OPPOSITE PAGE: FIRST ROW: Betty Lou Alston, C.E. Barnett, Mattie Browning, Patricia Billingsley, Robert M. Brasher, Joy Barbour, Martha R. Hopper, Nelle Hulle, Stanley H. Harris, Russell B. Johnson, Ella Dale Jeter, William R. Kessler SECOND ROW: George H. Barnes, Eva Cox, Olva Carney, H.A. Carney, Vernon Drane, Clarence Denman, Ester Holderman Kelly, Bertrand Kock, Ruby King, Mildren Kennon, Manelle Laurence, Dorothy Rich Morton THIRD ROW: Lorraine B. Davis, Grover C. Driver, Jr., Mary Louise Davis, Margaret Gwinn, Mary Virginia Gates, Betty Jane Hamilton, Joseph Richard Martin, Ruth S. Moore, Thelma Nave, William R. Orr, Oliver Pittman, W.M. Ross FOURTH ROW: William E. Russell, Virgil A. Rose, Hobart O. Reagan, Mary Simonds, John C. Stathis, Kostas Chris Stathis, Mrs. John B. Scruggs, Jr., Frank Story, Frederic C. Starck, Susiebelle Wade, Orrin C. Williams, Mary K. Wiggins FIFTH ROW: Albert Woody, Mrs. Harry Walton, Edith Wallace, Gordon L. Wallace
In the early 1950s,
the University of Memphis and the country in general was a very different place. The school was still using the quarter system, the campus newspaper was known as The Tiger Rag and nationwide, college professors complained of student apathy. But at what was then known as Memphis State College, 18 students were getting ready to make history as the first graduating class of the Graduate School. Three of these students use colorful anecdotes to take a look back at this different era.
The Greatest Show on Earth Before Vernon Drane (BS ’50, MA ’51) ever set foot on campus, he ran off and joined the circus. He played saxophone for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ band for nine years. Attrition due to low wages meant the traveling show was usually short on musicians by the time it got to Memphis, so Drane had an opportunity to join as a very young musician. “Because they had lost band members along the way, the music conductor would take some of us with him. I worked with him every time,” he recalls. “You talk about fun. The book of sheet music looked like a Sears and Roebuck catalog with one number after another.” Drane played in the Bartlett High School band as a student, but he also found himself on the teaching side by random chance. He had gone to the iconic Memphis music store Amro Music to buy a saxophone, but he instead came away with a job. Milford Averwater, who founded the store in 1921, didn’t have a clarinet teacher so the musically versatile Drane found himself filling in. The Depression-era lessons sometimes were traded for potatoes or wooden reeds. The family moved, and Drane graduated from Wichita Falls High School in Texas in 1941. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted by the military during World War II. In Europe, an Army major was looking for band members, so Drane volunteered to work the group’s generators as they marched and played for the USO in Italy and Austria. W W W. M E M P H I S . E D U
The University’s first graduating class of its newly established Graduate School during a commencement processional on campus near the Administration Building in 1951.
After the war, Drane returned to Amro to work full time, and he decided to use the GI Bill to enter Memphis State. Walking around the band room, he met his future wife, Winifred. “Some guy was pestering the heck out of her,” says Drane. “I ran into the room and started talking to her and that was it.” They married in 1948, and the newlyweds lived in Vet Village, which were old Army barracks near present-day Rawls Hall that served as on-campus housing for married students. Drane received a bachelor’s in music and subsequently applied for several jobs. “I talked to the (Memphis public schools) superintendent, and the salary they offered was ridiculous: $2,400. I made that playing dance halls and still had time to do other things.” Drane also worked as a backup singer for Sam Phillips at Sun Studio, and he picked up extra cash writing lead sheets for various bands that would show up to record. “Groups would come there and sing songs, but they couldn’t write music — they just played and sang. I’d take the tape home and write the lead sheet so they could send it in and copyright the music.” Averwater soon provided the musician with financial stability by offering him steady work at Amro. Then in the early 1950s, Drane decided to get his master’s in education. He found the new Graduate School demanding. “It was just trying to establish what to do and what direction, still being a teacher’s college,” he says. “When we were starting, it was a FA L L 2 014
University of Memphis Fall Magazine