Catawba College Alumnus John L. Powell, Jr. ’52 will tell you that he studied a copy of the Catawba College catalog at his Burgaw, N.C. high school for two years as he made plans for his future. Following his high school graduation, after he had applied and was accepted, he loaded his belongings into a trunk, boarded a bus, and traveled to Salisbury to attend Catawba, sight unseen.
For John Powell, it was a journey of both faith and fate. It led him to meet his wife of 51 years and fellow alumna, the former Patsy Somers ’52 of Salisbury; it allowed him to become the first person in his family to graduate from college; and it took him to an institution which provided him with a solid academic background on which he built three separate careers.
Now, the Powells, who make their home in Knoxville, Tenn., are literally giving back to Catawba a measure of what they believe it gave them both – opportunity. They have made a donation to establish the John L. Jr. and Patsy Somers Powell Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a student who demonstrates both leadership and academic ability, and who is either mathematics major or a member of Catawba’s football team.
“Through the years since their graduation, the Powells have stayed involved in the life of the College despite the fact that they lived all over the world,” says Catawba Senior Vice President Tom Childress. “John has served as his class’ agent and regularly attends many functions. And their recent gift to establish this scholarship is not their first significant contribution. They have regularly contributed to the alumni fund, were active participants in our recent Shuford Stadium campaign, and are President’s Circle level donors.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of strong alumni like John and Patsy to the overall mission of Catawba. Their support helps the College retain and enhance the very attributes that both our students and our alumni value and cherish.”
“I’ve always maintained that the education we received at Catawba was as good or better than we could have gotten anywhere,” John Powell notes, recalling that his father paid $3,033.33 for his Catawba experience. And, looking at his distinguished careers, one would be certain that it was money well-spent.
John Powell entered U.S. Air Force Pilot Training following his graduation from Catawba, thereafter served as an Air Transport Pilot in Korea until 1954. That launched him on his first career in the military and launched wife Patsy, whom he married in 1953 after completing his pilot’s training, on her own adventure as an Air Force wife.
His postings changed as frequently as his rank over a 23-year period, but Patsy, and the Powells' children who began arriving in 1955 - Bo, Doug (1958) and Ginger (1963) - moved with him. He served as a pilot, instructor and flight examiner in Air Rescue work in Florida and Libya. He flew into remote Africa for contingency recovery protection on early space missions, and conducted search and rescue missions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being an Air Force wife,” Patsy notes. “I thought it was exciting and I wanted to be where he was, but it was an adjustment, especially for the children.”
But adjust the family did, moving together as a family during John’s military service, living in Africa, on the Mediterranean, in Germany, Florida, Colorado and Indiana. The one year he served in Vietnam, Patsy and the three children lived in Salisbury.
“Our oldest son, Bo, would have loved to have stayed in Salisbury, but instead, he moved every year for the last five years he was in junior and senior high school. But our children didn’t meet strangers and were comfortable having conversations with people of all ages,” Patsy recalls.
Though busy with his military career, John earned his master’s degree in education from the University of Denver in 1972 and his master’s degree in business administration from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1976. His last three years of military service were spent at Butler University, where he served as commander and professor of Aerospace Studies for the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corp. He retired in 1975 with the rank of Lt. Colonel.
John’s second career with Piedmont Airlines began shortly thereafter and brought him and his family back to North Carolina for more than a dozen years. He served as an instructor, supervisor of instructors, and executive director of the Piedmont Aerospace Institute, and later became director of stores for outside stations for Piedmont, a position he held until 1989.
For his third career, he and Patsy collaborated with son Doug in Knoxville, Tenn., to start up Powell Fluid Connectors, a company which sells industrial hoses and fittings. He serves as the company’s vice president and general manager. Patsy is its chief financial officer. Both are part-time as they try for the third retirement.
Nowadays, the Powells find time to travel and attend most of Catawba’s football games. They are in Salisbury fairly often and make it a point to always contact former Catawba First Lady Mary Dearborn, whose children Patsy used to baby-sit and whose late husband, Dr. Donald Dearborn, was chair of the mathematics department while Patsy was pursuing her degree in mathematics.
Annually, they have tried to attend the College’s Endowed Scholarship Luncheon as representatives of the Charles W. and Winifred Sigman Somers Scholarship, established through the estate of Patsy’s late brother, who was a member of Catawba’s class of 1937. While here, they would also visit Patsy’s sister, the late Adelaide Somers Dorsett who died last February and who had attended Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory.
Endowed scholarships at Catawba are established through gifts of $10,000 or more.