At 95, Dennis Porter is something of an Enid legend

Dennis Porter (right) gestures as he visits with his son Matthew on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.

ENID, Okla. — The city of Enid was established in 1893 and claims a host of legends. Was the town named for a character in an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem or did its moniker come simply from a DINE sign flipped backward? Did John Wilkes Boothe really hide in Enid after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination?

Did Dennis Porter really run for political office and campaign with a live donkey?

Enid’s own Dennis Porter turned 95 years old Saturday and as a favorite around town, Porter has become something of a legend with many stories about his life in circulation.

“If they’re fabrications, I’m all for them,” Porter said.

For the record, the donkey story is true as are a great many other accounts of Porter’s adventures.

Well, maybe the following story isn’t exactly true.

“In 1933 we were so poor we couldn’t afford a dog,” Porter said. “So we had to teach my sister to chase cars.”

A decade later, when Porter was around 18, he did something most people have only heard of in books and movies.

“I caught a freight train and rode the freights and slept in the hobo jungles,” Porter said.

Local legend has it that Porter was stopped by a train downtown and just decided to hop on.

“That’s not exactly what happened,” Porter said. “I hitchhiked to El Reno and stayed in a hobo jungle in the overpass by the railroad tracks. I worked there for two days and then hopped a train.”

Porter rode to Texas and worked at a grain elevator in Fort Worth for a few weeks before catching another train to Houston where he gained employment at a shipyard east of the city.

“I did quite a bit of other freight riding,” Porter said.

As if freight-riding and hobo jungles weren’t enough, in 1948 Porter joined the circus, first working for the Cole Brothers Circus and then Ringling Brothers as a roustabout.

“We had the third ring in Cole Brothers, bringing in the stands for the elephants and equipment for the horses,” Porter said. “We were, in our own minds, an important part of the act because it wouldn’t happen without us.”

Working in the circus, even as a roustabout, comes with its hazards.

“I got my thumb caught in the block and tackle and it was mashed enough that I quit. But it wasn’t a permanent injury,” Porter said.

He continued his circus career once his thumb had healed.

“When I was with Ringling Brothers this girl fell 38 feet from a high wire,” he said. “They know how to fall but she was hurt. They know how to kind of relax and roll when they hit. But I left the circus and never heard any more about her.”

In the 1950s, Porter could be found in Paris, France, where he spent time as a painter.

“I set up a little easel on the (River Seine),” Porter said. “I painted not recognizable objects. They were abstracts. They were leaf shadows that came over my shoulder from a tree.”

One day, as Porter was painting, a dead dog floated down the Seine.

“I always wanted to paint the dead dog floating down the Seine but I didn’t have the talent,” he said.

While working in Paris, Porter made sure he looked the part.

“I wore sandals and had a dark beard and I wore a beret,” he said. “I had people ask to take my picture because I looked like a typical Frenchman. I got away with it as long as I didn’t talk.”

When he’d had enough of Paris, Porter was ready for his next daring adventure.

“I crossed to Algeria and tried to join the FNL (Front de Libération Nationale),” Porter said. “They were fighting the French and they wouldn’t accept me. I looked too much like a Frenchman.”

After his time abroad, Porter wasn’t ready to come home just yet.

“I worked on a banana boat one summer between Tampico (Tamaulipas, Mexico) and Brownsville (Texas),” Porter said. “We hauled bananas every four days. It was a regular trip.”

“I quit and went to OSU,” Porter said. “It was Oklahoma A&M then.”

Porter got his degree in sociology and came back to Enid, where he made his living in real estate.

“There’s no money in sociology.”

Somehow, in the midst of all his adventures, Porter had time work in the mailrooms of the Houston Chronicle and the Miami Herald as well as spend time in the military.

“Eisenhower was my commander general in World War II,” Porter said. “Franklin Roosevelt died while I was in Germany. I was commanding officer of the National Guard company in Enid during the Korean War.”

It was in 1959, at the age of 34, that Porter got married on his way home from one of his adventures.

“On the way back to Enid I stopped in Youngstown, Ohio, and married an undertaker’s daughter,” Porter said. “She and I stayed married for 50 years until she died.”

That undertaker’s daughter was Polly Velker Porter, with whom Porter had four children — Matt, Mary, Peter and the late Paul Porter.

All of Porter’s living children were in Enid to celebrate Porter’s 95th birthday, a day on which Porter hoped to do “as little as possible,” as he put it.

“All I wanted was a card and they’re fairly obedient children. I’m quite fond of them regardless of their mediocrity,” he joked.

Once Porter was married, he remained in Enid.

“It’s my home,” he said. “I was born here. My father was born on the homestead around Garber. It’s where I belong.”

Porter has spent his years in Enid making a unique and irreplaceable mark. He enjoys taking flowers to people, especially those in rest homes. He is also a bit famous for his many letters to the editor over the years.

Some may recognize the name Hugo N. Frye, a nom de plume, Porter frequently used for his letters to the editor. He also wrote under the names Charlotte Amalie and Chauncey Alcock before settling on using his real name.

“I just wanted to express myself,” Porter said.

He has. Over the past 95 years, Dennis Porter has expressed himself and made an impression on the world in many ways.

And most of it’s true.

Happy birthday, Dennis Porter!

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Nash is a freelance writer who writes stories for the Enid News & Eagle.

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