Former maintenance supervisor and wife leave behind $400K to fund dental scholarships
By Allyson Crowell
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs
Because of maintenance supervisor Harry Tetrick, employees knew how to take care of equipment at the MUSC College of Dental Medicine, and it lasted.
In fact, because of Mr. Tetrick, one MUSC dental assistant had the oldest Vac-U-Spat dental stone mixer in the country.
And because of Mr. Tetrick, the College of Dental Medicine recently received its largest gift to support scholarships in the school’s history -- $400,000 from his estate.
Dr. John Sanders, dean of the college, stood before a plaque in honor of Mr. Tetrick and his wife, Adela, at a reception earlier this month and said, “I wish I had known him.” Dr. Sanders said Mr. Tetrick reminded him of the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Mr. Tetrick was born in 1911 in rural Montana. He joined the Navy in 1928 and served a 28-year career that took him to the Pacific Theater during World War II. He also was stationed across the country and in Guam and in Puerto Rico.
Along the way, he met his wife, a West Virginia native, who followed him everywhere but out to sea. She even took work in a California shipyard during World War II.
After he retired from the Navy, Mr. Tetrick went to work at MUSC in 1960. He joined the College of Dental Medicine in 1969, where he spent the next decade.
Students knew him as the man who could fix almost anything and who wasted nothing. He preferred to recover and repair old equipment rather than buying something new. Mr. Tetrick kept all the school’s dental equipment on a regular maintenance schedule and taught new employees how to take care of it – but they had to prove themselves.
“I was honored to be given my own set of tools,” said Gail Ward, who met Mr. Tetrick when she went to work as a dental assistant at MUSC in 1976. She said that Mr. Tetrick, although older than most other employees, worked faster. And despite holding employees to exacting professional standards, Mr. Tetrick always was generous. He and Mrs. Tetrick brought zucchini bread for his colleagues each year around the holidays.
“It was a privilege to know him. Even when you mention him today, there’s always a smile, and that is the best compliment,” Ward said. “We missed him for many years and, after his departure, you would hear someone say, if Mr. Tetrick were here, he could fix it.”
Betty Ochoa, a retired instructor at the college, said no one ever called him by his first name. “It was always Mr. Tetrick, and that was the respect that he commanded.”
One dental instructor even asked Mr. Tetrick to lecture students on how to maintain equipment. That lesson became a part of the annual curriculum for new dental students.
After he retired in 1979, Mr. Tetrick stayed busy. He taught Sunday school at Ashley River Baptist Church, where he and Mrs. Tetrick mentored disadvantaged and disabled children. Mrs. Tetrick served on the collections committee at their church and as Sunday school secretary for four decades. Mr. Tetrick, an outdoors enthusiast who had a pilot’s license, took the kids camping and flying.
Although the Tetricks had no children together, they treated their neighbor’s son, Dr. Jim Strom, as if he were their own.
The Tetricks visited Dr. Strom and his wife at their home in Clemson, always with Tiger flags flying on their Toyota Camry. Mr. Tetrick said that, if he died first, he wanted Dr. Strom to take care of his wife.
Following Mr. Tetrick’s death in 1992, church members and a neighbor became Mrs. Tetrick's caregivers, and they kept Dr. Strom updated on her condition. Whenever medical needs arose, Dr. Strom and his wife drove down to help out for more than a decade. Toward the end of her life, Mrs. Tetrick also asked Dr. Strom for a final favor: She asked him to handle the Tetrick estate when she died.
Specifically, Mrs. Tetrick wanted to endow a scholarship at the MUSC College of Dental Medicine in her late husband’s memory. “They loved children, and Adela wanted to do this in his honor,” Dr. Strom said.
Mrs. Tetrick died last summer at age 97. The gift from the Tetrick estate will provide a scholarship to several first-year dental students annually and ensure that, even though they can’t hear his lecture on proper equipment maintenance, they still will learn a thing or two from Mr. Tetrick.