2005 Billy Adams Award - William Porter

(09-21-2005)

William A. Porter's '51 college career is entwined in the history of Adams State College. He was encouraged to attend Adams State by Alamosa dentist, Dr. C.P. Rex, an Adams State trustee; was quizzed by Dr. Ira Richardson, the college's first president; read to an elderly Billy Adams; worked nights for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad; and considers Dr. James Craft, emeritus professor of biology, one of his most influential mentors.

"When I was a student, I would visit Billy Adams and read aloud to him. At the time he was in his late 80s," said Porter. "I was a little awestruck to be in the presence of a former governor of Colorado."

Porter is founder of E*Trade Group, Inc. It was slightly intimidating to place a call to such an accomplished and successful alumnus.

But just as Billy Adams was said to be down-to-earth and dedicated to southwestern Colorado, Porter is unpretentious, easy to talk to and quite funny.

Adams Award fitting for Porter

Twenty-six years after the founding of Adams State Normal School, William A. Porter received his Bachelor of Arts in mathematics. In 1998, he returned for the dedication of Porter Hall Science Building. Adams State College is pleased to have him back on campus Saturday, August 27 to receive the Billy Adams Award at the Second Annual Donor Recognition Dinner.

Billy Adams, a Colorado legislator who would later become governor, worked for three decades before obtaining the authorization to found Adams State Normal School in 1921.

Adams' goal was to educate teachers for remote, rural areas, such as the San Luis Valley. Established in 1971, the Billy Adams Award recognizes those who follow in the tradition set by Adams, committed to Adams State College and its continual growth.

"Billy Adams lived in a hotel off of Main Street in Alamosa. He was nearly blind and students would read to him," said Porter. "He seemed like a stately old gentlemen."

Dr. Craft remained a mentor.

His relationship with Craft inspired him to donate $4.6 million worth of stock in E*Trade to Adams State College primarily to improve computer inter-connectivity.

"Dr. Craft was a person I look back on as someone who gave me good steerage. He is the reason the Science, Mathematics, and Technology Building is named Porter Hall," said Porter. "I was visiting him in a hospice just before he passed away. He said he'd like to see my name on one of the buildings here."

Porter earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Adams State College. It could have been a degree from Denver University where he had articulated after, but a dental visit changed his mind.

"My dad had been recently transferred to Alamosa. I had been discharged from the Navy after WWII, at age 19, and came for a visit," said Porter. "I went to the dentist, Dr. Rex, and during my examination he asked what I'd be doing. I told him that I was going back to Denver and enter DU. He then suggested I check out Adams State College."

College career a memorial experience.

Porter met his first wife, now deceased, Ada Guthrie, at Adams State College.

"Ada helped me through history. She was very vivacious. She headed the yearbook staff one year. We had three great children," said Porter.

The campus scenery has changed since Porter's time, but some things stay the same.

"I remember the artesian wells on campus. In the winter the water shooting up would freeze, some of them would be ten feet tall. There were a lot of mosquitoes and I enjoyed fishing in the San Luis Valley."

Porter worked all through college with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

"I was a crew dispatcher for the night shift. It gave me time to do my homework, but not sleep," said Porter.

He worked 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., six days a week and had classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.

"I slept in class. I had a mathematics professor that told me he used to have another Bill Porter who used to sleep in class," said Porter. "Come to find out it was my father when he was attending the University of Colorado. My dad also worked nights through college, although he denied sleeping in class."

Dozing during class-time didn't affect his grades.

"I was getting through the text book on partial differential equations with the same professor. He didn't have a car and wanted to see Mt. Blanca. I drove him out there in my shiny new Chevrolet convertible, we hiked half way up the mountain and he gave me my test orally," said Porter. "I got an A."

Adams State Provost, Dr. David Svaldi, said Porter is a good role model.

"He is a wonderful alumnus whose great story has continued after his graduation. William Porter has continued to be a great supporter of Adams State College and is someone our current students can admire," said Svaldi.

Porter finished his undergraduate degree in about three years

"I wanted to be out of school early. I was in the Navy reserves and the Korean War had started. I had a couple of requirements to complete for my BA. Dr. Ira Richardson had me read a couple books on philosophy and then quizzed me," said Porter. "He was a stern, but good administrator."

His belief in the strong foundation Richardson laid for the campus prompted him to suggest Adams State College place a marker in front of Richardson Hall.

"When I was on campus for the Porter Hall dedication I told the president, Dr. Thomas Gilmore, 'you know you should have a big sign with Dr. Richardson's name, he's the one who did so much for this school. Far more than I have done."

The granite memorial now stands in front of Richardson Hall.

Gilmore, emeritus professor of business, has known Porter for a few years.

"Bill Porter is an alumnus for which Adams State is extremely proud," said Gilmore. "He received a fine education while here, achieved a successful and innovative career, and returned to Adams State to help future generations of students have a chance for a good education."

During Porter's time there were many war veterans attending school.

"We were all dedicated to doing something with our lives, though the enrollment was only about 450 students," he said.

It is an adequate epithet to Porter's life. He is the founder and chairman for E*Trade Group, Inc. and developed an electronic option exchange, the ISE, which has become the largest options exchange in the world.

"We just had the International Public Offering (IPO) in New York last spring. I've created not just one but two business that are now on the New York Stock Exchange," said Porter. "I believe I am the only person to have ever accomplished that in their lifetime."

His achievements may not be because of Adams State College, but Porter understands the significance of fate.

"I told my granddaughter who was recently applying to several colleges, Lauren, 'wherever you land, you will like it,'" said Porter. "It will change your whole life. She will start at UC Santa Barbara this fall."

Experience and education

Porter completed an MS in physics at Kansas State College in 1952, and almost immediately began a career marked by innovation. He earned an MS in Management as a Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967.

He holds numerous patents, was a management consultant at Stanford Research Institute, and reorganized two major US subsidiaries of Swedish companies.

Porter's early career was spent in the electronics industry. In 1968, he founded Commercial Electronics, Inc., of which he was president until 1974. Porter was Director of Research and Planning for Textron from 1962-67, and Research Manager and Electrical Engineer of General Electric's Advanced Electronics Center at Cornell University from 1957-62. From 1952-57, he was a physicist with the National Bureau of Standards.