By Crystal Burns
When President Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Lincoln was one of Gibson County Historian Frederick Culp’s favorite leaders, so it was fitting that his family chose to print Stanton’s famous quote on the back of Culp’s funeral bulletin.
Culp, 89, passed away early Wednesday morning, July 5. His funeral was Saturday.
“He belongs to the pages of history that he taught, that he loved to talk about, and that he shared with us,” said Rev. Kenny Perry, pastor of Oak Grove Methodist Church where Culp was a member.
“This man was unique,” Perry said. “Every Sunday morning, Mr. Frederick and I would get in the sanctuary and have a history lesson.”
Perry said he met the esteemed historian and former Peabody High School history teacher before he was assigned to Oak Grove. Perry was doing research and, like so many in the county, sought help from Culp. Perry said it took Culp mere minutes to locate the information Perry had spent months searching for.
“Really he was more than a teacher,” said Franky Hodges, a former student who eulogized Culp. “He was the internet before we had the internet. He was Google before we could google anything. We just went to Mr. Culp.”
Perry also shared Culp’s wit. Perry remembered updating the sound system at the church and providing earphones that helped those with limited hearing. Perry said he had wrapped up the service and dismissed the congregation when he noticed Culp still seated in his pew. He went to Culp to tell him he was finished when Culp looked up at him and said, “I was waiting on you to get to the point of your message.”
The Hodges family shared a special bond with Culp and included him in holiday and vacation plans. Franky Hodges said that on a trip to Gettysburg, his brother, Bill, and Culp were in van when one of them opened the sliding door with too much force and shattered the glass window. Hodges said Culp looked to Bill for help when he apologized to the driver only to find an empty seat. Bill had fled the scene.
“Memories last forever,” Hodges said. “No on can take those from us. They comfort us.”
Culp was born on December 31, 1927 in the last half hour of the year. He often joked that he almost missed 1927. He was raised in a country store his father ran in Edison. Men stopped to talk about early life in Gibson County, and Culp soaked up their stories.
“When I got old enough to look them up, I found out that some of those stories were true,” Culp told The Gazette in 2016.
He attended Edison School through the eighth grade and then transferred to Peabody High School, graduating in 1946. He earned a degree in history from Lambuth College and taught for 39 years. Culp spent most of his career at his alma mater. He was named Gibson County Historian in 1960.
On The Gazette Facebook page, Brenda Kelley Newsom wrote, “He made Tennessee History so interesting, and I could have listened to him all day.”
Donn King wrote, “Mr. Culp influenced my life more than just about any other teacher…It has been said that any fool can count the seeds in an apple but only God can count the apples in a seed. Mr. Culp planted so many seeds during his life, not only in his students but also in those whose lives his students touched, that the crop certainly can only be known to God. He was a true blessing.”
On his own Facebook page, former student Steve Black wrote, “There’s a saying from Africa that when an old man dies it’s like a library burning. With the passing of Mr. Fred Culp today at the age of 89, it’s more like 10 libraries. Mr. Culp was a teacher, storyteller, and authentic scholar of Gibson County history. Beyond that he was a wisdom-keeper whose life shows us what it means to live fully in place. Recently, as I’ve worked on a project about the natural history (both deep and recent) of West Tennessee, his books and his presence have been companions to me. Fortunately for those of us who knew him, his spirit and what he taught us will continue to live inside of us. May he walk on in peace.”
In 2016, Culp founded the Fred Culp Historical Museum located inside Trenton City Hall. The museum displays Culp’s unmatched collection of local artifacts in rotating exhibitions. In addition to amassing the definitive compilation, Culp co-authored the only complete history of the county, “Gibson County – Past and Present.”
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Fred Culp Historical Museum, 1032 S. High St., Trenton, TN 38382 or the Fred Culp Scholarship Fund with the Peabody Alumni Association, P.O. Box 33, Trenton, TN 38382.