Campbell’s Life Led Him from Athletics to Airplanes


Kenneth Campbell, GHS Class of 1950

By Kathy Williams Lawrence

Special to The Enterprise

Kenneth Campbell was born on January 2, 1930, to Straw and Cleo Hogue Campbell. He was the third child and only boy born to a family of four children. His birth occurred in a farmhouse located at Spring Creek on Union Church Road.

His earliest memories are helping his father plow their 60 acres with a team of horses. In 1943 his father bought an 80-acre farm. The first time they ever were able to put the crops in with a tractor was in 1946, after his father brought a tractor home from an auction in the Reelfoot Lake area. “I thought my hard work was over, but farm life was always really hard.”

Kenneth’s formal days of learning started when he was six years old at a one-room schoolhouse called Union Grove, located off Union Grove Church Road. “I got malaria that year and missed most of first grade. So, the next year I had to start over again. My younger sister Julia started that year, so we were both in first grade together.”

“Union Grove School had a wood stove in the middle of the room that kept me and other boys busy filling it up. Mrs. Gertrude Vaughn Adams and Mr. Verne Jennings were some of my teachers. While we were there, Mr. Wendell Reed began his first year as a teacher.”

Lunch was whatever his mother fixed him, sometimes a ham and biscuit, sometimes a peanut butter and jelly biscuit. “If I was lucky, there might be one of my mother’s famous fried pies as a treat. Water was the only drink at that time. One of us boys would go to the old water pump and draw a bucket full of the coldest tasting water. Each child would take a sip out of the same dipper. We weren’t worried about germs then.”

Next, he attended Green Hill School, close to Everett Chapel Church, near the cemetery off of Blooming Grove Road. He remembers Mr. Leland Lemonds being his teacher there. “Recess was spent playing ball of one type or another. I could make a ball by taking old yarn that was left over from my mother’s sewing, or twine from my father’s feed sacks and rolling into a tight ball. Sometimes we would all combine our yarn to be able to have a ball quicker. For a bat, we would get a slab, preferably from a walnut tree, because those would not crack so easily.”

When he was in the seventh grade he started going to McKenzie School, since the walk was shorter. In the eighth grade he attended a smaller school called Fairview. It was at this school he remembers having his first lunch prepared at school. There was a government program that supplied the smaller schools with canned vegetables and some meats. So, the aroma from the food being prepared, made the mouths of these students water while waiting for lunchtime to get there.

In the ninth grade, Kenneth and his siblings again started attending McKenzie School, walking still the only means of getting there. One day, school official William Inaudia Reed (Wendell Reed’s father) told Kenneth’s father that if he would switch all his children to Gleason School, there was a bus that would pick them up and bring them home every day. Kenneth helped to convince his father that he wanted to go to Gleason School. All he and his siblings had to do was walk down the driveway and across the road and hop the bus — they would no longer have to walk to school in the cold, rainy weather. His father agreed and the next day Kenneth and his siblings had their first bus ride. The bus driver was Doyle Capps, who owned a grocery store in Gleason.

Kenneth had joined the football team while in ninth grade at McKenzie School. Although he was not in any of the regular games at McKenzie, the coach was very upset when Kenneth left for Gleason. He could see the potential in that short, skinny country boy, and he was so right!

On Kenneth’s first day at Gleason, he went out for the football team. Mr. Charles Butler was the football coach and also the principal. The first day at football tryouts, Mr. Butler had a player named Phelps run toward Kenneth with the ball, and the 145-pound newbie tackled Phelps to the ground. With that one play, he secured a spot on the team. Kenneth quickly found his niche at Gleason High School — shining in any and every sport available: basketball, track, baseball, and football.

Kenneth reports that the football field has not always been where it is now. During his early days of football, the field was directly behind the old study hall exit door, running north and south. In later years, the football field was moved further back and turned to run east and west.

“My mother was very much against me playing football. She was so sure I was going to get ‘killed’ on that football field. She would attend some of the games but was in a state of great anxiety. Daddy flatly refused to attend the games, but finally a family member was able to convince him to come to one game. After that Daddy rarely missed any of my games.”

Accidents do happen in sports. “At one of our games, Charles Brawner jumped up to catch a pass, but a guy hit him and pulled his shoulder out of place. Charles was sidelined for the rest of the year. Another friend, Leonard Bynum, broke his leg during a game. All these injuries are exactly what my mother was so afraid would happen to me.”

Kenneth became captain of the football team, and the quarterback was Leonord Bynum. Kenneth still remembers a game when they beat McKenzie 19 to 0. Mr. Butler had designed a play called “Left End Around” that they ran so many times, Kenneth ran over 300 yards on that specific play alone. It was a great game for the Bulldogs.

“Butch Sanders, a very good football player who had already graduated and was in college, would come back in the summer and hang out at the football field, giving the team pointers on winning each and every game. After college, Butch came back as a football coach and teacher at his old Alma Mater, Gleason School, home of the Bulldogs.”

Not only did Kenneth excel in football, but was a superstar in the track program Gleason had for a couple of years. He won a medal at the county track meet by jumping the highest, 5’10”. Though a “skinny” kid, Kenneth also won a medal for shotput and throwing a steel disk.

