|Transcript of David G. Fussell, Sr., Interview|
|Interviewee:||David G. Fussell, Sr.|
|Interviewer:||Joyce J. Newman|
|Date of Interview:||May 13, 2008|
|Location of Interview:||Rose Hill, NC|
|Length:||One mp3 file, approximately 77 minutes|
Okay, this is Joyce Newman and I'm in Duplin County in Rose Hill, North Carolina, at the Duplin Winery with Mr. David Fussell. I hope that's the--?
He's going to do an interview for the ECU Centennial Oral History Project, and he's given us permission to do this interview and put it in the archives. So, I think to begin if you could just talk about where you grew up, your family, what in your childhood made you decide to go to college, or maybe first just your family. You grew up here in Rose Hill?
Yeah. I was very fortunate to grow up in the '50s and to grow up in a little town like Rose Hill where we thought the world was just perfect. I didn't know any better. Of course now we know the world wasn't perfect. But Rose Hill was such a small town, and I remember before the streets were paved. And I had the privilege of running the town, even as a youth, and was in and out of most every house. I knew all the dogs and the cats by name and was kin to most of the folks here. Everybody was
cousin or aunt or uncle. As Hillary Clinton says, "It takes a village to raise a child." The whole village sort of raised me and I felt comfortable everywhere.
So you lived right in town?
Right in town. My grandparents were here. I had two aunts and an uncle who lived right in my neighborhood. Lots of great aunts and great uncles lived right here.
So you had a large family.
Yeah, large family. My mother and father had a stable home life for me. I walked to school. It was just a great experience as far as the youth, you know, growing up here in town.
Where did you go to school?
Rose Hill was Rose Hill High School, grades one through twelve, when I started. When I got through the eighth grade we consolidated with Wallace, which is five miles south of here, and it was Wallace-Rose Hill High School. So I was the first four-year graduating class at Wallace-Rose Hill High School. And it was still a small high school.
Do you know how many were in your class?
Yeah, there were seventy-five in my class, and we were part of the baby boomer group, and that was a pretty large class. The next class was the largest class, I think, in the history of Wallace-Rose Hill. I finished in the class of '60. The class of '61 had a hundred and twenty-five people in it. I knew everybody in high school and was engaged in everything. I played all the sports. I was no good, but I sat on the bench. And the reason I played the sports is I fell in love with a little girl in high school and she
was very athletic and also a cheerleader. So I went to all the ballgames just to protect my interest.
[Laughter]As a cheerleader she would have gotten a lot of attention.
Yes, she was a very popular girl.
Was your father a farmer, or did he--?
My father ran a general store and he also, later on when I got up a little bit, built houses. So I was raised in the store and with a hammer in my hand. After school and during the summertime, my brother and I, we went to work. So we were taught to work at a young age, and that was a great education to get to meet the folks in the store and also to get to meet the carpenters on the job. They taught me a lot of stuff and went out of their way to help me learn things. Now my brother became a master craftsman, but I never was any good. I was just a rough hammer guy, but at least it taught me to work and I appreciate that.
Plus you met a lot of different people. Like you said, you knew so many people you were comfortable being around people.
My fifth great-granddaddy moved here to this town in 1732.
From England. So over the years, you know back in those days you didn't travel. They interbred. I am kin to half the white folks and a third of the black folks in southern Duplin County.
So your family have been here continuously from the time the first person came from England.
That's quite a history.
After getting married, Dr. Dallas Herring, who was a local genealogist, said, "David, you know that you married your fifth cousin on the Mallard side and your sixth cousin on the Wells side." I said, "No! I didn't." I said, "Well if I'd married anybody else here I'd have been kin to them too."
Do you know David Knowles?
Yeah there's a David Knowles--. Young David Knowles, that lives right behind the winery?
Well there's a guy that teaches in biology at ECU, and I think he's--. Because he's told me about Dr. Herring, mentioned he was a local historian.
He is. Dr. Herring died about a year ago, but he left his library to the Duplin County Historical Society, and he's got some interesting folks who, they still do all this genealogy thing.
So did that make you feel--? Did you have a sense of being a part of a long tradition, or when you were younger were you aware of those roots?
I was aware. Oh yeah, I was aware and was taught that you needed to behave yourself or aunt so-and-so would not approve. And we always respected our elders. I thought most people did. I didn't know people didn't, you know. And I just had a great, great youth; never had a problem. I got my whippings, you know, mischievous kind of things. Life was just--. The first thing I remember as a young boy was the bells ringing at the end of World War II. And they made such a big to do about it that that's the first--. And I think back to what is my earliest recollection was the bells ringing at the end of World War II.
That would have been church bells, or--
Mm hmm, church bells.
--was there a town hall bell or anything like that?
Church bells. Talking about town hall, later on the Rose Hill Civitan Club got together and bought a TV and put it in the community building and put an antenna up on the water tower, and we would all go in the afternoons and late at night and go sit and watch snow. Every now and then you'd see something and say, "Hey! I believe I see--. Yeah, there's a person right there!"
What was the closest TV station that was broadcasting?
Well, some time in about '57, Greenville opened up channel nine and after that you could get a signal. But before Greenville opened, you couldn't get a signal.
But it was still exciting to watch snow.
It was, because you could see, every now and then, just a little something. And that was sort of the town--. Before TV all the men in town would go hold court, and they would go down to the old hotel that they've closed here and sit on the front porch and rock and tell stories. And my daddy used to would let me go if I wouldn't open my mouth. I'd have to sit there. I learned the most junk from listening to those old men talk that I can look back now and appreciate. I still know the guys. Most of the people--I'm sixty-five and a half--that I know, are dead.
Because you knew those older men.
Yeah. I know far more dead people. I can walk through town today--and I don't know anybody who lives here now hardly--and I'll say, "Well that's Miss Sally Blanchard's house," and, "That's Mr. Alfred Wells' house," and, "That's where the
Scotts lived." And that's how I--. There was only one guy in Rose Hill that I was scared of. That was Mr. Amos Kilpatrick.
