Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 4/1/14
A collage of Penny Porter, containing a headshot of Porter, two book covers of books she has written, and a background of the Arizona desert.
 

ABOVE: After overcoming childhood dyslexia and working as an educator, Penny Hall Porter '49 (inset) has enjoyed a second career as a published author. Since her retirment, Porter has published six books, as well as numerous stories in national magazines.

 
 

Experience the Moravian Effect

Penny Porter ’49
Former Teacher and School Administrator, Published Author

Throughout the semester, Inside Moravian tells the story of one of Moravian’s alums who exemplify what we call the Moravian Effect. The added value from their Moravian experience is created through Moravian’s emphasis on strong, personalized majors, hands-on learning opportunities, and encouragement of a deeper enjoyment of life—which is nurtured by engaged faculty and alumni. Surveys of our graduates show that these qualities help them grow in four years into focused adults who succeed and excel in an increasingly challenging world.

Penny Porter Overcame Dyslexia to Become Noted Published Author

The evidence of Penny Hall Porter’s childhood dyslexia was spelled out in the soot that lined her grandfather’s home overlooking the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

“There was always soot and cinders on the window sills, and I distinctively remember writing ‘Ynnep’ all over the house where the dust had settled down,” she recalls. This fact must have exasperated the home’s cleaning staff, Porter points out, but she noted the exercise wasn’t in malice, but in innocent fun.

The granddaughter of Eugene Gifford Grace, president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which served as the economic lifeblood of the Lehigh Valley for much of the 20th century, Porter recalls her learning disability wasn’t widely understood back then. “They didn’t use the word dyslexia in 1935,” she explains.

Grace, who had built Bethlehem Steel into one of the most profitable and productive companies in America, spared no expense to help with his granddaughter’s education, footing the bill for schools throughout New England. An intensely driven man, Grace prodded Porter to work on her education and better herself, not accepting dyslexia as an unsurmountable task. That is not to say Grace didn’t have a soft spot for young Porter. The steel mill president happily posed for his granddaughter and her beloved Brownie camera whenever he was asked, she remembers.

Today, Porter, who graduated from Moravian College for Women in 1949, continues to work on a memoir of the first 20 years of her life. Penning her own life story seems fitting considering the now 86-year-old has spent the past three-plus decades making a name for herself as an author, publishing six books, as well as numerous stories in national magazines, including Reader’s Digest, Parade and Arizona Highways. Her work has even appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

It’s been quite a life Porter has carved out, a journey that led her to more remedial writing courses than she’d like to remember, as well as a career as a teacher and school administrator in Gulph Mills, just outside Philadelphia. Then, to fulfill her husband’s dream of working as a farmer, Porter relocated to a remote, 2,000-plus-acre ranch in Cochise County, Ariz., in the early 1970s.

Inspired by her desert-like surroundings, Porter often wrote non-fiction accounts of her experiences and adventures with her husband, Bill, and six children, as well as one adopted child, while leading a ranch with 400 head of cattle.  

A black and white headshot of a young Penny Porter. A screenshot of Penny Porter's website with images depicting Arizona.

ABOVE: This image is from Porter's Moravian College for Women yearbook. She credits Moravian Professor Arthur S. Cooley for unlocking her dyslexia.

ABOVE: Porter promotes her published works and writings on her personal website, www.pennyporter.com, which depicts many scenes from the Southwest landscape she writes about.

Today, Porter lives in the much larger city of Tucson, Ariz., but she’s barely slowed down.
It’s been nearly 50 years since Porter last visited Bethlehem, and almost 65 years since she graduated from the Moravian College for Women. Despite the decades between then and now, the institution’s imprint is still prominent in her life.  

As a youngster, singing in the choir helped, “make sense of the words and their order,” Porter says, but it was a Moravian professor, Arthur S. Cooley, who truly “unlocked” her dyslexia. Porter, who stands more than six feet tall, recalls Professor Cooley was well short of five feet tall. However, his impact on Porter was immense.

He suggested she use a typewriter for all of her papers and tests, and words eventually became clearer to her. “He told me, ‘this is going to be a gift of a lifetime because people who have trouble with a language always want to be writers,’” Porter recalls. “He taught many of my classes, and he could make absolutely everything come to life.”

While at Moravian, living at her grandfather’s house, Porter met her future husband, who was studying mechanical engineering at Lehigh University. A former prisoner of war, Bill and Penny were introduced by friends and immediately connected. “We just hit it off,” Porter says. “I don’t really know why, but I could tell he was a great guy.”

Once he graduated, Bill Porter found employment in Canton, Ohio, and returned on the weekends. To stay in touch, the couple wrote each other every day for more than two years. “The letters were hysterical,” she laughs. “They talked about what he did all day, which probably would have bored anyone else reading them.”

Once settled in Gulph Mills, Bill and Penny married and their family started to grew. Eventually Bill’s persistence to move west finally convinced Penny and they pulled up stakes. “We picked Arizona partly for health reasons related to Bill’s time as a prisoner,” Porter explains. “Plus, he liked to be alone, and Arizona offered lots of that. He used to say, ‘The best time to talk to God is sitting on a tractor at 4 a.m. waiting for the dew to come.’”

In her sixties, Porter finally got to concentrate on her writing career, and her freelance work took off. Her life on the ranch provided perfect fodder to weave into write-ups, including a real-life story about the leader of a biker gang who was stranded on the family’s ranch and how the experience changed his life. The story, “An Angel in Chains,” was eventually turned into a movie, though Porter points out the screenplay doesn’t match her reality.

Porter continues to write these days, often finding herself up at two or three in the morning, jotting down ideas for her next publication. “Writing is my everything,” she says.

One of Porter’s biggest thrills is sharing her passion for writing with others. On a weekly basis, she teaches memoir writing to seniors. She also visits two public schools in Tucson, leading a course she calls, “The Joy of Writing,” for elementary-aged students.

“It’s all about how you grab your reader on the first sentence,” says Porter, sharing some of her expertise. “All stories start with a problem. Then the end should tie it back to the beginning.”

With that said, it seems fitting that Porter’s life, overcoming dyslexia as a youngster to become a published author in retirement, provides all the elements for a good book. Definitely one worth writing.

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