East Tennessee State University

Retirees Association (ETSURA)

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Dr. Charles Sherrod

These photos show former ETSU President Dr. Charles C. Sherrod with his bride-to-be,
Carrie Lee Hood, in 1910, and their sons, Howell and Charles.

Dr. Charles C. Sherrod, ETSU’s president from 1925 to 1949, led the institution during a time of dramatic growth. His son Howell, during an interview recorded on Oct. 22, 1999, provided insights into his personality, leadership abilities and dedication to the university. The interview also supplied many details of life around campus at the time. Some of the highlights follow. 

Papa was an unusual person – one of a kind – and I’m very proud of him. He did a lot for the community as well as the institution that became East Tennessee State University.  It was a two-year normal school when he was asked by the Tennessee Board of Education in Nashville to become its head. He agreed to come, provided they would make it a four-year college.  Also, he refused to come unless the board gave him full authority to hire and fire anybody on campus. They agreed to give him that power, something presidents no longer have.

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In 1925, when he became president, there were 200 students on campus. When he retired in 1949, there had been an eight-fold increase to 1,600 students, along with a proportional increase in the faculty.  The number of volumes in the library went from 4,000 to 40,000. Now there are 8 million volumes in the new library, which bears his name.

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Papa was a jack-of-all-trades. He designed the amphitheatre, and the WPA was commissioned to build it. He wanted an amphitheatre with grass on it, and a stage with grass, and a rock wall in the front.  I’ll never forget seeing Papa grab a wheelbarrow that was being used to move dirt. A mule pulled a scoop that dumped dirt into the wheelbarrow, also pulled by a mule. Papa didn’t think the guy was going fast enough.  “Let me have those reins,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to do it.”  He took the scoop, and made three passes and scooped out three or four loads of raw dirt.  “Now, that’s what I want you to do,” he said.

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Papa had more degrees than most college presidents.  First, he went to Maryville College. Next, he received two bachelor of science degrees from Tennessee Normal College in 1905 and 1907. Then he earned both the A.B. and L.L.B. degrees from Valparaiso University in 1909.  He also received an M.A. in 1921 and a Ph.D. in 1924 from George Peabody College. Emory and Henry College conferred an honorary L.L.D. degree in 1950.

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Valparaiso had one of the outstanding law schools in the country in 1909.  Papa went to that school with no money. To pay for law school, he pressed students’ clothes, charging 25 cents for a pair of pants. If they had a coat, too, he didn’t charge anything extra. He never did practice law. He didn’t think he could defend a criminal he knew was guilty. He almost regretted he had the degree, but no doubt it was helpful in his administrative positions.

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When Papa became president, the family rode the streetcar from downtown to where the present Carroll Reece Museum is located, which was the end of the line.  Mr. D. Cash greeted us and took our bags off and gave them to a man named Sam, who carried the bags to the president’s home, where the D.P. Culp Center is now.  Papa showed me which room I would have, and I shared it with my brother, Charles. We also shared one suit.  I was in the fourth grade, and so was Charles. They thought it would help if they put us together, so I skipped half a grade and Charles was held back half a grade so we could graduate together.  We attended the Training School (now University School), a model school on Maple Street. There wasn’t another place in the country where students went to a school where faculty members were teaching college students to become teachers.  The teachers taught elementary students four days a week while college students observed. On the fifth day of the week, they went into local schools and demonstrated good teaching practices and helped teachers improve their techniques.

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Charles and I trapped rabbits in the wooded area where The Cave, a big room in the D.P. Culp University Center, is located now.  We had a trap and used carrots for bait. We had a trap door and slots, which would close when the rabbit took a bite of the carrot we had tied inside. We caught quite a few rabbits that way.  It was a real wilderness in that area at the time.

The Sherrods celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1960.
 

ETSU's landmark amphitheatre was     
built under Sherrod's leadership.    

 

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In the 1930s, the state threatened to close down the college because there was not enough money to run it.  Papa got into the car with Mr. Prince, who was the bursar at the time, and left for Nashville at 5 in the morning. They drove all the way to Nashville and back that night in a car that averaged 20 to 25 miles an hour on roads far different from the interstate now.  They pleaded with the Board of Education not to close the school. Papa said, “If you let the school remain open, we will make do for two years with the $110,000, which we have been allocated in the past for one year.”  Papa didn’t take a salary for two years.  “I have a car and a house, and I get my vegetables and milk from the farm the college owns,” he said. “I don’t need the money. I’m going to give it to the faculty.”

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There was a farm on the campus where the First District Health Center and Buccaneer Village now are located. A man was paid to do the work, and grow and harvest the vegetables. A dairy provided milk, which was pasteurized and served in the cafeteria.

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Papa’s salary was $4,200 a year when he came. He received a raise of $100 after a few years and another $100 after five more years.  Mr. Scott, who owned Scott’s Grocery on the corner of Walnut and Tennessee, let any faculty member charge groceries and pay at the end of the month.  Our mother charged groceries there, too.  Scott’s had a delivery service. Mr. Scott and his brother would take turns delivering groceries while the other one ran the store.  Papa met regularly with the faculty, but no one ever brought up the need for a larger salary.

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Papa believed that the library was the heart of the campus. Papa said to the architect, Don Beeson, “Get your notebook and pencil, I’m going to take you to the leading libraries in the United States. I’m going to drive my car; I can afford the gas.  “We’re going to visit Columbia University in New York, Peabody College of Nashville and a great university in St. Louis, Mo.  We’ll pick out the things that we would like to have and bring the ideas back to Johnson City.”  Papa paid all the expenses. Mr. Beeson didn’t pay for his hotel, or meals, or anything.  Then they built the original library in what is now the Reece Museum, all two floors of it. They had a few hundred books.

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Charles and I worked on the campus, but Papa paid what we received. We pushed lawn mowers to complete where the big gasoline mower had missed.  What were we paid per hour? Fifteen cents. I thought that was real money.  Papa didn’t believe in nepotism. We got our money in cash from Mr. Prince, who kept it in his desk drawer.  Isalee, my sister, had a job, too, working in the library. She was paid 10 cents an hour. That experience led her to major in library science and have a career as a librarian.

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"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.

 

 

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Updated on 09/07/10