Square dancing was in James Pettus’s blood. For more than three decades, he called dances for the Starlight Swingers of Portales, and for other groups around New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.
He also attended state and national square dance festivals with his wife, Wanda Pettus, who said the most fun of times they spent together was traveling to square dances and being a square dance team.
James, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day, will be remembered most for his square dance calling, but also for his sincerity, warmth and friendly personality, according to Wanda.
He was a long-time employee of the Portales News-Tribune, where he spent 33 years working as a mechanical superintendent, and where he met Wanda, who worked in the advertising department.
James was regarded as a fair-handed car salesman by many. His honesty brought back repeat customers to his Pettus Country Motors, which became his full time job after he retired from The News-Tribune in 1994.
“During the months of James’ illness, some of his customers even came to the house to pray for and with him,” Wanda said. “This meant so much to James.”
Of course, his biggest loves in life were God, family and friends.
“His children will remember him most for his never-ending love and the example he set on how to treat others,” Wanda said. “His daughters will remember him as being a great dancer and loving to sing. His granddaughters will remember how much fun they had with him.”
James’s brother, Charles Pettus of Portales, said: “I felt like I lost my right arm when I lost James.”
“We had a lot of good times. He was my best buddy. He helped a lot of people. Everyone appreciated him,” Charles said.
James was born in Kentucky and raised on a farm.
“We had a good time on the farm when we were kids,” Charles recalled. “We hoed tobacco and made sorghum molasses together. And when James started his car business, I helped him all I could. Sometimes we’d have to change an old motor or transmission in a car.”
Charles said he was always busy with his job, being on call, that he didn’t get to see his brother call much square dances, but he said he did catch him in action during the county fairs and once in awhile around town.
According to Wanda, James also enjoyed restoring classic cars, country and Western dancing and driving around Portales with his favorite sidekick, Peggy Two, who was his dog.
James was a member of the Kiwanis Club for many years. His family moved to New Mexico when he was 13 and he graduated from Floyd High School in 1961.
His biggest passion was singing, but somehow, he always ended up doing something or another associated with square dancing.
“For several years, James was invited to teach the third graders to square dance for their special program they do at the end of each school year. He donated numerous hours to working with these children and he loved every minute of it,” Wanda said.