Two Of A Kind
The following article from the Sunday May 28, 1967 edition of the Paducah Sun, written by bill Powell, provides not only a biography of John Robinson, it details many of the achievements of the school during his tenure. The following is a transcription of that article. The original publication may be viewed HERE.
Bill Powell was not only an excellent writer, he was also married to Ruth Powell; the LOHS School Secretary for many of the Robinson years. As such, Bill had an inside perspectve of John Robinson, much of which is conveyed in this article.
By Bill Powell, Sun-Democrat Roving Editor originally published Sunday May 28, 1967.
John E. Robinson "accidentally" finished high school.
Then he went with a friend to Murray State Normal School (It was that in those days) just "for the ride" and wandered into a baseball scholarship and four years of schooling.
He didn't mean to be a teacher; he had his sights set on law.
But after entering the teaching profession "to earn a little law school money" John Robinson found that he was where he belonged.
Then he purposely, deliberately and with unswerving dedication devoted 38 years to education-21 of them at Lone Oak High School in McCracken County.
Born at Milburn in Carlisle County Jan. 14, 1906, Robinson went to grade and high school in the lively little town which, in those days, was the trade center of a large, busy area.
He loved to play basketball but he could take or leave school, so one year he dropped out and started "looking around"-probably thinking of following in-the-footsteps of his father, Francis Marion Robinson, who was a sharp trader, a Milburn bank director for 30 years and a good farmer.
But John "the drop-out" took a liking to a young principal, Walter Criswell and went back to
school. He never entertained any serious thoughts of quitting after falling into the company of the likeable, enterprising
Graduating in 1925, Robinson had little or no thought of going to college. On a fall day in 1925, a friend asked him if he wanted to "ride over to Murray." The friend wanted to register at the new normal school on the outskirts of Murray.
John sat in the car.
Pretty soon, Carlisle Cutchin, who became famous as baseball and basketball coach at Murray State, came out to the car.
Cutchin knew Robinson had been a good high school and amateur baseball player. He asked him what he thought about registering.
Robinson wasn't too impressed.
He was polite, though, and pretty soon Mr. Cutchin came back by the car and had a few more words to say.
"He came back the third time, and I'm glad he did," said Mr. Robinson. "I am glad I took his advice."
Robinson was a baseball catcher but the team had a fine catcher, Ty Holland, who has been football coach at Murray High School for more than 30 years.
Robinson became a pitcher without planning to do so, however. An independent team at Murray gave
him $7.50 to pitch against Princeton.
"I think they thought I was 'Bum'" said Robinson. ("Bum" was the nickname of John's brother, William B an excellent baseball pitcher, who died this year.)
Robinson pitched against Rip Wheeler, onetime major league pitcher, and lost only 2 to 1.
"Matt Sparkman dropped a fly ball," said Robinson, grinning. "Put that in the paper." (He and Matt, Murray dean of students, are fast friends).
The game was the first Robinson ever pitched but he pitched many more in four years under Cutchin at Murray.
"Murray certainly was interesting in those days-the school was new and we had only a few hundred students. Headquarters was downtown, usually at Dale and Stubblefield Drug Store. We walked to town several times a day," said Robinson.
Even before he completed college, Robinson became a teacher at his home school of Milburn. Frank McGary, now superintendent of Ballard Schools, was the principal. Soon Robinson started coaching basketball at Milburn too. Then he became coach and principal of Cunningham, also in Carlisle. In his two years there, Robinson took his teams to the regional tournament, as district champions, both years.
The following is part of a statement made by Mrs. Bill Lindsey when she unveiled a portrait
of John Robinson which the PTA, of which she was president, had prepared for the school.
"All of you are familiar with the story of the courage, leadership and patriotism which has been characterized of this man throughout his life, and here at Lone Oak High School. No one has ever done more than John Robinson has done for Lone Oak High School and perhaps no one ever will."
"His devotion to the cause of preparing young people for lives of usefulness and happiness shows in the community, and wherever else graduates have gone to live their lives. It shows, too, in the vigor and efficiency of the school as it is now."
By now deeply interested in education and in coaching, Robinson moved on to Clinton. There again
he excelled in coaching-his teams won the district basketball tournament all three years he was there.
"Ernest Fiser (former Benton coach known for his fine defensive basketball teams) beat me twice in the regional. I never could beat him," said Robinson.
Robinson left the state one time. He was principal of Bristol Junior High School in East Tennessee for one year after leaving Clinton. The next year, 1946, he became principal of Lone Oak without applying and without even knowing he had been elected.
"Miles Meredith (superintendent at the time) recommended me and the board hired me. Then Mr.
Meredith notified me that I had been hired and to let him know immediately if I would accept. I did," said Robinson.
This began probably McCracken County's longest career of a principal at one school-and an era that saw Lone Oak High School grow enormously and improve immensely.
When Robinson started at Lone Oak there were only 600 students in the first 12 grades. Now the school complex includes elaborate elementary and junior high schools, with separate staffs, and the high school itself has grown considerably from a tiny gymnasium and the old classroom building which replaced the old school that burned in 1928. Total enrollment is above 2,300.
Classrooms, library and study hall have been added to the south end of the old school, a fine gymnasium has been built behind the old building and a music building and industrial arts structures have been squeezed into the overtaxed schoolyard.
Lightning stuck Lone Oak High School, as it did other schools here and in adjoining counties, in 1951, with development of the awesome Paducah Atomic Plant boom. One year old Lone Oak, built for no more than 700 or 800 students at the most, somehow accommodated a peak enrollment of 1,400. That year registrations totaled 2,100 at Lone Oak-before the building of the elementary school and junior high school, of course.
Each Lone Oak classroom had 50 to 60 pupils jammed into it in boomtime, and the building seemed like a congested beehive about ready to explode.
But the job was handled well; at least it conditioned Robinson to a postboom effort that, with the help of the school board and superintendent's staff, has made the school one of the most outstanding in Kentucky.
-- Lone Oak has fewer dropouts than any other school in the state-or a "holding power" of about 87 per cent.
-- The school has had 72.5 per cent of its students go on to college over a period of the last five years. This is the second-best college-attendance mark in Kentucky.
-- No student has even been expelled from Lone Oak during Robinson's 21 years. Several students expelled from other schools have enrolled there and graduated, and then gone on to creditable careers.
-- The Lone Oak choir has had a superior rating at the Murray music festival 21 years in a row.
-- Lone Oak ranks at the top among Kentucky schools its size in the number of students who take part in speech activities and who are members of the National Forensic League. The debate team was chosen on two occasions this year to participate in the "Debate of the Month" at the University of Kentucky. Two invitations is a rare honor. A recording of the debating was made and sent to other schools of the state to be used in teaching.
-- Lone Oak was one of the first schools to place driver training in its curriculum; first in the section to place physiology and anatomy in the curriculum for those who wish to be nurses or doctors and is the only school in the area to hold a mathematics tournament on a yearly basis.
-- Lone Oak's band, now going on eight years old, was chosen by Gov. Edward T. Breathitt to take part in the inaugural parade for President Johnson in 1965. The band will participate this summer in the Lions Club Convention parade in Chicago-something it did in Florida while it was still in its infancy.
-- Lone Oak High School, through Robinson, originated Career Day. Visiting instructors advise the students on careers in a morning-long session. The school has had 14 Career Days; the practice has spread throughout the county, and to other areas.
-- Robinson originated "Senior Citizens" night at the school. People 65 and older are guests of the Beta Club and a dinner and program annually just before Christmastime. No other school in the state has such a formal program.
-- Lone Oak's industrial arts department excels and each year the school has an Industrial Arts exhibit. Last year more than 2,000 people saw the exhibit.
-- A science fair also is held at Lone Oak annually.
-- The varsity debate team won regional honors this year and will participate in the state tournament; the Lone Oak Male Chorus is one of three such groups in this area, and has won a superior rating at the music festival; this year eleven Lone Oak students qualified for the state speech meet, and Principal Robinson points with pride at "our students who rank near the top in many different fields."
"We know all this could not have been done without a broad curriculum and a fine faculty," said Robinson. "Our schedule of classes has been used in several principalship class courses taught at Murray State University. They use it as a guide," said Mr. Robinson.
At the end of a Lone Oak career that produced a comprehensive rating for the school (Paducah
Tilghman is the only other school in Western Kentucky to have such a rating), Robinson said:
"My philosophy is rather simple, I have always thought that the children came first. The students are all that amount to anything, really. The rest of us are just hired hands."
He paid Paducah Tilghman a rare compliment when he said:
"The greatest incentive I have had is working close to such a fine school as Tilghman. We've worked hard to match all the Tilghman achievements that we can. We have not done this just for a mark or in a competitive spirit."
