Educator, churchman, and community activist Jesse Ellett Pitts, 89, died Tuesday in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a long and courageous fight with cancer. He was formerly principal of Brazil High School (1962-81) and Clay Community Schools (CCS) superintendent (1984-1986 ). He had also served as assistant superintendent of CCS (1981-84), as principal of Springs Valley Community High School, French Lick, IN (1959-62), and as a teacher at Summitville and Washington, IN, high schools (1950-59).
Born 16 Oct 1926 in Stinesville, IN, Jesse was the fourth of five children of Jesse Brantson Pitts and Mary Hazel Ellett Pitts. He attended public schools in town, playing guard for the Stinesville High School Quarry Lads basketball team and graduating in 1944. Jesse joined the Navy pilot training program upon graduation and served for a year at the end of the war.
In 1945 Jesse entered Olivet Nazarene College (now University) in Bourbonnais, IL. He soon noticed and fell in love with Charlotte Ellen Carmony, a co-ed from Morristown, IN. They married in September 1947. Jesse finished his bachelors in 1948 (ONC) and his masters in 1950 (Indiana University).
Jesse got his first teaching job at Summitville High School (1950-52). His next position was as an English teacher at Washington High School in Washington, IN (1952-59).
In 1959, Jesse accepted a job as principal of Springs Valley Community High School in French Lick, IN. There Jesse worked alongside Dr Marion Coplen, then superintendent of the Springs Valley school system. Dr Coplen soon left French Lick to take a new position as superintendent of Brazil City Schools. When the principalship at Brazil High School became vacant, Dr Coplen urged Jesse to apply. And so it was that Dr Coplen hired Jesse twice, first at Springs Valley, then at Brazil.
Jesse and Charlotte moved their family to Brazil in Summer 1962. The house came with an extra lot where neighborhood kids gathered for sports and where the family set a vegetable garden each spring.
With their children, Jesse and Charlotte joined the Brazil Church of the Nazarene. Over the years, Jesse and Charlotte served in many roles in the church, from treasurer to board member to Sunday School superintendent or teacher.
Jesse and Charlotte loved Brazil. Jesse often said how much he enjoyed running errands in town because he met friends and acquaintances everywhere he went. About 1967, Charlotte finished her college degree and accepted a full-time position as third-grade teacher at Staunton Elementary School. The schools of Clay County consolidated in the late sixties, and Jesse became superintendent of the school system in 1984.
Jesse had many interests. He cultivated people above all. He valued good conversations and getting to know his neighbors. He enjoyed woodworking. He read voraciously. He wrote for pleasure and publication. He played the piano. He tended his flowers, his vegetable garden, and his lawn.
He enjoyed travel, especially visits to his children in their far-flung homes, but also venturing to Europe with Charlotte and then, after Charlotte’s death, to Kenya to see son Mark, and, in 2010, to the Holy Land for a family gathering there.
In 1998, Olivet Nazarene University recognized Jesse’s contributions to education, to the Church of the Nazarene, and to the university by granting him an honorary doctorate.
Jesse served actively in community- and church-related organizations, including Rotary, Kiwanis, and Gideons International. Beginning in 1972, he was a member of the board of trustees of his alma mater, Olivet Nazarene University; at the same time, he began an extended term on the district advisory board of the Southwest Indiana District (SWID) of the Church of the Nazarene. Sometime in the eighties, Jesse undertook a lengthy term with the Clay Community Park Association. Until recently, he was a guardian ad litem, a food bank volunteer, and a member and past president of the Clay County Retired Teachers Association.
Now we believe God has sent His angel to lead Jesse across. Jesse has flown to his reunion with Charlotte, Mary Hazel, Thelma, and others he held dear. He has met the Lord Jesus Christ and lives now and forever in His company, singing again with Charlotte in the heavenly choir. Well done, faithful, noble, and true. We will never forget.
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
Jesse was predeceased by his parents; by his beloved wife of sixty-one years, Charlotte Ellen Carmony Pitts; by brothers Clovis Pitts and Robert Nelson Pitts; and by sister Thelma Avis Pitts Mitten.
Surviving are brother Philip Pitts, Indianapolis; children, Mark Ellett Pitts (Nancy), San Diego, CA; Brent Alan Pitts (fiancée Willa), Raleigh, NC; and Jane Ellen Pitts Williams (Mark), San Antonio, TX; grandchildren Francesca Morgan, Raleigh; Anna Heule (Tim), Houston, TX; Ben Pitts, Portland, OR; Amanda Biedess (Matthew), Steinhausen, Switzerland; and Jordan Pickett, Ann Arbor, MI; great-granddaughters Rhiannon Bell, Washington, DC, and Maddie Biedess, Steinhausen; and great-grandson Jacob Biedess, also of Steinhausen.
Also surviving are Mark Williams’s children: Ryan Williams (Holly) and daughter Isabella; and Lauren Cawthon (Jon) and daughter Olivia; and the children of Nancy Pitts: Nathan Amondson (Marli Amin) and daughters Maya and Eva; Andrew Amondson (Birge) and children Nova and John; Isaac Amondson (Andrea); and Rachel Amondson.
The children are grateful to family members, cherished friends, and medical professionals who together gave Jesse many more good days and more joy and laughter than he might otherwise have experienced during his illness: Mary and Tim Mercer, Tom and Mary Sue Jones, Barbara Ferry, Pastor Betts, Roy Kellar, Ann Bruce, and the merry widowers of the ‘Wild Bunch’; also, Dr Huh, Dr Johnson, and the staff of Westminster Village (Nicole, Levi, Chino, Prudence, Jessica), Hands that Serve (Ashley, Angela), and Hospice of the Wabash Valley (Kathy). To these, we cannot fully express our thanks.
Visitation is 6-9pm Thurs 2 Jun, Lawson-Miller Chapel, 1702 E. National Avenue, Brazil, and 10-1040am Fri 3 Jun, Brazil Church of the Nazarene, 1002 E. National Ave, Brazil; funeral service will be at 11am Fri 3 Jun, Brazil Church of the Nazarene; interment with military honors, 330pm Fri 3 Jun, Asbury Cemetery, N. Asbury Road, Morristown, IN. Funeral arrangements by the French Funeral Home, Brazil.
In lieu of flowers, the children request that friends and family members consider contributing to the Jesse and Charlotte Pitts Scholarship Fund, c/o Brazil Church of the Nazarene, 1002 E National Ave., Brazil, IN 47834, which provides school clothes, school supplies, and summer camp for children of the church who need such support.
This obituary is an outline. For Jesse’s full obituary, please visit jessepitts.squarespace.com