Well he, looking back at it now, he was having fun with me. Mr. Amos was a sort of eccentric individual who lived by himself. He never mowed his yard, and of course he had a path to the street, and when I'd walk by his house he'd say, "Come here boy!" Then he'd come after me with his cane, so I'd take off. He just did it to laugh at me, but back then that scared the heck out of a little boy.
Did he do it to other people?
Oh yeah, yeah. That was his--. He was just having a good time with young boys.
Did you have any teachers who influenced you especially?
Oh, yeah. Back in those days you knew who your teacher was going to be from grade one through. Nobody ever changed, and everybody was local. The teachers lived in the community, and that meant so much because they not only knew you, they knew your parents. They knew your economic/social conditions. They knew if you had help at home, or not. Of course being a Fussell, and there were so many Fussells here, you didn't call the teachers in our school by their last name. It was Miss Lib, it was Miss Tessie, it was Miss Louise, it was Miss Agnes, because they were all Fussells, and you wouldn't say Miss Fussell. You had to say the first name.
So you had a lot of people in your family, or related somehow, the cousins and things like that who were models of people who'd all been to college and studied some kind of--.
Yeah, yeah. Now my mother and father did not finish school--college. My mother was brilliant and a scholar. My daddy was just sort of a so-so boy, but he was the first person to get a full athletic scholarship to Louisburg College. He played football, basketball, and baseball there. But the Depression hit, and even with a full athletic scholarship he couldn't go back, so he only went to school one year. And during the summer between the freshman and sophomore year my mother came to White Lake on a house party. My Daddy found out about it and went over to White Lake. And he courted my mother that whole week, and at the end of that week he begged her not to go back to Holly Springs--home--but to run off and get married with him. So she never told her family, and her family never met my father, went off to South Carolina and got married.
So she lived in the town where he had been in school?
No, she was from Holly Springs and he was from Rose Hill but they went to Louisburg College, so they met at Louisburg College. And my granddaddy Baker, when she didn't come home, got beside himself and finally found some of the other girls on the house party, found out that Mother had eloped. So he got on the bus--he didn't have a car because this was the Depression, he'd lost everything--and came down on the bus to Rose Hill from Holly Springs to find out about my mother.
And she didn't tell him at all though? [Laughter]
So that would have been what, the '30s, or late '30s?
I think 1930.
[Laughter]And what did he do when he got here?
Well the first thing he did when he got off the bus--because he only knew she'd married a Fussell--he said, "Are there any Fussells here in Rose Hill?" [Laughter] And whoever saw him said, "Shoot! The town's full of them." And so as soon as he told the story they knew. "Oh yeah. She married [inaudible] Fussell's boy. They're all right. They'll be okay." But, I don't know. And Mother--of course she never told me, I found the birth certificate later on--she lied about her birth date. You had to be eighteen so she told them she was eighteen. She was only seventeen. Daddy was eighteen when they got married.
And they went across the line to South Carolina because you could do it there. What about when your grandfather--. Did he accept your father after that, once he got used to it?
I don't think any father ever accepts a boy that marries his daughter. He may tolerate him, but I don't think you--. I never was accepted by my father-in-law, and I don't blame him a bit. I can remember him crying at the wedding. He shed real tears. I loved his daughter and I've tried to be a good husband, but he didn't know that, you know, he didn't. He never did really like me, and I don't blame him.
So do you have daughters?
No, I have one granddaughter, and I'd be the same thing with her. [Laughter]
I have three sons. At least my wife says they're mine.
So did you decide--? When did you decide you were going to college? Was it something that you thought about and decided?
Yeah. From a little boy I always wanted to be a preacher and that's all I ever wanted to be, was a minister. We were very active Methodists here in Rose Hill. The Lord always had been very close to me from a child. And I can remember my uncle, when I delivered my first sermon at age nine, falling in the ditch laughing at me, and I didn't appreciate that. [Laughter]
Was this in a church?
No. I went over to his house to preach to him. [Laughter] But anyway, so I wanted to be a--. That's why I went to East Carolina. I was going to transfer to--. But after going to East Carolina, when I applied to go to divinity school--. And they did me a great favor. They really did. I met with the church people for my screening, and they said, "Can you do anything else?" and I said, "Yeah, I can." They said, "Well why don't you do something else until you can't do it anymore and then come back and apply for divinity school." I said, "All right. What else can I do?" Well I admired my local school principal, Byron Teachey, great guy, and I said, "I maybe can witness as a school principal," because he did. So I stayed on another year at East Carolina and got my master's degree so I could get to be a school principal. So that's how I got out of the ministry. But I was a certified lay speaker and I preached maybe every other Sunday, maybe more than that, from college right on up until they found out I was in the wine business. Soon as the word got out that David Fussell was in the wine business I have not been invited back to a church since. It quit that quick. [Sound of snapping fingers]
That's interesting. In the South, you're in the South, right? [Laughter]
Well how did you choose East Carolina?
East Carolina, of course I was an East Carolina boy, and that still had the feel of being home. And I never applied to any place but East Carolina and Methodist College. I had a scholarship at Methodist College, half tuition.
This was at--?
At Fayetteville. But even so East Carolina was cheaper, and my family was not that wealthy, so I looked at the cost, and I never even thought about going to State or Carolina or any other places. I never wanted to: Methodist College because it was Methodist College and East Carolina because it was East Carolina. And it still had the reputation of being a party school, which I found out it wasn't, and it also had the reputation of having the prettiest girls anywhere, and I found out it did. So I was real thrilled to go there. I enjoyed East Carolina very much.
Did you go visit while you were still in high school and see the campus, or did you just apply and show up? Did they do orientation?
