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Looking back: a local's legacy remains through life stories

By: Atlanta Northcutt -- Southern Standard

Charles “Shot” Nunley recollects his experiences with devastating tornadoes as he looks over a photo from the 2006 tornado which struck Warren County and caused extensive damage and a fatality.

Warren County has lost a man who was truly dedicated to all he did, Charles "Shot" Nunley provided a great deal of service in the church, community and for humanity. He lived a great life full of accomplishments and unique experiences, and never failed to accept those with great humility.

Charles Newman “Shot” Nunley died Monday morning Sept. 7 at his McMinnville home after being diagnosed last month with pancreatic cancer. He was 83. Although he has passed, his stories passed down to others will continue to keep his legacy remembered.

Nunley was a career educator and engineer. His many successes in life include being in the U.S. Navy Department, director of the State Area Vocational Technical School in McMinnville, one of the longest-running members of the McMinnville Silver & Gold Band, chair of the local chapter of the American Red Cross and as trustee of Magness Library, as well as a director of the Upper Cumberland Regional Library board.

Nunley also served on the the Warren County Economic and Community Development Committee, where he was the driving force behind the Warren Bridgestone Tire Plant.

Shot was president of the Rotary Club of McMinnville. In honor of his accomplishments, the McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce conferred its Free Enterprise Award on Nunley in 1988, and in 1999 he was cited for the McMinnville Evening Exchange Club’s Recognition Award.

At the district level, Nunley held several major positions and was elected as district governor, serving in 1998-99. Nunley was honored with the Rotary Foundation District Service Award for 2000-2001.

Living an adventurous and impressive life, Shot told stories of unique experiences which had taken place over his lifetime, including he and his family's own pasts and an emphasis on his strong sense of love for the community and its people.


In March, I was lucky enough to sit down with Shot and his wife, Patti Nunley, to hear some of Shot's fascinating stories. These stories were focused on the tornadoes he'd personally experienced and lived through. However, he was filled with an immense amount of all variety of stories, which he told with enthusiasm, gaining the attention of all who heard.

Regarding the tornado article I was writing for the Southern Standard, I interviewed the Nunleys, and I wasn't disappointed as I sat on the couch taking in all the detailed stories he told eloquently. He had my full attention.

Following the deadly tornadoes causing devastation throughout the state in March, at least 24 people were confirmed dead. The tragedy struck Nashville and other areas, but the most damage took place in Putnam County with at least five children below the age of 13 losing their lives.

“The 1974 Super Outbreak was like this recent one where it all happened at night,” said Shot. “Some of the people killed during the tornadoes were sleeping when the storm struck and had no time to find shelter.”

The outbreak affected 13 states with the number of deaths totaling 335 people. Thirty-eight were killed in Middle Tennessee. Local Stevie Ware was killed when the tornado picked up his truck and threw him off Highway 56. The next day, his truck was found in a ravine below the road.

“I knew the tornadoes had come across Warren County, but I didn’t know exactly where they had touched down,” said Shot. “When it went across our farm in Mt. Zion, it was about 350 feet in the air. It didn’t touch down because of the mountain right behind it being 250 feet tall, but you could see the gaps in the trees where it went across and cleaned out the tops of them.” 

The tornado left debris covering a 20-acre field on the Nunley farm. A unique aspect was the tremendous amount of paper everywhere. As Shot and Patti began picking up the shredded papers, the couple recognized all of the debris being cancelled checks from a town south of Birmingham. The tornado had traveled more than 100 miles and dropped all of the papers in the field.

Other than the 1974 tornadoes, the Nunleys have been up close and personal with two major tornadoes, which both took place in Memphis.

The first incident occurred in the mid-1960s, as the two were attending the Memphis Open Golf Tournament at Old Colonial Country Club downtown.

“We had been there for all of 10 minutes when we suddenly heard the sirens go off as the players were putting on the green. There was a little bit of change in the players’ demeanor, and they looked around inquisitively but continued to play,” said Shot. “A few minutes after we heard the sirens, flares went off from the clubhouse. The players dropped their putters, caddies dropped their bags and everyone on the course took off in a dead run.” 

The Old Colonial Country Club had an Olympic-sized pool which had been drained for the season. The Nunleys say the pool was completely full as people tried to find shelter from the storm by getting in the lowest place possible. 

“We had parked close to the clubhouse, and as we were trying to get to the car, metal signs were flying down the road and were head-high,” says Patti. “We were literally holding onto the pine trees near where we were parked.”

“That was the moment when we became pretty scared,” added Shot. 

Another major tornado the Nunleys experienced took place in the mid-1990s while staying in the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. Patti was interested in visiting a small consignment store, but the couple decided to go to a mall first which was newly built. 

“By the time we were entering the mall, the sky was turning green,” said Shot. “We were in a large department store when the staff began guiding us downstairs to the basement. Suddenly, the power went off, and we knew there was a tornado somewhere close by.”

As Shot was looking outside to view the storm through a window, all 20 doors located around the building blew open at the same time. 

“Most of the men’s dress shirts flew right off the tables. I believe at least 1,000 shirts were blown out through the open doors,” said Shot.

After Shot and Patti were finally able to exit the mall, the two went to see the consignment store they had planned on visiting, but it was destroyed. More damage was seen as one school had every window busted out, limbs blocked lanes in the streets and the traffic lights weren’t working. 

The Nunleys gave advice regarding how to be aware of a tornado approaching by both viewing the environment and using the updated technology available to stay safe if a tornado strikes.  

“Before a tornado hits, the sky often turns a greenish color. Other signs might include the temperature being uncommonly warm, and the wind becoming very blustery,” advised Shot. “Tornadoes sound like a train as they come close and move through an area.”

“Stay alert, pay attention and don’t ignore the warnings,” added Patti.

I'm glad I stayed alert during his storytelling as I gained quite a bit of knowledge, a great deal of respect, viewed a photo book of images from the tornado, shocking stories, kindness and great advice.

Shot was an elder at McMinnville’s First Presbyterian Church, where he was a member since 1945. His wife of 60 years, Patti survives, along with daughter, Susan Marttala (husband David), and son Charles N. Nunley, Jr. (wife Allison), and five grandchildren: Shelby, Will and Lilly Marttala, and Erin and Morgan Nunley.

The Nunley family suggests any gifts in remembrance be directed to the Rotary International Foundation, First Presbyterian Church or Magness Library.

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