Businessman Morton Tuller - known for providing trophies and awards recognizing students, athletes and professionals for nearly six decades in the Old Pueblo - died Wednesday at home, where he was in hospice care.
Tuller was 91, 18 days short of his 92nd birthday.
"I was holding one of his hands," said his son Howard Tuller. "His wife (Arlene Tuller) was holding the other."
"It was sweet," said Howard Tuller, 59, who is carrying on Tuller Trophy and Awards, the business his father and mother, Sylvia, founded in 1955 at 525 N. Sixth Avenue. In 1974, a second location was opened by Howard Tuller at 5631 E. 22nd St.
Sylvia Tuller died in 1987. She and Morton are in a photo snapped in the 1950s that is on a tile art mural on the Broadway underpass commemorating downtown's past.
Trophies from Tuller, the first trophy and awards dealer in Tucson, have recognized thousands of honorees from formal banquets on down to ball fields and various sporting events across the city.
Tuller had the business sense, work ethic and personality that attracted clients, said his son. It was that personality that led Tuller to persuade the curator of the White House to receive one of his engraved nameplates for exhibits, which led to orders from the White House under the administrations of presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, recalled Howard Tuller with a laugh.
In a 2005 interview, Morton explained that he went on a VIP White House tour in the 1970s and took note that the brass plaque beneath a portrait of President John F. Kennedy was tarnished. He provided a new plaque guaranteed not to tarnish, and the curator placed a large order for more plaques, and Tuller refused to take payment from the White House.
Howard Tuller said his father also made name plates for Arlington National Cemetery.
In the early 1980s, Morton was named National Trophy Dealer of the Year, in part because of his work at the White House, said his son. He also was elected national president of the Trophy Dealers and Manufacturers Association.
In 1996, Morton was inducted into the Awards and Recognition Association Hall of Fame.
Morton was born May 19, 1921, in Brooklyn, N.Y. and was raised in Chicago. He was the fourth of five children and his father, Manes Tuller, worked as a house painter, while his mother, Bella, stayed home and took care of the children.
When Morton was 15, he and his friends went to the Chicago Theater and auditioned for the stage production of "Dead End Kids", a play about children who grew up on the streets and overcame obstacles. Morton was chosen for the production and toured the country, performing on the East and West coasts, and in Washington, D.C., for first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, recalled Howard Tuller.
"This set the stage for my dad's success later in life. He learned if he put himself out there and did his best, he could accomplish great things," explained his son.
Morton graduated from high school and was studying pre-med at Wright Junior College in Chicago when World War II began. He dropped out to enlist in 1942 and served in the Army Signal Corps, a top-secret post in a cryptography group that was part of a Navy amphibious group command ship - one of only four such groups ever created.
He saw numerous battles, including assaults in Sicily, southern France, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines. He was not allowed to talk about his service for 50 years, said his son. In 2000, U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe officially presented Morton with six medals, one ribbon and 10 battle stars that he never received for his service.
"I did what I was called upon to do and that was it," said Morton Tuller modestly during an interview with the Star before he was presented with his medals.
Services are today at 2 p.m. at Evergreen Mortuary at 3015 N. Oracle Road.
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or email@example.com