They did orientation, but I'd already been accepted before I ever got over there. I just read about it, got a brochure on it from the guidance counselor and saw the pictures. I knew some people that went to school there and I think they had an influence on my choosing East Carolina. I'm glad I went there. I did graduate school later on at other places, never been anywhere I liked as good as East Carolina. East Carolina was small. When I started it was forty-eight hundred and when I finished it was seventy-two hundred.
Yeah, but it was still a smaller school. And I had great professors, and I studied. I was not a good student in high school, an A/B student, I was too busy. But I
really applied myself at East Carolina and wanted to achieve something. Come 6:00 every day I was in my room studying. I would only quit to watch the news, then I'd go right back, then I would quit to watch "North and South", that was a miniseries, then go right back. And on the weekends I came home to work, and that I regret. I did not attend but one college football game during my career. And my high school sweetheart went to East Carolina, and even when she couldn't come home--during the first quarter they had to stay there the whole quarter, the girls did--I'd come home. It would make her mad as fire, and of course while I was gone she ran around a little bit.
You came and worked in your father's store?
And also my granddaddy was handicapped, and I had a great relationship with him, and it was my job to clean their house and to bathe him, shave him, and get him ready for the next week. So I really felt an obligation to come home.
It was personal, not just--.
So your parents were in favor. They were positive and encouraged you to do this?
Oh yes, yes. They would have, yes. I can remember I kept up with all my expenses the first year. I didn't after that. But I spent, including food and books and room and board, the whole thing, about eight hundred and fifty dollars the first year.
You entered in fifty--?
Sixty, okay. Were there other people in your family who graduated from East Carolina or just friends?
No. I was the first person to graduate in my family. My brother, who is four and a half years older than me, went to High Point College. Mama made sure he went there because High Point was a Methodist school and she thought it had Christian influence, and he needed it.
He was a master craftsman--.
Yeah, yeah. So he really didn't want to go, and he was more of a party animal than me. That was one of the reasons my father-in-law didn't like me. He thought I was like my brother. My wife had brothers my brother's age, so they were always in this mess they shouldn't have been into. Her daddy thought I was like my brother. But he never finished, not that he couldn't have if he'd applied himself. He just didn't apply himself.
What made the difference in the two of you, just personality?
Personality. Yeah. I've always been a workaholic and I never have played a lot. To me work is play. And he was--. Today--he's seventy--he'll be on the golf course somewhere. To me that's just a--. [Laughter] Why in the world would somebody want to hit a ball? I'm at work.
So do you remember the first day you went? Did you go by yourself? Did you drive, or did somebody--.
No, there were so many of my local high school boys and girls that went to East Carolina. I believe there were eleven from my high school class that went to East Carolina. I roomed with Joe Johnson, who was one of my real good friends in high school, so no. It was like carrying a group.
It was like taking your support group with you.
Yeah, it was. And we would come home every weekend, so it was--. And I met so many nice folks over there. Lived in, when it was new it was called New Dorm. That's what they called it, the New Dorm, but later on they named it Aycock.
Is it still there?
Yeah. It was new in 1960. And then the next year I moved over to Jones.
Is it up on the hill?
Okay. I hardly ever--. I don't even know what's up on the hill.
And we walked to class. The biggest mischievous thing that I ever did at East Carolina was I found a parking ticket that some cop, police, at East Carolina had dropped, not filled out. And I knew John Hadad, who was one of my neighbors down the hall at Jones dorm, had below a C average. You had to have a C average or you couldn't have a car, so I wrote him out a parking ticket and put it on his car, just going to let him sweat for awhile. Oh man, he was devastated, just devastated. So I said, "Well, it's about bedtime now. Let me go tell John," and John wasn't there. I said, "Where's John?" They said, "He's gone to see Dean Mallory," who was the dean of men, "to see if he can't talk himself out of this ticket so they don't expel him," because they would expel you then. I said, "Oh! No! Are you sure?" "Yeah, he's gone." So I got in my car and I drove over to Dean Mallory's house, found out where it was, went over there, and I didn't see John's car. I said, "Well, maybe he left." So I went over and knocked on the door and Dean Mallory came to the door and I said, "Dean, have you talked to John Hadad?" He said, "John who?" I said, "Never mind." I knew they had set me up. By the time I got back they had the biggest laugh.
So he got you back. [Laughter]
He got me back good time, because I just was--. I knew I'd ruined the boy.
What did you major in?
I majored in history.
Did you decide when you first went to do that, or was that something--?
Yeah, because I was going to be a preacher. I took a lot of science courses though, because I wanted to learn things. And would you believe I chose chemistry, and physics, and human physiology, and advanced biology as electives? That was me.
Not history of theater. [Laughter]
You just liked to work, didn't you?
I did. I asked for it.
Were there any professors who were particularly influential in history or otherwise?
The best one I ever had was my methods teaching course. Boy, he was strict. Of course now also I was in--who is famous even still now--Dr. Todd sort of took me under his wing, who was the counselor for Phi Sigma Pi, a honorary fraternity there, and he had an influence. But I didn't have any--. Almost all my teachers were good. Of course you know--.
You were taking hard courses. You probably had sort of the cream of the departments too, in some ways?
Well, I was never a good English student. I'm still not good at English, cannot spell. I probably set the record. I took remedial English at East Carolina three times. [Laughter]
And did you pass the third time? [Laughter]
I think they just gave up. Yeah, I figured it out. Anyway, I went in--. Dr. Kilpatrick had a reputation that I knew I never could live up to. So you didn't know who your teachers were until you went into the class. I went in and there I was, second course of freshman English, with Dr. Kilpatrick, and I'd already heard her reputation. She called the roll the first time, I never even answered. As soon as that class was over, I never went back. I rearranged my whole schedule to get out of Dr. Kilpatrick's class, and I got in a young lady's class that, she was going to graduate school. She understood me and so she helped me get through English. I had to keep an encyclopedia--not an encyclopedia, a dictionary--in my pocket. When you would write an essay, it took--. I'd have to rewrite whole paragraphs because I couldn't spell words and couldn't look them up. I remember getting to a point on an essay one time that I had a mind blank and couldn't spell "was".
