetings, didn't do much, and couldn't help but feel a bit left out as we saw the multitudes flocking to the Student Arts Guild meetings.  Then, it was spring again, and another election was held, and someone else got to be President of the English Club.

As a senior, I couldn't bring myself to join the Student Arts Guild (the interlopers!).  So, I once again joined the English Club.  If nothing else, I'm consistent.  But, with everything going on that goes on during your senior year, club meetings didn't retain much space in my memory.  I suppose we had a hayride, and I suppose we made a float, and I'm pretty sure it was built without the destructive influence of Coca-Cola.

If you look at my senior picture in the 1974 yearbook, you will see a minimal listing of activities next to my name.  But, sure enough, if you look closely, you will see forever immortalized the words President, English Club.


  1. AnonymousMay 02, 2011

    :D It's nice hearing a little about you. Memories can be wonderful things.-Tanoka

  2. Bill,
    Thanks for the book. It triggered a lot of memories even though I was 16 yrs ahead of you.
    Also, I think your grandmother, Alberta was my Sunday school teacher.
    Thanks for the memories.
    Jim Dowda

  3. Bill,
    Thanks for this article. I did not know about the death of Mrs. Owens. She was one of my favorite teachers. She was very kind and giving. I was about to be "sweet sixteen" when our house burned. Mrs. Owens collected money from my class and I'm sure gave a good amt. of it herself. She went with me to one of the few stores in Waldron, at that time, that had dresses. I received four new dresses. You can't imagine what this meant to a sixteen year old! I'm sure she is having a ball with many of the Waldron Christians in Heaven. Pat Hicks Goff