Catherine Porter
of Pelham, Navarro Co., TX


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2/6/2005 KEEPING HISTORY ALIVE: Porter works to preserve, promote her community

 

Catherine Porter, a life-long resident of Pelham, has always enjoyed serving and volunteering in the community and Navarro County. She and her husband J.B. still live on land that has been in the family for more than 100 years. Daily Sun photo/STEPHEN FARRIS




By STEPHEN FARRIS/Daily Sun Staff

Nestled in the far west region of Navarro County is the small community of Pelham, with a handful of residents making sure the town's heritage and memories are kept alive and never forgotten.

Local resident Catherine Porter, and husband J. B. still remain in Pelham where they were born and raised, and belong to Wesley United Methodist Church where she serves as Church school superintendent, and is president of the United Methodist Women.

Catherine is also a lay speaker in the church, a member of the church choir and a member of God's Helping Hand in Dawson (a food program for anybody who needs food).

"We've always had good neighbors and friends as far as I can remember," Catherine said. "My mother always instilled in us to always be nice, and be kind to others."

A rule she still lives by today.

She said while growing up family members helped with farming and other chores, but on Saturday's (if the weather was nice), her family would go to the cemetery and read the headstones on the graves. Catherine is also a member of the Texas Historical Commission. When she is able, she joins other members in Navarro County going out to locate abandoned cemeteries.

Catherine graduated from high school in Pelham, one of only two black high schools in the region at the time.

After graduation, she assisted a teacher from the community in teaching young students. In return, the teacher offered Catherine music lessons.

Soon after graduation, Catherine married J. B. and together they had two children. She worked as a homemaker early on until both children were raised and went off to college.

Catherine went to work for Community Action Services in the late 1960's, serving on the board until she was hired full-time in 1968.

"I worked as a community developer and covered three counties -- Navarro, Ellis and Kaufman. I worked part-time in Henderson County, and any other county that needed community services," Catherine said.

She said most of her job consisted in helping low-income individuals obtain housing, working with farmers to obtain land grants, people needing jobs and other programs or services people needed.

Catherine was instrumental in organizing Neighborhood Organization Centers where seniors had a place to meet and do things.

"We had 10 locally and seven additional centers in other counties," she said.

"Transportation was a major concern for seniors back then, especially in rural areas," Catherine said.

She heard the government had a program designed to reach out and help people, and talked to her supervisor about it.

"Mr. Vocek (who was the head of Community Services then) said he never heard of it, but gave me the go ahead to promote it," Catherine said.

She immediately wrote up a grant to secure a van through the Green Thumb program. After the grant was secured Community Services purchased a van from Tom White Chevrolet in Corsicana.

"It was so nice. Mr. White matched the funds from the grant to allow the purchase of the van," Catherine said. "We were able to also hire people in different areas of the county to go out and transport people to doctors appointments or other needs seniors might need."

She said the job was a rewarding experience even though there was always plenty of paperwork, keeping up with lots of records, and working late hours to finish up work.

She has also received a Certificate of Appreciation for exceptional and distinguished volunteer service award from the Texas Department of Aging, after serving on the North Central Texas Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging committee during the 1980's.

In 1989 Catherine decided to retire, but has remained active in the community and county since then.

Catherine has been instrumental in working together with her fellow neighbors, Adolphus Martin, J. D. Heiskell, Bernard Porter and R. N. Davenport to insure the community is kept alive by setting up a marker dedicated to the early pioneers of Pelham.

She said the community boasts two historical markers, and Pelham was the first black community in the state to receive one.

Catherine and J. B. were both recognized by the State of Texas Family Land Heritage, because the land they farmed for so many years has been in the family for more than 100 years.

"In 1996, we received a plaque from the Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Rick Perry (now governor of Texas)," she said. "J. B. and I both had pictures taken with Perry."

She is also a volunteer at the Pelham Museum, and is president of a neighborhood organization to help keep Pelham going. The organization meets once a month working to bring programs to the community.

Catherine said the community was nearly devastated when the schools closed, sending students to attend classes in Dawson instead of nearby Frost.

She said most of the residents moved away from Pelham during that time, and the population dwindled drastically.

"A lot of communities have dried up and faded away," she said. "We didn't want that to happen to Pelham."

She said each year the community has a program on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Funds from the program go towards the upkeep of the cemetery and community center.

Every second Sunday in October is set-aside for the Pelham Annual Homecoming, benefiting the three churches and the community.

"We prepare a lot of food for the homecoming," Catherine said. "It gives us a chance to enjoy the fellowship with visitors to the community and with those people that have ties to Pelham."

She said some of those who return often times help out in serving food to around 400 people who come to the community for homecoming.

"By the time we finish cooking, most of us are too exhausted to eat," Catherine said. "It's a blessing to have some of the folks that used to live here or had relatives here to pitch in and help out."

Catherine said the community is very instrumental in keeping the churches going, and said each Sunday is spent at a different church. On the first Sunday of every month worshipers in the community meet at Brown Chapel. On the second Sunday, they meet at Wesley United Methodist. On the third Sunday, services are held at Milford United Methodist and on the fourth Sunday of the month everyone will meet at Brushie Prairie United Methodist.

"We wanted to keep all of the churches going, so all the members got together and decided in order to do this we would rotate services," Catherine said. "We have two sisters who play music for all of the churches, too."

Catherine was instrumental in securing a grant for the printing of Memories of Pelham, a book written in honor of the lives and memory of the deceased citizens of the Pelham community.

"We just wanted to make sure they will never be forgotten," she said.

Catherine is still active in countywide programs as well, serving as a member of the Navarro County Extension Club where she is a 60 year-plus member. She was awarded the Extension Homemaker of the Year award in 1982, and a Certificate of Appreciation award in 2004.

As a member, she works with various 4-H programs, assisting county agents where needed.

She is also a member of the Historical Society, representing the West end of the County for the past 20 years.

J.B. still does a little farming, but not as much as he used to. After the passing of their two children, Catherine and J. B. relish the moments when they can spend time with their three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

"You don't expect to outlive your children," she said.

The Porters received a nice surprise when they heard about the birth of a new great-grandchild on the third of January.

Catherine said both she and J. B. have enjoyed life in Pelham.

She said looking back on growing up, raising children, working and volunteering has been a wonderful experience.

"I've always tried to do my best, and be the best person I could be," Catherine said. "My only advice for young folks is to go to school, stay in school, and get as much education as possible."


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox