James Brannon: A History of Giving
By Samantha Wagner
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2020 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
James Brannon’s involvement with Spartanburg Methodist College began in the fall of 1943 when the school was known as Spartanburg Junior College. His college career, however, was unconventional due to the unique circumstances of World War II. Everything from grocery goods to college enrollment were altered to support the needs of the war effort. Brannon remembers vividly the adjustments made during his first year of education. “I had been accepted into the Wofford College ROTC program for the fall of 1943,” Brannon explains. “Wofford, however, was closed that year because so many of the students were involved in the war effort. With the college closed, a few other cadets and I took our freshman courses at Spartanburg Junior College (now Spartanburg Methodist College).”
The location, however, was not the only change. Instead of full-time collegiate courses, Brannon and his fellow ROTC students maintained an alternating schedule with one week of ROTC drills followed by one week of classroom learning. When the year concluded, Brannon was among the many men who left to serve in the armed forces. “I spent 27 months in the Air Force before returning to finish my education at Wofford in 1947,” Brannon remembers. “When I returned from the service, Wofford was open again and I finished my degree there.” His transition from SMC back to Wofford was seamless – a testament to the excellent relationship between Spartanburg Methodist College and Wofford College throughout the Second World War.
In 1949, Brannon graduated with his Bachelor of Science in general education and married his sweetheart – a Spartanburg Hospital Nursing School graduate named Sophie. After a short, six-month stint working for the Goodyear Tire Store, he began a career in the textile industry in 1950 working for the Draper Corporation. Over the next 34 years, Brannon advanced within the company serving in the Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Greensboro, North Carolina, corporate locations. “The company started with fixing looms and spindles before eventually moving on to more sophisticated projects,” Brannon explained. “We manufactured looms for the textile industry and made a good profit. Eventually, though, the market changed, and we were out of the game. It’s sad, but that is the way it was.”
He enjoyed his work as an office manager and appreciated the years he worked for the corporation before his retirement in 1984. His retirement also coincided with his re-involvement with Spartanburg Methodist College and the world of higher education. This reconnection, however, came through a sad event. In 1993, Brannon’s wife Sophie passed away from cancer. After 44 years of marriage, his grief was immense. He missed her dearly and wanted some way to honor her memory. “She was a kind and loving Christian woman who loved God, her husband and children, and the community,” he shares. “I felt that creating an endowment for the College would be a wonderful way to help others in her name.”
Indeed, the Sophie S. Brannon Memorial Endowed Scholarship has helped many students with financial needs attend SMC. Once there the students thrive, a reality Brannon appreciates when he visits campus and sees students intermingling and enjoying the collegiate environment. SMC is, in his eyes, a wonderful educational resource for many young men and women.
Over the years, the endowment has grown. Brannon continues to contribute annually, working closely with the SMC staff to maximize the account’s benefit to the College. He has a wonderful relationship with Don Tate, the Director of Development at SMC, and speaks highly of his professionalism. “Don has been wonderful to work with,” he states. “He always informs me of just how the endowment helps the students, and he makes sure I receive the publications the College puts out regarding current activities and student updates. I thoroughly enjoy reading those.”
Brannon is, in his own words, a great believer in the College. “[SMC was] kind enough to host me for a year in 1943, and they have helped many young people get their education,” he comments. “They do a great job.”
He concluded his interview with this sage advice for current students: “Get an education and a degree so you can build a life for you and your family. Follow the rules of God and the rules of man, be a good citizen, and all will be well in the long run.”
For a man who has lived in times of war and peace, who has suffered loss, experienced happiness, and selflessly given through it all, it is wonderful advice to take.