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3 Space Institute Employees Retire; Played Varied Roles in UTSI’s History

Three employees with distinctly different roles in the life of The University of Tennessee Space Institute have retired after a combined total of 83 years at the 41-year-old graduate school and research center.

Two others, whose June 30 retirement was previously announced, upped the total service for the five to 151 years.

Attending an ice cream social in their honor were Marjorie B. (Marge) Joseph of Manchester, third librarian in UTSI’s history, who retired with 32 years, Charlotte Campbell of Estill Springs, administrative specialist, 28 years, and Newton W. (Newt) Wright, research associate, Manchester, 23 years.

John E. Caruthers also retired June 30 as UT associate vice president and UTSI chief operating officer, as did Robert L. Parson of Hillsboro, who began his four decades at UTSI as a custodian, advanced to manager of the physical plant, and closed as craft supervisor.

Growing up in New York, Marge Joseph was an avid reader, but “never thought of librarianship as a profession until a high school guidance counselor, who apparently knew me better than I thought she did, suggested it.”

Charlotte Melton Campbell got her first glimpse of UTSI when she rode her motorcycle to the lower level of the Institute, next to Woods Reservoir, and exclaimed: “What a beautiful place!” She didn’t dream she’d later work there.

Newt Wright, who at five built his first crystal radio, took to the electronics challenges at UTSI like Canada geese to the campus, and helped blaze new trails in the Institute’s Center for Laser Applications.

It was at a Christmas party in 1973 that B.H. Goethert, first UTSI dean, suggested that Marge Joseph join Helen Mason and Mary Lo as librarians. Marge’s husband, Roy D. Joseph, had been hired in September as associate professor of electrical engineering.

With nearly 10 years experience as a children’s librarian in Elmont, Long Island, Marge joined UTSI’s library on Feb. 11, 1974. Mrs. Mason, also of Manchester, was head librarian from 1965 to 1987, followed by Lo of Tullahoma, who retired in 2000 and was succeeded by Mrs. Joseph.

At first, Marge’s office was on second floor of C-Wing while the other two librarians were on the ground floor. When MHD research took off like wild fire, she was moved to lower C. The library – along with other major construction of the “west wing” addition to the academic building – opened and was site of a major celebration in April 1982 of the completion of the $1.9 building project. (Charlotte Campbell helped plan that celebration.)

With a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Geneseo and a master’s from Queens College, City University of New York, Marge was certified both as a librarian and as a classroom teacher for K-6. In the early 60’s, she worked summers in Queens Borough Public Library.

From 1981 to 1985, working around her schedule in the UTSI library, she also was a librarian on an “as-needed” basis at AEDC. After attending two weeks of security school and taking several correspondence courses, she passed the exam given by the Department of Defense Security Institute to become certified by the Department of Defense and from 1988 until retiring, she was Facility Security Officer for UTSI.

Born in Delano, Tennessee, Charlotte Melton moved to Tullahoma with her parents – Violet and Wesley Melton — and graduated from THS. After marrying Tommy Campbell, they lived in East Tennessee before returning to Middle Tennessee. For almost seven years Charlotte worked for the Air Force, managing AEDC’s golf pro shop. She got acquainted with several UTSI folk, including Charlie Weaver, who succeeded Goethert as dean. She also knew Robert Young, Freeman Binkley, Dewey Vincent and several other UTSI golfers, but it was Weaver who told her that Vincent, manager of the physical plant, needed a secretary.

“Edna Stallings and Roberta Anspach both worked at UTSI…and both played golf,” Charlotte remembers. She also knew Roberta’s husband Gene and their son Keith, who worked at the golf course. After Keith was critically injured in an automobile accident on the night of his high school graduation, his mother resigned as part-time secretary to Vincent.

(On the evening before the accident that left the THS graduate a quadriplegic, Charlotte remember seeing Keith “playing a round of golf with friends.” In the years ahead, Roberta was at Keith’s side as he earned a bachelor’s degree and then at UTSI as he earned a master’s and doctorate.”)

“Freeman and Dewey and others insisted that I apply as Dewey’s secretary,” Charlotte says. “I said, ‘Me, work at UTSI, with all those smart people?’” She hadn’t typed in years, and she was facing surgery, but “they insisted they wanted me for the job, and they waited till I had my surgery.”

She started work in D Wing on July 10, 1978. When she met Bob Kamm, Goethert’s assistant, he greeted her with: “So, you’re the one we’ve been waiting for.”

Charlotte plans to continue at UTSI on a part-time basis. She notes that Joe Hane of Tullahoma, who with the late Bill Yeomans, hired on at UTSI about the time she did, is the only person from the early days still on the physical plant crew. The dedication of her fellow workers to their tasks and the camaraderie of those early days stand out in Charlotte’s memory.

Included in the major construction of the library and academic building was the physical plant building. “Dewey was notified that documents had been signed,” Charlotte recalls, “and we could actually occupy the new Physical Plant building on Nov. 23, 1981 – my birthday. We moved in about a month later. The underground gas tank was filled up, so UT vehicles were being filled for travel at the new building before we moved in.”

On Nov. 14, 1990, the physical plant building was dedicated to Dewey M. Vincent, who had been an employee of UTSI from Sept. 22, 1965, until his death on Dec. 11, 1989.

Charlotte’s father, after retiring from a long career at Genesco, also worked for Dewey Vincent as a painter, helping to keep the Space Institute a “beautiful place.”

Newt Wright hired on at UTSI effective Jan. 1, 1983, and would become a vital player in the Center for Laser Applications (CLA), construction of which would get top approval from UT trustees the next year.

“I built my first crystal radio, with Dad’s help, when I was five, and I have been playing with electronics ever since.”

His fellow workers do not use the word “playing” when describing Wright’s career with CLA. Jim Hornkohl, fellow research associate, says Wright “is a master of many things in a research laboratory and has a working knowledge of nearly everything one might encounter in such a lab.” He said Wright has made “significant contributions” to CLA projects, including – among others –laser ignition of jet engine combustors, remote sensing of jet engine particulates, rail gun research, electromagnetic pulse devices, automated optical diagnosis of the human eye, ion engine testing and laser mapping of the ion engine plume, several laser materials processing and materials testing projects.

Wright, son of Mary Wright and the late Edward Franklin Wright, graduated from Coffee County Central High School in 1956 and got his “ham” radio license in 1958 (and now holds an Extra Class FCC ham license). He studied electrical engineering at Tennessee Tech for two years and while serving in the U.S. Air Force at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, completed a course in electronics. Before hiring on at UTSI, he worked as an engineering associate at AEDC.

Wright sees his participation in the development of the electric rail gun at CLA – part of the United States’ Strategic Defense Initiative (“star wars”) project as perhaps the most interesting. However, his fellow workers at CLA say he has constructed and programmed a variety of motor driven motion systems used in laser materials processing for probe motion in test cells and for dynamic positioning of devices under test. Hornkohl says numerous lasers and instruments “would have fallen in disuse were it not for Newt’s ability to keep them working.”

He insists that one of Newt’s “extraordinary gifts is his gentle demeanor and kindness that give him the patience to wait in good cheer while others less gifted than he catch up.”

As for Newt himself, he expects to pursue his interests in Ham radio, woodworking, electronics, reading, miniature model building, jewelry work … and possibly a few projects that his wife Sharon may have in mind.

He acknowledges the influence of his late father – a Manchester inventor known for his tinkering and independent thinking — who often called himself  “the old goat,” even when he ran unsuccessfully for city alderman.