By Joshua Rivera, Managing Editor
Joe Milton Pirtle passed away on the morning of Sunday, May 12. Pirtle’s tenure at Belton ISD started in 1954, following a two-year stint in the military. Following his career as a teacher and coach, he became the principal of Tyler Elementary in 1960, and later, the principal of Belton Junior High. Pirtle would become the superintendent of Belton ISD in 1975, retiring in 1997.
“As an administrator, you have a greater opportunity to affect the lives of more kids,” Pirtle said in a 1997 interview for The Belton Journal.
“I am thankful to have had the opportunity to serve on the school board while Joe Pirtle was our Superintendent,” said Randy Pittenger, president and CEO of the Belton Chamber of Commerce. “I have many memories of our work to make Belton a great place for our kids, our schools and our community. There was never any doubt that Joe’s priority was on doing what was best for our kids. He coined the motto ‘Every Kid a Winner’ because that’s what he believed. We are fortunate to be part of a community built by people like Joe Pirtle, who lived a life of servant leadership. He left an extraordinary legacy, and was an encouragement to us all to live a life worthy of our calling.”
At Monday’s Belton ISD Board of Trustees meeting, Ty Taggart, Belton ISD Trustee At-Large, took the opportunity to speak at length on his relationship with Pirtle.
“When I heard the news yesterday, it was pretty tough,” said Taggart. “Joe’s a guy that I’ve known my whole life. When I was a little kid, I hung out a lot with my grandmother. I never knew what Joe was, but I knew he was important, because every time we saw him, my grandmother would walk me over and say ‘You need to shake this man’s hand.’ Then as I grew older I learned who Joe was, so I knew him as Joe Pirtle, the BISD man. Then when I married my wife, I joined the Church of Christ in Belton, and he was an elder at the church, and I got to know the spiritual Joe Pirtle as well. I can’t think of a finer human being and a more zealous example of dedication. The thing about Joe and what he did in Belton is he had a love affair with this district. It wasn’t just a job to him; it was love. That example, that love, and leadership, has set us up for what we have today, the modern era of Belton ISD. I attribute that to Joe and what he did, and that true love that he had for each kid. I’m going to miss that big voice, and I’m going to miss that big ol’ bear claw, that big hand that he would put on your shoulder. I know that Heaven was a better place yesterday.”
Pirtle sincerely believed in the importance of investing in children’s education. Pirtle’s wife, Mary Nell, and his two daughters have all been teachers. Paula Pirtle Warnke was a teacher in the Comal school district near New Braunfels, and Jane Pirtle Dominguez has taught in Belton and Temple.
“Classroom teachers are my heroes,” Pirtle had said. “They’re the heroes of our society. If a classroom teacher fails to do things for kids, the kids will pay for it the rest of their lives. Teachers are the foundation of our whole way of living in our community and our country.”
“It is obvious that Joe Pirtle has achieved many outstanding goals in his lifetime; however, in my opinion, what makes him truly worthy of knighthood is his personal life and the way he treats other people,” wrote Adam Dominguez, Pirtle’s grandson, in a recently unearthed essay from 1998. “He loves his family and his God. He is an Elder in our church where he is very loved by everyone. He is a humble man and a servant to all he sees and is around. To talk to Joe Pirtle, you would never know he has won so many awards and honors. Every time I look at him, I don’t see a man who has achieved greatness, I see my Dedad who loves me very much.”
Funeral services for Pirtle will be held at 11 a.m. this Thursday at the Belton Church of Christ. Memorials may be made to the Belton Education Enrichment Foundation at 400 N. Wall St. Belton or the Belton Church of Christ at 3003 N. Main St. Belton.