Remembering education in Sylacauga from 1948 until I retired from teaching in 2005 covers a lot of territory as well as a lot of time. I was thinking of Sylacauga’s school board policy which often hired married couples at the same time, sometimes in the same school and sometimes in totally different areas. I have many memories of these couples and the contributions they made to education and life in Sylacauga. Quickly I could list 18 or 19 such pairs.
The first couple that I remember making a strong impression on me was Reuben and Lois Porch. If you know me at all, you know that I believe in God’s leadership in the lives of His children over coincidence (a worldly term for a worldly event), and God’s leadership was certainly how Lois and Reuben Porch got to Sylacauga. They both grew up on farms about 4 miles apart outside Arab, AL. Mr. Porch, ( I just cannot type Reuben, even now) received an AB degree from what was then Jacksonville State Teachers College, and a Masters from Alabama School of Administration and Supervision. Mrs. Porch attended Montevallo and went on to teach Fourth Grade at Main Avenue for twenty years. Those who remember her always mention the kindness that was very much a part of her life/ teaching style. Mrs. Porch died of cancer at 54 in 1970. Their son, Tommy, fondly remembers that they would have been married 88 years this year.
Times were hard, teaching jobs were scarce, and pay was minimal in the days following World War II. Mr. Porch applied for a job at Dupont in Childersburg as a guard. He was quickly hired as chief guard with more responsibility and better pay than he had anticipated. The couple lived in Alpine on Killough’s farm, and later in the brand new Sylavon Court which was built to accommodate the growth in Sylacauga’s population and economy when all the war related industries were booming in the late forties. When that plant closed, Mr. Porch was hired by Superintendent C.L. Martin as Diversified Occupations teacher at Sylacauga High. They settled in their own home on Spring Circle in a house among several that Bill Whetstone built, and their neighbors became close friends.
The Porches quickly became valued citizens of the community. They were very active in First Baptist Church where they both served, and he became a deacon. He served on Personnel Committees that called two pastors in that era, and later became a Life Deacon. I have fond memories of the Porch family walking past my house to church on Sunday morning when Tommy was small (and oh, yes, Tommy, I remember your pretty curls!)
Mr. Porch became Principal of Main Avenue School in 1951, and that’s when I first connected with him at school where I was in Miss Inez Nelson’s Second Grade Class. He was a huge man in the eyes of a very little girl, but he had a gentle, kind spirit that demanded respect without saying a word. To be so large, he walked softly; and like a cat, was right behind you before you knew he was there. He called me Ginny, and I liked that.
Janet Jones Vawter remembers how she got sick at school one day. Her Dad could not be reached, and Mrs. Jones did not drive; so Mr. Porch took her home from school. That caring act endeared her to her Principal. Later after Janet completed her degree in education, Mr. Porch called her at home to see if she would be interested in a sixth grade position. Janet voiced her concerns about her ability to handle that age child, but Mr. Porch reminded her that her own children had once been that age. She took the job, and loved teaching reading at Mountainview Elementary and later at Pinecrest
My favorite memory of Mr. Porch was shared by Terri Cardwell Brown. Her Dad (Foozie) and Mom (Squeakie) were sweethearts in high school and along with a couple of friends sneaked off to go swimming during a school day. Someone reported them to their schools. Both boys, who attended B.B. Comer, were paddled, and the girls were scared beyond belief when Mr. Porch called them to his office. Mr. Porch sat there quietly and listened to the girls’ confessions of playing hooky. Then he spoke, “It was a beautiful day yesterday to go for a swim. I can understand why you did it. I know you probably had fun, and you are not going to do that again in the future. You both need to go back to class since you missed school yesterday.” The girls were so grateful and never forgot this act of kindness from their Principal.
Others who remember Reuben Porch share stories of the quiet way he led Sylacauga High School from 1953-1963. Lynn Ferguson Jones caught the crux of his leadership style when she said, “He was always so quietly dignified, but quick to smile. He spoke softly; but when he spoke, you listened. He was well respected.” Long time teacher Harriette Sawyer echoed that sentiment, and said, “He was a great leader who led with compassion and understanding.” Jim Zeiglar summed Reuben Porch up with one word, “Respect.” Whatever the incident or problem, Mr. Porch acted instead of reacting.
When his old friend Charles Martin retired on July 1, 1963, the school board contacted Reuben Porch. Board members, Congressman Bill Nichols, Joe Phillips, and Morris Hollis asked him would he consider becoming Superintendent of Education. “Yes, I think I would like that challenge,” was the reply. The men shook hands on the deal, and Reuben Porch remained in that position for fifteen years until 1978. He had experiential knowledge of people in Sylacauga and the system he led. He had a great leadership style, and he loved what he did. The people of Sylacauga benefited from this. When health issues became a problem doing the job he loved, Reuben Porch resigned in 1978 and died 2 ½ years later.
I would be remiss not to mention the close relationship Tommy Porch had with his Dad. “I loved my Dad. He was my hero. He controlled me with a look and sometimes a few choice words of wisdom.” A former Aggie and Captain of the football team said, “Mr. Porch never smiled so much as when his son was around. The love for his son showed in his expression.”
Tommy Porch continued the educational legacy of his parents and became a history teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal at Sylacauga High. He married a local girl, eight years his junior, Peggy Henderson, who served as Secretary at Indian Valley Elementary for 20 years. Peggy passed away young like Tommy’s mother. Their daughter Mallory lives and works in Tuscaloosa at the University, but she remains close to her Dad.
Good educators are first of all just good people who are dedicated to helping other people’s children and love doing it. These Porch duos are among my favorites. Their common sense and work ethic honor them, and it was not so long ago at that.