On Wednesday, April 28 of 2021, Charles Larry Hutchins passed away at the majestic age of 83. Loving husband to Carolyn “Lyn” Moran Hutchins, he had three beloved daughters. He was mournfully widowed on February 4, 2006 and lost his youngest daughter Christie on August 21, 2009. He is survived by his eldest daughter Holly Hutchins and his second daughter, Julie Hutchins Koch and her husband, Drew Koch.
Larry, as he was known, was born in the picturesque town of Oskaloosa, Iowa on March 12 of 1938. He was the proud first born to Charles Eugene Hutchins and Margaret “Maggie” Ferguson Hutchins. He grew up with two sisters, Judith Ann England and Carol Linn Bender. They all lived just two doors down from his beloved grandparents Maude Tacey White Hutchins and Charles Dickens Hutchins. Later, the family moved to a large, grand home in Belle Plaine, Iowa.
Larry used to say, “I was never the smartest person in the room (though he often was), but I was always the hardest working.” He started working from the time he was in junior high school. Over the years, he washed dishes and worked the counter of a small Maid Rite near his home. He made enough money there that he was able to buy a power mower—one of the few in town—to mow lawns for even extra money. Later, he worked as a dishwasher, counterman, and fry cook at a small café. He even managed the (new) local swimming pool in Belle Plaine, despite not ever swimming. In the summers after his junior and senior years he loaded box cars with cranes—a dirty and dangerous job and right before college, he worked as a security guard.
His work ethic extended to his academics, too. In high school, he was “a big man on campus” having been elected to the student council each year during high school and, even being elected president of the Iowa State Student Council Association when he was a sophomore and was able to attend the national student convention in St. Paul, Minnesota and a student council retreat in the mountains near Estes Park, Colorado. His teachers considered him a leader, serving as the “office manager” of his high school principal’s office. Though, by his account, not the most popular student in his class of 42 students, he was viewed as the best organizer and the person who could get things done. He was elected by his classmates to organize the Senior Prom, not disappointing by creating a sky full of stars on the ceiling, a series of platforms for group seating and acting as the MC. He was on the National Honor Society, received the John Philip Sousa Award, the award for “Best Graduating Student,” and American Citizenship Award from the Iowa State Bar Association. His school principal said of him, “. . .I like Larry; I like him very much. When there is something to be done Larry will do it. He sees that it gets done, and it’s done right. Larry is a fine boy and he is very dependable.”
It was during these years that Larry began his love affair with music, especially philharmonic and symphonic music, classical and marches. He was self-taught on many instruments, including trumpet, baritone, euphonium, tympani, piano, the French horn and the pipe organ. He often sat first chair and won several state competitions. He was the drum major of the marching band. He also participated in and designed the sets for many high school musicals and acted as the MC for most of the annual variety shows.
He started his college years at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa with the help of a good scholarship. In his short time there he became the drum major, did technical lighting for many of the plays and acted in several—even saving the show by improvising when the leading lady failed to make her mark. Again, he earned the standing of drum major for Cornell’s marching band. At the end of his sophomore year, Larry transferred to the University of Iowa, declaring speech and theatre as his major and continuing to work in stage lighting, scenic design, technical theatre and radio and television. In 1958, he made a short film that featured the pipe organ, which won a prize at the Brussels World Fair! He went on to get a master’s degree at University of Iowa, focusing on television and broadcasting. Keep in mind, Larry paid “the entire freight,” as he would say, for his schooling.
His first job after completing his master’s degree was at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he worked as a producer in an educational TV station and as a cameraman at a local commercial TV station in Columbia. His work involved video-taping college level courses that were used for a number of years at the U. of M. and were archived in a national educational television library. During his time at Columbia, he decided to pursue his Ph.D.
