“She” is Jutta Ferretti of Shelby, and the singer of her praises in the above verse is retired Delta State University literature professor Dorothy Shawhan of Cleveland, who captured the sentiments of a legion of folks who want to be “just like Jutta” when they grow up.
Only problem is, Jutta keeps raising the bar. Take this past December for instance, when she was awarded the Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies degree by Delta State on the exact day she turned 86-and-a-half years old, making her the oldest graduate in the school’s history. Jutta didn’t just graduate, she graduated magna cum laude. That’s Latin for “with high honors.”
The degree fulfilled a lifetime ambition for German-born Jutta (pronounced “You-Tuh” in her native country but conveniently changed to the more familiar “Utah” by folks in her adopted Delta).
Several dozen of her closest friends honored Jutta with a graduation party, but the toasts that poured forth provided evidence that the degree achievement is just one of many reasons so many folks think she is special, not the least of which is Jutta sees nothing special about herself. Caring about and helping others is just part of her nature.
No one knows her better than nephew John Letchworth of Shelby. “Aunt Jutta is a lot of fun with a great sense of humor and loves to give and attend parties. She stressed good manners and proper etiquette, always supported and encouraged me to do my best. She shows that same love and concern to our children and grandchildren.”
Jutta got a little extra attention when she accepted her diploma, including a rousing standing ovation by her fellow graduates and others among the 3,000 or so attending commencement exercises.
DSU President John Hilpert made the occasion even more special by announcing that the university had voted to re-name the Special Records Room of the library the “Jutta Karnstedt Ferretti Room.” That honor recognized not only Jutta’s remarkable achievement, but also the financial generosity of Jutta and her late husband Johnny in helping dozens of students at DSU and other universities pay for their educations. Together, they endowed 12 scholarships, including five at DSU.
A formal dedication of Jutta’s room will take place later this year and, no doubt, she will sit quietly through it all, fighting back tears and sincerely wondering what she did to deserve such an honor. She’s that kind of person.
Jutta was four-years-old when she emigrated with her parents and siblings to St. Louis in 1929 after a recession in Germany affected the family’s three-generation business of lighting supplies. After high school, she worked in accounting for a local firm, putting off her dream of a college education.
Shortly afterward, in 1943, she was introduced to a handsome young Airman stationed in St. Louis in what Jutta believes was a “God Wink,” roughly defined as one of those moments when God presents you with opportunities, along with a wink to let you know he approves.
It didn’t take long for Jutta and Johnny to wink back. Introduced in May, they married in November and began a love affair that would last 62 years until Johnny’s death in 2005.
When they returned to Johnny’s native Shelby in 1945 after World War II, he worked for a local hardware and lumber company and she worked for Dr. Robert T. Hollingsworth in Shelby Clinic, all the while doing volunteer work with the American Cancer Society and the Shelby Lions Club.
She was especially fond of the latter, which involved doing stage set-ups for fund-raising shows the Lions Club put on annually. “I loved that,” she said, “for I think I am a frustrated stage designer at heart.”
Johnny opened his own building materials company in Shelby in 1959 and Jutta joined him by doing the accounting for the firm until 1986. The successful business provided the means for the couple to provide their own version of “God Winks” in the form of scholarships and other good and generous deeds.
Following Johnny’s death, Jutta pursued her college degree dream, something Johnny always encouraged.
She describes her five-year DSU experience in glowing terms. “Wonderful and helpful faculty and administrators and beautiful students who were so nice and helpful,” she said. “I feel like I gained several grandchildren along the way.”
Now that the rigors of required courses for the degree are out of the way, Jutta says she may learn to play the guitar, another longtime ambition.
She definitely wants to take art classes at DSU. If she does so, those who know her would not be surprised to pick up the newspaper a few years from now and read the following:
Jutta (Utah) Ferretti, 95-year-old former frustrated stage designer from Shelby, Mississippi, parlayed a few art classes into one of Broadway’s most prestigious honors last night when she was presented the coveted Tony Award for Best Scenic Design . . .”
I wouldn’t bet against it.
Leroy Morganti is a retired vice president at Delta State University and former newspaper reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org