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Folmar honored by his high school in Alabama

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Dr. J.K. Folmar

Dr. J.K. Folmar spent 30 years teaching history at California University of Pennsylvania and decades writing about it.

While he taught and wrote about Civil War history, he lived it growing up in Alabama.

“If you are a native of the South, you don't have to learn about the Civil War, it's there,” said Folmar, 82, of California, Pa.

“There's never been a Civil War like ours, where the folks who lost are more glorified than those who won.”

One of his seven books is about the 21st Alabama Infantry.

Folmar said he has two great-grandfathers who enlisted in the Confederacy during the war.

“My folks were fighting for the wrong damn reason,” Folmar said.

“It was about slavery. The only reason the war started was to extend slavery. The argument of these folks now is it was about state's rights and that's just wrong.”

Folmar said his love for history and his desire to become a teacher were distilled while attending Jemison High School in Chilton County, Ala. He donates books, mostly about the Civil War, to the Jemison library on occasion, mostly in memory of his typing teacher, Lera DuBose. She was also the faculty advisor for the school newspaper, The Panthergram, which Folmar edited.

Recently, Folmar was informed by current school library media specialist, Paula Avery, that he was inducted into the Jemison High School Wall of Fame. His photo will hang next to CNN weatherman Reynolds Wolf.

Folmar graduated from Jemison High School in 1950, in a class of roughly 50 students.

Folmar played football at the small school, located south of Birmingham.

“When I was playing football there, we just played local teams, there were no divisions,” said Folmar. Our record was 5-5. We either beat up on teams or they looked like the University of Alabama.”

Folmar also had success in oratory contests, winning the local and county events and finishing second at the region competition.

Folmar grew up in Birmingham, moving to the rural area just outside the quaint town of Jemison during his final three years in high school.

“I went from a school of 2,000 to this little school, so it was easy for me,” Folmar said. “I had never rode on a school bus before.

“When we practiced football, after practice we hitch hiked. I lived a few miles from school.”

After graduating from Jemison High School, Folmar earned his undergraduate degree from Samford University, formerly Howard College, and his master's degree from Birmingham-Southern College. He received a doctorate from the University of Alabama.

He taught for two years each in the Birmingham school system and at the University Military School in Mobile.

While earning his doctorate at the University of Alabama, Folmar served as a teaching assistant and instructor.

After earning his doctorate, Folmar taught three years at Morehead State University.

He moved to Cal U in 1969, teaching history until 1999. He was awarded a Commonwealth Distinguished Faculty Award for Research in 1980, and named Emeritus Professor of History in 1999.

At Cal U, he chaired the history department, founded the History Club and the honor historical society, Phi Alpha Theta.

Folmar coordinated four annual conferences on local and transportation history, served on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Historical Association and the editorial board of Western Pennsylvania Magazine.

Folmar has written seven books on local history, river transportation and even one of poetry.

His latest publication focused on California, Pa.'s role in boat building, especially the iron clads constructed during the Civil War.

He also published 35 articles in historical journals and delivered 65 lectures to local historical and civic organizations on the history of the Monongahela River during the steamboat era.

His interest in river transportation grew out of a chance trip in 1979 to Greensboro in Greene County. While there, he stumbled upon a meeting of the Mon Valley River Buffs. He has been a member ever since, including president of the Monongahela River Buffs Association since 1990 and editor of its newsletter, “Voice of the Mon,” since 1980.

Folmar still visits Alabama two to three times a year, usually stopping by the school.

He has four sons, John Folmar Jr. of Rostraver Township, Tram Folmar of California, Pa., Brendan Folmar of Virginia and Forrest Folmar of Maine; and six grandchildren.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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