My weekend column about the visit of baseball legend Henry “Hank” Aaron to East Tennessee in 1974 stirred some memories for Ron Sartain, and sent him looking for his high school yearbook.
At the time of Aaron’s visit to East Tennessee, Ron was a high school student in White Pine.
After he read my column, Ron was kind enough to email me some information relevant to another leg of Aaron’s visit to our area. For those who didn’t see the Saturday column, Aaron came to Tennessee on behalf of the Magnavox company, which was contracting with him as a commercial spokesman.
Magnavox had a major manufacturing plant in Greeneville, so he visited here. Our mayor at the time, G. Thomas Love, presented Aaron a “Key to the City,” a symbolic gesture of honor common in those days for towns welcoming visiting dignitaries.
Aaron visited in Greeneville and around the area, and Ron recalled something the famous slugger, then the hottest MLB figure in the country, did for a particular East Tennessee high school.
Here’s some of what Ron emailed me:
“Cameron, like you, I don’t follow sports much either. But I have a connection to your story too.
“I graduated from White Pine High School in 1975 (last class, consolidated into Jefferson County High School in fall of 1975).
“A classmate of mine, Paul Lee Ollis, did his senior term paper on Hank Aaron. As part of his research, Paul got to interview Hank while he was here in East Tennessee. Hank probably visited the Jefferson City Magnavox Plant.”
In Saturday’s column, I speculated that the Key to the City presented by Mayor Love might even now be somewhere among the career memorabilia Aaron’s survivors have inherited since his death in January. With that in mind, Ron wrote: “Would be interesting if our White Pine High School yearbook showed up somewhere in Hank’s memorabilia as well.”
Paul Lee Ollis surely must have felt lucky to have received an actual visit from the man who was the subject of his senior term paper – a man who was in demand all over at the time and probably never had heard of White Pine High School until he was given his itenaray for the Tennessee visit.
What are the odds of the famous figure who is the subject of a high school term paper showing up at school and doing and interview? Talk about a probably automatic A on your paper! Plus a memory never to be forgotten.
The White Pine yearbook staff certainly was cognizant of the significance of Aaron’s visit. They printed the following statement in the yearbook:
“1974 was the year that Hank Aaron made sports history with the break of a long-standing record. History also has been made for our yearbook by ‘Hammerin’ Hank,’ during a promotional visit to the local Magnavox plants. Paul Lee Ollis, preparing his term paper on Hank Aaron, interviewed the tie-breaker-star and also talked with Hank about our school. Hank requested copies of Paul Lee’s term paper and our yearbook. He also gracefully agreed to have his picture appear in our yearbook. We appreciate his helping Paul Lee and his interest in our school.”
What an experience for a small East Tennessee high school in its final year of operation! And what a stroke of luck for Paul Lee Ollis!
I thank Ron Sartain for making the effort to share with me this further information about Hank Aaron’s East Tennessee visit.
And I would be remiss not also to thank Greeneville’s current Tommy Love, local CPA J. Thomas Love (son of the late mayor), for the extraordinarily gracious letter I found on my desk this week, thanking me for my column of this past weekend. He liked the column enough to tell me I’d hit a “home run” with it.
Thank you, sir.
And thank you, Henry Aaron, for the dignity and grace you showed during your visit to our area 47 years ago! It was an honor for our corner of Tennessee, sir, one not to be forgotten.