, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 2, 2014

PA’s Top 10 grads told: ‘Don’t give up’

PORT ARTHUR — One message was woven through the evening when the Top 10 graduating seniors were celebrated at the Port Arthur Public School Foundation Night of Stars this week: Don’t give up.

The 10 elite student each chose their favorite teacher and Port Arthur’s cream of the crop of teachers and learners were treated to a banquet at the Pompano Club and scholarships were awarded to the students.

Sam Monroe, president of Lamar State College-Port Arthur, presented the keynote address for the evening an told the students that taxpayers have made an investment in each of them and now it is time for them to give back a return on that investment.

Monroe discussed three people who were products of Port Arthur schools who went on to become world famous.

“The obstacles they faced as they pursued their dreams are the same kind you will face,” Monroe said as he set the theme of never giving up.

He began with the story of Ivory Joe Hunter, who was one of 14 children born to a minister in Kirbyville. Ivory Joe followed his older brother to Port Arthur and was raised here and went to Lincoln High School, Monroe said.

He taught himself to play the piano and got small gigs playing on the radio, first in Port Arthur then in Beaumont then in Houston. Radio was about the only venue available for an African American performer in those days. Despite his radio success, local night clubs wouldn’t hire him. Still Ivory Joe persevered.

He moved on to Los Angeles where his song “Blues at Sunrise” got considerable air time. But recording companies weren’t interested in a black artist so Ivory Joe created his own recording company, Ivory Records.

The Port Arthur product struggled for seven more years before he wrote and recorded “Almost Lost My Mind.” That song hit No. 1 on the charts and it was recorded by Pat Boone, and Boone’s version also hit No. 1.

Ivory Joe continued to write and record and his song “Since I Met You Baby” also hit No. 1, and that record crossed over into the white market.

Ivory Joe Hunter was the first African American to be awarded a Gold Record on the Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis Presley recorded four of his songs and now a historical marker is at the site of his grave in Kirbyville.

Monroe went on to tell about another product of Port Arthur schools, who he called Milton Rauschenberg.

Rauschenberg grew up on 17th Street in Port Arthur and had problems in school. It turns out he had what we now know as dyslexia, an obstacle he had to overcome.

Young Milton showed talent as an artist early on. He was involved in student politics at Port Arthur High School and created posters for a candidate for student body president proclaiming “You’ll go farther with Farquhar.” His candidate won the election.

Rauschenberg went the University of Texas where he studied to be a pharmacist, then joined the Navy before returning to Port Arthur. After World War II he changed his name to Robert.

Still searching for what to do with his life, he moved to Los Angeles, then found his way to the Kansas City Art Institute. He continued to study art in Paris, in Italy then in Spain before moving back to the U.S. where he settled in New York City.

Rauschenberg developed artwork known as combines, in which all sorts of three-dimensional items are used in conjunction with printing and painting. Monroe described one piece of art that featured a preserved American eagle flying out of the piece. Rauschenberg lived to see that piece of art sell for $11 million.

Rauschenberg returned to Port Arthur numerous times and was instrumental in helping promote a museum for his home town so future generations would have access to art that he didn’t have in his youth.

Robert Rauschenberg was another product of Port Arthur schools who overcame obstacles to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

Finally Monroe told about another Port Arthuran, who like himself was in the first graduating class at Thomas Jefferson  High School. She was talented as an artist, a painter, writer. She was the editor of The Driftwood in school. He was describing perhaps Port Arthur’s best known native daughter, Janis Joplin.

He said she had a strong intellect and breezed through school with A’s while he and the rest of the students struggled for lesser grades.

Port Arthur actually had a coffee house in those days, he said, where Joplin performed. She took keypunch at Lamar, which gave her a trade to fall back on during her lean times in San Francisco.

Joplin and her band in San Francisco were with a record label that didn’t carry rock musicians and they didn’t know how to promote the rock band. Then came her big breakthrough at the Monterey Pop Festival, which led to a deal with Columbia Records.

Perhaps her most popular song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” hit No. 1 on the pop charts. But at the height of her career and at only 27 years of age, Joplin died from a drug overdose.

“The other message is that if you use illicit drugs, they can take away your future,” Monroe told the graduates.

“One of these young people in this crowd, we don’t know, might find the cure for cancer,” Monroe said. “Be prepared to face the challenges and the obstacles.”


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