Bev Brown & Panola College
College opened its doors for classes in January 1948 in the middle of a snowstorm, and Bev Brown was the second student in line to register.
“Bill Applegate was first, because his name started with an ‘A’ and mine with a ‘B.’ I signed up for a business math course at night,” he says. “The class was taught by the dean, Floyd Boze. When that semester ended, I signed up for an algebra class, also taught by Floyd Boze.”
While attending classes, he was working fulltime during the day at the basket factory, beginning a long career in Carthage business endeavors.
Brown was born two weeks after his father’s death. He grew up in Kilgore, graduating from Kilgore High School on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He moved to Carthage on New Year’s Day 1945 to work in a basket factory owned by his sister and her husband. In 1946, he met the love of his life, Joyce Ann, at a dance at the Carthage Community House.
“I knew the basket factory was phasing down, and would eventually go out of business, so I left there and went to work for Jack Parker, selling Ford automobiles,” he recalls. “The radio station went on the air and Alf Jernigan, Jr. was the Chamber of Commerce manager. He told the radio station they needed to hire me. I went to work at the radio station, and I liked it. I was cut out for the radio business. I was too lazy to work and too nervous to steal.”
With some family investors, Brown bought the radio station in 1957, but sold it when he went into the Army. Brown was one of many Panola County citizens who had joined the National Guard in 1948, and in 1961, he and others were called up for duty.
“I got called up along with Brodie Akins, Dan Boone, Gil Miller and John William Cooke. Someone who is called into service is entitled to his job when he gets out, but I was self-employed. So I sold my radio station when I went into the service,” he says.
Like many current students, Brown found what he needed in the Panola College curriculum – two math classes that interested him and helped him in his career.
“In my opinion, the college started out with a bang,” he says. “They voted to create the college and passed the bond. The steering committee that sold the idea of the college and the bond became the trustees. They had football, they started building a gym, an administration building, and they were under-funded.”
Growing pains for the new institution of higher education created financial problems during the first few years, but community members banded together to ensure the success of the College.
“Q.M. Martin spearheaded the idea for the College, but the Carthage school board wouldn’t let him go as superintendent. He told me that M.P. Baker was retiring from his college, and he called Q.M. and asked why they hadn’t hired a president for Panola Junior College yet. Q.M. said, ‘They’re waiting on you to come up here and apply for it.’ M.P. Baker was a very conservative individual. He knew how to squeeze every dollar that he got out of tax money,” Brown says.
Brown recalls that Cassity Jones taught drafting, and Adelyn Duke came on board as Panola College librarian. The first buildings came from Camp Fannin, which had served during World War II as a training center and POW camp.
Brown returned from military service and was working at a radio station in Kilgore when he decided in 1965 to move his family back to Carthage. A year later, the young man who had been second in line to register for Panola College classes, was asked to serve on the Board of Trustees.
“In 1966, Dr. Sterling Davis from Clayton was retiring from the board, and M.P. Baker asked me if I would be interested in seeking that seat on the board. That’s how I got there, and I served for three consecutive six-year terms,” he says.
Those 18 years were filled with change and growth for the College.
“We built nearly all of it,” Brown recalls. “When I came on the board, they were building the library and the fine arts building. Mr. Baker had rat-holed that money and the government came along with a program that provided grants for education if the institution could put up 10 percent of the funds. The Sunday after I went on the board, we had the open house at the library. Then we built the Gullette Technology Building, Merle Glass Hall, the auditorium, and we renovated the old gymnasium.”
“There’s no question that Panola College is the biggest asset in our county. It’s marvelous. Q.M. Martin was a man of vision. What we did under Q.M.’s administration was to finally got everyone thinking together and on the same page about the importance of student growth. To get student growth we had to offer activities.”
Brown said when the College proposed a bond issue in 2013 he was supportive of the effort.
“Wasn’t everybody?” he asks. “Dr. Powell told me he had college presidents from all over the state calling and asking him how did we pass a bond issue with more than 80 percent approval from voters. It’s an example of the job that the College is doing in the community. You just almost can’t find anybody that didn’t go to Panola College for at least one class. The money students save by going to Panola College – you put a pencil to it, and it’s ridiculous. A lot of people used to think that if your kid went to junior college, it was either because he was too dumb to go to a university or you couldn’t afford to send him to university. Through the years because of the work that Q.M. Martin did, and the marvelous work that Dr. Powell is doing, that doesn’t fit at all. It makes good financial sense.”
The Browns’ three children, Gene, Ginger and Gayland, their future spouses, and two of their grandchildren all followed in Bev Brown’s footsteps by attending Panola College. Gene went to Panola on a baseball scholarship.
Bill O’Neal’s book, “Panola College: 1947-1997 – The First Half Century” details the story of the Browns’ daughter, Ginger and her husband, Dennis McLaughlin, who played basketball at Panola in the 1970s:
“In classic storybook fashion, the basketball star’s sweetheart was the head cheerleader, Ginger Brown. Brown was chosen All-Campus Beauty, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Student Senate, graduated with a perfect 3.0 GPA, and was named to Who’s Who. Brown later married McLaughlin, who returned to Carthage as a high school coach. Ginger Brown McLaughlin eventually resumed pursuit of a baccalaureate degree by re-entering PJC, and in 1996, she once again was a Who’s Who honoree – the only Panola student ever to receive Who’s Who designation twice.”
In the summer of 1948, after Panola Junior College had survived its first semester in existence, Panola County was celebrating its Centennial and the College needed a float in the parade.
“They said, ‘let’s use Bev’s convertible’ – a 1948 Studebaker – because they wanted a modern, forward-thinking approach,” Brown recalls. For a man who will soon celebrate his 89th birthday, Bev Brown still supports higher education opportunities for the people of Panola County through his advocacy of Panola College.