A red maple at the alleyway of Dice and Main streets is just a tree to most people.
To the Bunch family, however, that tree exemplifies the message in I Corinthians 13:8: “Love never fails.”
According to Cynthia Stinnett, granddaughter of Rev. Hubert and Betty Harbin Bunch, the love story started in the 1940s.
As a teenager, Hubert walked across town to see his girlfriend, Betty Harbin, daughter of Jim and Helen Harbin. Hubert was the son of Thomas and Maude Bunch.
The Bunch family lived in the area of the old fairgrounds near the intersection of East Andrew Johnson Highway and Haun Drive, near the Sky City shopping center, where Big Lots and Ingle’s are now located.
Hubert would walk to what was known as Rhea Town near the intersection of West Morris Boulevard and Sulphur Springs Road to take Betty on a date.
“They would usually walk to downtown and either watch a movie at the old Princess Theater or just people watch,” Stinnett said.
At the conclusion of their date, Hubert would walk Betty home before returning to his house. Just before making it back to Betty’s house, they would stop to kiss good night at the red maple tree that is standing today in the alleyway of Dice Street and Main Street.
After the lovebirds were married on July 18, 1949, the Bunch’s enjoyed a long and happy marriage of 63 years.
Hubert was ordained as a Baptist minister on Jan. 3, 1954 at Macedonia Baptist Church. He served as pastor at Robertson Creek Baptist Church in Hawkins County, Calvue Baptist Church, Holts Baptist Church, Holston Baptist Church in Strawberry Plains, Macedonia Baptist Church, Central Baptist Church, Morningside Baptist Church, Cedar Creek Baptist Church and Fairfield Baptist Church. He also served as interim pastor at Calvue, Holston Memorial and Westview Baptist churches. He celebrated more than 50 years of service in the ministry.
Hubert also worked at Bradley Hardware.
Betty was a homemaker and worked at JC Penney when it was located in Morristown Plaza Shopping Center, as well as the old Robertson-Turner Drug Store.
Hubert passed away March 21, 2013 at age 82. Betty passed on Dec. 23, 2015 at the age of 81.
Over the years their family grew to include their son, the late Michael Bunch and daughter-in-law Darlene, grandson Todd (Gina) Bunch, granddaughter Cynthia (Marc) Stinnett, great-granddaughter Hunter (Gabriel) Stapleton, great-grandsons: Connor Bunch, Cannon Bunch and David Stinnett, step-granddaughter Bailee Harris and fiancé Jacob Samples.
The tree could have been cut down for a dining room table. However, the Bunch family thought better of it. Instead, the tree was nominated by the family as the first “Tree of Distinction” for Morristown. Members of the Morristown Tree Board agreed.
“There were limbs that needed to be pruned, after pruning, these were taken to a sawmill to be made into heirlooms for descendants,” Stinnett said.
Stinnett worked with City of Morristown Horticulturist Mike Cupp to get the trimmed limbs.
“We met at the City of Morristown storage lot. The City was very gracious to allow us to have the clippings,” Stinnett said.
The tree is a reminder of the legacy Hubert and Betty left for their family. A legacy that can be summed up in one word - Love.
“They had the type of love that multiplied,” Cynthia said. “There was always plenty to go around. It endured the test of time. They firmly believed in loving the Lord with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. This tree is a reminder of the love and devotion between two teenagers that spanned a lifetime because they knew and believed First Corinthians 13:8 that ‘Love Never Fails.’”
At the Morristown Tree Board meeting in March, Cynthia Stinnett asked the board to mark the tree as a “Tree of Distinction.” Members of the tree board agreed and named the tree the city’s first “Tree of Distinction.”
From world wars, seasons and changes in lives, it’s been more than 70 years since two teenagers shared a ‘good night’ kiss was shared between Hubert and Betty. Although the world has changed around this tree, the message of the tree remains the same: “Love one another,” -John 13:34.
“When my grandparents kissed underneath it in the 1940s, the tree was pretty big then,” Stinnett said.
At Rev. Bunch’s first pastorate at Robertson Creek Baptist, the women of the church took up a collection for an eight-place china setting. Stinnett still has the set today.
The “Kissing Tree” story was almost never told. After Rev. Hubert’s passing, his son Mike, who passed in 2019, drove Betty around to some of the churches her husband had pastored.
“Then one day, she told Mike to ‘drive me by the kissing tree,’”Stinnett said. “I’m a better person for having known Hubert and Betty Bunch.”