One remarkable family served a local institution for more than 70 years.
The Jeter family is well known in Burke County, especially for its involvement with the N.C. School for the Deaf, with various family members serving on the board or faculty of the school from 1894 until the 1970s.
Dr. Irenaeus Pilmore Jeter was born in 1861 in Union County, South Carolina, a direct descendant of James Jeter, a Revolutionary War patriot, according to the “Heritage of Burke County Volume I.”
“Jete,” as he was called, graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Dentistry. Sometime after graduating, he moved to Hickory around 1887 and opened a dental practice with a colleague. They also saw patients at the Mountain House Hotel in Morganton, located at the corner of Green and Concord streets.
“Shortly after opening his practice in Hickory, Jete would often take the train to Morganton on Sunday afternoons and stroll from the train station up to the courthouse, where there was always a lively game of horseshoes being played on the grounds,” said his granddaughter, Judy Teele. “There he became good friends with two of the regulars, Sterling Collett Sr. and Sidney Gaither. They persuaded my grandfather to open a practice in Morganton and offered him an office space on West Union Street. Jete relocated and became Morganton’s first permanent dentist in the late 1880s. He developed a lifelong friendship with Gaither and Collett, and the three spent many happy hours trout fishing in the Jonas Ridge area.”
He would practice dentistry in Morganton until his death in 1931, according to the historical record. He was the first dentist in Burke County to use Novocain to extract teeth.
Jete’s association with the School for the Deaf began with his marriage to Nannie McKay Fleming. She was a member of the first teacher training class when the school opened.
“Dr. Edwin Goodwin, the first superintendent of NCSD and a family friend, had suggested to her that she might want to consider being trained as a teacher for the deaf,” Teele said. “So in 1893, after (her) graduation from Peace College, she studied under Miss Anna Allen at the North Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind in Raleigh in preparation for accompanying Dr. Goodwin and staff to the new school when it opened.”
She described what it must have been like for her grandmother to see the Morganton campus for the first time.
“In the fall of 1894, when Nannie McKay Fleming got off the train at the bottom of Spa Hill, she could never have imagined how closely intertwined her life and the life of the new School for the Deaf would become,” Teele said. “As she climbed up the steep hill with the other teachers, staff and pupils, the breathtaking view of the new school on the hill appeared. With its commanding clock tower face and ornate wooden porches, the new building must have seemed resplendent to her. This was to be her home for the foreseeable future.”
Nannie taught at the school for more than 30 years and in Morganton public schools for 28 years.
Teele said her grandparents met at a dinner at the Hunt House Hotel, where Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Morganton is today.
“Jete was 15 years older than Nannie,” she said. “They fell in love and were married at her home in Raleigh in January of 1904. When they returned to Morganton after their marriage, the Morganton Community Band greeted them with music at the train station.”
The governor of North Carolina appointed Jete to the board of directors of the School for the Deaf in 1905. He served until 1916 and was succeeded on the board by his wife.
The couple had three children: Nan Fleming, born in 1905; Isabella Fleming, born in 1907; and Mary Tucker, born in 1909. Isabella died when she was an infant, but the other two daughters survived to adulthood and dedicated themselves to teaching at the school.
The “Heritage” book entry on Nan, written by Teele and her brother, John Jeter Walker, said she originally wanted to study medicine, but was deterred by her father’s death. Even though she told friends on several occasions that she wanted to be a nurse, she attended N.C. Women’s College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) and became a teacher instead. She not only taught at the School for the Deaf and served as principal of the elementary school there, she also ran a kindergarten out of her home.
“Bubbling with vivaciousness and a joy for life, her students were attracted to her presence,” her niece and nephew wrote. “She was unpretentious and straightforward and encouraged honesty and integrity in all those she knew. Nan was a magnificent rooted tree, around which her family gathered to find strength and support for the rigors of life.”
Nan died suddenly in her bed in 1991 at age 85.
Mary Tucker, known as “Tuck,” taught in the upper school at the School for the Deaf for many years and was the advisor and sponsor of the cheerleading squad. In addition to her work with the school, she was a founding member of the Morganton Service League and a member of the Quaker Meadows Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, according to her obituary.
Tuck married Robert D. Walker.
“My parents were both Morganton natives and knew each other growing up,” Teele said. “The Walker family goes back almost eight generations in the Burke County area. They began to date seriously when my mother was a student at North Carolina Women’s College, and my father was attending Oak Ridge Military Academy on a football scholarship. They were married on June 25, 1932, at First Presbyterian Church in Morganton.”
The couple had three children: Judy, John and Robert Walker Jr.
Tuck died in 2001.
“Aunt Nan never married and had no children of her own, and she became a second mother to my brothers and I, so in essence we had two mothers,” Teele said. “What I would like folks to remember most about these two women is that they were strong, principled women who placed a high priority on community and service to others. They were first and foremost educators and storytellers, and like all exceptional teachers, they led by example. Their influence spread far beyond the classroom into many aspects of the Morganton community and beyond.”
The School for the Deaf recognized the Jeter family in 1971 for 75 consecutive years of service to the school by naming its newly constructed education building Jeter Hall. A dedication plaque on the building notes their lifelong devotion. The building is still in use today and will become part of the upcoming Morganton campus of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, said Laurie Johnston, curator of the North Carolina Room at the Burke County Public Library.
Teele joined a committee in 2018 that researched and preserved the history and stories of the buildings at the School for the Deaf.
“Being on this committee turned out to be a labor of love for me,” she said. “I saw images and read comments about the Jeter family and their contribution to NCSD. One particular instance stands out for me. I saw an image of my grandmother seated with the other teachers right after the school opened in 1894. I was looking into the eyes of my 23-year-old grandmother; it was an arresting moment.”
She is happy that Jeter Hall will continue to serve students.
“When NCSD first opened its doors, it was considered as technologically advanced and forward thinking as NCSSM is today – a real marvel of educational innovation,” Teele said. “Jeter Hall is the only building surviving on that campus that has direct ties to folks who are living in this community.”
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at email@example.com.