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J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
Frank B. "Weenie" Wininger
Banquet photo of Frank B. and Beulah M. Wininger, March 1954. (Mary W. Petree Collection)
March 26, 1954 was a red-letter day in Fountain City. Perhaps the suburb’s largest banquet was held on that day to honor Franklin B. "Weenie" Wininger on the occasion of his retirement. Only a very few others have done as much for the youth of Fountain City.
Franklin Benjamin Wininger was born in Union County, Tenn., on March 8, 1894, the son of William and Sarah Jane (Hensley) Wininger. Frank completed grade school there and then attended Central High School but left without graduating in 1915, during World War I. He took a wartime job at the Cherokee Knitting Mills.
Late in life, in an interview with sportswriter Frank "Red" Bailes, Wininger said, "I’ve got coaching in my blood. I guess I’ve always wanted to work with young boys, especially those who couldn’t make the varsity teams. The head coaches didn’t have time to spend with the ‘little’ boys and I always tried to help them. Some of these boys have developed into our greatest athletes. That’s what makes it worth my time."
After Word War I ended, he got his first taste of coaching at the YMCA with a group of pre-teen and teen-age boys. In 1923, he took his entire YMCA team to Central and then stayed around as assistant coach to see that they were treated well.
That team included some who became stellar athletes and well known in other fields; including Milton Roberts, Sr., who became a member of Knoxville City Council, and Kyle Mynatt, founder of Mynatt’s Funeral Home. Another was Roy Acuff who earned twelve letters in three sports (baseball, basketball and football) at Central, a record that still has not been equaled. As we know, Roy also "made it big" in the field of entertainment and in music publishing.
The next year Wininger helped Roy Harbison coach both football and basketball. Then he returned to Cherokee Mills for another year in his wartime job. When he returned to Central, he became an assistant to Rufe Clayton and M.B. Banks, who later was head coach at U.T. Coach Banks left in 1929 but Wininger stayed around, assisting Roy "War Eagle" Witt by coaching the "B" football team and helping with basketball.
"Work Ethic" could have been Wininger’s middle name, so Principal Hassie K. Gresham, recognizing his unlimited energy, hired him to look after the gym and serve as nightwatchman. He held those positions for many years and, besides coaching, during the summers he cared for the football field, watered and cut the grass, painted bleachers, repaired seats and was the first to greet football players returning for fall practice.
Moreover, Wininger found time to manage a Little League baseball team and often to serve as an umpire. His nickname referred only to his stature (5’ 6"). He was a giant in many other ways.
In 1919, Frank Wininger married Beulah Miller (1893-1976), the daughter of John L. and Mary B. (Hall) Miller. They were parents of six children: "Bob" (Robert H., CHS 1938), "Jim" (James F., CHS 1939), "Johnny" (John W.), Mrs. Isaac C. (Mary, CHS 1941) Petree Jr., George T. and Mrs. James (Lucille, CHS 1947) Hiatt.
Bob became a Lt. Col. in the Army and served in World War II and the Korean War. He lived in Fountain City after his retirement and died in 1981. Johnny, who passed away in 2005, joined the Army during World War II, was wounded in the Italian campaign and received the Purple Heart. George died tragically at 41 years of age in an automobile accident in Illinois. Mary Petree is active in the management of her family business, Petree’s Florist, one of Knoxville’s largest. Col. Jim is living in Oak Ridge after a __-year career in the Air Force as a P-38 pilot and ___ years at K-25. Lucille lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
With Edgar C. Gentry as chairman, Fountain City businessmen and supporters of Central High School athletics organized a banquet to honor Wininger to be held on March 26, 1954. O.L. Boruff served as ticket chairman for the 300 tickets—the number limited by the seating capacity of the school cafeteria. Glenard Gentry and Claude Myers were in charge of special gifts, Robert Sterling was treasurer, Arthur Garrison and Mary B. Hunter planned and prepared the meal and Rev. Vernon Adcock was the toastmaster.
At the banquet, the outpouring of complimentary remarks left Wininger almost speechless but he did manage to say, "I certainly appreciate my friends." His gifts included an all-expense week’s vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla. for both he and his wife, a console television set, a season ticket to the Knoxville Smoky home games and $500 in cash. The Fountain City Lions Club presented a loving cup and the Knoxville Elks Club presented Wininger its first annual award for "Outstanding Service to the Youth of Knox County."
A Western Union telegram from Roy and Mildred Acuff summed up the sentiments that were expressed in these words, "We are unable to attend such a wonderful occasion. Please express our love, admiration and deepest respect to one whose intense loyalty and devotion to our school and community truly deserves the honors you do him today—the one and only Weenie."
The Gentry Family (Edgar, Glenard, Edgar Jr. and Mack) collected numerous newspaper clippings, photographs of the head table and of those attending the banquet and presented them in scrapbook form later.
In December 1958, his son George was sent to check on his father when he failed to return home following a basketball game at the school. He found him semi-conscious on the second floor of the school, the victim of a stroke. Admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital, Wininger remained there until his death on December 24. For some 35 years he had coached and counseled the youth of Fountain City and taught Sunday School as a long-time member of First Baptist Church.
His services were officiated by Rev. Gordon Greenwell and Rev. Esco Hale and conducted by Gentry-Griffey Funeral Chapel. Survived by his wife, both of his daughters and all four sons, he was buried in Hill Cemetery near Halls. His pallbearers and honorary pallbearers were representative of those he had worked with or mentored over many years, including N.B. Eubank, Jim Large, Bob Johnson, Quinn Decker, Joe Harrington, William Hunter, Fred Graves, Robert Temple, Hugh A. Bowling, Ray Wallace, Walker Bailey, Mack Hansard, Dan Boring, O.C. Lloyd, Robert Sterling, O.L. Boruff, Roy Acuff and Hayne Blakely.
Buddy Gilbert, a four-sport star athlete at Central, summed up Wininger’s contribution to his community in these words, "Central students thought the world of Weenie. He devoted his life to boys who wanted to become athletes at Central. He’ll never be forgotten."
While he taught sports, his precepts and his example also taught about life. After his departure, the Fountain City Recreation Commission asked themselves two questions, "How would you ask a Fountain City School student to define a good citizen? How would you find all the qualities in one person that compose the character of a good citizen?" They felt Franklin B. "Weenie" Wininger was the answer to both questions and held a special ceremony on Opening Day, June 6, 1959, for the dedication of the "Franklin Benjamin Wininger Field" in his memory.
(Author’s Note: Thanks to Mary W. Petree, Bob Johnson, Robert H. Temple and Gaylon Wilson for their assistance with the photographs and information for this essay.)
(9/4/06= 1:00 p.m.= 19 para., 862 words; 24 para., 1253 words)