Porter High School Panthers’ first homecoming in 2017 gave former students an opportunity to reconnect with classmates and teachers they hadn’t seen in many years and share memories of the school and the community. The day was so successful that the Porter Alumni Committee has been meeting again to plan the second Porter Alumni Homecoming.
“It’s been requested that we keep this one as much like the first one as possible,” said committee member Carolyn Fancher Cunningham, a 1960 graduate.
Porter Alumni Homecoming 2019 will be held Aug. 17 at Porter Elementary School in the Wildwood Community of Blount County and is open to all who graduated or attended Porter High School as well as all teachers who were affiliated with Porter High. Cost is $5 per person if paid by Aug. 3, or $10 at the door. Guests are asked to bring lawn chairs for seating and to bring Porter memorabilia to display.
Musical entertainment will be provided by Randy Ott and his daughter, Erin Ott. Several local food trucks, including Geno’s Curbside Diner and Stick in a Box, will be onsite with a variety of foods and non-alcoholic beverages for purchase. Door prizes will be awarded.
The Porter Alumni Committee, consisting primarily of former graduates/attendees of Porter, meets monthly. At the May 6 meeting, Rhonda Williams Adams, Carolyn Fancher Cunningham, Freda Willocks England, Janie Valentine Loveday, Linda Bowling Marrow, Roy Heck, a graduate as well as a former teacher at the school, and R.J. Cunningham discussed the plans for the homecoming and displayed some of the memorabilia they plan to have on hand at the event. Special guest Mike Reagan, a 1977 graduate, brought photographs and other memorabilia he discovered after the death of his mother, Harriet Jeffries Reagan, who attended Porter her freshman year. Among the treasures was a report card for his grandfather, James Lindsey Jeffries, from his senior year at Porter Academy in 1896. Porter Academy was the forerunner of Porter High School. Reagan also found a photograph of the 1896 graduating class and one showing the entire student body at the Academy.
“I was never really sure my grandfather went there, and then I found the grade card,” Reagan said.
Adams recalled her days playing on the girls’ basketball team under legendary Coach Galen Johnson as she held up the uniforms she had worn as a Pantherette. As the last class at Porter High, which closed its doors in 1979, the players were allowed to keep their uniforms. Adams graduated from Heritage High School the following year.
Heck is a 1965 graduate of Porter High and returned to his alma mater to teach and coach in 1974. He recalled the support of the community for the school when he was a student, and said his father, Clayton Heck, helped install bleachers at the new football field. “My team was the first one to play on that field,” Heck said. He said the teachers cared about each student, and later on, when he was a teacher himself, he wanted to do the same with the students he taught.
“It was a great place to teach, and a great community,” he said.
These memories and more will be shared at the homecoming and the connections to the school and to the community will be renewed.
According to a history provided by the Bicentennial Committee when the school celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2006, Porter Academy was established in 1806 and officially opened its doors to students in 1809. It was named in honor of James P.H. Porter, who was serving in the Tennessee Legislature at the time.
The first Porter Academy was not in Wildwood, but in Maryville, constructed of logs and located on the lot occupied by the early Sterling Coal & Feed Store. Sam Houston was one of the first students to attend.
By 1819, Porter Academy encountered problems, and the property was sold. The second Porter Academy was built in 1822 with funds provided by the state and was located in Maryville on a bigger lot than the first. It remained in use until the Civil War, when education came to a standstill from 1861 to 1865.
By 1868, a movement was started to rebuild Porter Academy because of decay to the structure. The Wildwood Community in northeast Blount County offered the highest bid for the building, outbidding Rockford by $1, and Wildwood's Porter Academy opened in 1872.
The building was a two-story, three-room brick structure with a stairway in the center of the two lower rooms. Cabins were built on the property around the academy where students from surrounding areas boarded. This school continued operation until 1918 when it became Porter High School, under control of the Blount County Board of Education.
In 1921, the Porter Academy building was razed, and bricks from the old structure were used to construct a new high school building. Despite many additions, this building was demolished in 1969 after completion of another building, which was used for grades 9-12 until 1979 when students were moved to Heritage High School. Porter then became a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. In 2000, the sixth, seventh and eighth grades were moved to Heritage Middle School and Porter became a kindergarten through fifth-grade school, as it remains today.