A weekend focused on remembering and celebrating culminated on Saturday evening as the Weakley County Alumni Association, graduates, families, and friends gathered at the University of Tennessee at Martin to focus on “Passing the Torch of Greatness.” The sold-out dinner and presentation recognized the legacy of educator and reverend Harold Conner, bestowed scholarships on 2018 Westview graduates and rejoiced with the re-united United Collegiate Choir.
Following a welcome by Association president Beverly Claybrooks, nine former members of the choir started by Rev. Conner performed favorites from their earlier days behind the microphones. Orrin Cowley Jr. and Danny Donaldson provided music during the dinner that saw close to 200 gathered around tables reminiscing.
Claybrooks and Martin Mayor Randy Brundige both recalled the words of Rev. Conner, “You must be the best that you can be,” as they addressed the crowd. Claybrooks particularly praised the mayor’s assistance in the ongoing pursuit of having a Martin street named for the evening’s inspiration and a monument recognizing the birthplace of the Weakley County Training School where Conner served as the final principal before integration.
Harold T. Conner Jr., Marshall Conner and Cathie Conner Holmes stood beside a table laden with honors and remembrances of their father as they shared their own memories of the educator whose influence was felt on the playing field, in the classroom, and behind the pulpit.
Conner, who died last year, was the first black administrator at UTM. He was instrumental in starting many campus organizations and programs including the Black Student Association, the Freshman Studies Program, the Highest Praise Gospel Choir and the Peer Enabler Program that mentors entering students. He was a U.S. Army veteran, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and an ordained Baptist minister, serving as pastor of the Fuller Street Baptist Church in Dresden for almost five decades.
Fellow event organizer Tara Tansil-Gentry announced and introduced the three scholarship winners for the year: Reed Chandler, who was already in classes at Murray State and was represented by his mother Sharis Diggs-Chandler; Malik Jones, who will be attending UTM; and Holly Harrison, who is at Middle Tennessee State University.
The evening program concluded a day filled with a morning parade and activities in Weldon Park that included a petting zoo, exotic animals, sales of designer goods, a concert and lots of food options.
For photos from homecoming weekend check out the Press’ Facebook page or see a copy of the Aug. 21 edition of the paper.