PANOLA COLLEGE. Like many similar institutions, Panola College was founded during the post-World War II period, when returning veterans and the G.I. Bill fostered the founding of junior colleges across Texas. Its original name was Panola County Junior College. Economic conditions in Panola County were favorable because of the recent development of a vast natural gas field. Q. M. Martin, innovative superintendent of schools in Carthage, became the driving force behind the establishment of the college. Organization began in 1947. A thirty-five-acre tract was secured at the western edge of Carthage, the county seat, and registration was first held during a snowstorm on January 19, 1948. Shortly thereafter opening classes were conducted in a structure pieced together from two buildings obtained from Camp Majors in Greenville at a cost of $205. Moving expenses considerably exceeded the purchase price. The original dormitory was purchased from Camp Fannin in Tyler for $107.50, and a quonset hut served as the first fieldhouse. In 1948, after voters approved a $400,000 bond, the first permanent structures soon began to be erected on the campus. The first president of Panola County Junior College was B. W. Musgraves (1948–50). He was succeeded by M. P. Baker (1951–67), former Carthage school superintendent Q. M. Martin (1967–73), Charles Hays (1973–74), longtime PJC basketball coach Arthur M. Johnson (1974–81), and Gary McDaniel (1981-). The original faculty included President Musgraves and five teachers, who taught five demanding class days each week, then met in conference for half a day on Saturdays. By 1985 the administration and faculty numbered fifty-five, and the school employed nearly thirty more adjunct faculty members.
In the spring of 1948 fifty-five charter students enrolled in the initial courses. By the next fall the student body numbered 185, but for several years enrollment was shaky, and numbers declined to 116 in 1953, when the institution's name was changed to Panola College. Not until 1958 did the student body exceed 300, but the college then began to grow steadily, especially after the establishment of an occupational-technical center in 1971. In 1985, with rapid population growth in East Texas, Panola College had an enrollment of more than 1,300 students. There were thirteen buildings on the main campus, including a student union, a men's dormitory, a library, science and fine arts buildings, and a large administration building. The college operates off-campus centers in Jefferson and Center. Panola College had 103 faculty members and 1,520 students in the fall of 1999. Gregory S. Powell was president of the college in 2001.
The college has fostered two unique programs. In 1975 it became the only junior college in Texas to offer a one-year program to train forest technicians. In 1980 it began offering a Traveling Texas History course; after twelve hours of lecture, participants journey 2,100 miles around Texas, visiting forts, missions, museums, and numerous other sites of historic interest. Since the 1960s Spanish-language classes have been taught in Mexico, and in 1984 the school began granting credit in western civilization for travel in Europe. Panola College confers associate degrees in the arts and sciences and belongs to the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the American Association of Junior Colleges, and the Texas Association of Junior Colleges.
During the first three years of its existence Panola fielded a football squad, and in 1949–50 the season was climaxed by the Gas Bowl game in Carthage. Some players, under the eligibility rules of that time, played all three years. In 1949–50 the Panola Ponies were champions of the Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. Despite this success, however, a $40,000 deficit caused cancellation of the football program. Under the tutelage of Bill Griffin (1957–81) and former major-leaguer Jacke Davis (1981-), the Pony baseball team won a score of conference titles and, in 1969, a National Junior College Athletic Association national championship. Men's basketball teams have also had numerous playoff appearances. Women's basketball was begun under the direction of coach Mary Otwell (1974–78), who won national NJCAA titles in 1977 and 1978.
Bill O'Neal, Panola Junior College: The First Twenty-Five Years (Carthage, Texas: Panola Junior College, 1973).