Tom and Grace Faulkner attended Victoria College before taking their academic careers to The University of Texas at Austin.
Grace and Tom Faulkner first met as classmates at Victoria High School in the late 1950s. But it wasn’t until they bumped into each other again at Victoria College when their relationship became one on a first-name basis.
“We had an English class together in high school,” Grace said. “Our teacher wanted to prepare us for college, so he had us address each other by our last names. He was Mr. Faulkner to me.”
Then on the first day of class at Victoria College in the Fall of 1961, the two not-so-accidentally crossed paths again.
“I walked in to my trigonometry class, and there I saw Tom,” Grace recalled. “I was happy to see a friendly face. I said, ‘Well, hi, Mr. Faulkner.’ It just so happened that I sat next to him.”
“It wasn’t that we just happened to sit next to each other,” Tom said. “That was by design on my part.”
The two met regularly at the Student Union and eventually went to a movie together.
“We’ve been dating ever since,” Grace said.
Grace was involved with Victoria College since birth. Her father, Winston Zirjacks, was one of the first members of Victoria College’s Board of Trustees. He later was elected president of the board and served Victoria College for over 50 years.
“I grew up with Victoria College,” Grace said. “My dad attended Victoria Junior College, as it was called back then, when it was at Patti Welder High School. He played on the football team. We went to everything that had to do with Victoria College.
“Being able to serve Victoria College was very important to him. He was a banker, and he really understood how important it was to the community to have this ability to educate our young people. He was instrumental in starting the nursing program here. He understood the importance of Victoria College’s role in providing a qualified workforce for the community.”
Tom’s older brother, Steve, had attended Victoria College before transferring to Texas A&I University in Kingsville.
“I kind of dove-tailed after him and decided to attend Victoria College in 1961,” Tom said. “It was an economic decision, because I was able to attend college and still live at home. It was a fortunate decision, as Grace and I began dating that fall semester, and the rest is history.”
The Faulkners attended The University of Texas at Austin together in 1963 and married in 1966. Tom received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting, while Grace earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. They both said their two years at Victoria College were invaluable in preparing them for a major university.
“Victoria College taught me that I had to make my own decisions,” said Grace, who worked 14 years as a physical therapist while taking a few years off to raise their two sons. “I had to organize my time, my education, my training, my studying.”
“When I got to UT, I was really glad VC helped prepare me because it is overwhelming when you come to a new place and you don’t know anybody at all,” said Tom, who worked as a certified public accountant for Conoco Inc. for over 30 years. “Imagine kids who grew up in Victoria, a town of 25,000 or 30,000 at that time, and then attending a campus of 25,000 students, all crammed together on 40 acres.”
Both Tom and Grace retired in 1999 and returned to Victoria to be closer to family. Once back in Victoria, the couple pursued new interests. Grace became active in community volunteer work and Tom chose to enjoy retirement on the golf course. While playing golf, Tom took the advice of a friend and signed up for a sculpture class at VC.
“The next semester, I switched to pottery and clay,” Tom said. “I found that I enjoyed pottery more, as it seemed more therapeutic for me.”
Tom’s passion for pottery was so strong that he took the class for six more semesters. He still enjoys the hobby and donates much of his work to the annual Victoria Empty Bowls event.
“My goal every year is to make at least 100 bowls for the event,” said Tom, who has also taken VC’s motorcycle course. “This year I made 140 bowls. I’ve been doing at least 100 for the last 10 years.”
The Faulkners are not only thankful for Victoria College’s role in directing their careers, but also for VC being the place where they were able to develop a relationship that evolved into 52 years of marriage and counting.
“If Victoria College hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have gone to college right away, and I wouldn’t have gotten to know Grace,” Tom said. “Being able to live at home while attending college made it affordable.”
The Winston L. and Nixie Zirjacks Endowment Fund was started in 2000 to assist students who might not be able to afford to continue their education. The Faulkners, along with family and friends, contribute annually to the endowment fund in order to increase the number of scholarships.
“We benefitted from Victoria College, so we want to pay it back,” Grace said. “Victoria College played such a big role in our life journeys, and we’re happy to help others realize how Victoria College can impact their journeys as well.”