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Dr. John Burke named Distinguished Alumnus by PJC

Published or Revised January 13, 2017

John Burke

Paris Junior College has three days of activities planned for the 2016 Homecoming, November 3-5. The awarding of the College’s highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, will highlight the weekend. Four alumni will also be inducted into the Academic Hall of Honor for their outstanding career achievements. Receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award is John A. Burke, Jr., Ph.D., a retired chemistry professor emeritus from Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas.

Four alumni will be added to the Academic Hall of Honor on Saturday, November 5, at 2:30 p.m. at the McLemore Student Center Ballroom. Selected are Captain Jack Ashmore, USN, Retired, Class of 1949; Dr. Claude Caffee, Class of 1962; R. Keith Drummond, Class of 1954, and Jonathan Jordan, Class of 1996.

Spending his formative years in Paris, Burke attended Second Ward (later known as J.G. Wooten) and Fourth Ward.

“During this period,” Burke said of his time at Paris High, “an interest in teaching began to germinate. A scholarship for one year at PJC was presented to me the night of my high school graduation in 1955.”

Burke’s interest in education was further strengthened during his two years at PJC by his uncle, Forest Blankenship. 

“Uncle Forest had been a member of the College’s faculty since the 1930’s,” Burke said. Support of then-PJC president Frank Grimes, who was his chemistry and physics instructor, further enhanced his interest.

At PJC, he and Ben Killebrew teamed as tennis partners, finishing second in the junior college tournament and leading to a tennis scholarship for his sophomore year. The scholarship also included working for President J.L. McLemore, arranging weekly programs for the school assemblies. Also during his sophomore year, Burke was elected student body president.

“All of the faculty and staff greatly influenced my interest in continuing my goal of a career in education and teaching,” he said.

After graduating from PJC in 1957 with an associate arts degree, Burke entered Texas Tech College in Lubbock earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1959. While at Tech, the determined student made the decision to teach chemistry while working as a janitor at the South Plains Boy Scout Office.

From Lubbock, Burke traveled to Columbus, Ohio and the University of Ohio where he would earn his Master of Science degree, and serve as a graduate assistant for freshmen chemistry students. It was also where he met “the girl next door,” Gwendolyn Wright, who became Mrs. John Burke in 1962.

By 1963 he had competed his Ph.D. research in unusual magnet properties of iron and cobalt compounds, leading to his next move career-wise. One offer was to work for DuPont Laboratories in industrial products and processes, the other was to begin a teaching career at Trinity. After much soul searching, along with the anticipated arrival of their first child, the interest in teaching won out and he began the next phase of life as an assistant professor of chemistry at Trinity.

When he joined the University, the chemistry faculty consisted of three professors and one new assistant professor. Burke advanced from associate to professor, then was named department chair in 1969 and later Dean of Math, Science and Engineering in 1976. After serving in key leadership capacities for some twelve years, he returned to his passion of teaching.

Born in Eastland, Texas, Burke came to Paris in 1937 as it was the home of his father, the late John A. Burke. Once World War II broke out, the Burke family relocated to Galveston where his father would work in the shipyard until the War ended and the family returned to Paris.

Burke was inducted into the PJC Academic Hall of Honor in 1999. His career at Trinity spanned 37 years from 1963 until his retirement in 2000. He retired to support his wife, Gwen in her struggle with breast cancer. Less than 18 months after his retirement, she passed away.

The Burkes have three children, J. Andrew Burke, and wife, Alicia; Kipper Burke, and wife Catherine, and Betsy Landry and husband, Jeff. All three children received graduate degrees. There are eight grandchildren.

Retirement hasn’t slowed Burke down as he can regularly be found on the golf course. He’s blessed with a special friend, Barbro, and her two children and grandchildren who all live in Sweden. For thirty years, Burke has also been the drummer for the Medina Mud Band.

Led by Student Services, PJC Homecoming festivities kick off at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 3, with the Homecoming Parade which starts on the PJC campus and proceeds up Clarksville Street to 12th S.E. and north to Lamar Avenue where the floats and decorated vehicles will circle the Plaza and return back down Clarksville Street to the campus.

Friday, Nov. 4, PJC President Dr. Pam Anglin will host alumni, guests and friends of the College at the annual President’s Reception in the McLemore Student Center Ballroom from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Saturday features the Distinguished Alumni Award Luncheon at Love Civic Center which will begin at 11:30 a.m. Cost for the luncheon is $20 per person. Reservations may be made by calling the Alumni Affairs Office, (903)782-0276. A homecoming reservation form may also be downloaded at http://www.parisjc.edu. Click the Alumni & Visitor’s button, then the gray button called “Reserve your spot at PJC’s 92nd Homecoming Now!”

Deadline for registration is Tuesday, Nov. 1. For more information, contact Derald Bulls, Director Institutional Advancement/Alumni Affairs, (903) 782-0276, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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