Basketball was another sport in which Kenneth exceled. Mr. Wheeler was the coach. When the last ballgame was played in the old gym before the new gym was built, Kenneth and his teammates were recognized as being the last players on that old floor. He remarked, “It was like losing an old friend.”

“We had to practice outside on a makeshift dirt court while the new gym was being built. All of our games had to be played away because Gleason did not have a gym. We would have to go to Greenfield to practice on a real wood floor. We were so used to having to really pound the ball hard on that dirt court, that the first time we tried dribbling in the Greenfield gym, the balls would almost hit the rafters.”

The 1949-1950 squad was the first boys’ basketball team to use Gleason’s newly-built gym, and they won their first eight games played there. Kenneth’s favorite spot on the court was right corner, where he had perfected his shot. “Our success on the basketball court was due to my teammates, like Charles Brawner, who was very tall, and Gale Wray. They were the high scorers of each game. The rest of us got the ball occasionally.”

Basketball was so popular in Gleason, even the donkeys got to play. Several “donkey ballgames” were played on that gym floor and Kenneth always agreed to be on the team. He remembers getting thrown off his donkey at every game.

“My classmates and I were always into some kind of mischief. Like the time a Model T Ford somehow got up those long steps and down into the study hall area. Of course, no one knew how in the world it got there. It took the principal and other teachers several days to figure out how to get it out.”

“There were several occasions of a hay wagon mysteriously finding its way to the top of the front stairs of the school. Or other times when a group of boys would roll an old Model A Ford from its owner’s yard to another location, or maybe even the bank president Mr. Fanning’s car back to the bank.”

“Gleason had only one police officer, known as ‘Uncle Sammy.’ The town had no police cars, so he just walked all over town. One night a group of ‘friends’ threw firecrackers on one side of the street and by the time Uncle Sammy got to that side, firecrackers would go off on another side.”

Because Kenneth’s athletic abilities were well-known, he began to be recruited by colleges. He remembers the principal getting a call from Griffin College in Van Wert, Ohio. “They wanted my teammate Charles Brawner to come play basketball for them, with a full scholarship. Mr. Butler told them we were a package deal, they either took both me and Charles or nobody. So, Griffin College decided to offer us both full scholarships.”

“No one had clue where Van Wert, Ohio, was, but somebody from school knew of somebody from Chicago visiting Gleason who was headed back in a few days. We rode with them to Chicago and then hitched-hiked to Ohio, which was a beautiful area. The college offered us a fully furnished house to live in. The only catch was that we would be solely responsible for the milking of a large herd of cattle that the college owned. We thought about it for a while and realized most of our time would be spent with the cows, so we hitch-hiked back home to McKenzie. We rode in whatever would pick us up, finally rolling into town in the back of a pickup truck with several cows.”

One thing that had always interested Kenneth was airplanes. He had always wanted to fly one. “The summer between high school and college, a friend and I went down to Lexington to a dirt air strip to take flying lessons. I loved the feel of being high in the sky in those planes.” That summer of flying planes would prove influential in the career path he would follow.

One day that same summer, Kenneth was out plowing the garden with the old mule when he heard somebody on the other side of the fence holler, “Hey, are you Kenneth Campbell?” It was a professor from Bethel College asking him if he would play football for them. After much discussion about the cost, Bethel also offered Kenneth a full scholarship. He played football for Bethel the next four years, earning a triple degree in English, social sciences, and economics.

Kenneth thought his ideal job would be coaching any sport at any school. After graduation, he accepted a job offer in Hiseville, Kentucky, teaching world history, not his favorite subject. “On the first day of school, I made a deal with my students. I would give them the questions to whatever test I was giving. All they had to do was listen. If they did not listen, then they would fail.” He taught there not quite two years before calling the Carroll County Superintendent’s office to inquire about getting a job closer to home. He was offered a job at Trezevant.

Two weeks before school was to start, American Airlines called him with an offer. He had applied to work with the airline right after college. He discussed this possibility of going to Memphis to work for American Airlines with the superintendent. “Since teacher pay was very limited with no benefits, the superintendent made me realize the airline job was a much better offer. I worked there for 37 years.”

“There was not a job at American Airlines I did not do during my time there. I met many famous folks who traveled through those halls. One day as I was deboarding the plane, a lady inquired if everyone was off the plane. Her husband had not gotten off. I told her I would go check. There I found Roy Rogers asleep on the plane. After that Mr. Roy and I would always joke and laugh with each other whenever he flew with us.” Bufford Pusser was another frequent flyer Kenneth became friends with. One day as he was checking folks, he looked up and there stood his former Gleason principal and coach, Mr. Charles Butler.

Kenneth retired with his wife, Joyce, who was a hairdresser, and they moved back to enjoy life on his family farm in McKenzie. He raised some cattle, farmed those 80 acres, and they live in the same house his parents bought in 1943.

At 92 years of age, Kenneth’s mind is as sharp as it was while running those plays on the old Gleason School football field. His house is filled photographs of those days; even his G-Jacket still looks brand new. “Any success I had on the football field or basketball court, I attribute to great teammates who played that game right beside me, not an individual success, but a team success.” Kenneth is very thankful for being able to transfer to Gleason School all those many years ago, and he continues to enjoy his lifetime of wonderful memories that started there.