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Returning to Porterdale
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Saturday was a day of hugs, handshakes, laughter and even a few tears in Porterdale.

The Friends of Porterdale Inc. and a host of other local businesses and organizations hosted the 2007 Porterdale Reunion at and around the Porterdale Mill Lofts yesterday.

Many who attended remembered the mill as it was while owned by Oliver S. Porter as well as when wooden planks made up the bridge crossing the Yellow River at the site.

Don Harrison, 70, worked his first job at the Porterdale Mill. He could bind burlap sacks quickly and always offered to fetch snacks from the cafeteria, which impressed his older co-workers.

"They thought I was something else," Harrison said.

He and others enjoyed touring the new lofts and shops which have revitalized the once crumbling downtown Porterdale.

"Our focus this year, the theme of the reunion, is 'bridging the past to the future,'" said Kay Coggin, president of Friends of Porterdale Inc. "We love the past and our memories of it, but we have so many great things going on for our future."

Yesterday's reunion was held on the second anniversary of the fire which ravaged the Porter Memorial Gymnasium - a place where many Porterdale residents created fond childhood memories.

After the gymnasium burned, Coggin and several other residents formed a group to encourage the reconstruction of the building.

"We wanted to know what we could do to help, and we heard it was impossible to rebuilt it - an impossibility," Coggin said. "I'm the kind of person who if you tell me something is impossible I don't understand that.

"My husband will tell you that's true."

The group Friends of Porterdale Inc. recently garnered status as a 501(c) 3 organization, so they can receive large donations for the renovation project.

Also, to raise funds members are selling honorary or memorial brick paving stones for $50. The bricks will likely be placed between the old pharmacy building and the old White's Store building across from the mill.

Upon completion of the reconstruction of the gymnasium the bricks will be moved to a walking path in front of it.

Coggin recognized long-time Porterdale resident Prentis Ollis, who died in March of 2006, as generating interest in gathering memories of the town on the internet.

Ollis' wife Loraine attended the reunion yesterday.

"He loved this little town," Ollis said, "and I think he would be proud that he had something to do with inspiring this."

She also said her husband too held warm memories of times at the gymnasium. His father was a minister and one night Ollis skipped a prayer meeting to play basketball at the gym.

That night he scored the most points and had a wonderful time with the boys - until he returned home to an upset father.

Porterdale celebrity Billy Carl Crowell, B.C., also spent many hours in the Porter Memorial Gymnasium.

"You wouldn't believe it, but I coached most of these people," Crowell said.

Sherry Jefferies Shaw played basketball for Crowell while in junior high. She said although she was not a very talented player, Crowell was always supportive of her efforts.

Shaw still remembers when he congratulated her on having the only perfect screen pass in the previous night's game.

Crowell also helped Shaw's husband gain an athletic scholarship.

Both Crowell and Shaw said the turn out of people wanting to meeting with old friends and relive happy times in the town was amazing.

"My heart is just busting open at seeing how this has come together," Shaw said.

Many attendees wore shirts bearing the reunion logo of "Bridging the Past to the Future." The logo features a smiling young woman posing on the Yellow River Bridge by the mill.

"The picture was taken in 1943 and I graduated from high school in 1944," said Margaret Norwood Henry, the girl in the picture.

Henry's younger brother Joe Norwood began maintaining Ollis' Web site after he died and is a member of the Friends of Porterdale.

He enjoyed viewing the old pictures and memorabilia set up in Chance's Gallery owned by Charles Turner's, vice president of Friends of Porterdale.

Photo albums, framed prints, class pictures, class pins, family bibles and even a vintage purple and gold Porterdale basketball team uniform lined the walls and cases of the gallery.

Norwood peeked into a satchel, stuffed with decades-old medical supplies, of Dr. J.B. Mitchell, Jr. who delivered him in 1943 at the Porterdale Hospital.

Friends since they were five years old, Peggy Lazenby Chapman and Claudine Nickens also remembered Dr. Mitchell. Chapman also came into the world into the hands of Mitchell as many others in attendance had.

"He probably took my tonsils out with one of the tools in there," Nickens said viewing the satchel's contents.

Chapman lives in the house behind the one she grew up in, and said that is both rare and wonderful and is typical of Porterdale residents. She moved away from Porterdale for only one year, and missed the town so much she had to move back.

"There's nothing like Porterdale," Chapman said. "I don't care what anybody says."

Porterdale on the Web

To view pictures and stories about Porterdale on the Web site Prentis Ollis created go to

To purchase a brick in honor or memory of someone to be placed in front of the Porter Memorial Gymnasium, visit