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Porterville at a Glimpse ~ 1970-1979

“Make Love, Not War”
By Anita Gustuson, Finance Department

As the Vietnam War lingered on, many familiar slogans such as “Make Love, Not War” were common place and could be heard daily. Most slogans and slurs were chanted at demonstrations on campuses throughout the United States.  Demonstrations became more and more frequent, and on May 4, 1970, a student demonstration at Kent State resulted in the death of four young students, shot by the U.S. National Guard. This action caused at least four million more students to go on strike at more than 450 universities and colleges. By the following week, 100,000 anti-war demonstrators organized the “Kent State/Cambodia Incursion Protest” at Washington D.C. to protest the shooting at Kent State. As our country changed, with anti-war movements, Watergate, and affirmative action, the population of Porterville was also changing.

Nationally, Affirmative Action took effect which was intended to promote equal opportunities regardless of race or religion. Mandatory busing was used to transport students outside of their normal school districts in an attempt to equalize school populations.  In 1972, our nation watched the Watergate hearings closely. On August 9, 1974, under threat of impending impeachment, our President, Richard M. Nixon, resigned as the President of the United States.  By April of 1979, all of the nation’s residents learned of the effects of nuclear disaster when there was an accident at 3-Mile Island nuclear plant. The accident defined anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public which resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry.

In the summer of 1972 the world watched the Olympics in Munich, when 19 were killed in a terrorist siege on September 5th and 6th.

Welcome Home for Lt. Gary Thornton

Closer to home, civil unrest and student demonstrations came to Porterville when students at Porterville College protested the Vietnam War and later welcomed home one of Porterville’s own residents from a Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam. On February 20, 1967, Lt. Thornton was 25 years old, when the plane on which he was the radarman, flying off the carrier USS Enterprise, was blasted out of the sky west of Thanh Hoa. The first notification to his parents informed them that Gary had been killed in action.  A memorial service was held and later that year the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with gold star was presented to his daughter who was 5 years old at the time. In March of 1970, there was a glimmer of hope. It was believed that Thornton may have survived, and was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Later that year his name appeared on the official POW list released by Hanoi. After six long years, Navy Lt. Gary I. Thornton returned home to Porterville.

Although the Porterville community was divided with bitterness and had changed due to the long drawn out war and immeasurable losses, Thornton came home to a beautiful welcome. Thornton came home to his community of 13,000, where the Vietnam War had taken 20 of its young men. One of the residents was quoted as saying, “I think the citizens of this town are glad it’s over because their patriotism was really beginning to wear thin.”  At the Porterville College Student Center, Thornton told of his ordeal in prison camp. Deprived of food and medical attention during the last six years, Thornton said he would do it again “for the cause of freedom.”  Kept in many different camps throughout his ordeal, he stated the only thing that kept him from more severe punishment was his junior rank. Thornton was among the last of the POW's to be released in the second phase of Operation Homecoming. Thornton’s arrival home as a prisoner of war in Vietnam still left 282 US soldiers behind.

Welcome Home for

Lt. Gary Thornton
Lt. Thornton

greets the crowd
Lt. Thornton's

daughter Desti

UFW Rally at Murry Park

WFW PicketsCesar Chavez brought the UFW, United Farmworkers Union, to Porterville and spoke at Murry Park, attracting over 200 people to the rally. In August of 1974 the UFW workers called a strike against the grape growers in the Coachella Valley. The growers had signed a union contract for the workers with Teamsters after the contract with UFW had expired.  UFW called it a conspiracy between the Teamsters Union and the growers. Chavez accused the growers of paternalism, charging they were attempting to regulate the workers by deciding which union should represent them, and claimed that the Teamsters Union has not be able to fulfill the promises made to the workers. Investigations against the Teamster’s Union were on-going at the time, and Chavez stated that the growers, based on the alliance with the Teamsters, “made a horrible mistake.” Chavez stated that the farm workers were coerced into recognizing a union that they did not want and that it was grossly unfair.

In order to facilitate his resignation as the Teamster’s president, Jimmy Hoffa was pardoned in 1971 by U.S. President Richard Nixon after serving 13 years for jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud.  Blocked from union activities until 1980, Hoffa was in the process of overturning this order and regaining union support when, in 1975, he disappeared after last being seen outside the Machus Red Fox Restaurant located in Detroit, Michigan.

