English professor retiring after 56 years of helping others

by JENNY GARZA /Entertainment Editor

When growing up, you are usually asked what you want to do with your life. But sometime you just don’t know.

This was the case for Gary Poffenbarger, professor of English, at South Plains College who is retiring after 27 years.

According to Poffenbarger, he just didn’t know what he wanted to do.

“I took typing in the ninth grade, and gee, maybe I should have become a typewriter repairman at the time,” Poffenbarger says jokingly. “We had no idea growing up how the world would change so fast and how fast, would change yearly as well.”

Poffenbarger was born in Texas City, Texas, but was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He attended Central High School, graduating in 1968.

“While growing up in Tulsa, my parents instilled in me a sense of helping all individuals,” says Poffenbarger. “I started my life’s work at the age of 10 by helping my brother throw his paper route. At 12, I acquired my own route, which I threw until 16, at which time I entered the local grocery store to become a sacker, stocker, and eventually cashier. So my life’s work of helping people has continued for 56 years. It seems like it is time for a break!”

He later enrolled at Oklahoma State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and also a master’s degree in English. He continued graduate work in English.

While at Oklahoma State, he served as a teaching assistant and also taught courses as an instructor.

Poffenbarger then joined the English faculty at Texas Tech University as an assistant professor of Technical Writing and Literature.

“One of the activties I did there I was Technical Editor for the super conducting super collider proposal that came from the South Plains,” Poffenbarger recalled. “We spent over $200,000. That  was the one they started to build near Waxahachie, Texas, but they stopped.”

According to Poffenbarger, he worked at Texas Tech for nine years for the Engineering Dean’s office as director, and this led him to become director of student relations for the College of Engineering. That led him to discover South Plains College.

“I did a variety of activities while I was at Tech,” Poffenbarger says,” but I really wanted to get back to the classroom and work directly with students. South Plains is so wonderful, because even though we have grown since I arrived in 1989, our class sizes have not doubled.”

Gary Poffenbarger, retiring professor of English, stands in front of his classroom on April 21. JENNY GARZA/PLAINSMAN PRESS

He was sent to SPC to recruit pre-engineering majors to attend Texas Tech.

“During those four years and my visits to campus, I learned so much about how dynamic and friendly SPC students, faculty, and staff were and hoped that some day in the future my dream of teaching here would come true,” says Poffenbarger.

It would eventually come true for him in 1989. He says that his first mentors were Robert Slaughter, who taught him to be brusque and forceful with unruly and less- focused students, and Lee Weldon Stephenson, who taught him to have compassion and be philosophical with the students who actually wanted to learn.

Poffenbarger served as chair for the English and Philosophy Department from 2008 to 2015, as well as the the advisor for Phi Kappa Theta. He also was a judge and UIL Poetry Interpretation director for 23 years. He was awarded two international advisor awards from Phi Kappa Theta International.

From 2000-2002, Poffenbarger was appointed the self-study director for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Reaccreditation of SPC programs and institutions. He worked closely with Stephen John, the vice president of Institutional Advancement at SPC, and SPC President Dr.Kelvin Sharp.

He and his wife Judy, to whom he has been married for 30 years, plan on traveling and visiting their kids in Georgia and Dallas. Another son lives in Lubbock.

They plan to travel to the Northwest to visit national parks such as Yellowstone and other parks.

Poffenbarger says the plans for traveling must be put on hold because his wife will not retire for another year and half.

“I plan to improve my cooking skills by hopefully taking some cooking classes to become an expert chef!” says Poffenbarger.

He also plans on remodeling his house and working on the yard, xeiriscaping his lawn to reduce its need for water.

“My dreams growing up was to one day have a job that I was happy going to every day, which this has been,”Poffenbarger says. “Driving over from Lubbock for 27 years, back and forth, still has been enjoyable and also having a really wonderful family that I have.”

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