Most shop visits I make start in the owner’s office then wind their way through the tanks and painting booths, over to the lab, and back to the office, where we usually immerse ourselves in food and beverage plans for that evening. That was pretty much the scenario when I visited John and Hunter Cutchin in Easley, S.C., recently and toured the Palmetto Plating plant.
But between stories of John’s upbringing—his father was friends with Gen. George Marshall and children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel—I spied a couple of plaques in the corner of his office that I had missed when I walked past.
“Presented to the Outstanding Science Student” at Easley Senior High School and Gettys Middle School, the pair of plaques proclaimed, followed by a listing of 19 students from the high school and six from the middle school.
For roughly 20 years, the Cutchins and their staff at Palmetto Plating annually have awarded a college scholarship to the best of the best in the community in the area of science.
When I asked John about the plaques, he gazed at the names of the past winners of the $1,500 awards and started rattling off occupations.
“That one’s a doctor now; that one’s a lawyer,” he says, a gleam appearing in the corner of his 70-ish-year-old eyes. “They’ve all gone off to bigger and better things.”
Cutchin doesn’t give the award so he can stand on stage each spring, hand out a check and make a speech. In fact, he doesn’t even get that involved in picking the winner, letting the science teachers do that. Nor does he stand for a photo, unless the school asks him to.
Cutchin also awards a scholarship to the football player with the best academic scores each year, because this is, after all, Gamecock and Tiger country.
But it doesn’t stop there for Cutchin and Palmetto. Several years ago he realized he could help students even more if he opened up his shop and hired a few serious science students to come work in his in-house laboratory. Those students work alongside chemists and metallurgists to gain experience they could never get in a traditional classroom.
When he offered to hire a student to work after school running tests and doing other lab work and the science teachers couldn’t pick between the top two students, he hired them both.
“I just like to give back to our own part of the world,” Cutchin says. “I like to give people a chance.”
That philosophy runs deep if your name is Cutchin. Hunter, his son, was president of the local Rotary Club. John’s wife, Debbie, volunteers through her church at a food pantry called SHINE—Stopping Hunger In Nearby Easley.
Helping out comes easy to John Cutchin. When he wanted to start the science scholarship program, he just walked into the offices of the school’s superintendent—a longtime friend—and told him he wanted to help.
When two teams of fifth graders from Clemson Elementary School’s STEM program (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) qualified to compete in a science competition in Detroit, Mich., Palmetto and a few other businesses stepped up to help defray travel costs. The students took four of the 13 awards, including the Grand Champion Award.
When Billy Smith, Palmetto’s longtime director of technical services and one of the NASF Palmetto Branch officers, passed away suddenly in 2010 at the age of 43, Cutchin, his employees and the NASF branch put together a charity golf tournament in his memory.
John Cutchin likes to help. He just doesn’t want anyone to know about it, thank him or make a big deal out of it. Call him a Reluctant Hero.
“I do what I can,” he says. “And why not?”