Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Panola College

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Dr. Powell at the refreshment table
Throughout the month of January 2013, Panola College in Carthage is celebrating its 65th anniversary. Actually, Panola County Junior College was approved, by county voters and by the state, and organized during 1947. But classes were first held in the spring semester of 1948. During January 1948 - 65 years ago this month - registration was first conducted and classroom instruction began. 

On January 7, 2013, a standing-room crowd gathered in the assembly room of the library building on the Panola College campus. Those present included former students and faculty members, current faculty members, and supportive citizens from the community. Dr. Greg Powell, Panola College president, welcomed the crowd and introduced the speakers.

Note the Panola College Seal behind Bill
Dr. Powell asked me to read a congratulatory proclamation from Gov. Rick Perry. I then provided a 10-minute presentation about the first few years of Panola County Junior College. I based these remarks on a book I had written, Panola College, 1947-1997, The First Half Century. The next speaker was Bev Brown, retired owner-manager of KGAS Radio in Carthage. On January 19, 1948, Bev waded through eight inches of snow to register for a night class at Panola County Junior College. He informed us that he lost a pair of galoshes during the snowstorm that greeted the original PCJC students. In 1966 Bev joined the college board of trustees, and for 18 years he was one of the most progressive board members in the history of the institution. 
Bev Brown, one of the original Panola Pioneers

Mayor Carson Joines, another Panola Pioneer
Carthage Mayor Carson Joines followed Bev Brown. A native of Beaumont, Carson was a young army veteran in 1948 when he was recruited to play on the first PCJC football team. During his second season the Ponies won the Texas Junior College State Championship. PCJC repeated as state champs in 1950 and won the first (and only) Gas Bowl in Carthage. (By the end of 1950 PCJC was deep in debt and reluctantly disbanded the highly successful football program.)

Carson married pretty Pony cheerleader, Dixie Arnold from Carthage. A fervent supporter of the junior college, Carson has served as mayor for two decades. Mayor Joines summoned President Greg Powell to the speaker's stand, read a proclamation honoring the college's importance to Carthage, and presented Dr. Powell with a key to the city. 

Dr. Powell focused upon present accomplishments of Panola College, and offered a glimpse of the future. Panola has enjoyed 10 consecutive semesters of record growth, and current enrollments exceed 2,500 students. Last year Panola experienced the fastest rate of growth of any institution of higher learning in Texas. Panola regularly is selected as a Top Ten Digital College, and recently was added to the list of Great Colleges to Work For honor roll. Whereas the early decades of Panola College witnessed a predominance of men in the student body, today women comprise 68 percent of enrollment. Because of the growth of the student body, a new dormitory is under construction, and further physical expansion is being planned.

Bill, Dr. Powell (holding Gov. Perry's proclamation),
Bev Brown, Mayor Joines (holding the city's proclamation),
Dr. Van Patterson, who arranged the event
 The program was broadcast over KGAS Radio and covered by Panola alum Elaine McPherson for the Panola Watchman. Afterward the crowd enjoyed cake and punch and favors, while socializing and touring the superbly nostalgic display in the libary gallery. There were students present from the first year of PCJC, when the only buildings were flimsy structures brought to Carthage from World War II army camps at Tyler and Greenville. The 55 students who enrolled in the spring of 1948 expanded to 185 in the fall of 1948, and the little college was off and running. Today, 65 years later, there is a modern physical plant in Carthage, as well as Panola College satellite campuses in Marshall and Center. There are strong ties between the college and a large alumni base from Carthage and nearby rural communities.
Bill and Karon O'Neal flanking Fillis the Fillie,
the Panola mascot portrayed by daughter Berri O'Neal
during her student years. As a five- and six-year-old,
Berri was the cheerleader mascot (note display below).
Dr. Powell and I will appear together on "Panola Pride," a 30-minute daily program over KGAS Radio. We will be on-air Thursday morning, January 17. And during this anniversary year we will embrace any other opportunity to relate the founding story of PCJC and to promote the future of Panola College.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www,panola.edu

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