This is anxiety. [Laughter]
Couldn't spell, and had to rewrite the whole thing to get around "was".
[Laughter]That's funny. So also you prepared to be a teacher.
You took the methods courses and you got a certification to teach afterwards. So, what about graduation? What was that--? Let me go back and ask: so, when you went to college--. Some people who go, if they're coming from a family or group of
friends, and they're the one who goes to college and the others don't, they feel a real separation. But you didn't have that experience, because you came back, you were still part of the community here, you went with other people and remained friends. It didn't separate you from the community.
Oh no, no. And mother was always reading things, and as a little boy I was read to. I've still got my little Bible, you know, Bible stories every night that she would read to me. Now my daddy never--. He was not a reader. He's still not a reader. He was a doer and he wouldn't sit down long enough. He may glance at the newspaper. But mother read novels and all this kind of thing.
So you kind of got the combination of both.
Yeah. And all my friends were going to college. That was the thing to do. So I was expected to go.
And then, what was graduation like?
Well I finished in December.
Oh, you finished early.
I finished early. I would always take extra courses because I was ambitious and wanted to get out of there. And so my graduation, actually, I never attended one until I got my master's. So by the time graduation came, I was getting my master's at East Carolina. And my wife was graduating with a BS in elementary education, so she and I sort of graduated together.
Now were you married then?
Yeah. I got married when I was a senior and she was a sophomore. There was a fountain--I don't if it's still there--right in front of Cotten Dormitory, and we were
sitting there, and she had gotten tired of living in the dorm. And so she let me know, she said, "Now, I'm ready to get married." Of course I wasn't ready to get married. I'm happy as a lark. She said, "Well now if you're not going to marry me, I'm going to start courting other boys." Well I didn't want to get married, but I sure didn't want her courting anybody else. So I said, "Oh me. All right, we'll do it." At the time I was sort of resentful, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. If I'd have just known what a blessing that she would have been, I would have just been skipping and hopping rather than [inaudible].
Was she your high school sweetheart from here?
Yes, she was.
And so you had dated the whole time you were in college. And this was--.
Of course now we broke up every other weekend. [Laughter]
Until you got married.
Yeah, right. But now after marriage she says that she's never thought about divorce; murder she's considered several times.
So they had a rule that if you were married you couldn't live in the dorm?
You couldn't--. When I first was there and she was there, you couldn't visit a girl in the dorm. You'd go in the lobby and you'd ask, could you speak to Miss Fussell, and if the time was right, they may or may not let you speak to her. It depends on the study [inaudible]. And if you got her back into the dorm two seconds too late, there was heck to pay. It was a different world then.
It was like that when I went to college.
And it should be like that today.
Well, I think there were some advantages to it.
There's no disadvantages to it. It makes you appreciate things so much more. Kids need barriers. When you eliminate the barriers you just cause problems.
And your wife's name was?
Ann, Ann Carr.
So you got married--. If you graduated in December was it that fall of the last semester or was it--?
We got married in the summer.
Okay. Sort of between, before you graduated then.
And we moved into a trailer on Fifth Street, College Park Trailer Court.
Was that away from, on the other side, or the same side of town?
Same side of town as the campus. If you go out Fifth Street and there's a cemetery, across the little creek. I don't know if it's still there or not, but it was a nice college trailer court where mostly college kids stayed.
And you had enough income from working to set up housekeeping?
No. Her daddy helped and mine continued to too.
But you didn't elope, right?
No, no. We had a nice wedding in her church.
And that was here.
In Wallace, five miles away. Now five miles back in those days were different than five miles today. It was long distance to call and until we consolidated the two schools there was sort of a lot of rivalry between the two towns. It was like going to another town. Now it's not. It's no different. Actually I live in Wallace now.
Did you have party telephone lines?
Yeah, yeah. We did.
And then when did you--? The divinity school, when you looked into that, was that before you graduated?
Yes, yes, as I was heading towards graduation, because I was going to go to seminary at Duke. That's when I met with the preachers. I don't know if they do that today or not, but they sure did me a favor.
Did they do an interview--
Oh yeah, yeah.
--or something like that and then as a response--?
Uh huh, during the interview.
Did they ever tell you why?
Yeah, yeah. Well now I know why. If you're not called to the point that you cannot do something else, if the Holy Spirit has called you and has put it on you to the point you've got to do it, then I think you'll make a much better preacher than one who, "Oh well. I maybe can do it, may not." I think the Catholics have got it right. You've really got to be sold out and committed to be a Catholic priest. They don't mess, where sometimes in my church I have found out some preachers are preaching who should not be there.
So in December then, did you go immediately into grad school to do the master's degree?
As soon as they told me if I could do something else, I applied for graduate school at East Carolina.
And you had it in mind to be a school principal?
And that was sort of based on the principal you'd had?
Byron Teachey, great influence in my life, just a super fellow. Loved his job, very good disciplinarian, well respected, and I sort of said, "You know, I'd like to be like him."
So you could envision yourself kind of being--.
And I got to be a school principal.
And where was that? Was that right away once you got the master's?
It was pretty quick. Got a job, of course then there was a scarcity of teachers.
So you graduated the same time as your wife.
Yes, finished same time as my wife.
And what was her major?
Elementary education. And we had two jobs. Didn't apply anywhere else but two--. We applied in Wilmington and both got jobs there, and applied here in Duplin County and both got jobs here in the same school, Rose Hill. Back in those days you didn't go to the central office, this is one of the--. Schools were so much better. The local school board and the local school principal made the decisions. So I applied here at Rose Hill and got a self-contained seventh grade class and coaching job. She applied and got a third grade teaching job. So we moved our trailer from East Carolina to here. I went to the bank to borrow five hundred dollars. Now I had a job, and he wouldn't lend it to me.