Pearle Zalud’s Estate

One of Porterville’s founding family members, Pearle Zalud, died in February of 1970 at her home Los Angeles, California. Her estate of more than $1 million dollars left the City of Porterville, the Catholic Church and her attorney, Joe Witt, along with his brother and nephew, embroiled in a legal battle alleging forgery and false evidence. Mr. Witt filed a will signed by Miss Zalud on October 12, 1969, leaving all of her estate except two specific bequests to him. The City of Porterville and the Catholic Church contested the claim, stating that in several prior wills, Miss Zalud had designated them as principal legatees. On March 25, 1971, a Los Angeles probate court jury ruled against Witt. When his appeal was not granted, the City of Porterville and the Catholic Church opened probate on Miss Zalud’s estate. Just before it was time to go to probate, Mr. Witt filed a document claiming Emma Zalud, a cousin of the descendent by marriage, had seen Miss Zalud write a holographic will naming Mr. Witt as Miss Zalud’s heir. After the alleged holographic will could not be produced, the City of Porterville was bequeathed the Zalud Park property in memory of her brother, Edward George Zalud, and the Zalud family home and its contents. Joe Witt and his brother were sentenced to a year in county jail and were placed on three years probation on the criminal charges.

Pioneer Farmer Commemorates Bicentennial

original farmer statue
Drawing of the originally
proposed Farmer's statue

The 16-foot high statue of the Pioneer Farmer was commissioned to commemorate the country’s bicentennial in 1976. Members of the Porterville Bicentennial worked with Dr. Kenneth Fox from Auburn, California, to design the statue. The statue was done in concrete and is virtually indestructible.  The location site of “The Farmer” statue was finally decided to be at Henderson and Main Street, the original location of Porter Putnam’s stage stop. Unveiling and dedication of the statue was set in connection of the opening of the 1977 Porterville Fair in May.

City of Porterville Draftswoman

City Draftswomen

The Women’s Liberation Movement hit the City of Porterville, when its Engineering Department had to change the job title for one of its positions predominately held by men, to civil engineering draftswoman, when Ms. Dousset was hired in 1973. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Ms. Dousset met the qualifications for the engineering position in charge of street design.

downtown3    downtown2    downtown1

Porterville College Protesters at

Murry Park
Buck Shaffer, PHS Band Director
Band at Disneyland
PHS Band at Disneyland

Porterville’s Fallen Vietnam Soldiers:
Vietnam Soldiers
  • Cdr. Rodney B. Carter
  • Pfc. Dennis F. Ellis
  • S. Sgt Donald Erickson
  • Pfc. Timothy F. Fewell
  • Cpl. John A. Garza
  • Sp4 Larry G. Higginbotham
  • Cpl. Patrick A. Higgins
  • Pfc. Clifford A. Jones
  • Cpl. Robert L. Pearson
  • Pfc. Ronnie L. Phelps
  • Sgt. Wayne D. Wagner
  • Sp4 Jerry L. Walker
  • Cwo. James E. Watson
  • Pfc. George H. Winkempleck

Local and National Timeline


  • Porterville resident and founding family member, Pearle Zalud dies at her home in Los Angeles, California.
  • U.S. Marshalls fatally shoot 4 college students at Kent State University during a Vietnam War protest.


VCR’s are introduced


  • Lt. Gary Thornton returns to Porterville after 6 years in POW camp.
  • Main Street new one-way streets cause problems.
  • Terriost attacks at Olympic Games in Munich.
  • Mark Spitz wins 7 gold medals.


  • City of Porterville hires first Civil Engineering Draftswoman.
  • United States pulls out of Vietnam.


  • Cesar Chavez holds VFW Rally at Murry Park.
  • Patty Hearst is kidnapped.
  • United States President, Richard M. Nixon resigns.


  • Microsoft founded.


  • City of Porterville receives deed to Zalud properties.
  • United States Bicentennial.
  • North and South Vietnam join to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


  • “The Farmer” statue is unveiled at Henderson and Main Street.
  • New City Manager, Guy Huffaker is hired.
  • Zalud House Museum opens.
  • Elvis Presley found dead.


  • Aviation Memorial dedication at Porterville Municipal Airport.
  • Jonestown massacre.
  • John Paul II becomes pope.


  • Tulare County Superior Court gives Porterville Hotel owner 90 days for fire safety repairs.
  • Iran takes American hostages to Tehran.
  • Margaret Thatcher becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain.
  • Mother Theresa Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Nuclear Accident at Three Mile Island.

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