Few people live to be 100 years old, and even fewer can claim to have had a lifetime as remarkable as that of Frank Lutz.
Just two months after his centennial birthday celebration, Lutz — Limestone County’s oldest World War II-era veteran — died Wednesday.
In addition to being survived by an older sister, three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, he is also survived by his wife of 66 years and fellow wartime hero, Nell Lutz.
Frank Lutz was born Oct. 4, 1911, in Spangler, Pa. A lifelong outdoorsman and lover of natural history, he would explore the woods around his boyhood home in New Jersey. He and his family established the nation’s first self-guided nature trail at Harriman State Park in Tuxedo, N.Y.
“He was a naturalist from way back,” said his son, Tom Lutz of Mt. Juliet, Tenn. “He was extremely interested in natural history, birds and plants. Bankhead Natural Forest was one of his favorite haunts.”
After attending public schools in Ramsey, N.J., he continued his schooling at Phillips Exeter Academy. In 1933, he graduated from Brown University with a degree in chemistry.
After working in the textile industry in Millville, N.J., he enlisted with the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was in Portsmouth, Va., where Lt. Junior Grade Frank Lutz met his future wife, Nell Smith. A Florida native, she had enlisted as a WAVE, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
In a story published in The News Courier in 2009, Nell said she was an assistant paymaster at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, and Frank always arrived promptly to collect his paycheck.
“One day we were both on the bus and we got to talking about fishing and I said I just love to go fishing, but I didn’t have a canoe,” said Nell. “He said he had a canoe. Then one day he turned up at my work with a canoe and asked if I was ready to go fishing.”
After the couple became engaged, she was ordered to report to Glynco Naval Air Station, north of Brunswick, Ga., where she became a disbursement officer.
“Occasionally, Frank would drive down to see me,” she said in 2009. “He’d have to save all of his gas ration cards to drive down.”
The couple married on Aug. 22, 1945, and lived in New Jersey until relocating to Athens in 1952.
“He never talked extensively about his time (in the Navy), but obviously he was very proud of it,” Tom Lutz said. “He mostly just talked about meeting my mother.”
Settling in Athens, he found work at Chemstrand Corporation, which later became Monsanto and Solutia. He was a textile chemist over applications research, which included the development of Astroturf.
“So many products are derived from synthetic fibers, and (Astroturf) was just one of them,” Tom Lutz said.
Frank Lutz was also active as a member of the First Presbyterian Church, church camp programs and the Boy Scouts. Tom Lutz said his father worked tirelessly to pass on his love of nature to children.
“He used to tell kids, ‘If you step on a bug, you might be stepping on somebody’s mother,’” Tom Lutz said. “He was thinking that bugs have children and a mother, and they shouldn’t kill it for the fun of killing it.”
Frank’s caring and compassion are traits he carried with him throughout his life, Tom said, adding that his dad never let down anyone in need.
“He would befriend anyone with problems or troubles at a time they might have been in need of support,” Tom Lutz said. “He would seek out those people and provide encouragement.”
Lutz’s oldest son, Dr. Brobson Lutz of New Orleans, said his father was a true gentleman who never failed to walk a lady visitor out to her car after a visit. He said his father’s mind was like steel trap until the end.
He said his father had been feeling dizzy recently, so an appointment was made with a doctor. During the mental status evaluation, the doctor asked Frank Lutz when his birthday was, to which he replied, “last month.” When asked what year, Lutz replied, “every year.”
Local World War II historian Jerry Barksdale said men and women like Frank and Nell Lutz saved democracy, and truly are the greatest generation. He said Frank Lutz was “an intelligent man” and added that his passing would be “a great loss.”
“One of the greatest rewards for me has been to know these (veterans) and associate with these people,” Barksdale said. “To me, they’re all like giant oak trees — steady, sturdy and a source of strength in the community. Every time one of them dies, we lose something important.”
A memorial service for Frank Lutz will be at 2 p.m. today at the First Presbyterian Church in Athens. Visitation will follow the service.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the First Presbyterian Church, the Alabama Veterans Museum or Boy Scout Troop 240.