North City Elementary School's Camping Trip

October 1961, Meigs County, Tennessee









~ photo by Stephen Ratledge ~


written by Sandra (Nipper) Ratledge

Early in the 1961 -1962 school year, Mrs. Ruth Clayton and Mr. Bruce Wentworth, eighth grade teachers at North City Elementary School in Athens, Tennessee, began planning a camping trip for their two classes. They collaborated with our principal Mr. Robert Benton, the instructional supervisor, the PTA, and room mothers. Harold "Prof" Powers, City Park Elementary School principal, gave advice and instructional tips. Never did I realize how much time and hard work were required to provide us this enrichment. Not until, that is, when I also became a teacher and planned field trips myself. My own work makes me more appreciative of their contributions.

To succeed, parent volunteers were essential for supervision and many other tasks. They helped with everything from packing, loading, and transporation to food preparation and distribution. Arrangements were scheduled for October 1961, at Camp Oo-Tah-Nee-Noh-Chee, Athens City Schools camp near Watts Bar Lake in Meigs County, Tennessee. Its Cherokee Indian name translates to "camp among the big pines" and aptly fits its rural setting.

We were guided on educational hikes through the woods and acquainted with various flora and fauna. Teachers explained the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees and how to recognize indigenous trees by leaf shape, bark, etc. Many new science vocabulary words were introduced. We were taught names of snakes found in the area, how to recognize them by markings and colors, and cautioned to beware of poisonous ones.

For the first time, we were taught Tennessee's conservation history and its decades of problems with soil erosion. The establishment of Tennessee Valley Authority and its soil and water conservation efforts were explained. The value of restricted water shed areas was taught. A supervisor and guide taught the difference in topsoil and subsoils and ways to preserve rich topsoil.

We walked along the banks of the Tennessee River and learned about various creatures such as minnows and typical insects inhabiting sloughs there. We examined frogs and tadpoles and learned about their life cycle. We looked for fish like crappie, perch, catfish, etc. and found some dead ones washed ashore. After tours and lessons, children enjoyed recreational games like tug of war and horseshoe pitching.

October 1961 Campers at Camp Oo-Tah-Nee-Noh-Chee

North Meigs County, Tennessee

Seated on a tree log and eating supper by the camp fire are the following students from left to right: Kenneth Dale Black [b 14 Oct 1948 d 30 Nov 1997 buried McMinn Memory Gardens], Nola Lynette Clayton (Mrs. Dennis Charles O'Daniel; later Mrs. William Harley Crick), Brenda Morrow (whose name was misspelled in the article), and Dianne Sneed (Mrs. Rodger Dale Rogers divorced; later Mrs. Darrell Lee McKeehan). We roasted weiners on tree branches. Parent volunteers brought buns, milk, etc. and set up serving tables so we could line up and assemble our hot dogs with mustard and catsup. For dessert, we loved toasting marshmellows on the camp fire. Afterwards we sang songs learned in Mrs. Catherine Ray's music classes. Everyone enjoyed storytelling time -- especially the spooky tales!

All students brought sleeping bags, quilts, blankets, pillows, etc. Some slept in the same clothes worn that day because it was simply too cold to change. Girls were assigned to lodges with built-in wooden bunks but no mattresses. Screens on the lodge windows kept out bugs and critters but not the cold night air and the wind. Boys had to rough it on the cold concrete floor of the open dining area. Outhouses were designated for each gender. However, few girls were brave enough to walk there in the dark. For many like me, this was our first and only camping trip ever!

For breakfast, parents handed out a carton of milk and an individual-sized cereal box to each student. Boys were starving and quickly snatched anything loose. They begged for seconds before I figured out how to eat firsts. I remember holding the small cereal box and asking parent volunteer Mrs. Gladys (Ditmore) Roundtree, "Where are the cereal bowls?"

She laughed, shook her head in disbelief, but replied, "You don't need bowls."

So, I asked, "How do we eat it? Separately?"

When she could suppress amusement, she explained how to punch open the box on its side, lift the flaps to make a bowl, and then pour milk into the carton -- which shows how very little I knew about camping.


This site is dedicated to the memory of my mother Beulah Cline Nipper, a beautiful product of the Knobs.

©1999--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications. Do NOT copy stories, articles, documents, sketches, anecdotes, letters, obituaries, content data, etc. and attach to family trees or upload on other websites of any kind.

Sandra Ratledge

All you kinfolks, put some mail in that old box!