Remembering 1986: Nation in shock after Challenger explosion

For the Record
Posted 11/13/20

The year was 1986 and Ronald and Nancy Davis Reagan occupied the White House. The couple had married in 1952 and parented two children, Patti, who was an actress, and Ron, who was a ballet dancer. …

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Remembering 1986: Nation in shock after Challenger explosion


The year was 1986 and Ronald and Nancy Davis Reagan occupied the White House. The couple had married in 1952 and parented two children, Patti, who was an actress, and Ron, who was a ballet dancer. President Reagan was the first movie actor to become president, the first divorced one and the oldest president to be elected (Bumann, Joan and John Patterson, “40 Presidents-Facts and Fun.” Willowisp Press, 1981, p 156).

NBC had attracted 127 million viewers when it aired the Super Bowl XX — the most watched television show in history. Oil prices were the lowest in six years, which resulted in fueling the stock market rally. A report on the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that moderate exercise could significantly diminish the risk of death from all causes (Dickson, Paul. “From Elvis to E-Mail.” Massachusetts: Federal Street Press, 1999, pp 283-289).

How many of you had Miss Esther Ricks as your fifth grade teacher? Do you recall that she really loved arithmetic and birds? It was in her class that we learned about the red-winged blackbirds perched upon the cattails and the hummingbird with its pea-sized eggs.

We learned from our little bird cards how to distinguish the female from male birds and which birds migrated and those who didn’t. Can you recall how beautiful Miss Ricks was with her short white hair and peaches and cream complexion? Was she an older teacher? Most of us had no concept of age while in the fifth grade other than that we wanted to be older.

Does anyone know where Miss Ricks was born, attended college and died? I simply know that Esther Amanda Ricks, former Coats teacher, had died in early 1986. The news also printed that Thelma Byrd Wiggins, 75, of Coats, had died. She was survived by her husband, Delma Wiggins; daughters, Beulah Hungerford, Molly Spencer and Ann Poole; and stepdaughters, Judith Young, Brooke Stephenson and Josephine Johnson; sisters, Pearl Tart and Vivian Green; and brothers, Garland Beasley and Jake Beasley.

In Coats, the town board members were discussing the transfer of county water. In order to provide adequate services and fire protection, it was discussed that the county help pump water from the tank located on North Carolina Highway 55 into the tank on Carrie Street. Campbell University, next door in Buies Creek, was celebrating its 100th anniversary. President Norman A. Wiggins had met President Ronald Reagan.

Rex and Pat Godwin had their grand opening for Mike’s Bar-B-Q located on North Carolina Highway 55, north of Coats.

The Jan. 28 news shocked the nation. The spacecraft, Challenger, exploded after take-off, killing all seven aboard, including a civilian school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was the first private citizen picked to go into space. NASA immediately suspended the shuttle program. The explosion was seen live on television by millions of viewers.

It is amazing what the human mind can save that can be recalled dozens of years later. While researching the history of Coats, we found that many former students remembered exactly where they were when some catastrophic event happened such as Hurricane Hazel, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the shooting of Ronald Reagan, and yes, the explosion of the Challenger after takeoff.

Juanita Hudson was honored in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the National American Home Economics Meeting. Mrs. Hudson was one of three to receive the national award for Outstanding Volunteer Leadership.

The February 1986 editions of The Daily Record reported the following:

Kenneth Parker, former Coats Police chief, had entered the Harnett County Sheriff’s race. He reported that he was ousted from a state post with the General Assembly Police due to his being a Republican candidate. The Harnett Republican Party officials began studying the policy involving state employment situations of candidates.

Malton Avery Johnson, 74, of Benson had died. He was the son of the late Alsey M. and Melia Barefoot. He was survived by his widow, Alice S. Johnson; daughters, Edna J. Barefoot and Annie Ruth Johnson; brother, Floyd C. Johnson; and sister, Addie J. Parker.

Hope S. Turlington was being installed as vice president of the Harnett County Area Board of Realtors. Dr. Anne Moore, mezzo-soprano, was preparing for “An Evening with Brahms” recital at Campbell University. Dr. Moore was married to Dr. Donald Moore of Coats.

H.A. Turlington Jr. of Route 3, Dunn, was retiring from the U.S. Post Office on Feb. 28, 1986, after 31 years of service. Mr. Turlington was also a part-time farmer, World War II veteran and a recipient of the Silver Cross and Purple Heart, a legionnaire, a member of the Coats Junior Order and Coats Baptist Church.

Another member of the Coats Baptist Church made the news. M.O. Phillips, retired vocational agricultural teacher, spoke to the Dunn Rotary Club. Mr. Phillips also served with the Department of Public Instruction in the Visual Aids Division and his presentation was to be a film of the state of North Carolina from east to west.

Friends of the late Joe Tart continue to honor their good friend with memorials. A big thank you goes to Wallace Pollard for his generous memorial check for Joe. After darkness comes light and I feel sure that the love that so many had for Joe adds brightness to that light for Joe’s family.

Billy and Carolyn Penny Messer was a popular Coats couple. It saddened our family to hear that Carolyn had died last week. H.L. has remembered his cousin, Carolyn, with a memorial to the Coats Museum.

Thank you goes to these individuals for being amazing donors to the Coats Museum.


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