The first thing I remember about Tyler Junior College is something my mother told me when I was a boy. She had been in the first class of TJC students in 1926, and during an assembly that year she had done something that has had a lasting impact upon this venerable institution. The assembly had been called for the purpose of soliciting student participation in the selection of a name for the athletic teams, and Annie Hill had shouted out “Apaches!”
She and her boyfriend of the time had decided that no appellation could elicit more respect from potential adversaries than the name of the native American tribe that had stood so courageously before every foe. Who wouldn’t want to go to a school whose teams are known as Apaches?
So that’s what I did. When I graduated from Tyler High in 1946, this Lion became an Apache. After all, Tyler Junior College was right there in one of the buildings where my high school classes had been held, and I’d even studied under some of those teachers. It was an easy decision, and one of the best I ever made.
I’m profoundly prejudiced in the matter, but no one will ever convince me that those years, 1946 to 1948, were not the most important in the history of the school. Members of the “Greatest Generation” were returning from their triumph over the forces of evil in World War II, and Tyler Junior College was blessed with the cream of the crop. We teenagers found out what it was like to be intermingled with mature men and women whose lives had been laid on the line and had therefore been changed forever. These were people serious about getting an education, and they had come to just the right place for that to happen. Mr. Henderson’s chemistry and biology classes and Miss Brandenburg’s English and literature classes were places for serious people to be, and Dr. Jenkins and Dean Potter were right there to see that the ship stayed on course.
A whole chapter could be written about those devoted instructors and those dedicated veterans. But the bottom line is this: before 1946, TJC was the little building behind Tyler High on College Avenue, but by 1948 it had become a force to be reckoned with - because it was a seat of learning, but also because of two of the most important nonacademic decisions ever to be made.
During this period, Floyd Wagstaff was hired from Tyler High as head coach, and a drill team known as the Apache Belles was organized. Coach Wagstaff would lead his very first football team to the national championship game (an unheard-of feat), and the Apache Belles would embark upon a spectacular history of performances at home and abroad. Years later my daughter would be one of those Belles who did those fabulous things.
Nor is there room here to recount the life of achievements of our ‘46-’48 alumni such as four-star Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, NFL Coach Bill Johnson, Texas House Speaker Byron Tunnel and many others, all of them from a student body of fewer than 200 and a faculty and staff of never more than 24.
What a time this was!
So what does the school mean to me? What do I think about when I think about Tyler Junior College? I think about instructors who made learning an intriguing challenge ... about Miss DeBord, who made the arts my life, and about Miss Brandenburg, who ignited my flame of literary fire which has resulted in published novels and short stories.
But most of all I think about being in the right place at the right time, when TJC was beginning its climb to the pinnacle of academic and extracurricular excellence, those two exciting and challenging years of my life whose memory I cherish in my heart.
- TJC Hero & Friend Dick Johns is a 1948 graduate of TJC who has published novels and short stories and won awards and acclaim for his original artwork. Using a delicate art style known as stipple, Johns has drawn the likeness of every previous TJC president, every Sports Circle of Honor inductee and many other TJC icons, including Apache Belle director Mildred Stringer, Coach Wagstaff, J.C. Henderson, Bobby Inman, Jean Browne, Harold Beaird, Jenkins Hall, and one of the first Apache mascot icons. He operates Graffix+ where he continues to illustrate people and places and create detailed drawings for technical manuals. He is a lifetime TJC Alumni Association member and he and his wife, Joann are proud TJC supporters.