Our story Part 2 this week comes to us again from Joslyn Tye Flynn, who is the granddaughter of Opal Clark Tye. Joslyn wrote this story during the Pandemic 2020. Part I was printed in last week’s Advocate. I feel it still is very appropriate since many college students have or will soon be graduating. This is the story of one such graduate - her grandmother, Opal Clark Tye who graduated from Union College in 2020.
Union College’s Life-long Cheerleader, Part 2
By Joslyn Flynn Tye
In the fall of 1945 Granny Opal left her home in Georgia to become a Union College freshman.
At seventeen years old she attended on full scholarship, academic for her good grades in Cedartown, and athletic as a Union College Cheerleader. The Stespeans are full of pictures of her cheering her freshman, sophomore and junior years. The joy on her face shows not only her excitement for the teams but the overall joy she felt getting to live on Union’s campus. Also proud to be a class officer, she was elected by her sophomore class as class treasurer.
She shined on campus and made many friends, most of which she is still close with to this day.
Many of them called her “George” in reference to her Georgia roots. A picture with some of those friends posing together in the summer of 2016 in the Sharp Academic Center is a family favorite. She not only met many lifelong friends, she also met her husband Herman Mitchell Tye. The story goes that they saw each other walking across campus, and they had to meet each other. My grandfather, who upon graduation from Union in 1946 was on his way to the University of Louisville School of Law, was smart and sociable in his own right. After my grandfather received his law degree in January 1949, they married in February 1949 on my great grandparents’ farm.
Soon after she supported my grandfather to help him pass his bar exam the same month they married. In November of 1949 they started a family, first with my father, Josh Tye and then with a daughter Rebecca Tye in December of 1953. Granny Opal and my Grandfather Herman did not wonder far from where they met, and they bought an old white home across the street from Baldwin Place at 225 College Street, that unfortunately needed more work than a young couple raising children and running a law practice had anticipated. So they decided to build a modern home behind the one they had purchased.
Many disadvantaged Knox County citizens came to my grandfather’s law office asking for money or help. They were young, and my grandfather was frequently waiting on payment for his work, they had just built a house, and were paying back his hefty law school loans to his Uncle Josh Tye (whom my father was so named after.) Granny Opal said they were creative though, and they had a garden and access to my great-grandparents’ farm., which meant that although they did not have extra money, they did have enough food. She described many Saturday afternoons they spent cooking in a 90 degree kitchen, serving heaping plates of food to all races and walks of life out the back screen door of their home. They did not want to deny anyone who asked for help.
They were proud when their son (my dad) grew up and became a Union College student in the
Fall of 1967. She said they were excited to have one child in college at Union with another in high school soon on the way to college. Then in January of 1970 my grandfather tragically died of a heart attack in their home at the age of forty-seven. She found herself widowed at forty-one. So Granny Opal walked across the street to Union and applied for a job, and was grateful for the years she spent there to support herself and children through her work in the registrar’s office. This job not only paid her bills but paved the way for her children to attend and attain Union College degrees tuition free. She took advantage of her time there to return to working on her degree, taking a class in public health in 1972.
We hear from former students all the time how much pride she took in her job. My mom, then Evelyn Merida, speaks of her experience in the registrar’s office and how much time Granny Opal spent tracking down an art professor who had inadvertently left out one of my mother’s final grades - the only one left before she was to graduate the Winter of 1970. Granny Opal was kind and persistent, making all the phone calls and trips across campus until that grade was securely in my mom’s transcript. It must be noted that at the time my parents had not even met - this was the standard service she provided to all Union College students.
Part 3 coming next week!