Prof. Joseph M. Hutchison

Professor Joseph McKee “Hutch” Hutchison III

December 4, 1931 – July 26, 2008

It is with great sadness that we convey news of the passing of Professor Joseph M. Hutchison III, Chairman Emeritus of the National Youth Science Foundation.  Hutch died early on the morning of July 26, 2008, at his home in Morgantown, West Virginia, following a short illness.

For more than 45 years, Hutch worked diligently to promote and develop the National Youth Science Camp and advance the goals and objectives of the National Youth Science Foundation. He is survived by his wife and companion Ann who assisted him ably at the Camp for many years where he served as director and by his son Jay, daughters Suzanne and Katie, and several grandchildren.

Hutch received Foundation representatives this past Monday who presented him the certificate that designated a portion of the Foundation’s new Canaan Valley facility as the Joseph M. Hutchison Amphitheater. He was both moved and pleased with this recognition.

Professor Joseph ‘Hutch’ Hutchison has a long and notable tenure with the National Youth Science Camp and the Foundation. Along with Professor Chuck Cochran, Hutch was a key figure in the design and operation of the first National Youth Science Camp in 1963. Hutch directed the NYSC from 1971 to 1975 including the first coed year and played a critical role in many improvements to Camp Pocahontas’ physical plant, including renovations to the dining hall, lecture hall, and water plant.

For more than 10 years, Hutch served as Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. During his tenure as Chairman, Hutch was instrumental in the selection of a site to construct the National Center for Youth Science Education near Davis in Tucker County, West Virginia, and directed the creation of two new programs (the Youth Science Leadership Institute and the West Virginia Governor’s School for Mathematics and Science).

A Eulogy for Joe Hutchison, by Jim Shuman
August 2, 2008

This is difficult.  Because only a few people are speaking here today, I feel that it falls to me to represent about 5000 science campers and staff members with my words.  I also feel that I should try to represent thousands of undergraduate and graduate students whom Joe taught as well.  You see, I was lucky.  I got to be a part of Joe’s life in both of those contexts, and even more.

I met Joe Hutchison in 1963.   I also met Ann then, and their two little children — Suzanne and Jay.  I had to wait a few years before I met Katie, because she wasn’t even born yet!  When I met the Hutchisons, they were camped in their trailer on the banks of Five Mile Run, just behind the Laura Dill Dining Hall at 4-H Camp Pocahontas in Pocahontas County.  That was the site of the first National Youth Science Camp – which was the brainstorm of Joe and Chuck Cochran as a part of West Virginia’s Centennial Celebration.  In fact, I’m wearing the blazer patch I received from them on the first day I met them when I arrived as one of the two delegates to the camp from the State of Iowa.  Little did I know then at the age of 18 that I would come to know Joe and his family – and be welcomed by them without reservation – for the next 45 years, or that he would play such an important role in my life as a mentor, friend, and colleague – not only at the science camp, and in my graduate education at WVU, and even as a faculty colleague there, but also in the life of my family, and in countless other ways.  My own son, Corey, was baptized in this church, and Joe stood up with us on that day.

Simply speaking, Joe had a tremendous influence on me, primarily through his delightful combination of quiet, under spoken friendliness, humanity, and creative energy.  I worked with him at the science camp for a total of 15 years, eventually becoming the director in the late 1980’s after he, Chuck Cochran, and Rod Wilson had retired from it.  When I was the director, Joe was my model.  I sought to follow his example in creating extraordinary programs and opportunities for young people considering careers in science.  I got that part right in emulating him, but I just never learned how to play the left-handed banjo like he did, or to throw the left-handed Frisbee that’s in there with him!  I could tell you countless stories from the science camp and from the School of Forestry about Joe, but to make things more concise, I thought I would simply tell you, with apologies to David Letterman, the Top Ten Things I Learned from Joe Hutchison.

Top Ten Things I learned from Joe Hutchison

#10.  Take shortcuts!
If you want to get from Point A to Point B, take out a map, draw a straight line between the points, and take the nearest roads to the line you can find!  For those of you who aren’t already laughing about this, let me explain – Joe was very adventurous and he did this stunt often, sometimes with disastrous results!  Just ask Ann why Joe, Chuck, and Bob Slonneger took 24 hours to drive from Charleston to Marlinton.  That “shortcut” took them up the bed of the Williams River!

#9.  If you want to get somewhere for breakfast, you might just have to leave in the middle of the night to get there.
I hear some groans from his family on this one already!  I personally remember one Thanksgiving week when Joe and I left for Chincoteague at 2am so we could be the first car into the wildlife refuge the next day.  And I can guarantee that thousands of science campers remember the 3am wakeup call in order to drive from Pocahontas County to Washington DC in time for breakfast.  You see, sleep wasn’t really all that important to Joe, but adventure was.

