citybeat (2006-13)

The sudden end of an adventure

Area schools are coping with the phenomenon

We can’t compete in a marathon, but we can marvel

Wednesday, March 22

Marcia Katz, 1942-2006

On the first day of March, an automobile slammed into a tree in Indianapolis and ended a remarkable life.

Originally from Peoria, Ill., Marcia Katz came to UT in the 1970s, first to study, and then to teach. Even in the 21st century, engineering is one of the most stubborn bastions of male dominance. But more than 30 years ago, Marcia Katz earned her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering. Soon afterward she became the first female faculty member at UT’s College of Engineering.

Early in her career, she worked for the National Laboratory in Nice, France, but reportedly found it unsatisfying. In 1977, she came to teach at UT and became known as an expert in nuclear-reactor dynamics and controls.

Katz didn’t just teach. In 1980, she worked with NASA on space-shuttle design issues. She served on U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser’s staff in ‘85, and was a White House Fellow with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1994, working with the Clinton administration on scientific matters. She also worked in Washington with the Department of Energy.

She retired from UT and from most of her engineering pursuits in 1999, but became perhaps more visible in Knoxville; it was, for her, the beginning of a second career of community service. Katz was on the boards of the Helen Ross McNabb center for young women, and of the suicide-prevention hotline Contact, as well as the Zionist charity Hadassah; she volunteered for WUOT’s fundraising campaigns and for the Volunteer Ministry Center.

Her friends would sometimes worry about her load; when people asked her if she was sure she had time for all that work, she’d respond, “Well, what else do I have to do?”

Though she was a large woman who would not be mistaken for an athlete, she once participated in a charity marathon, walking most of the way.

In retirement, she remained curious, concerned, and fearless in conversation, unapologetically opinionated. Like a lot of retirees, she enjoyed reading mysteries and playing bridge, but she had an eccentric streak that sometimes astonished her friends. Soon after retirement, Katz announced, “I always wanted to gift wrap.” And so the Jewish nuclear engineering professor who had once advised senators and presidents went to Dillard’s at Christmastime, to wrap Christmas presents.

In the last year or two of her life, she may have been the only nuclear engineer in America who moonlighted as a “secret shopper,” hired to visit stores and restaurants undercover and report on the service. Her longtime friend Arlene Goldstein recalls her surprise when, on a recent trip to New York, Katz wanted to eat at, of all places, Red Lobster. It was an undercover assignment, and Katz took it seriously.

Goldstein recalls that Katz would surprise her again and again, announcing, “I’m off on an adventure.”

“Her whole life was an adventure,” Goldstein says. 

Katz had been in the Midwest visiting family early this month at the time of her sudden death. Investigators think Katz suffered a stroke or aneurysm that led her to lose control of her car.

Katz’s funeral has already taken place in Illinois, but the Arnstein Jewish Community Center on Deane Hill Drive in the Bearden area will celebrate Katz’s unusual life with a memorial for Katz this Sunday, April 2, at 3 p.m. Memorials can be made to the Knoxville Jewish Alliance, Hadassah, or Heska Amuna Synagogue’s Volunteer Ministry Center program.

An Explosion in Bomb Threats

On Feb. 24 at about 7:30 a.m., a bomb threat was phoned in to a police 911 dispatcher, who relayed the information to Bearden Middle School, the target of the threat.

Action at the school, based on a police recommendation, included an evacuation of the building, which was cleared and reoccupied less than two hours later.

On March 14, an 11-year-old girl, a 6th-grader at the middle school, was arrested and charged with filing a false report. Her case is yet to be adjudicated in Knox County Juvenile Court, and no disciplinary action has been taken by school authorities. Besides the criminal charge of making a false report, such threats are grounds for suspension or expulsion, according to schools spokesman Russ Oakes, who says the incident was the first of its kind for Knox County Schools this school year.

