Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vol State Mystery Finally Solved - 37 Years Later!

Picture yourself on a beautiful March day.  Spring is in the air, flowers burst forth with color, birds croon a melody to mother earth, the scent of freshly mown grass - and naked people are running around.  Garden of Eden?  Not hardly!  It's Volunteer State Community College thirty-seven years ago.

This tale comes from Financial Aid Director Sue Pedigo in a special edition of Volunteer Vision alumni magazine, commemorating the college for forty years of community service.  Published by the Foundation the article recalled an incident from 1974 involving a streaker on the campus. Wearing only a mask and tennis shoes a Vol State student ran across the campus to the gymnasium. On-looking students locked arms to form a line, preventing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and local law enforcement from apprehending this individual. According to the 1974 May issue of The Settler, the Student Government Association (SGA) noted this as one of the most important accomplishments of the year. For almost forty years the streaker’s identity has remained an unsolved mystery. That is until now. 

When reading the article, 1976 graduate Mike Berkner laughed out loud, and contacted Pedigo confessing that he was the man behind the mask. I gave him a call and he seemed pleased to finally talk about it. “At first, there were five or six of us that were going to run,” said Berkner. “Word got out that they had called the TBI agents and the police, so, in essence everyone else chickened out. It wasn’t that I just wanted to show off my little body. I was a conscientious objector . So I thought I’d do it anyway. You know, it was kind of a political thing. ”

Pedigo tells how he ran from the area near the SGA offices to the back entrance of the gymnasium. “It was the biggest thing we ever had happen at Vol State. I didn’t get to see it but I heard about the excitement,” said Pedigo. “When Ray Stevens wrote that song The Streak, it was personal, and we could all relate because we had had our own. TBI was parked all around, but the students shielded the streaker from the police. They even maced a few kids because they wouldn’t let them through the line. You’ve got to remember that we had just finished Vietnam and there was a lot of rebellion going on. It was an exciting time.”

Berkner rushed into the women’s locker room to dodge pursuit. “When I got in there, they had my clothes waiting for me,” said Berkner. “The police and the TBI couldn’t come in, because the girls said ‘we’re in the shower and you can’t come in here.’” Later, while wearing the same ski mask for anonymity, Berkner gave an interview with Dan McDaniel from channel four. When asked why he did it, his response was “For freedom, man!”

After retiring from the Post Office, Berkner is now using his degree in forestry to work for the state of Georgia. His closing words to me were, “Tell everyone, I sing in the church choir now, and all’s well that ends well.”

Volunteer State Community College

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