#8.  If you’re going to make something, make it special.
I remember when Joe wanted to build something at his house with flagstones.  But they couldn’t just be any old flagstones.  No, they had to be flat rocks from the West Virginia riverbeds of Pocahontas and Pendleton Counties.  He and I spent several weekends taking “sorties” there to collect them.  (“Sortie” is French for “ridiculous reconnaissance trip in a small car looking for adventure and large rocks.”)  Altogether, we piled a couple tons of river rocks into his trunk and eventually hauled them back to his house for his project.  It was special!

#7.  Immerse yourself in ideas – lots of them.
One of the reasons Joe and Chuck’s science camp was such a huge success from the beginning, and why it continues to be so today, is because they made it a place that welcomed and celebrated new ideas and new developments, not only in science but in many other fields as well – art, music, sports, religion, government – you name it.  It was like a think-tank for gifted youth.  We always said that the camp was a model for the way life should be everywhere, and we still believe it after 45 years.  At WVU, Joe took his students on trips to visit New Towns and Utopian communities; he marveled at interesting architecture, and he loved history and its connections to the present and the future.  He never had enough of new ideas.

#6.  Don’t let convention stand in your way.
Joe had lots of ideas for things to do, and he was willing to be unconventional.  I’ve seen him backpack a huge reflecting telescope for miles to a remote camp site on a mountain-top, simply because the stars would be so clear up there; and I’ve seen him drag a generator to the top of Spruce Knob for a slideshow.  After all, what better place for a slideshow after the sunset…?  My own most favorite example of this was a science camp overnight hike we took to Panther Knob.  If you haven’t heard of it, Panther Knob is near Circleville in Pendleton County, and it’s special because some really rare plant species grow on top of it.  Joe and I took a botanist and a small group of young scientists there.  The only thing was, there’s no hiking trail to it!  We literally bushwhacked straight up the mountainside for about a mile (remember Point A and Point B!), we camped out among the plants at the top of the Knob that night, we ate wild blueberry pancakes up there in the morning, and then we practically rolled back downhill to go home.  None of us will ever forget it, which is exactly what Joe wanted in the first place.

#5.    The way to grade papers is to do it all at once!
I learned this while I was Joe’s graduate assistant in the Department of Recreation at WVU.   Joe was the first professor I knew who required end-of-semester portfolios.  I remember arriving at the end of each semester at the Hutchison house on Goodwin Hill with a huge load of students’ internship portfolios.  We would start reading and grading on a Friday night and not quit until we were finished sometime on the following Monday afternoon.  Ann supplied the coffee and the food while we holed up in the den and read papers until we turned blue.  To this day, when finals week comes around at the University where I teach now, I still go into “Hutch mode.”

#4.  Speed limit signs are just “suggestions.”
Anybody who has ever ridden with Joe on I-79, especially after dark, knows exactly what I’m talking about here.  He would only slow down near Flatwoods, and you know why that was, too (daughter Suzanne lives there).  A corollary to this is that the white lines along the side of any West Virginia highway are just suggestions, too…

#3.  Country Roads are what it’s all about.
You’ve got to remember that the title of “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” is “Country Roads (take me home).”  As far as Joe was concerned, there weren’t enough dirt roads in the world to keep him happy.  Exploring them was always worth it, and he was more than willing to take off on one to see where it went, especially if he was driving some sort of 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Perhaps some of you remember that one of his and Chuck’s fondest dreams was to take a trip called “Dirt Roads across America,” in which all progress from the Atlantic to the Pacific had to be made on a dirt road (although allowing travel north and south on pavement).  It’s still a great idea for an adventure…

#2.  It’s all in the Story.
Joe would talk to anybody – from senators and congressmen to bricklayers and bus drivers.  He reveled in conversation and stories.  He was always interested in people and what they had to say.  He fell in love with the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee and he helped to start the one at Jackson’s Mill here in West Virginia.  To him, a good story can teach us lots of things – about love, honor, deceit, enthusiasm, fate, and courage.  And for that matter, every one of us has a story, and he liked to listen.

#1.  Just treat people right, and the world will be a better place.
Joe was a very considerate and thoughtful man.  He cared about others and how they felt.  He performed countless acts of kindness – I know because I received many of them myself.  He genuinely lived by the Golden Rule, and we all live in a better world because of it.  In this sense, Joe was a deeply spiritual man – he was filled with spirit and with compassion.

Joe, we will miss you.  For many of us, you were the spirit of the science camp, and the spirit of recreation at WVU.  You were our guidepost.  And you were the Mayor of Spruce Knob.  You have left us all with a piece of your spirit, which we will treasure and extend to others.  I guess we can say now that you have graduated – from “Almost Heaven” to “Heaven,” and I am sure that you and Chuck are exploring every country road that you can find up there.  We pray that your soul will be at peace; we will all keep your spirit alive in ourselves.  After all, it’s a good one to keep.  Amen.

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