Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Nathaniel S. Detwiler

  • "For a lifetime of excellence and innovation as an educational leader."
  • "He understood, encouraged, created, and inspired with unique enthusiasm."
  • "G-R-R-R-R Fight!"
Nathaniel Detwiler was born in 1900 in Spring city, Pennsylvania, into a family of nine. He grew up in this small farming community and earned the nickname "Detty". He led a typical farm boy's life during which time he spent many long hours on his uncle's farm where he helped with the various chores. Upon his graduation from high school, he entered Ursinus College where he majored in English. While at Ursinus he participated in the football program and as a result of his determined efforts he not only achieved a place on the team, but won his college letter and also became the captain of the team in 1921. It was during his experiences at Ursinus that he began to develop a profound love for acting and, as such, gained considerable prominence as an actor.

While an undergraduate, he was president of his sophomore and senior classes and became the business manager of the school paper. In addition, he was a member of the Student Council for two years, won first place in the junior oratorical contest, and was one of the three associate managers of his college yearbook, "Ruby". Upon graduating from Ursinus College, "Detty" began to undertake law studies at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. However, after a year and a half he gave up this pursuit and moved to Toms River in 1923 as a teacher of English and a coach. This marked the beginning of his long and honored association with the school district culminating with his retirement in July of 1960.

During his initial years of association with Toms River High School, not only did "Detty" instruct English, but he also coached the baseball and football teams in addition to assuming the role of faculty advisor of the debating team in 1924. Under his able leadership his baseball team became the undisputed champion of Ocean County and for the first time the Toms River High School football team beat its arch rival, Lakewood. Continued interest in dramatics led him to participate in the local Traco Players, a group that performed one and two act plays in the Traco Theater in Toms River. In 1926, the footlights lured him away from his real vocation for the last time. He participated in summer stock in Long Island and attained a walk-on part in a New York play.

In 1927, "Detty" returned to Toms River for the remainder of his professional career at which time he was appointed part-time high school principal, and continued to instruct senior English and coach the football team. Two years later he married Miss Hazel Wissmach, a former graduate of Toms River High School. 1933 and 1934 were big years for Mr. Detwiler. He became a father, a full-time principal, and a student again when he began post graduate studies at Columbia and NYU which led to his masters degree in 1940.

The principalship of "Detty" at Toms River High School is by every standard of measure "legendary". During his years of leadership he was instrumental in organizing, among many other things, Indian Torn Day for incoming freshman and Student's Day to provide students with firsthand opportunities to see how a school functions. He was instrumental in developing the social behavior and family relationship courses which established for the school district an international reputation in this very progressive and appropriate area of study. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the General Association Funds which specifically provided support for the district's athletic teams and other cocurricular activities. Among many of Mr. Detwiler's projects was the annual magazine sale, the proceeds of which went to the General Association Fund giving students an opportunity to earn money for the support of school activities.

On a broader level, Mr. Detwiler was one of the founding members of the Shore Conference of high schools. He always maintained a firsthand interest in all competitive endeavors and enterprises. The "g- r-r-r-r fight" song that "Detty" popularized during pep rallies when he would urge students to cheer loud enough to make the overhead lights swing is something that all graduates of Toms River High School during his tenure there can readily identify with. One 1944 graduate recalls about "Detty" that, "He ruled with an iron hand, but he always seemed to know what was going on before it happened. You learned a lot from him. I think he really shaped a lot of lives."

On April 24, 1953, a ceremony was conducted at the site of the new athletic field at Toms River High School to dedicate this field in honor of Mr. Nathaniel S. Detwiler who at that time was completing 29 years of service to the school system. Although numerous speeches were made about "Detty" and his contributions to the system, perhaps no observation was more poignant or lion the markll than the following, "Here is a man whose anger is a feared tempest but whose judgment is the fairest we have ever known. Here is a man who often seems stern and hard, but whose heart is the kindest in the world. Here is a man we love."

In 1933, Mr. Nathnaiel S. Detwiler passed away at the age of 93. In going to his just reward, it can be appropriately and fairly stated that Nathaniel S. Detwiler left an indelible mark on the Toms River Schools and its thousands of students. It is for his extraordinary contributions, and his sense of compassion and commitment to educational excellence, that the Toms River Regional Schools is pleased to induct him as an honorary member of the Toms River Schools Hall of Fame.

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