Volunteer, 91, uses shark teeth in elementary geology presentation

Rick Wagner • Updated Dec 4, 2017 at 1:22 PM

KINGSPORT — Lewis Carson is a retired Eastman Chemical Co. engineer who turns 92 Christmas Day, and he has been sharing a passion for geology and ancient shark’s teeth with Kingsport elementary school students for years.

He has been a volunteer “shark teeth” program presenter for the better part of a decade.

During a recent presentation to Jefferson Elementary fifth-graders, the classes of Darin Trent and Maggie Booher, he talked about geology and shark’s teeth millions of years old, which might as well be an eternity for 10-year-olds. Each student got some sand gathered from beaches in the Carolinas, and Carson instructed them to pick out the shark’s teeth.

“Every one is 4 (million) to 80 million years old,” Carson told the students Nov. 10 at Jefferson. He made a similar presentation Nov. 20 at Kennedy Elementary.

“If you like, you can keep one tooth,” Carson told the students. “These teeth are 4 milllion (years old) at a minimum,” Carson said. “They may be 60 or 32, we don’t know. ... It could be 35 million years old. They don’t make it anymore.”

Then, he turned toward ocean creatures without bones, and the students guessed octopuses, sponges and jellyfish. He wasn’t sure about blob fish and squid, while lobsters, crabs, shrimp and crayfish still have a hard shell.

“Go to the beach anytime you can. Enjoy what is there,” Carson said. “Myrtle Beach is known for shells.”

Family trips to the beach

Carson said he collected much of the sand he brings to presentations, at least initially, on trips to the beach with his family. While working at Eastman, he took his family on vacation, and they would search for shark teeth and shells.

Years later, when he started running a bit short on sand with shark teeth for his presentations, his three adult children helped out by sending him buckets of it. However, Carson’s supply of time is finite, unlike his supply of sand, which can be replenished.

“Each time I put on a program, I lose 40 teeth,” Carson said. “My time is winding down.”

Carson said he finds his mind isn’t working as well or as quickly as it once did. However, he said he seems to feed off the interest and enthusiasm of the fifth-graders. He said they are the perfect fit for his presentations. Nothing against fourth- or sixth- or seventh-graders, but he said fifth-graders are receptive to his lessons, often know the answers to all his questions and have questions he can’t readily answer.

Carson said he’s been doing the programs for about eight years and has brought them to seven of the city’s eight elementary schools. He said his presentations have been fewer in recent years, as much because of a reduction in requests as his getting older.


What about his Christmas birthday? 

Carson said he never thought much about having a Christmas birthday, but during school and college he always got his birthday off. As far as doubling up on Christmas and birthday gifts, he said that wasn’t an issue during his youth in the Great Depression.

“I grew up when we didn’t have much to expect,” Carson said of growing up with three siblings in the late 1920s and early 1930s in Orangeburg, S.C. He earned his undergraduate degree in teaching at Clemson University and taught grade school, then went on to Oklahoma A&M University to earn a master’s in engineering.

Eastman came to campus seeking engineers, and he agreed to move and work for the company at its Kingsport’s headquarters. He came with his wife, whom he met in college. 

The couple live in a Kingsport retirement community, Baysmont, and she at 88 is younger than he is. Married for 65 years, they have traveled to 48 countries, including Russia and China. 

Carson said he finds the fifth-graders well-educated and full of questions, with about two-thirds already excellent readers and reading at home. He said his own children, a daughter and two sons, also did well in school. Two of the three were National Merit Scholars and all, like their father, are retired.


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