Before leaving Columbia, however, he married the love of his life. He actually met Carolyn “now known as Lyn” back when they were both at the University of Iowa. She was popular and loved by many. Petite and friendly, she was often called “Muffy” by her friends. She and Larry dated on and off during their time there. They met when Lyn came as a guest speaker to one of Larry’s classes. Larry was smitten. He thought she was beautiful, so beautiful and popular, in fact, that he didn’t think she would be interested in dating him. Fortunately, Larry asked Lyn’s roommate if she thought Carolyn would date him. She assured him that she would. He asked her out, and so began the tale of their romance and marriage. They dated frequently while at U of I, but Carolyn was a year older than Larry and left college after completing her master’s degree to teach in California with a good friend. It seemed they were not destined to be together. It was too expensive to fly back and forth, and Larry was working hard at his academic dreams.
The next part of Larry (and Lyn’s story) is a favorite of their children and deserves a brief hiatus from Larry’s story:
Larry had dated two women at the University of Missouri but wasn’t in love with either of them. He thought often of Carolyn and decided to get her California address and write to her. The letter was very noncommittal, a sort of “how are things with you.” Lyn did write back and told him that when she returned from a European tour she and her roommate had planned, she would be moving to Illinois. For reasons unknown to himself, Larry purchased a sterling silver bracelet, had Carolyn’s name engraved on it, and had a St. Christopher’s medal attached to it. (St. Christopher was the patron saint for travelers in Lyn’s then Catholic faith.) Lyn didn’t quite know how to interpret the gift, but she accepted and thanked him for it.
Later, before Lyn left for Europe, she wrote Larry a post card, indicating she was leaving for Europe and would be happy to answer any questions he might have about such a tour for himself when she returned (she later admitted it was a shot at rekindling their courtship).
The post card definitely had an impact on Larry and while Lyn was away, a secretary at the educational TV station where Larry worked asked him why he hadn’t been married. He explained that he had dated two women but that he didn’t feel they were marriage material. The secretary then asked if he had ever had a girlfriend he really liked. His thoughts turned to Carolyn. He told the secretary about the postcard Lyn had sent and so she said to Larry, “Well, then, do something about it!”
Larry, always one for the dramatic, decided to make a big move—he decided he would go to see Carolyn in Illinois. He called her and she arranged for a place for him to stay. He drove all night in the rain, a five- or six-hour drive and arrived at about ten or eleven p.m. He was driving his pride and joy MGTD Convertible that leaked like a sieve. Despite arriving soaked, they stayed up talking until four a.m. At the end of the conversation, much to his own surprise, he proposed marriage to her. He said, “I love you. You know what that means, don’t you?” Lyn, surprised and a little suspicious, said she didn’t know what it meant. Larry finally had to say, “I want to marry you. Will you marry me?”
Carolyn was taken aback and said that if he was serious, he should propose again when they met for breakfast “in the full light of day.” As a result, when he picked her up at 8 o’clock for breakfast the next morning, he got down on one knee in the parking lot in front of her apartment building and proposed, again. Her response was “Let’s talk about it.” So, for the rest of the day they drove around Champaign, Illinois in his MGTD. (It was a beautiful fall day and they had the convertible top down.) At four that afternoon, out in the country, he stopped, and asked her for her answer. She accepted and their life together began at that moment.
* * *
His marriage to Carolyn occurred during the winter of his second year at Columbia. However, the young couple could not live together until the following spring, when Carolyn’s teaching contract was up. They lived together in Columbia that summer.
Around that time, Larry decided to return to graduate school and get a Ph.D. He applied to several institutions, but all were requiring him to re-take so many masters-level courses he decided to return to the University of Iowa where he could complete his work in two years, including summers. Carolyn got a teaching job in Iowa City and basically paid for approximately half of their housing. Larry got scholarships for tuition and a job as a graduate assistant in the Speech Department to make the rest of the money.
