Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rosella Porterfield, 85,
helped integrate schools

Lives remembered

By Chris Mayhew
Enquirer staff writer

When other areas of the nation struggled with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to abolish segregated schools, Rosella French Porterfield peacefully pushed the integration of Erlanger-Elsmere Independent Schools.

Mrs. Porterfield, a retired librarian for the school system and the head teacher for the former all-black Wilkins Heights School in Elsmere, died Saturday at St. Luke Hospital in Florence. She was 85.

In 1955, Mrs. Porterfield pressed Superintendent Edgar Arnett with a proposal, "basically saying it was time that (Erlanger-Elsmere schools) integrate," said Tim Jones, instructional supervisor for the school district in an Enquirer article in 2002.

A book lover, Mrs. Porterfield spent the rest of her career as a librarian helping children discover the joys of reading. She retired in 1980.

The library at Howell Elementary School in Elsmere bears her name, as does a park off Capitol Avenue in Elsmere.

"I think the reason she preferred being a librarian was she loved the world of books," said her son, David French of Walton. "You can do a lot through reading - and there were plenty of good teachers."

Growing up on a farm in Daviess County, the third of eight children, Mrs. Porterfield immersed herself in reading as a child.

"Sometimes, she would pretend she was asleep until her mom went back to sleep and then turned back on the light and start reading again," her son said.

As an adult, Mrs. Porterfield often read until the late hours of the morning, falling asleep - book in hand, he said.

Early in the morning she rose and caught the bus from her Walton home to work and back again because she didn't learn to drive until late in life, her son said.

Mrs. Porterfield earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Kentucky State University in 1940, graduating magna cum laude.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Mrs. Porterfield sent money home to her parents to help the pay off the family farm when she received her first job as a teacher in Elsmere in the 1940s, said her sister, Mary Jo Whitfield of Homewood, Ill.

Her husband, Vernon Porterfield, died in 2001.

Other survivors include two brothers, John Maurice French of Maysville and Roscoe Moorman French of Owensboro.

Visitation will be from 5-9 p.m. today and service at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Elsmere, 1007 Garvey Ave. Chambers & Grubbs Funeral Home in Walton is handling arrangements.

Memorials: Rosella Porterfield Park, care of City of Elsmere, 318 Garvey Ave., Elsmere, KY 41018.

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