Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

USS Arizona artifact honors the fallen

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell’s mission is accomplished.

A piece of an iconic historical treasure is now in display at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. It is a small section of the USS Arizona, the World War I-era battleship that was sunk 77 years ago today at the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese fighter pilots.

The event thrust the United States into World War II.

More than 1,000 men died on the Arizona.

Houdashell made it his mission to bring a piece of the sunken ship to Amarillo, to display it at the War Memorial, which honors the men from the Texas Panhandle who fell in battle in conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War.

The judge told KFDA NewsChannel 10: “Pearl Harbor, the Arizona, is a cemetery,” said Judge Houdashell. “There’s hundreds of men still buried on that. We have a piece of a national relic and it’s a sacred relic. Very few people have a piece that big. There’s a little bitty piece at the WWII Museum but we have a huge piece.

He meant to welcome the display on Pearl Harbor Day, when the nation remembers the event that mobilized the nation into a new era of industrial and military might in the fight to quell the tyrants in Europe and Asia who sought to conquer the world.

I am delighted that Ernie Houdashell accomplished his mission, just as he worked to bring the F-100 Super Sabre jet fighter and the UH-1 Huey helicopter — both Vietnam War relics — to the War Memorial grounds at the site of the former Randall County Courthouse Annex in south Amarillo.

These displays are important to Houdashell, who served two tours in the Vietnam War himself and who wears his love of country on his sleeve. Indeed, they are important to all Americans, all of us who understand the sacrifice made by those who fell in battle. The names of the Panhandle sons who fell are inscribed on the stone tablets that stand on the memorial grounds.

They now are accompanied by yet another historical artifact, a reminder of the horror of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. May it stand as the worst the world will ever see.

Happy Trails, Part 132: Feeling more like ‘home’

I took Toby the Puppy for a walk this afternoon. Then it dawned on me as I looked at our surroundings.

Collin County is feeling more like “home” to me. I believe it is for my wife, too. Toby the Puppy? He’s fine no matter where he is, as long as we’re with him.

It’s more of a sense than anything else. You know already that we’re getting more comfortable navigating our way around the Metroplex. The sense today is that our neighborhood is feeling more like we belong here.

Now, we aren’t likely to stay in our particular neighborhood forever. My wife and I are moving toward purchasing a new home; at the moment, we are renting an apartment. We like our residence just fine, but we have this desire to sink our roots a little more deeply into our new surroundings.

It helps satisfy my own sense of belonging to feel more acclimated to our new surroundings.

I discovered in 1984 that I am a highly adaptable creature. We moved from Oregon to the Texas Gulf Coast that spring. I had spent my entire life in Portland — except for two years in the Army, which took me to the East Coast and eventually to Southeast Asia.

Oregon was “home” for me. Then opportunity called and we settled in Southeast Texas. That was our home for nearly 11 years. More opportunity called and we pulled up stakes and settled in Amarillo, which became our home for more than 23 years.

Our life in Beaumont became the new normal. Then it shifted to the Texas Panhandle.

Now it is reconstituting in Collin County, just a bit north of Dallas. Most importantly, we’re now just a few minutes away from our precious granddaughter.

As I look around our new digs, though, my comfort level is more satisfied believing that I am feeling at home.

Media leadership takes another hit

The new owners of two West Texas newspapers appear to be watering down their commitment to the communities the papers serve.

Now, I say this from afar. I no longer live in West Texas. I have watched all this play out from my new residence in Collin County. However, I have a keen interest in the future of one of those communities and, yes, of the other one as well.

GateHouse Media purchased the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal from Morris Communications in the fall of 2017. GateHouse made some promises about its commitment to community journalism. Morris, meanwhile, got out of the newspaper publishing business totally.

So, what has happened to the new owners’ commitment to community journalism? A friend of mine sent me a note informing me today that the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal now have a “regional associate editor” who’s in charge of running both papers’ opinion pages.

Follow me here: Amarillo and Lubbock are 120 miles apart at both ends of Interstate 27. The new “director of commentary” lives in Lubbock. He’s going to continue to live there, or so I gather; that means he’ll drive to Amarillo during part of the week. I suppose he’ll need to show himself in Amarillo to pretend to be a member of the community.

The days he spends away from either community, though, is going to diminish the each paper’s editorial voice. It will water down its leadership in both communities. The editorial page of the G-N and the A-J will be muffled to a significant degree. One individual cannot pretend to know all there is to know about two communities that have disparate interests, differing power structures, different sets of movers and shakers, varying concerns.

This is an absolute shame.

I long have subscribed to the belief that newspapers that pursue a cogent and lively editorial policy are an essential element to any community’s well-being. Sure, readers complain about what a newspaper thinks about an issue; they take the editor and publisher to task. Or, they might agree and applaud with whatever position the opinion page has staked out.

Opinion pages promote community discussion and debate.

The West Texas newspapers already have a “regional” publisher who lives in Lubbock and commutes to Amarillo, along with a “regional” executive editor who lives in Amarillo and commutes to Lubbock. Now they have what used to be called an editorial page who lives in Lubbock.

GateHouse Media’s so-called commitment to the communities it pledged to serve is facing a serious challenge with the way it is structuring the leadership of two once-stellar voices for their respective regions.