When Larry finished his Ph.D., he applied to a number of colleges as a mass media instructor. Though, he received offers from all over the country, he took the University of Illinois job in Chicago. But Larry quickly got disenchanted with college life and looked for something else to do. He took a job offered to him by a former supervisor at the University of Missouri as the Executive Secretary to the Oregon Education Media Council. Unfortunately, by the end of the second year, the state legislature refused to fund the program and Larry went looking for a new job with Lyn and his one-year old daughter, Holly. As luck would have it, a friend of a friend was looking for someone to work in communications at a new research laboratory in San Francisco called The Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Education. During this time, Julie and Christie, his second and third daughters were born. This began nearly his whole life’s work in educational research. Later, he moved the family to Washington D.C. (living in Potomac, Maryland) to work at the National Institutes of Education (NIE). His work there was impressive, and Larry moved the family again when he was asked to start another regional educational lab (part of a network of labs that included the Far West Laboratory where he had previously worked) in Denver Colorado, the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory. Initially starting with a budget of no more than about $100,000, Larry “grew” the office until the annual budget was in excess of 10 million dollars and the Denver Office became the headquarters for the Lab. He stayed with McREL for 18 years.
After retiring from McREL, Larry could never stop working and because of his broad exposure in educational research throughout the country, Larry had many consulting contracts, one of which involved the federal courts of St. Louis, where a judge overseeing the large, metropolitan desegregation case, decided to start a city-county career school district, the Career Academy. Larry was hired, with just the help of an attorney, to open this district (really just a single school). The school was a rousing success. In its second year of operation the U. S. Department of education had designated it as one of the most outstanding new, reform high schools in the nation in 1997. During all this time, he also wrote his first non-fiction work Systemic Thinking: solving complex problems, a book used by universities all over the country.
After three years of at the Career Academy, politics reentered the scene and the school was subsumed back into the St. Louis Public Schools. Larry, always rising like a Phoenix, was then made a senior advisor to the Superintendent and then became the Assistant Superintendent of a variety of divisions. When he became eligible for a second retirement at SLPS, Larry continued to consult for them and others on matters of educational research and development.
When Larry finally retired “for good” he played many more roles. He was a caregiver for his wife, Lyn, as she fought the final years against her serious health issues, became a master genealogist, a flower gardener, a photographer, a performer in local symphonic bands, a mystery novel writer (with two series “The Rounders” and “Red Feather Mysteries” and others), including:
- Murder is Broadcast
- Murder for Spite
- Murder in Three Acts
- Murder is Drawn
- Claim on Death
- Deadly Bingo
- Traded Affections
There is so much more that could be said about the life of this extraordinary man. His daughters remember him as a man who could make anything feel magical. Whether it was bringing their mother breakfast in bed almost every day of their marriage, making a surprise visit on a family trip he almost missed for business, taking time out of work to go with a daughter on a field trip (daughter beaming with pride when he played an impromptu concert for the kids on a harpsichord in Williamsburg), writing thoughtful letters to help us understand how much he loved us and to help us work through tough issues, taking us to the symphony to feel the beauty of music, waking us in the morning with a surprise trip to Busch Gardens, making us scream with delight and dance when he would play Toccata in Fugue on the organ when he was excited, always allowing us to have a menagerie of pets as part of his own love for them, being the best tour guide on trips to England or Hawaii, taking long Sunday drives through the mountains, knocking out walls to build a patio and a pool, many long energizing conversations making his own furniture or even just putting us to sleep by playing Moonlight Sonata on our baby grand piano. When he passed, a lifelong friend of his daughters wrote of him this:
The roar of an extraordinary paper tiger has quieted. [We have been] blessed to have had such a brilliant, colorful, insightful, complicated, sophisticated, erudite, opinionated, musical, interesting, loving, guiding father, [husband, brother, and son].
We are so grateful to know that Larry is now, again, with his beloved wife, his daughter, his mother, his father, his grandparents, so many countless friends, and not to be forgotten, all of the pets he adored throughout his life.