Southwestern Oklahoma State University

Distinguished Alumni

James Witherspoon

James Witherspoon - 1976

The son of a migrant farmer, Witherspoon was born on Aug.24, 1912, in Lockney, Tex.  He lived with Mr. And Mrs. Lonnie Dunn, long-time Weatherford residents, while attending Southwestern State Teachers College and holding down an $18-a-month janitorial job provided by the National Youth Administration.

Witherspoon played end on the Bulldog football team, and his first wife, the former Hillois Tanner of Weatherford, was elected Homecoming queen wile a student here.  Mrs. Witherspoon died in 1971.  After graduating from college, Witherspoon taught school in Custer City and then in Levelland, Tex., before moving in 1938 to Omaha, where he operated a rack-jobbing business, selling cosmetics, notions, and other items to grocery stores. 

He and his father-in-law, Lewis Tanner, started Gibson Products Co. to warehouse and distribute notions and novelties to “wagon jobbers” who drove around the countryside selling their merchandise from trucks.  In 1962 he purchased the Marks Distributing Co., a rack-job whole seller, and soon started the chain of Gibson Discount Centers that now includes, at last count, 193 stores in 11 states with an annual volume of well over $200 million.  The 200-store mark is expected to be reached before the end of 1976.  Parent company of the chain is Pamida, Inc., which Witherspoon serves as chairman of the board. 

Pamida comes from an acronym formed by the names of Witherspoon’s three sons—Pat, 15; Mike, 21; and David, 25.  He also has a daughter, Lisa, 11.  Witherspoon and his wife, Marge, currently reside at 9909 Fieldcrest in Omaha, but they are constructing a new home in California. 

Several students have attended Southwestern on funds provided by the 1936 graduate.  Sine 1968 he has given three tuition scholarships annually in the name of Mr. And Mrs. Dunn, who are former Southwestern Normal School students.  In 1970 he added three full athletic scholarships and named them for the retired long-time Southwestern athletic director and coach, Rankin Williams.  These also are awarded each year.