The first class to graduate from the “new” Dobyns-Bennett is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, just in time to see an addition to the alma mater taking shape when the yellow brick wall with metal letters spelling out the school name once was. (D-B graduates, never fear, I’m assured by school system officials that the letters have been tucked away and will be integrated into the new construction.)
The D-B Class of 1968 started out in the old D-B, which opened in 1926 and became Seiver Middle School but is slated to become an elementary school when the middle school operation moves by 2021 to Sullivan North High/Middle. The city has bought that facility, which opened in the fall of 1980, from the county school system.
But the Class of 1968, or those of it that make the reunion journey, will mark the half-century since proms and Pomp and Circumstance Oct. 12-13. The class began attending the new school in the fall of 1967, when D-B opened with the main entrance facing Fort Henry Drive, and a vocational wing off Center Street was added later, as was a new music building. The technical address now is 1 Tribe Way.
CLASS OF 1968
The Class of 1968 will have an event at the field house Friday, first a dinner at 5 p.m. catered by Pratt’s Barbecue and then viewing the football game against visiting Hardin Valley Academy. Saturday, that will be followed by an 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. memorial service at First Broad Street United Methodist Church. Then, a casual dinner is set for 5 p.m. and dance 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Civic Auditorium . Reservations were due by Sept. 15, but for more information contact Cathy Cooper Forrester at email@example.com. The cost is $60 per person for both days or $30 for one.
Fifty years ago, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson was president (but chose not to seek re-election, with Republican Richard Nixon winning that November), the Vietnam War raged and the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Monkees, Procol Harem, Herman’s Hermits, Aretha Franklin and Doors were among those topping the music charts.
The group will get to take a look at the new $20 million addition to D-B, the under-construction Science and Technology Center and new “front door” of D-B that is to be completed by the end of May and be fully occupied by the fall of 2019. Groundbreaking was in December of 2017.
LATE 1960s BUILDING BOOM
D-B isn’t the only high school near or at the 50th anniversary of its building as the late 1960s obviously were a popular time for new school construction. So is the current time, with the D-B expansion underway, as well as construction underway on the new $20 million Sullivan East Middle School and soon to be on Sulivan County’s $60 million West Ridge High School.
Bristol, Tenn., is building a new Vance Middle School, and Johnson City an expansion of Liberty Bell Middle School. All got a share of a $140 million bond issue the Sullivan County Commission made, although Johnson City’s share was a miniscule $500,000 or so compared to millions by the others, based on proportional numbers of students.
The current school building boom is not unlike one in the late 1960s. Sullivan County’s Sullivan Central and Sullivan East high schools both opened in the fall of 1968 for the 1968-69 school year. And the most recent former Surgoinsville High School, now Surgoinsville Middle School, opened in 1969 for the 1969-70 school year.
Surgoinsville High, which I attended in grades 7-10 before going to Volunteer High my last two years, is no more, although the middle school is in the old high school building, and two other buildings are still standing, the first a grades 1-12 Surgoinsville School building, the former Country Store, dating back to 1923 and the second a 1950s high school building converted to apartments after it closed as a school in 1969. (In case you’re wondering, septic system field bed failures lead to closure of the first two.)
Having been in all three of those high schools and D-B, the similarities include circular construction and domes. And the Surgoinsville school also had a brick not too far from the yellow of D-B, which matches the yellow brick of the Civic Auditorium and the J. Fred Johnson Stadium that pre-date the modern D-B.
I WAS THERE... SORT OF
I was alive and well in 1968, having turned 4 Feb. 8 of that year, but my first real strong memory of the area around D-B when in the 1969-70 school year, in the spring of 1970, I think, when my kindergarten class from Surgoinsville Elementary went to J. Fred Johnson Park for a picnic and to play (the slide was much bigger back then), rode the escalator at Miller’s downtown and then toured the city fire station on West Stone Drive.
I later took my driving test at the old Highway Patrol Building, now a parking lot next to the Veterans Memorial on Fort Henry Drive, you know the one where Brooks Circle used to be. So my 50th high school reunion will be 2032, which seems like a long time away. I’m sure the D-B Class of 2018 thought the same thing 14 years ago.
Maybe for old time’s sake my old kindergarten class could go to the J. Fred Johnson Park, ride the escalator at the old Miller’s (made more difficult because the building is now a furniture store with a non-functioning escalator) and tour the West Stone Drive fire house. Any of my fellow Class of 1970 Surgoinsville kindergarten classmates up for that? We’ve got 14 years to plan it to coincide with our 50th high school reunion.
QUIZ: What year did the modern-day Dobyns-Bennett High School open its doors?
BONUS QUESTION: What three other area high schools opened about the same time?
Rick Wagner is an education writer for the Kingsport Times News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (423) 392-1381.