East Tennessee State University

Retirees Association (ETSURA)

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The following continues the “Tales of the University” column from June, which contained memories shared by former ETSU faculty and staff members at a dinner sponsored by the University Women’s Club:

Dr. Willene Paxton, ETSU’s former dean of women and later director of the Counseling Center, recalled that when she first came to campus, her office was on the first floor of Gilbreath Hall, which was the administration building at the time. 

“I worked late often,” she said. “One day I heard a shot and then the sound of someone running down the hall on the second
floor. I asked myself what I should do, realizing that someone might have been shot and could be dying.”

After sitting at her desk, shaking, she finally built up enough courage to find out what had happened. 

“I went upstairs,” she said, “and I found that the runners on the track team were using the long hall for the 100-yard dash. There was no other indoor area on campus that had a long enough span for practice.”

Dr. Willene Paxton


Paxton has dozens of other fascinating tales from her days at ETSU, including the story of a missing organ. 

“When I first came as dean of women, I had many duties,” she said. “One of them was to coordinate the activities program on campus.” 

At the time, the university planned a dance for students about once a month and scheduled special entertainment each quarter for which an extra fee was charged. 

“We had Ray Charles, Roger Williams, Brenda Lee, James Brown, Bob Newhart and others perform on campus,” Paxton said. 

On one occasion, Paxton contracted with a Bristol piano dealer to furnish a small organ to be used by a group that was to appear in Brooks Gym. When she went to the gym to be sure everything was set up, she was told that the organ was backstage.

“I went home and got ready for the concert,” Paxton said. “When I returned about an hour before it was scheduled to start, I
learned that the organ backstage was actually an old, worn-out one that had been sitting there for ages.” The piano dealer hadn’t
delivered the organ that was to be used. 

Trying to come up with a solution to the  dilemma, Paxton remembered that the old student center had an organ, but she wasn’t sure if it could be moved without causing damage. After unsuccessfully trying to reach several music experts by phone, she drove to the home of Wilbur Bond, director of the Physical Plant, to get his help. 

“He said his truck was blocked in, and he made several other excuses for not being able to help move the organ,” Paxton said.  “Finally, I told him, ‘Dammit, I don’t care how you do it — but you get a truck, get someone to help you, and get that organ moved! And do it right now!’” 

Paxton returned to the gym and discovered that four students already had carried the organ on their shoulders to Brooks.

“Everything turned out OK,” Paxton said, “but Mr. Bond called me ‘the cussing dean’ for years.”




"Tales of the University" is a regular column provided by the ETSU Retirees Association about the university and the people associated with it through the decades.  Faculty, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to share their memories of ETSU with the Retirees Association for consideration for future columns.  Stories, comments and suggestions may be sent to Dr. Willene Paxton, chair of the Tales of the University committee, 1203 Lester Harris Road, Johnson City, TN 37601, or willenepj@charter.net.

Mailing Address:  Office of Human Resources
ETSU Box 70564
Johnson City, TN  37614-1707
Telephone:  423-439-4457
Fax:  423-439-8354
TDD:  423-439-4710

Office Hours:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. E.S.T. Monday - Friday
Office Location:  Rooms 307 and 311, Dossett Hall

Updated on 09/07/10