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Staff photo by Mark Kennedy / Don Tucker, 85, of Chattanooga, shares a birthday with one of Chattanooga's former legacy newspapers, the Chattanooga Free Press. In 1940, Tucker was feartured in photos of the newspaper's fourth birthday party.

Don Tucker of Chattanooga said he waited two years to telephone the newspaper with a story idea.

Tucker, who turned 85 last week, thought a memory from his childhood might make a good human interest story.

He'd clipped a newspaper blurb two years ago requesting story ideas from readers. A couple of weeks ago he finally followed through and picked up the phone.

"I thought I might not make it to 86," he said during an interview at his home last month.

Born on Sept. 1, 1936 — 85 years ago last Wednesday — Tucker shares a birthday week with one of the city's former legacy newspapers, the Chattanooga Free Press.

"Me and the paper are the same age," he said. "Things have changed a lot in 85 years."

The Free Press started as a free-circulation newspaper founded by Roy McDonald in 1933. Three years later, in the late summer of 1936, it became a paid-circulation afternoon daily. The Chattanooga Free Press later purchased another local paper, The Chattanooga News, and became the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1939.

In 1999 the News-Free Press and the Chattanooga Times, which traces to the 19th century, were merged under new ownership, WEHCO Media based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

When he was a 4-year-old living in St. Elmo, Tucker was invited to the Free Press offices to be part of the newspaper's fourth birthday party. Someone thought it would be cute to find kids born on the newspaper's anniversary to be part of the festivities.

The next day, Sept. 1, 1940, the newspaper featured four large photos of Tucker and another 4-year-old boy, Danny Phillips, blowing out candles on an oversized birthday cake.

They were photographed at the desk of publisher McDonald. (Tucker said there was a third 4-year-old boy present who was spooked by the photographer and never made it into a photo.)

"I remember blowing out the candles and eating cake," Tucker said. "I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can remember a lot of stuff before I started school."

Tucker said the newspapers with his photos as a 4-year-old are family heirlooms.

Tucker said his family lived in St. Elmo in 1940. He and his siblings attended public schools and his father, F.E. Tucker, was a barber at White Star Barber Shop on South Broad Street. Tucker remembers getting his hair cut at the shop every two weeks and waiting for all the paying customers to be serviced before his father would beckon him to hop in his chair.

Tucker said he attended City High School and later joined the United States Navy. He returned to Chattanooga after about six years in active service and took a job at the Violet Camera Shop, then on E. 7th Street.

And that's where his story takes an ironic turn.

While working at the downtown camera store, Tucker became good friends with the photographers at the Times and the News-Free Press, including John Goforth, who took the Free Press birthday photo of him in 1940.

"I got to know all the photography people down there," he said. "They bought film and darkroom chemicals from us. I took a load up there every Saturday morning."

Even after he became manager of the Violet Camera Store on Brainerd Road, Tucker said he remained friends with the city's community of newspaper photographers at the Times and the News-Free Press. At one time in the 1980s, there were about 20 working photographers across both newspapers.

Tucker retired from the camera store 25 years ago, and he has more recently been a volunteer at Erlanger hospital. He is a grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of four.

To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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