Mischief interrupted Tuttle's educational achievements

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 03:00 PM

Magruder Hill Tuttle Jr. will be inducted into the Caldwell County Schools Hall of Honor at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 10 at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, along with Dr. Leonard Homer Bolick, Dr. Lyndon C. Kirby, James Miller Whisnant and John Christian Bernhardt. Between now and then the News-Topic will run stories about other inductees.

Getting expelled from school helped Magruder Hill Tuttle Jr. realize his love of learning.

When Tuttle was in ninth grade in the mid-1920s, he and his friends took a cherry bomb firecracker and set it off outside a classroom at Lenoir High School. They laughed with glee as it exploded with a shocking boom, rattling the schoolhouse windows. Tuttle was expelled, but he eventually realized that school was where he needed to be.

Tuttle went a long way from being an expelled student, and he is part of the 2014 class being inducted into the Caldwell County Schools Hall of Honor. Due to his tenacity, Tuttle was able to overcome the expulsion and return to school, becoming an all-American athlete and a hardworking student.

Born on July 21, 1908, Tuttle grew up on a farm with eight siblings. His father, Magruder Hill Tuttle Sr., was a minister. Tuttle never described his family’s financial situation as poor, just that they had to work hard.

Tuttle’s daughter Jane Hamm said, “My father always said, ‘You don’t have to be the brightest guy on the block, but you have to work.’”

The Tuttle family would gather on the front porch at night. They would sing songs together, and his parents would recite poetry.

“You just don’t see that anymore," Hamm said. "I think [his love of learning] was developed in his family with a love of language and literature, and certainly not being on the Internet.”

Tuttle also was a star on the football team, playing both offense and defense, and was Caldwell County’s first All-State selection and first collegiate football All-American. He won a football scholarship to Duke University, but a back injury in his first semester lost him the scholarship. Hamm said her father jumped on a freight train to New Orleans and enlisted in the Navy. Due to high test scores, he was sent to the United States Naval Academy in 1928.

Tuttle’s military career was as important to him as his love of learning. After graduating from the academy in 1932, Tuttle moved to Pensacola, Fla., for flight training. During his career, he was stationed around the world, including Hawaii, where he witnessed the horrors of Japan bombing Pearl Harbor in World War II.

“It was a Sunday morning, and my dad went outside to get the paper,” Hamm said. “He saw an airplane with the rising sun, and he knew they were in trouble. The Utah was docked right in front of their quarters. They saw some horrible things, the men jumping off in the burning water.”

Tuttle rose to the rank of rear admiral. He also helped establish the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

Tuttle married Dorothy Mae Courtney, and they raised four children together: Harry, Robert, Courtney and Hamm, the youngest.

“My mom was certainly an important part, the reason he was successful. They were a great team,” Hamm said.

Hamm said that no matter how many times the military family moved -- she estimated it was every two years -- they would always try to visit the familiar streets of Lenoir in between relocating.

“I think my parents really appreciated their hometown,” Hamm said. “I think they loved to go back to their roots. They also had an appreciation for where they grew up and how they grew up. And, Lenoir gave them that security and that safety. To come back by car with four small kids, it was no small feat.”

Tuttle passed away at 90 on Nov. 6, 1998. Hamm said he had some heart trouble and some dementia, but she believes his death was from living a long, full life. She will never forget his push for not only himself but for all of his children to continue to learn as much as possible.

“He was a fun wealth of knowledge. He was wonderful to talk to, with all the history and all the stories. He wanted us to get all the education we could stand,” Hamm said.