Because I didn't have any credit. I had to get a cosigner to borrow five hundred dollars--both had jobs--to move my trailer from East Carolina to Rose Hill.
And who cosigned with you?
I believe I got my daddy to do it.
So you went straight from grad school into teaching?
We graduated on a Friday and started teaching on a Monday.
Oh wow. And did you like that?
Yeah, I did. Had great kids. I also got a job while I was here teaching adult education at James Sprunt, the local community college. I can remember telling my granddaddy one day, "I made fifty dollars today between the two jobs," which that was big money to make fifty dollars. He was proud of me for doing that. So teaching at both places, at the end of that year there was an opening at James Sprunt and it paid a little bit more, for being director of adult education. And me having a master's degree, they offered me the job. So I left the elementary school and went over to James Sprunt to become director of adult education. But I wasn't happy there. I didn't feel like I was doing anything except shuffling papers. And so I decided I'd go back to graduate school and get a doctorate in education. So I applied to graduate school at Duke and the next year we moved to Durham for me to go to graduate school at Duke. And she got a job teaching in Bethesda Elementary School in Durham. She was my support. I went back to school and she taught.
So you got to go to Duke after all.
Mm hmm. I did.
Is Duke--? Well I guess for the divinity school it would have been a choice that a lot of people would have wanted to make, but--.
I know a lot of people from East Carolina too that choose Duke over Chapel Hill. Is there a reason for that?
Well I'm sure I did it because of the Methodist connection, and I'd had two uncles and an aunt to finish school there. Also I had an opportunity to move in with my great aunt, who lived at the corner of Duke campus, and it was cheap. So all I had to pay was the tuition for the school. She died while I was there at her house-she was older--and my wife was never happy living there after that, because she died at the house. You know how that was for young people, in those days. I got an advance--finished my course work for my doctorate--and got an advanced administrative certificate, and then I was broke. So I got a job as school principal where my wife taught, at Bethesda Elementary School between Durham and Raleigh, still in Durham County. She was pregnant so she didn't teach. And I stayed there one year and got a job--. Of course I was going to do my dissertation--I had five years to do it and I wasn't in any rush--and never did really get involved in the dissertation much. The next year I got a job offer at Warsaw to come back to Duplin County. I never did get used to that clay, so I jumped at that chance to come home and move back to Duplin County and was school principal at Warsaw for two years. That was during integration, and I can't say that that was a happy time.
Was it hard here, in this part of the state?
Yes, it was, real difficult. I made a mistake. I would never do it now at this age, but I was only--. I was school principal at twenty-four. And so now I'm twenty-six, and they consolidated the black school and the white school in Warsaw. I was school principal at the white. Mr. W.E. Smith was school principal at the black. He had been there twenty-some years, an icon in the black community. They made him the assistant principal and made me the principal and moved me into his school in a black section of town. That was not a good thing to do. And I had no more sense than to think I could not handle it. Carried all my staff, including custodial staff. He had all his staff, including the custodial staff. And immediately, there was--. I divided the school and drew a line and told my janitor, "Don't cross this line," and told his janitor, "Don't cross that line." And we had two separate closets that we kept supplies in to keep them separated.
One day I was eating lunch and the cafeteria manager came to me and said, "You better go outside. There's some problems in the shop." "What is it?" She said, "Something about Moses and Charlie." I said, "Okay." So I went outside and Charlie comes running around the corner, blood just shooting everywhere, I mean everywhere. I knew he was dying. I grabbed him, and of course he was bloody all over. Found out his hand was split from there to there. Pushed that together, and I said, "We've got to get a towel and get you to the doctor." He said, "There's one in my pickup." So we went to his pickup and I wrapped it and I said, "You hold that thing tight." I got in his pickup and we left, headed to the closest doctor we could get to. Well, unbeknowing to me, Moses had been shot. Charlie had shot him. Moses staggered to the office to get me and fell down over the counter in the office and died in the office. The rumor was out that
Charlie had killed Moses and kidnapped me, [Laughter] and carried me, who knows? I'm vanished. They don't know where I am. And of course the police are there and all this kind of stuff.
And you were twenty-six. [Laughter]
Plus a lot of other kind of--. I never told anybody, but I received so many death threats that I carried a pistol with me to school, kept it in my coat. And then there was so many problems that I knew nobody could survive this kind of thing. So I went to the superintendent and I said, "Listen. You've got to move Mr. Smith and you've got to move me. That's the only way this school will make it." He said, "Well I'm going to move Mr. Smith but I'm not moving you." I said, "If you don't move me, I'm moving myself." So the next year I got a job at Harrells Christian Academy, which was a private school, was head of their elementary education program: great school, just absolutely great school. I had the privilege of teaching Bible. I taught high school Bible as well as--. And that really made me study, because for five years I taught Bible, and if you ever want to learn something, you teach it. So I got along real good there until--. And we were farming on the side and my brother convinced me to plant grapes, and we got to where we couldn't sell our grapes. So what do you do with grapes you can't sell? You turn them into wine. Well once I started turning them into wine and that got out, so much for teaching at the Christian school and preaching on the side in the Methodist church. So that's sort of how I got to this point.
But how did you learn how to make wine?
Necessity will teach you a lot of things.
Did you just do it on your own, or did you go somewhere to study?
I read every book I could get my hands on. And remember I had taken all these science courses, so halfway--. Nobody knows how to make wine. God still does it. All you do is put the grapes in and stand back and watch and He does it. It's a natural thing. Also, at NC State there was Dr. Dan Carroll, who was--. At that time the department of agriculture was trying to salvage our grape and wine industry. So we had a full time wine maker at NC State, and we were the only winery. So I was his baby, you know, so he helped me a tremendous amount. Any questions I had, I'd go up there and stay in his lab and work and he'd come down here.
What about the equipment? Did you build it yourselves or did you--?
