I suppose most high school students today expect to one day go to college, and I know statistics indicate some level of post-secondary education is necessary for them to get good jobs.
I can tell you honestly, that I never pictured myself as a college student. In my day, students were told that if you weren’t in the upper half of your class, college wasn’t for you. I didn’t think college was for me and I didn’t even graduate high school.
I married my high school sweetheart and thought myself pretty lucky to go to work in the oilfield. As a rough neck, I made good money, but the work was exhausting and the elements we had to put up with finally convinced me to seek something else.
My father-in-law was a pharmacist and he was always dropping subtle hints and encouraging me. One night after nearly freezing to death working in single-digit temperatures, I decided it was time. I took a high school equivalency exam an I enrolled at Tyler Junior College. Dr. Edwin Fowler approved my enrollment on the condition that I would take an English class that met five days a week. Mrs. Mary Burton was my teacher. I remember that I didn’t even know what a research paper was at the time. She personally took the time to show me how to find references in the library, and she encouraged me. I made an A- on that paper.
It wasn’t just in English that I found faculty members who truly wanted me to succeed. I think I spent as much time in Mr. James Wicks’ office as I did in his chemistry class. There were many things that I just didn’t understand, but he would take the extra time to explain them to me after class. He had a way of making the complex make sense, and he never grew tired of me popping in to get clarity on something.
That’s the kind of experience I had throughout my time at TJC. I transferred on to the University of Houston and finished there in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree. Because of the base of knowledge provided to me by Mr. Wicks and other professors at TJC, I made straight A’s and completed my degree ahead of schedule.
We moved back to Tyler and I began work as a pharmacist. In 1980, we purchased the old Griffin-Hargrave Pharmacy and changed the name to Stephenson’s.
It has been a great career and one that I was able to share with my wife, Waynie, for many years. The love of my life helped me run the pharmacy by serving as my bookkeeper and business manager all the way up until her death in 2009.
I have since sold the pharmacy to Patrick Healy, a fine young pharmacist and another U of H grad. I am still working with him and together we have carried “custom compounding” to a completely new level for Tyler.
The Lord has blessed me with a new wife, Linda Childress Stephenson, and a whole new family. In addition to my daughter, we have another married daughter, married son and five wonderful grandchildren.
I am thankful to the Lord, for the support of my family and the rebirth and eye-opening that TJC brought to me. As I look back, I can’t help but believe that I might still be in the oilfield were it not for TJC.
I hope others who feel like college isn’t for them might find hope in my story and give TJC a chance to make their career and life much brighter.
- TJC Hero and Friend John Stephenson has been an active supporter of TJC since returning to Tyler. He served on the Alumni Association Board for many years and remained active in alumni activities after his board term expired. He is an avid outdoorsman and a member of the Smith County Board of Health, the TJC President’s Circle, is past president of the Tyler/Smith County Pharmacy Association and is listed in Who’s Who of American Businessmen. He is a Mason and a member of Green Acres Baptist Church.