OUR HOMETOWN
By Dennis Hollander

 

Many years ago the members of the TJ Class of 1961 lived and grew up in a place they will always remember with fond memories. It was a special place that doesnít really exist any longer - at least not as we remembered it in our youth. The place was known as Port Arthur and is still called that today but in name only. Even though there were never more than around 65,000 inhabitants it was always full of life, lights, laughter, excitement and good times. The Proctor Street downtown area was always lined with cars parallel parked along both sides of the street for blocks. On the weekends the automobiles on Proctor were bumper to bumper full of people having a "Day on the Town." Remember the numerous retail stores and movie theatres that used to line both sides of Proctor St.? The Pleasure Pier with its boats, amusement rides, swimming pool and large dance hall was always a place we looked forward to visiting. Watching the moon over Lake Sabine while parked with someone special behind the dance hall was something we more than likely can all relate to and reminisce about.

I remember with such pride the beauty and neatness of all the old homes along Lakeshore Drive and down Proctor Street. Rose Hill was always a show place to hold receptions, parties, weddings or simply visit with out of town friends and relatives. As you drove around the city there was a sense of pride in the people who lived there. You could tell this from the constant sound of lawn mowers being pushed by homeowners, the smell of fresh paint on the many frame houses and the simple sound of children playing in the yards of a town they all loved. People were friendly and mixed with neighbors because there was a common feeling of safety and trust between the citizens of this town.

The public and parochial school system was second to none in the state of Texas. All of the schools were beautiful and well maintained regardless of their age. The old Woodrow Wilson Junior High on Lakeshore Drive was the centerpiece of many events. Famous singers, comedians, musicians, dancers and celebrities came there to perform or speak to the citizens of Port Arthur. Remember all the recitals, choirs and minstrel shows that were held there? They were wonderful and everyone enjoyed them immensely. Everyone was proud of our own Thomas Jefferson High School (both the old one and the new one opened in 1959) For decades it was known statewide for its powerhouse football teams, its outstanding Red Hussar Drum & Bugle Corp., The TJ Band and its outstanding scholastic standing among Texas high schools. Many graduates of our school system went on to higher education and lived a life full of great accomplishments and achievements. These were all things that the citizens of the  town could respect and appreciate. I never knew anyone during the time I grew up in Port Arthur who wasnít proud to say, "Iím from Port Arthur and graduated from high school there." Unfortunately, you donít hear that type of enthusiasm and impromptu response any longer.

There is an old saying "That change is always inevitable and nothing ever remains the same in life." Is that simply what happened to Our Hometown or is it much more complex than that? We can debate the various issues of what caused the changes in our beloved Port Arthur and never come to a final conclusion where there is a consensus of opinion on the subject. I personally believe it involved many factors that were beyond the control of anyone or any group. Economics, job availability, relocation of the primary business district, gradual migration of citizens to central and eastern Jefferson County, death and retirement of key individuals are just some examples of what probably caused the " inevitable changes" to our Hometown. I would like to think that someday Port Arthur will return back into a semblance of the type of town it once was so long ago. Itís possible but city leaders & all the citizens of the community would have to want this change to occur and work together to make it happen. Thatís a tall order and one that would require a great deal of dedication and hard work. Whether or not it ever happens is up to the people themselves. Time will tell as it always does.

Even though I have not been a permanent resident of Port Arthur since going off to college in 1961 - - - I can still look people in the eye and say, "I am proud to be from Port Arthur and a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School Ė Class of Ď 61.

Dennis R. Hollander
dhollander@houston.rr.com
denh@ins-alliance.com
January 25, 2007

Well, that was real special. Thanks to Dennis for his wonderful words of remembrance, and compassion for Port Arthur, and Thomas Jefferson. Those good old days will live forever in the minds and hearts of our generation, and many of us will know how blessed we were to have been a part of the of these memories. JK

Jean Kay Domingue-Moreau .... Orange, TX

I really appreciate these thoughts from Dennis.  He has expressed what I have felt for a long time.  Growing up in the area (I really lived in Groves) has left me with some very fond memories and some really great friends.  I breaks my heart every time I go home to see what has happened to my hometown.  The once beautiful area with all the find old homes and the decay in a downtown area that still holds so very much potential.  With a little foresight and someone willing to invest some time, effort and money, the area is ripe to once again become a destination for people to visit.  There certainly is a rich heritage in the area.  From the humble beginnings of the Aurora community to the flamboyance of Arthur Stillwell, John 'Bet-A-Million' Gates and others of early Port Arthur and its emergence brought on by the discovery of oil and the development of the petrochemical industry, Port Arthur was a great place to grow up.  In my waning years as the once brilliant memories began to fade,  I hold dearly to that which I can recall.  Dennis was right on the money about the PA School District being second to none in the state.  I know that every student that  graduated from the Schools in that District received a very good education.  In fact, I have to believe that most have gone out into the world and made it a better place, they are the famous and near famous, the skilled and the unskilled, and the professional.  It takes all kinds of folks to make a community.  I can certainly agree with Dennis on everything he has said, although, Dennis, you must have been much more of a Romeo than many of the rest of us.  None-the-less, I echo your thoughts and love you and all of the TJ Class of '61'. 
 
Billy Black, TJ Class of 1961 ... Irving, TX

             

 
Enjoying Dennis Hollander's very articulate piece on Port Arthur pride reminded me of the following.
Several years ago Marjorie and I were at a dinner/dance club party. We were seated at a very crowded table and the music ('60 vintage) was blaring. Although there were 12 couples at our table, conversation was limited to the individuals to my
immediate right and left.  The sound was deafening...I was hearing less than every other word.  Suddenly, through this wall of noise, I heard a women who was seated across the table exclaim, " I'm from Port Arthur and I'm proud of it." Of course I had to met her. Her name was Laura (Carter) Higley or better known as Federal Judge Laura Higley, Court of Appeals, First District....a very popular and distinguished person in Houston. She graduated from TJHS probably in '64 or thereabouts. She and her husband Bob, have become good friends with Marjorie and I.
On the many occasions that her name pops up in the news, etc, I cannot help recalling  her saying "I'm from Port Arthur and I'm proud of it."
You know what, SO AM I.....
See you at the reunion...

Jimmy Maxfield .... Houston, TX

Wow! Fantastic article, Dennis. I am also proud of being from Port Arthur, and I have numerous memories with my family, friends and classmates. Also George retired from Gulf(Chevron)after 30 years. This page reminded me when George and I were in Italy last July. We had the opportunity to take a train ride from Milan, Italy to Lucern,Switzerland. While we were visiting with other U.S. citizens, a man popped his head over  the back of my seat. He had heard our Texas accents and wanted to visit! It turned out he was a 70`s graduate of Thomas Jefferson, and we had a wonderful visit with  both he and his lovely wife. Dr. George Sanders is a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, CA now. We also learned his dad had worked with George at Gulf. Small World! So folks no matter where we go or what we accomplish we can be proud to say YES, I'm from Port Arthur and I graduated from TJ. I know I am. Thanks again, Dennis. George and I are looking forward to many, many years of visiting with the greatest  classmates, TJ Class of 61!

Susan Marsh-Henry .... New Ulm, TX

Dennis hoping you will be a famous novelist one of these days .. so talented with words .. I am predicting you will walk out of the Insurance Office one bright day as a Famous Novelist.

One of your four novels  for sure will get published so everyone watch for them as you will get one of them published and hopefully more soon .. just wait and see..
Class of 61 pulling for you all way..

Sandy Marsh-Boyd .... Nederland, TX

                   

 

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

RETURN TO HOME PAGE

Page last updated Monday July 30, 2007