The county school system is lucky in that regard. Blount County Schools have experienced 22 bomb threats so far in the 2005-06 session, and nearby Hamblen County’s schools have had 18 such threats. Taken together, there’s been a rash of calls or notes in this area indicating a bomb has been placed in a school. And the incidence has not abated. In Hamblen, where there’ve been 19 people, including 18 juveniles, charged in connection with the 18 threats, there are only two cases unsolved this school year, according to Hugh Clement, an assistant superintendent. “We feel fortunate,” he says of that rate of solution, but there was another bomb threat just last week , he says.

Bomb threats at public schools are far from a new phenomenon. A Bearden High School grad from the ’80s recalls a schoolmate who’d call in a threat from the pay phone in the school cafeteria, declaring, “I’m not taking that damn chemistry test today.”

School evacuations are not the absolute rule today when bomb threats are made. Oakes says the system has “a procedure” to determine the credibility of each threat, but he would not divulge its details, and that the response to each is determined by running through that procedure, on which faculty and administration members receive training. The idea, he says, is to preserve school safety without allowing prediction of the response in each instance. “The bomb threats are made to elicit a response,” he says, “and we don’t want everyone to know what that response will be.”

The same is true in other systems, including Blount County, where the schools’ communications officer says there is a “crisis management team,” including sheriff’s representatives, to determine what steps to take. In that county’s 22 threats, she says, there have been citations issued, but she says the cases are in the hands of law enforcement and she’s not sure of their disposition.

In each of those mentioned school systems, a student placing a bomb threat is faced with immediate suspension and probable expulsion if detected, and technological and investigative advances have made detection easier, Clement points out.

Some kids, however, don’t get that message. Or, as the Hamblen superintendent’s secretary, Ava Gogorth, says, “They don’t seem to learn.”

Distance-Running from a Distance

The second annual Knoxville Marathon (do we always have to call it the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon?) Sunday morning was a success, drawing more than 4,000 runners for the marathon, the half-marathon, and the 5K.

The winner, James Mutuse, originally of Kenya, finished it in two hours and 33 minutes but claimed it’s the hardest marathon in the whole world—a fact that makes us non-marathoners proud. A couple of memorable moments:

At about Mile 6, in the frosty front yard of the Cherokee Boulevard home shared by PR czars Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael at 7:30 a.m. there were about 20 revelers, several of them still in their pajamas. It wasn’t clear whether they were up early or very, very late, but they were enjoying a breakfast of fruit and coffee cake, and of course plenty of bloody Marys and mimosas. A few drank black coffee.

On posterboard, Moxley and Carmichael kept track of a betting pool for the best guess of the time of the first male and female runners to pass in front of the yard, with a bottle of champagne to each winner. The runners began reaching the reviewing stand at 7:32 a.m., and the flow hardly let up for more than an hour. Some of the running fans held signs saying “Go Margie,” for friend and Haslam administration spokesperson Margie Nichols (her boss was in the race, too). But several runners performed for the assembly. One middle-aged man, reaching the party, did a cartwheel for the revelers. Soon after, a Japanese runner stopped and took a photograph of the assemblage. Some competitors, already suffering and facing 20 more miles, pleaded for a drink.

The parade of sweaty carnage continued through the downtown area, where some of the runners were again tempted to stop and plead for sustenance. This time, the temptress was a Tomato Head special, custom-made for carb-depleted athletes: the “Maczone,” a bulky calzone stuffed with a life-affirming combination of elbow pasta, cheese and vegetables. Thankfully, the Market Square restaurant wasn’t quite open yet, and by the time it was, the runners were on their way back and nearing the homestretch of the 26.2-mile agony-fest.

One by one, they filed into Neyland stadium and beheld the image of their own triumphant, wetter-than-a-dishrag selves on the mighty Jumbotron—a digital display screen formerly reserved for the likes of UT football players and their adoring fans. It was an honor they were more than fit to receive.



Wednesday, March 22

Thursday, March 23

Friday, March 24

Saturday, March 25

Sunday, March 26

Monday, March 27

Tuesday, March 28