Joe M. Pirtle — the “ultimate Belton Tiger” — died Sunday at the age of 87.
Pirtle served as superintendent of Belton Independent School District for 22 years, and worked for the district for a total of 43. He retired in 1997, and Joe M. Pirtle Elementary School was named in his honor soon afterward.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Belton Church of Christ, 3003 N. Main St. Burial will follow at North Belton Cemetery. The family will receive friends for visitation from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Dossman Funeral Home Chapel in Belton.
Former Belton ISD Board President Jay Taggart had a unique and changing relationship with Pirtle — first as a student, later as a friend, and eventually as Pirtle’s boss.
“One of the very unique things about Mr. Pirtle was he made it a point to know all the employees of the district,” Taggart said. “He also made it a point to try to know every student and their families. While that’s almost impossible to do today, back in the day he almost did that.”
Pirtle served in the military in the 1950s and then went to work for Belton ISD, starting out as science teacher and coach and eventually working his way up to principal, curriculum director, assistant superintendent and then superintendent.
In retirement, he remained heavily involved in Belton Tiger athletics.
“Mr. Pirtle would stop by once every couple of weeks, and generally he would come by to talk about what big game we had coming up,” Belton athletic director Mike Morgan said. “Mostly, I think he just wanted to come by and give us some encouragement.”
Belton Mayor Marion Grayson said Pirtle was loved in the Belton community because he loved the community’s children.
“Joe Pirtle lived as a legend, known and loved as a student athlete, as a father, a loving and adoring husband to his bride, Mary Nell, … all while also being a leader in our school district for several decades,” Grayson said.
Pirtle helped coach Belton High School basketball to a state victory in 1958. Morgan described the former coach as a “community icon,” and Taggart called him “the ultimate Belton Tiger.”
“He loved watching kids play hard and leave it all on the court,” Morgan said. “He always talked about that was the Tiger way — you play hard, you play with a lot of guts and emotion — he really liked those types of kids the best.”
Current Superintendent Susan Kincannon called Pirtle’s influence “far-reaching.”
“Mr. Pirtle greatly influenced the culture and reputation of Belton ISD through the relationships he nurtured,” Kincannon said in a release. “One of his goals was to provide scholarships for graduating seniors. … With that in mind, he established the Belton Educational Enrichment Foundation (BEEF) in 1992 in order to provide a sustainable source of funding.”
In 1994, Pirtle was named Superintendent of the Year for Region 12. Taggart said Pirtle’s influence was known outside of Central Texas as well.
“He was known at a state level, as one of the top administrators in the state of Texas,” Taggart said.
Pirtle oversaw a time of growth in Belton ISD. Taggart said he showed strong leadership as the district began building schools in West Temple, even though previously all Belton ISD schools were within the Belton city limits.
Pirtle is survived by his wife of 66 years, Mary Nell Pirtle of Belton; daughters Paula Warnke of Bulverde and Jane Dominguez of Belton; two brothers; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Pirtle family asks that any memorials to the late superintendent be made in the form of donations to Belton Educational Enrichment Foundation, 400 N. Wall St., Belton, Texas, 76513, or to the Belton Church of Christ, 3003 N. Main St., Belton, Texas, 76513.
Mr. Pirtle was born Sept. 20, 1931 in Salado, the son of Paul and Gertie (Nunnallee) Pirtle. Pirtle was a graduate of Salado High School and Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (now Texas State University).
At the dedication of his namesake elementary school, the former superintendent spoke about his philosophy of education.
“Education is the only thing that puts everybody on the same level with everybody else,” he said at the time. “I really believe that no matter where you grow up, or from what part of town you come from, education is the path to put everybody on the same level.”