Yeah. We went over--. There had been two previous wineries in North Carolina: one at Onslow in Onslow County called Onslow Wine Cellars, and one at Edenton called Deerfield Winery. And I met both of those winemakers. And there were some other retired winemakers from New York that I went to visit. And we went over to Edenton and saw what they had, and went to Onslow and saw what they had, and the guys at Edenton--. We already had--my daddy retired from the construction business--so we had this warehouse, so we had a building. And he said, "It's going to take y'all seventy-eight thousand dollars to get the equipment that you need." Well on the way home Dan, Jr. and I laughed about it because we didn't have seventy-eight thousand dollars. We said, "Ain't no way it's going to cost us seventy-eight thousand dollars." And so he and I started--remember, he's a good carpenter--we started building things. We would buy used dairy equipment. The first year we made wine we didn't have any pumps. We moved the juice with buckets. So, whatever it took. You couldn't do it today, but we did it to get started.
Well now, did you start--? You just grew because you created a market, or how did you--?
Well, it was tough. It was tough. From time to time I'd have to go back and teach school to eat. I had saved three thousand dollars. My house was paid for. Matter of fact, the IRS audited me after about two years because they said, "You're lying. Ain't nobody can live as conservatively as you do." But I did. We farmed. I ate out of the farm. I didn't have any money, and we didn't spend any money. We didn't go eat anywhere. We'd stay here and work. That three thousand dollars lasted me three years. And neither one of us pulled any money in. You couldn't do it today. Things are different.
So this would have been around what year?
Our first wine was made in 1975 and the first we ever sold was in '76.
That was quick. So did it become a family business too? Did you involve your sons?
It was. My brother and I both stayed here and worked in it until '78. By '78 neither one of us were making any money so somebody had to quit. So I said, "Let me quit. I'll go back to the school business." He said, "Fine," so we looked at what we had accomplished, and we figured that each one of us--. By that time we'd sold our farm--I had a farm to sell--and put that in. So we figured each of us had about a hundred thousand dollars invested. So I said, "All right. You give me my hundred and I'm gone." "Done." Well a week passed and he couldn't come up with the hundred. So he came back and he said, "I can't come up with the hundred. You give me a hundred and I'm gone." I said, "If you can't come up with a hundred, I can't either." He said, "I'll
finance it for you." So I came up with thirty thousand dollars and gave it. That is what we had saved from selling the farm that we hadn't put in the winery. He financed the rest: seventy thousand dollars at six percent. I never did pay him back. I'll tell you what happened. We hit some hard times. I lost my house during this thing. My father came involved in it and said, "All right. Let me pay the mortgage off. I'll take the house. You can live in it until you can pay me back." I paid him back in the last two months. But he never--. You know how daddies are. You never lend your children money, you give it to them. But I did pay him back two months ago. He had to live to ninety-four and a half to get his money back. [Laughter]
But he did it, right? [Laughter] I mean, this was a good incentive.
He got it back. Anyway, it's been a good thing. We have had some serious problems but we also have had great opportunities. We're now the largest winery in the South. We've got fifty-five employees. We've got two thousand acres of grapes with forty-three farmers that make their living here. We've got a great future, with the Lord willing. And I still feel like I'm in the ministry, just a different one than I ever would have thought I would have done.
Is that important for the economy? Has Duplin County been like other places: a lot of jobs have left, and there wasn't much to--?
Oh yeah. If the government would leave us alone we could be the same thing to eastern North Carolina that the hog and chicken industry is: unlimited potential. One of our early winemakers back in the 1800s--I'm having a senior moment--Paul Garrett, said that there never should be any welfare in North Carolina because there's enough work in the vineyards to keep everybody busy, and that is true. It's a labor intensive
thing. A small farmer growing grapes can make a living. You don't have to have a big farm, because it's so intense that if you have thirty acres of grapes, you'd make a good living.
Do you do the way they do in Europe--that I've seen in movies--where the vines are cut back? They're short, sort of like the--.
No, we--. The Lord made three different families of grapes. The European grape is different, like a race of people. Vitis vinifera is the technical name: Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, over five thousand registered European grapes. There may be as many as fifteen thousand, we just don't have them registered in this country. And up north He made another grape called Vitis labrusca: Concord, Catawba, Delaware, Niagara, [Seyval?], hundreds of those as well. And then we hold that He made the South last of course. My grandmother said that He could have finished the world in three days rather than six if He hadn't made the South. So He gave us a special grape called Vitis rotundifolia, and they're commonly called muscadines. There are hundreds of grapes. Scuppernong, which is the North Carolina state fruit, is in that. To be a true scuppernong the vine's got to trace its pedigree back to the mother vine, over on Roanoke Island, which is over four hundred and fifty years old.
Is it still there?
Still there, still producing great grapes. And we've got cuttings taken off of that and planted in a mother vine vineyard that we make a mother vine wine out of, excellent product. How'd we get off on that? I forget.
Well we were talking about how you developed the winery and the things you had to do. For a recipe, is there a recipe that you use?
Oh yeah. Sidney Weller wrote a book in 1836 called "The Southern Wine Making and Viticulture," and I got a hold of that book. Of course now we modified his old recipes a little bit, but it's not a new science. Really it's not a science. It's more of an art than it is a science.
So your history background is coming into the way you approach making wine.
Like the historical connections and learning about it.
It is. We've been instrumental in helping get some history books written about what we're doing. We've got a fascinating North Carolina history on wine making.
I really didn't know that. I knew that there were sort of homegrown local farmed--.