"Rather, what we have done is based on a desire to see our boys and girls have the same advantages and opportunities as they have at Tilghman, just five miles away."
Robinson said he thought retired Tilghman principal Walter G. Jetton "was the best principal I ever knew."
"I've always tried to do a lot of the things Mr. Jetton did-you know everybody, in a way, copies after someone," he said. He also praised Brad Mutchler, present Tilghman principal.
Good students mean a good school "and we have had and still have more than our share of then," he said.
"Students are just as good as their parents, and Lone Oak has a exceptional group of parents-always has had, since I have been here," he added.
Principal Robinson has not received a complaint from a parent in the last three years.
Robinson also singled out the "business people" of Paducah as helping make Lone Oak a better school.
"Of course, our own people are fine, but those Paducah people have gone out of their way. They have never turned us down. We could not have sent our band to Washington (for the inaugural parade) without them," he said.
"Fine young teachers" and "good veteran teachers" in a good blend were credited by Mr. Robinson as the
keys to Lone Oak's spectacular rise as a high school.
School board support from "Miles Meredith through the years of Henry Chambers and now in the administration of Leon Smith as superintendent." Also were given strong credit by Robinson.
"I know the board members and superintendents have had the schools at heart, and this is the reason McCracken County has such a splendid school system," he said.
Commenting on school superintendents, Robinson said:
"Mr. Chambers was a good school man. He could get more money out of the government for schools than any man I've even known."
"Leon Smith is one of the best too. He keeps the school business in good order. He takes advantages of opportunities very well.
Robinson places a high value on PTA. One year Lone Oak had 2,100 members covering all 12 grades and the organization "did great things."
Robinson also thinks highly of Gov. Breathitt.
"He has worked so hard, and has gotten so little credit. He has done more for education than any other governor," he said.
Who does Robinson rate as the greatest leader he ever met?
Dr. Clifton Sigabee Lowry, who has been at Murray State since 1926.
Coach Cutchin, he said, "was the best friend I ever had in college."
Robinson, who suffered a serious heart attack about five years ago but returned to the school with oldtime enthusiasm, feels that 21 years is long enough for a principal at one school.
"But is has been wonderful", he said. "The students and their parents have gone out of their way to help me here."
Robinson also has been a civic worker in Lone Oak-whenever he had a little time to spare. He was first president of the Lone Oak Lions Club, which has been sort of a chamber of commerce for large but unincorporated Lone Oak. The club was established in 1948.
He has received many citations-including Kentucky Colonel Commissions from three governors-and honor plaques. He keeps a drawerful of complimentary letters from such people as Wilson W. Wyatt, Rep Frank Albert Stubblefield, Henry Ward and Gov. Breathitt-in his desk, and treasures all of them.
He is a life member of the PTA and a PTA scholarship has been awarded in his honor for several years. Robinson has been president of the First District Education Association and vice president of K.E.A. He is a Mason-belonging still to Lodge No. 927 at Milburn.
His son, Dr. Randal Robinson, and his family long have been the apples of Robinson's eye. Dr. Robinson was an honor student at Lone Oak and had a brilliant collegiate career, and now is a high-ranking university teacher at Michigan State.
A teacher of Shakespeare, he will deliver the commencement address at Lone Oak June 1.
Mrs. Robinson is a Draughon's teacher. She was Miss Edna Risenhoover of Murray. Her grandfather, a dentist, founded the first Methodist Church in Calloway County.
Except for the big night when Dr. Robinson will deliver the commencement address this graduation time at Lone Oak has been a depressing time for John Edward Robinson.
His heart has always been in the school-always will be.
"It is hard to step our of something you love as much as I love Lone Oak-as much as I care for the students and the people of the community, and the teachers who have worked with me so well."
The voices of high school boys and girls-bordering on being grown up-drifted into his office through an open window.
A teacher came to the door-a veteran teacher, he was-and asked permission to leave the school for a few moments on important business.
The pots and pans of the cafeteria had been cleared, and the place gleamed for tomorrow.
Students drifted into the outer office of the principal-their voices gay, musical in the warmth and excitement of graduation week.
Obviously, though, the blend of sounds wasn't cheerful music for John E. Robinson. Obviously, at the tag-end of 21 years-it wasn't music at all, but rather a nostalgic reenactment of so many similar scenes-with this one being a touching finale.