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One PJC alumna’s tale: Virginia Porter McAllister

Published or Revised May 28, 2014

Virginia McAllister photo

Virginia Porter McAllister, in the 1942 Galleon at left, and currently.

PJC has a history of blending academics and workforce education and, in September, will celebrate its 90th anniversary. We welcome your favorite stories of your time on campus. This is a year of celebration—a year of reflection—a year filled with passion for the building blocks of the past and the bright horizons toward the future. One of PJC’s strengths is the legacy of opportunity. Some students were the only one in their family able to attend, others only came one year before beginning a successful career. Still others used their time at PJC as a stepping-stone toward a four-year education. Daniel and Charlotte “Lottie” Porter of Blossom wanted more for their children. With only an eighth grade education, the couple’s sheer determination and grit gave seven of their eight children that opportunity. Between 1927and 1945, those seven got their foundations at PJC. They had careers as educators, a government employee; a medical assistant turned clothing storeowner, and an auto salesman, according to Virginia Porter McAllister, Class of 1942. Virginia is the only living of the eight Porter children and calls Fayetteville, Ark. home. In today’s environment, PJC is a blending of academics and workforce education that draw students to our doors. In September, PJC will celebrate its 90th anniversary. We continue to welcome your favorite stories of your time on campus. This is a year of celebration—a year of reflection—a year filled with passion for the building blocks of the past and the bright horizons toward the future. “My Dad once said he only wished he had more than an eighth grade education,” said Mrs. McAllister. His word and promise yielded a quality, affordable education for his children during some of the toughest times, the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Six of the seven Porter children would attend the “Concrete Campus” on 2nd Street N.E. near downtown. Virginia spent one year on each campus and younger brother Buck attended the new Clarksville Street campus. In relating her passion and love for PJC, Mrs. McAllister said PJC President Dr. J.R. McLemore told her, “Virginia, your Dad has signed more notes to this College than any man in Lamar County”, referring to the necessary admission papers to attend PJC. Mrs. McAllister shared how a lifetime of learning and the difference the desire to learn made in each of their lives. She and her siblings would live with families in Paris, holding down part-time job. Among the families who provided room and board were familiar names such as Columbus, Walden, Spain, Kerbow, Bankhead, and Wilson. In the Porter household, it was the post-depression time that brought them to call Blossom home. Virginia was in the 5th grade when they arrived in the Minter community. Older brother John worked at The Paris News from 1-5 a.m. each morning and attended classes on weekends to better prepare him for a career in education. Twin sisters, Lelia and Linnie would both follow their brother’s footsteps, choose the art of teaching as their vocation and spend 35 plus years in doing so. “Lelia was exceptionally smart,” Virginia related. “She skipped to some of the higher grades in public schools,” noting that she never made any grade below an “A”. Lelia was a Spanish teacher and in the first year of teaching in Linden, Texas, boarded and shared horse and buggy rides with another teacher, Dollie Skidmore. Linnie chose home economics as her forte and was very artistic. She and her husband, Harry Ray, taught in Magnolia, Arkansas, Alpine and Odessa and retired to Kerrville. Both twins passed away at age 95. Brother Stephen’s first inclination was to take the trade he was learning while attending PJC, grocery store management, and he spent an early portion of his career overseeing large grocery stores. However, his experience in WWII led him to being trained on a fire fighting boat in the Merchant Marines. Following the War, he advanced through the ranks of the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico, to eventually serve as Chief Security Officer. Like his twin sisters, he passed away at the age of 95. It was during the 1939-40 school year that Virginia would work in the Library and ride the PJC bus to and from Blossom. After beginning her education at the “Concrete Campus,” she stayed home for a year to care for her ill mother and help care for her father and younger brother. “Believe me, I was eager to get back to school in 1941,” she said. Virginia was also a favorite among her classmates and was named as the “Sweetheart of PJC” and May Queen in 1942. In 1941-42, she worked in the Registrar’s Office and then for the Business Manager. She was also a most successful member of the debate and oratory teams and competed at Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University, winning first place and once won “Best Girl Orator.” She was involved in the Collejets, Ariel, Forensic Society and on The Galleon staff. Like many women of this era, Virginia planned to take the Civic Service test following graduation from PJC and go to work in Washington, DC, with her commercial office skills training. But with World War II and the opening of Camp Maxey just north of Paris, she was assigned as secretary to the Chief ENT (ear, nose and throat) physician in the new Camp Maxey Station Hospital. It was there she met a University of Arkansas ROTC officer, A.D. McAllister, who was called to duty to help activate Camp Maxey. Four months later, September 1, 1943, she married Lt. A.D. McAllister. He entered the Air Force and became a bombardier. After completing service to his country, McAllister enrolled and began law school at the University of Arkansas the day following his release. Virginia’s baby brother, Edward “Buck” Porter, began his PJC experience in 1944 and worked nights at the local theater while attending school during the days. While he didn’t complete his two years at PJC, he believed he would be drafted and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Following the end of the war, Buck would spend his early career farming and later become a top car salesman for a Ford dealership in Bryan, Texas. In early 1960, Mrs. McAllister began filling in at her mother-in-law’s small dress shop in Fayetteville due to her father-in-law’s hospitalization in St. Louis, Missouri. Although she had worked at Kress’ in Paris on Saturdays and holidays during her second stint at PJC in 1941-42, she said she had no experience in running a store. Mrs. McAllister began the transition to ownership in 1961 and continued operating the shop until 1998. “My husband saw something in me I didn’t see myself and I probably could have kept the store open longer had it not been for his diagnosis of prostate cancer,” she said. In 1987, she learned of a new jewelry store opening near her shop. She went to meet the owner, Olivia Sardo. Once inside the door, she noticed Mrs. Sardo had also graduated from PJC’s jewelry program. Over the past 37 years, the two have become good friends and hope to return to the PJC campus for the 90th Anniversary Celebration this fall. While she has not been on campus since her 50th Class Reunion in 1992, she said, “I feel as did my sisters and brothers, that PJC and the good home life we’d had, were the beginning of a wonderful life for all of us.” And we agree. Now 92, Virginia lost her late husband, A.D., in 2002 and is still active in her community. “I can still drive,” she bragged. Through the years, she still recalls close friends who still call Paris home—Jane (Record) Steely and Carroll (Moore) Starnes. The doors of education have been opened for many families, just as for the Porters, here at PJC. As we celebrate the 90th Anniversary, each alumnus, former student and friend of the College, is invited to consider making a gift today to continue into the next century the foundation of so many lives—quality, affordable education close to home. We are counting on you!