Oh, we were the biggest wine state in the union two different times in our history. Back before the War Between the States cotton was our number one crop, scuppernong grapes was number two. In our state toast, "Here's to the land of the longleaf pine," the second verse says, "Here's to the land of the cotton bloom white, where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night," alluding to our two leading crops. If we hadn't lost the War Between the States--. See there was twelve years from 1865 to 1877 we were not citizens. You've got to be a citizen to make wine, because you've got to get a federal wine license. So that closed our vineyards and wineries. That was a big economic blow to the South. Then after the War Between the States, 1877, we again grew to be America's largest wine state, but North Carolina voted itself dry in 1909 before the rest of the union did in 1919. Now we're the oldest winery. Two times you
put everybody out of business and eventually people just--. But it's right interesting. We were not tobacco people much until after the War Between the States. We were growing grapes, and that same good land that grew good grapes grew our good tobacco. And so when a new farmer comes along today, I say, "Have you ever grown tobacco on that land?" "Yeah." "Well it'll grow grapes."
What about the climate, the droughts and things, has that affected you some?
Yeah, that's been--. First time we've ever been in that situation though. Back in the old days we didn't have to worry about irrigation, but today we recommend that nobody plants a vineyard without irrigation.
At what point did it sort of turn around?
1995. Before then it was a real struggle. When the Copenhagen Heart Study came out in Denmark that the Europeans who drank wine had forty percent less heart attacks and strokes and thirty percent less cancers, and the medical community began to look into grapes: "What's in there that keeps people living longer?" Found out it was antioxidants. Then they began to look which grapes got the most antioxidants and found out the muscadines did. We've sold every grape we could grow since 1995.
Yeah. It's been amazing. I'm going to give you a little film on the health aspects of the muscadine. Health has been what has carried us through, and it's also made drinking acceptable in the South, and so they don't look down on me as bad. Every now and then I'll run into somebody, but most--.
Well you sell it in grocery stores I think?
Yeah. We're the best selling wine east of I-95 in North Carolina. That's quite an accomplishment.
What about the other wineries that have grown up in the Piedmont?
Biltmore Estates does good because they have a million visitors a year there. The rest of them are struggling. Give you an example: there are three major companies that control the wine business in this country. They sell eighty-three percent of all wine sold in this country. So you've got seventeen percent of the market that six thousand wineries are competing for. There're over two hundred and forty thousand different brands of wine registered to sell in the United States. So a little winery that thinks it can go out there and make a product and compete against two hundred and forty thousand other ones, they really haven't put a lot of thought in it.
What are the three big ones?
Gallo;--they keep changing their names--United Brands; and used to be Canandaigua, now I think it's Constellation. But if you go to the grocery store and you see--. Okay, give you an example: Constellation. They own Robert Mondavi. They own Great Western Champagne. They own Mogen David. They own Wild Irish Rose. They own [inaudible]. They own this winery and that winery. It's like you go in there and you buy Coke and they also make Seven Up? Go in there and see Gallo, they make, of course, Gallo products. They make Turning Leaf. They make [inaudible]. They make Thunder Bird. That's all Gallo. And for a little company to compete against them is tough.
But yours is possible because your grape has the highest concentration of antioxidants so people choose that. They want that. Interesting. And muscadines don't grow to the west of here as well, do they?
No. You cross 95 and they drop off significantly. They also won't grow up north. They follow the eastern seacoast and north Florida over to east Texas. That's sort of where they are. They'll grow in Greenville.
So do you think--? Is there any connection in your experience at East Carolina and what you ended up doing in any way?
Oh yeah, I've had a--not that I'm a scholar--but I've had a great education, enough so--you've got to be a lifetime learner--so it helped me move from one profession to another. And I really believe that a liberal arts education is the best one, because people change jobs during their lifetime many, many times and it's helped me change jobs. I'm a politician. I am a county commissioner, and that really takes a lot of background education, and East Carolina has helped me there. I read a lot.
And when you went, a lot of other people from your high school class were going to college. Did a lot of them come back to the community and end up contributing and changing the community itself?
Of the eleven that went, seven finished. We don't have but one--. Yeah. One other guy stayed here. The rest of them, they're all basically in eastern North Carolina from Wilmington to Raleigh, this area, but just two of us stayed in Rose Hill.
Do you have any sense of why four of the eleven didn't finish? Was there a difference in that they--?
They could have if they'd wanted too. Homesick; partying, that will kill you. Make sure that your dorm room is not the party room. That sort of helped me. Somebody told me, "Make sure your room's not the party room." Partying was off limits in my dorm room. I'd go elsewhere and [inaudible] I think partying is the biggest thing. When a person leaves home that has never done it before and has complete freedom, if they don't have self discipline, they have a hard time.
You sort of lived in Durham some, but you always wanted to be back here.
You were that close--.
I moved to Selma one time for a year, in the wine business. That's part of going broke. We opened a winery called Southland Estate Winery on I-95 that went bankrupt. Never was happy. People--. I can relate down here, and I have a hard time relating to folks that--. They're easier to work here. I understand them here. We live in a golf community now that's basically northerners, and I love them, I get along with them fine, but I sure would hate to work with them. [Laughter] We just think different.
So when you were at East Carolina, were there that many people who were from other parts of the country, or was it mostly people from the state?
Mostly North Carolinians, but I had a real good friend from Maryland. That was the one I gave the ticket to. And then I also learned a lot from Albert Sarafondi who was a Palestinian. And being raised like I was, you know what I thought about Palestinians. And he told me that one morning they got a knock at their door at 7:15 and they were given fifteen minutes to vacate this farm that his family had owned for three hundred years. And all they could do was gather up a few personal belongings, and of
course put in basically a concentration camp. I began to say, "Wait a minute here. Your idea of the world has been limited." And Albert was a real good friend and I think he helped change my thinking some.
So do you think sort of the work ethic and the goal that you had is one thing that kept you centered as you were going through, because you worked hard?
Yes, yes. Always been conservative as far as--. I wouldn't smoke. Cigarettes were a penny a piece. I could not believe a person would waste a penny on a cigarette.
You had grown up in a store. You knew the value of a penny.
Yeah. I just couldn't understand that.
It's probably more than that now. What is it now?
