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VIProfile: Don and Hanna Witherspoon

By Lee Rennick

On Don and Hanna Witherspoon’s first anniversary, Hanna waved good-bye from the dock in Long Beach, California, as Don left for Vietnam on a troopship. Hanna wrote a letter to her husband every day, and from a rice paddy Don tore a c-ration carton into the shape of a heart and mailed it with a letter back to her for Valentine’s Day. It said, "My heart’s all out of shape for you.” She still has it saved with their wedding pictures.

“It has been more than 58 years of labor, travel and love,” said Don in an email from a recent trip with Hanna to Hawaii.

The two met when they were both students at Middle Tennessee State College (now Middle Tennessee State University) when Hanna was working at the library on campus.

Don was born and raised in Centerville, Tennessee, then moved to Nashville after his father passed away during his freshman year in high school. Don worked at the first Shoney’s, located in Madison, Tennessee, all through high school and college until graduating in 1964.

“I decided to attend MTSC because it allowed me to work at Shoney’s each weekend,” said Don. “Having to pay for college was easier then, but I usually worked 25 to 30 hours each weekend. I attended United States Marine Corps (USMC) Officer Candidate School during summers while at college and was appointed a Second Lieutenant upon graduation.”

Born in The Philippines to Czech parents, Hanna’s maiden name was Varak Romans. Her father volunteered with the United States forces during World War II, was captured and later died on a Japanese POW ship. Her mother remarried an American GI from Pikeville, Tennessee, and Hanna came to the states when she was six years old. Her family later moved to the Chattanooga area, where she graduated from Hixson High School.

After having an English class together their sophomore year, and secondary education classes together as seniors, the two started dating during fall semester their senior year, were engaged in December and married in Chattanooga the following August.

Don reported for duty in the USMC in Quantico, Virginia, with his new bride in tow after a brief honeymoon in Gatlinburg. Six months later, they were off to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, then Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. Upon Don’s return from Vietnam, they returned to Camp Lejeune. Hanna taught in high school in North Carolina during the first year of integration.
“Her experiences that year would fill several books,” said Don.

After getting out of the marines, Don worked in Distribution and Transportation with Pfizer, Inc., for 33 years and in seven different locations. He was Director of Logistics upon retirement, ending up in Memphis in 2000.

Hanna taught for many years, and then, while they lived in Arlington, Texas, she took a job with American Airlines. She retired in 2019 from the airline after 17 years.

“Having traveled extensively,” said Don, “Hanna and I considered opening a B and B on retirement and looked for opportunities in several states. But family obligations and our love for the time we spent at MTSC brought us back to Murfreesboro.”

Not too long after moving into the ‘Boro, they met everyone’s favorite philanthropist, Dr. Liz Rhea. What followed was a great friendship until her death and lots of community involvement. Don had previously served on United Way boards in Fort Worth, Texas; Orange County, California; and Memphis. Once in Murfreesboro, Dr. Rhea got them both involved in the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties (UWRCC).

“Since then,” said Don, “we have served on the UWRCC board numerous times and chaired various committees. Most recently, I was involved in a Legacy Giving campaign for United Way that will benefit the Rutherford County community for years to come.”

Three areas of community and social support have been important to Don and Hanna for many years: Education, church and community involvement. They have supported these interests with time and treasure through their work with MTSU, First United Methodist Church and United Way. Both have served in positions of leadership for all of these organizations.

Don continues to serve as a Past President for the MTSU Foundation, National Alumni Association and the Blue Raider Athletic Association. Hanna is currently a member of the MTSU Foundation, First United Methodist Church Board of Directors, and the United Way de Tocqueville and Legacy Societies.

“We were the first in our families to graduate from college,” explained Don. “We have always felt it is important to give back, believing ‘to those whom much is given, much is expected.’"
They feel most fortunate to have found a home in Murfreesboro. To them it is a great place to live. They firmly believe that MTSU adds so much to the area and are proud of having graduated from what is no longer "Little Middle" so many years ago.

As Don says about their love story as enduring as that c-ration heart of years ago, “Eat your heart out, Hallmark!”

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