Christmas will be even more special for Tusculum alumna as she celebrates 100th birthday

Birthdays are always special and develop additional meaning when they fall on a cherished holiday.

Tusculum University recently presented items to Ann Beeson Gouge in celebration of her 100th birthday.

This year, Ann Beeson Gouge’s birthday, which will take place on Christmas, carries even greater significance. The Johnson City resident will turn 100 years old.

A 1940 graduate of Tusculum College, which became Tusculum University in July, Gouge is a member of a prominent family at Tennessee’s oldest higher education institution. For her extended family at Tusculum and those who know her in the region, the occasion provides the opportunity to reflect on her accomplishments and the contributions of her relatives.

“We congratulate Ann for achieving this milestone and thank her for the way she has led a classy life that has reflected so positively on Tusculum and our region,” said Dr. James Hurley, the university’s president. “Ann left our campus as a student more than 75 years ago, but thankfully, she remains involved with Tusculum. She and her family continue to inspire us as we educate the next generation of leaders, and they will always have a special place in our hearts.”

Gouge, a widow with one child, Janet, is a granddaughter of Thomas Samuel Rankin, who earned three degrees there. He then developed deeper roots with his alma mater by teaching ancient languages for 45 years, serving as bursar and treasurer for 25 years and sitting on the Board of Trustees.

Tusculum recognized his commitment by naming a campus building Rankin Hall, which now houses the coaching and athletic administration offices.

Leadership by the Rankin family continued when one of Gouge’s uncles, Raymond, an alumnus, served as Tusculum’s president from 1951-65. Many other family members have attended Tusculum and earned degrees there. Tusculum’s institutional advancement team, now led by Jill Salyers, has collaborated with these alumni during their post-graduation years.

Gouge lived in Haynes Hall – enjoying the fireplace – as a Tusculum student and worked in the library and as a waitress in the cafeteria. She graduated with an English degree and a minor in music.

“A funny memory from that time was one of the student waitresses in the cafeteria was real character,” Gouge said. “Also, a friend didn’t like a dessert one time and tossed it harder than intended, causing it to stick to the ceiling.”

And how did Gouge spend her spare time while she was a student?

“We talked about the boys,” she said with a chuckle. “We also went swimming in the pool.”

Gouge’s mother, Elma, graduated with a degree in music from Tusculum in 1909 and later taught that subject at East Tennessee Normal School, which subsequently changed its name to East Tennessee State University. She soon became known as an outstanding piano teacher and vocalist in Johnson City and shared her love of music with her children. Her husband, D.R. Beeson Sr., played banjo in the Glee Club and entertained his Boy Scout troop.

All of the children – Gouge, Mary Beeson Ellison, Betty Beeson Helms and D.R. Beeson Jr. – learned to play the piano, and when they were young, they traveled around the area as the Beeson Family Orchestra. When she was a student at Tusculum, Gouge was involved in the small orchestra conducted by her sister, Mary.

In addition, Gouge played flute in the orchestra when she studied at ETSU to receive her teaching certification. She was asked to participate after a male friend introduced her to the music director there.

Ann Gouge, right, and fellow 1940 Tusculum graduate Margaret Gaut pose outside the Scott M. Niswonger Commons on the Tusculum campus in Greeneville.

Music has been a major part of Gouge’s adult life, too. She played the flute, piano, violin and viola and was a founding member of the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, for which she played for 40 years. She also performed at special events at Tusculum, at fashion shows and in churches. She taught string instruments in the Johnson City school system and wrote “The Carolina Choo Choo Train” for the Tweetsie Railroad, which the company used for a long time.

As for her siblings, Ellison graduated from Tusculum in 1937 and then earned a master’s degree at Eastman School of Music and a doctorate in music from the University of Miami. Helms received a degree in music theory from Eastman School of Music. Besides the piano, Beeson Jr. played the flute.

Many longtime Johnson City residents will recall Beeson Sr. and Beeson Jr. for their many years as distinguished architects. Their last name is listed first in the Beeson, Lusk and Street firm.