Oh gracious. I think a pack of cigarettes is two dollars and forty cents. Used to be twenty cents apiece. My wife said that when she was a little girl--you know every now and then you got to be naughty--they would go down to the local store and trade. She had a friend that had money, so the friend contributed a dime, and she got two eggs, and they swapped a dime and two eggs for a pack of cigarettes. She never smoked either, that was just--. And I'm just grateful neither one of us ever got that habit. Oh, you know at East Carolina when I was there, when you would go to pledge a fraternity, you would go to a smoker, and everybody smoked. I mean that's what they gave you as soon as--. Standing on the corner when you would change classes would be somebody from a cigarette company passing out cigarette samples.
Oh yeah, yeah. Here's a little pack of Lucky Strikes, here's a pack of Camels, trying to get us to smoke, all the time. I can remember the little package contained about four or five cigarettes. It was just--.
Enough to get you hooked.
Yeah, just enough to get us started.
I remember they did the same thing when they targeted women. I guess it was maybe the 70s or something like that. I was looking through some old magazines and all the ads were aimed at women smoking, getting women to want to smoke.
There wasn't much drinking at that time at East Carolina.
How'd it get its reputation as a party school?
I believe it was from the fraternities. They had some fraternities that--. KA was pretty famous for its parties. And every now and then something would come up with a fraternity for doing something. But it wasn't the student body per se.
Did you play sports when you were at East Carolina?
No, too busy. I studied and then I came home on the weekends. Of course, I was not a good athlete so I wouldn't have made the team anyway. I played some intramural kind of stuff but nothing. Interesting, one of my favorite stories--and he lives here--. No, there's three: Johnny Hardison, he lives in Teachey, which is--. Johnny and I went to a panty raid, and that was a big thing to watch the panty raid. There was nothing to them, but anyway we were standing out there. We never went in a dorm or anything like some of the boys did, and the girls would throw their panties out, and this kind of stuff. Well, the police came and they pulled up real fast and pulled up beside Johnny and me. I just stood there, and Johnny saw them and he ran. So they ran right past me, now,
after Johnny, and Johnny went to the ball field. They've since torn that thing down. It had a six-foot chain link fence with barbed wire on the top. Johnny scaled that fence and went over on the other side and stood there and looked at the police, and they were on this side. They got in their car and they rode around and they came into the gate of the ball field, pulled right up to Johnny. Johnny scaled over that fence and he stood there and looked at them on this side. So that was one--.
[Laughter]He was athletic.
Yeah. That was one of my favorite ones, watching Johnny scale that six-foot fence. That was quite a trophy, if you got a panty. Back in those days, that was quite a risqué thing. Today I'm sure--. Leo Jenkins was the chancellor at that time, the president, and he came. All it was was a party. There was no damage done to anybody.
So was ECU integrated at that point before the high schools?
No, no. If so, there were so very few. I don't remember any. There were none in my dorm anyway. Now there was a few dark skinned people. John Hadad was Syrian, Albert Sarafondi of course, but I don't think it was integrated.
The first Hardee's was built in Greenville on Tenth Street and we used to eat dinner. You could get a hamburger and a drink for a quarter.
Anything else that you want to say, or any particular memory about ECU?
Well, I felt at peace there, and safe. And it was sort of like being at home in eastern North Carolina.
In your dorm did you have--? In the women's dorms at UNCG we had dorm mothers. Did you have--?
No, we had a student, usually an upperclassman, that was sort of the proctor of the dorm, but it was nothing like--. We could come and go at any time. Now girls were not supposed to come over into our dorm, and I never did see one either. In two years of being in our dorm, I never saw a girl in our dorm. But they were not locked like girls' dorms. The girls locked their dorm at 10:00 during the weekday and 11:00 or 12:00 on the weekend, I forget which one. It was open, but just nobody ever came over. Every now and then a girl would pull in the parking lot and blow a horn, but never come in the building. We never had any fights or any problem whatsoever in my dorm. A few of the boys would get an X-rated movie every now and then and we'd all go down there to watch that.
I remember we had a boy that could hypnotize people in our dorm. I didn't believe in hypnotism until I watched him. He hypnotized a friend of mine one time. I watched this. He put that friend's head on the edge of a chair and his feet on the edge of a chair. He was just as stiff as this table. And three or four of us guys got on top of him and jumped up and down and it was like jumping up on this table. He took a pin--he told him he wouldn't feel anything--and he stuck that pin all the way through that boy's hand and pulled it in and out and the boy didn't bleed and he didn't feel anything.
Now this was a student--?
Yeah, a student. Then he decided--I remember this, this was a little risqué--he decided--. He told this guy that he was going to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe and make love to Marilyn Monroe. So the boy got into bed--and we're all just dying laughing--making love to Marilyn Monroe. Of course nobody was there. After that I said, "Trust me, nobody's ever going to hypnotize me." [Laughter] Finally it got to the
high muckety mucks about him hypnotizing people, and they made him quit. But that's powerful stuff. That's the most [sound effect] thing I ever saw at East Carolina.
I would never have anticipated that as an answer. [Laughter] Well, that's about all the questions I had, so unless there's anything else you want to say?
That's more answers than you wanted. [Laughter]
I really appreciate--.
Those last ones probably need to be--. They sound like they're--.
[Laughter]That will probably go on the digital exhibit.
It ought--. It was the truth. It's amazing. And that was a little boy that we were jumping on top of. I just can't--. I still can't even believe it.
Okay. Well, I'm going to stop.
[End of Interview]
If you know something about this item or would like to request additional information, click here.
On page 8, there is a spot that reads "Oh yeah. She married [inaudible] Fussell's boy." That [inaudible] is my great grandfather, "Oscar" Fussell.
On page 8, there is a spot that reads "Oh yeah. She married [inaudible] Fussell's boy." That [inaudible] is my great grandfather, "Oscar" Fussell.
Complete the fields below to post a public comment about the material featured on this page. The email address you submit will not be displayed and would only be used to contact you with additional questions or comments.