Barbara Huval announces retirement after 35 years

    As a 30-something housewife with three children, Barbara Huval found herself standing at the clothes dryer folding socks. It was at that moment she asked herself a life-defining question: “Do I still want to be folding socks 35 years from now?”

     

    The decision she made to pursue education as a career has impacted more than herself and her family. Generations of students have since passed through Dr. Huval’s English classes or programs over which she directed.

     

    The lives she helped change are countless.

     

    On August 31, 2017, she will say farewell to her career and Lamar State College Port Arthur as she retires with 35 years of dedicated service behind her.

     

    Surrounded by a few boxes of important documents, some half-empty bookcases and a wall still covered in plaques and commemorations, Dr. Huval paused back to the moment when she made her decision to pursue a career. It was a time when women either went to college or got married, and she knew that her choice to do both would not be easy.

     

    “It was just the way things were then,” she explained about the social norms of the era. “But I knew there was something more out there for me than folding socks.”

     

    Dr. Huval’s husband, John, was a ship’s captain and often at sea for long periods of time. Her children were all but grown and gone, leaving her with the time and opportunity to pursue her own career ambitions.

     

    “There was never a question that education was where I would go,” she said.

     

    So, after earning her bachelor’s degree from Lamar University in 1978 and her master’s from LU in 1980, she set her sights on a Ph.D., which she received from Rice University in 1985.

     

    “For several years, I drove from Port Arthur to Houston to pursue my doctorate,” she explained. “After doing that, dealing with the traffic and the gridlock for all those years, I promised myself I would never commute for work again.”

     

    While earning her doctorate, she had all but made up her mind that in order to gain a professorship, she would have to move away from the area. It was a fateful comment from a friend that would ultimately prove that untrue.

     

    “She told me that Port Arthur College was looking for adjunct professors to teach English,” Dr. Huval said. “I was still pursuing my doctorate at the time but I thought I’d look into it to see if maybe I could pick up a class or two.”

     

    Huval’s meeting with Dr. Charles Gongre, Liberal Arts department chair at LSCPA at the time, is the one and only job interview she has experienced. Since that time, Dr. Huval has never commuted more than 10 minutes to work, living in the same home in Port Arthur for 61 years.

     

    Dr. Huval was promoted to assistant professor at LSCPA in 1986, receiving tenure in 1989. In 1990, she was promoted to associate professor, then to professor in 1998.

     

    Twice she has led the Department of Liberal Arts at LSCPA, each time a 10-year stint, and has been director of the Inmate Instruction Program since 1994.

     

    Dr. Huval holds tightly to her personal philosophy of “Each day is a gift from God. We have an obligation to live it well.”

     

    And so it is with that maxim that she approached and embraced her work with the students at the state and federal prisons in Southeast Texas.

     

    Initially, when former college president Dr. Sam Monroe tasked Huval with working in the prisons as an English professor, she was understandably taken aback.

     

    “I just couldn’t see myself in that situation, inside the prison teaching,” she said. “Dr. Monroe said I could delegate that responsibility but I decided that I couldn’t ask someone to do something I was afraid to try.”

     

    So Dr. Huval swallowed hard, took that first step and taught the first English classes at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont.

     

    “Within the first month I knew that I had found God’s mission for my life,” she said.

     

    Within a year of the program’s inception, she was named director of the Inmate Instruction Program.

     

    “The program offers these young men an opportunity to start over, a chance to make something of their lives,” she explained. “Over the years, there have been so many stories of students who left the prison with an education and they didn’t look back.”

     

    She recounted one story of a young man who had gone on to receive his master’s degree and was signed up to pursue his own doctorate.

     

    Another student conveyed his own life-changing experience brought about because of his education while in prison.

     

    “I had a young man, maybe in his mid-40’s, who was taking classes. He was a good student, maybe a B average,” she remembered. “He told me that for the first time in his life, his mother was proud of him.

    “Now, can you imagine that? A 40-year-old man, and this was the first time he had made his mother proud. And, that made me proud.”

     

    Dr. Huval has worked tirelessly, dedicated to her students’ education and personal rehabilitation. But even as her plate overflowed, she still found time to impact many different people at the school and in her community.

     

    In 1986, she chartered the Alpha Lambda Rho chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society for two-year colleges. Since that time, as director, Dr. Huval has helped induct well over 1,000 members into the society at LSCPA.

     

    She has also worked with the United Way of South Jefferson County, the Port Arthur Community Retirement Home and is a lifelong participant in the Camp Fire Boys and Girls organization, starting in 1968 as a Bluebird leader when her children were small.

     

    In remembrance of her late husband, who passed away in 1986, she established the John C. Huval Memorial Award for Academic Excellence, which is awarded at each commencement ceremony.

     

    “This has been my life and I will miss it dearly,” she said of LSCPA. “My kids wanted me to retire years ago. So it’s time for me to retire and enjoy the fruits of my labor.”