As a boy, Lincolnton native Col. Jimmy Hull drew inspiration from his teachers. As a man, he became a teacher who inspired students who may have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
Hull will retire in September after 17 years as an Air Force JROTC instructor at Eastern Wayne High School in Goldsboro.
Although he has been away from Lincolnton for many years, Hull can trace his Lincoln County roots back to the 1700s. His first foray into the working world came in Lincolnton and Hull remembers it well.
â€œI used to run from Aspen Street School to the newspaper so I could buy papers to sell,â€ said Hull. â€œI would buy them for 1 cent and sell them for 5 cents. I made about $1.25 a day, which was a pretty good profit in those days.â€
It was through this early business venture that Hull got to know a lot of people in town. For many years, whenever Hull would come back to visit, people in town still remembered him. He remembers them, too.
â€œI love the people of Lincolnton,â€ Hull said. â€œThey were always good to me growing up.â€
As Hull grew up, he developed a deep appreciation for his teachers, many of whom he kept in touch with long after leaving their classrooms. Hull says he can still name all the teachers he had, from first grade through high school.
â€œMy first grade teacher, Mrs. McCorkle, was the first person who made me feel really important,â€ said Hull. â€œI also remember my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ferguson, who helped me get the opportunity to sing on â€œThe Arthur Smith Show,â€ a TV show out of Charlotte.â€
His teachers served as a positive force in his life, influencing him to go far.
â€œWhen you make children feel good about themselves, they try to do good things,â€ Hull said.
Hull is living proof of that. He joined the Air Force after graduating from the University of North Carolina and began teaching through the JROTC program in 1990.
Teaching through JROTC, a congressionally mandated program aimed at helping Americaâ€™s youth become productive citizens, Hull has been able to be the same positive influence on his students that his teachers were on him.
â€œI try to instill in kids the core values of the program,â€ said Hull. â€œThose include integrity, excellence in all you do and service before self.â€
Undoubtedly, Hull is doing something right. In the 17 years he has been at Eastern Wayne, every student who completes at least two years of the program has gone on to graduate. Yet the challenges of the job are not lost on Hull.
â€œIf you like working with teenagers, youâ€™d love it,â€ Hull said. â€œIf not, youâ€™d probably have a hard time.â€
Hullâ€™s genuine love for young people is obvious. Just as he kept up with teachers he had through the years, he keeps in touch with former students.
â€œItâ€™s hard not to,â€ said Hull. â€œItâ€™s one of the pleasures of being a teacher. You get to see them grow up and mature. The real reward of teaching is seeing the impact you have on kids.â€
One student on whom Hull had a major impact was a young man known as Junior. When Hull first encountered Junior, the ninth-graderâ€™s discipline problems seemed impossible to overcome. Hull remembers the boyâ€™s â€œtough exteriorâ€ and his own doubts as to whether Junior would make it.
â€œI found out he lived with his grandmother, his mother was dying of cancer and his father had deserted him when he was very young,â€ Hull said. â€œHe didnâ€™t know how to relate to men.â€
Hull and his coworker, Alfred Fitch, were the first male teachers Junior had ever had. They helped him turn his life around in a big way. Junior ended up graduating with honors from basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C. He is currently serving his second tour in Iraq, and was with the unit that took Fallujah several years ago.
Junior showed his appreciation for Hull in a very moving gesture. He gave his teacher the medallion he received upon graduating with honors from basic training. The two continue to keep in touch.
Throughout his tenure at Eastern Wayne, Hull has had the opportunity to touch many studentsâ€™ lives. On September 11, 2001, he stood as a pillar of strength for students traumatized by the events of that day.
â€œI let the kids voice their opinions,â€ said Hull. â€œI told them these were isolated incidents and reminded them that this is a strong nation and that we would go on.â€
Those involved in the JROTC program were advised not to wear their uniforms for fear that they could become targets. Hull walked into class the next day proudly wearing his uniform.
â€œI told them I wasnâ€™t going to take mine off,â€ Hull said. â€œI didnâ€™t think anyone should think we had any fear.â€
The next day, the JROTC students all came to school in their uniforms.
Soon, Hullâ€™s time with the JROTC program at Eastern Wayne will draw to a close. Upon retirement, he plans on occupying himself with genealogy research and accomplishing his goal of writing his own personal history for his grandchildren by next Christmas.
Hullâ€™s mother Annie and her husband Ralph Stamey still live in Lincoln County, as do several of his siblings, and Hull makes it back to visit fairly frequently. Although he has come a long way from his days selling nickel newspapers in downtown Lincolnton, Hull has not forgotten where he came from.
â€œWhen people ask where Iâ€™m from, I still say a little town called Lincolnton,â€ Hull said.
by Allyson Levine