Man, I hope I am wrong. If I am, I’ll swallow the crow whole.

I fear I am not.

One-party rule: dangerous for democracy

High Plains Blogger critics aren’t likely to believe this, but I have been opposed to one-party domination for, oh, as long as I can remember.

Yes, that means Democrats who control all the power can be as harmful to the cause of good government as Republicans.

That stands as one of the reasons I favor flipping at least one congressional chamber on Tuesday when we go to the polls for the 2018 midterm election. I want Democrats to seize control of Congress to act as a check on the narcissistic maniac who has hijacked the Republican Party and brought otherwise sensible GOP members along with him on his dangerous journey toward who knows what.

You can stop chuckling now, critics of mine.

There was a time when I commented publicly about how Democrats controlled local government in a region I used to call home. That would be the Golden Triangle of Texas, that region between Houston and the Sabine River, which serves as the border between Texas and Louisiana.

I arrived in that part of the world in the spring of 1984. Democrats occupied virtually every public office there was to be found. Republicans were an endangered species in that bastion of Democratic policies and politicians. The Triangle was so reliably Democratic that Democratic politicians running for statewide office rarely campaigned there. They took the region for granted. They knew they could depend on their votes on Election Day.

That began to change before I left the region in January 1995 for the Texas Panhandle. Jefferson County elected a Republican to its commissioners court and GOP candidates began winning a smattering of offices.

Then we moved to the heart of Republican Country, where the modern Texas conservative movement called its heart and soul. The Panhandle is as reliably Republican as the Golden Triangle used to be reliably Democratic.

The Panhandle isn’t changing its stripes.

But on the national level, we see the GOP in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government. I do hope that changes when the ballots are counted late Tuesday and/or early Wednesday. I want Democrats to seize control of Congress. It appears they might take control of the House; the Senate likely will remain in GOP hands.

Whatever the outcome, if the Democrats take the House, they’ll at least be able to institute some checks on the nutty nonsense that emanates from the White House and is endorsed by the Senate.

If it happens, then we might see a return to good government.

Let us hope for the best.

Beto crawls back into the belly of the GOP beast

Democratic U.S. senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke says he doesn’t have any pollsters on his campaign staff.

If that is true — and I don’t disbelieve him — then someone is telling the young man that it is in his political interests to spend so much time in Texas’s most Republican regions as he campaigns against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke had yet another campaign rally this morning in Amarillo, which many have labeled as a sort of Ground Zero of Texas Republican politics.

Public opinion polling puts Cruz up by a 5 to 7 points, depending on the polling outfit. I’ve noted already the view expressed by some around the state that O’Rourke’s strategy appears to be to cut his expected losses in GOP-friendly rural Texas while trying to shore up his expected majorities in the state’s urban centers in places like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

O’Rourke certainly gins up energetic crowds wherever he goes. I have to hand it to the young congressman from El Paso for the guts he shows in venturing into the belly of the proverbial Republican beast.

He appeared recently on late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert’s show and told Colbert how he has visited every one of Texas’s 254 counties. He mentioned Muleshoe (in Bailey County) by name as one of the communities he has visited, prompting Colbert to wonder aloud that a “town with the name of Muleshoe must have great barbecue.”

Whatever. It also has great people who seem willing to listen to what this outlier Democrat has to say to them.

So it is with Amarillo residents and those who live in many rural communities throughout the state.

I don’t know whether O’Rourke’s strategy will work. The polling, if we are to believe it, tells us Cruz is leading.

Then again, the pollsters told us Hillary Clinton would be elected president in 2016 by a narrow margin. Might there be another surprise awaiting us this time around?

My hope continues to spring eternal.

Editorial boards need not reflect the community

A friend of mine challenged a blog item I posted earlier today that called attention to the Dallas Morning News’s endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in this year’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

My friend noted that “of course DMN” would back the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Dallas County voted Democratic in 2016, as well as in 2012 and 2008. The paper, my friend noted, was going with the community flow.

I felt compelled to remind him that newspaper editorial boards — at least in my experience — do not necessarily strive to reflect the community’s leaning.

The example I gave him involved my nearly 11 years in Jefferson County, the largest county of the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Texas.

I worked for the Beaumont Enterprise, serving as editorial page editor. On my watch, the Enterprise endorsed Republican presidential candidates in three elections: 1984, 1988 and 1992, even though Jefferson County voters endorsed by significant majorities the Democratic candidates for president in all three elections. I told my friend the following: So … newspapers do not always reflect the communities’ political leaning. They adhere to their own philosophy or — more to the point — to their ownership’s philosophy.

So it was in 1984 particularly, when the publisher told us point blank that we were going to recommend President Reagan’s re-election. There would be no discussion. A different publisher told us the same thing in 1988 and 1992: We were going to endorse George H.W. Bush for election in ’88 and for re-election in ’92.

That’s how it works. The newspaper and its corporate ownership march to their own cadence, not necessarily the drumbeat of the community it serves. I went to Amarillo in January 1995 and learned the same thing, although the Texas Panhandle is even more solidly Republican than the Golden Triangle was solidly Democratic in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What’s more, Morris Communications, which owned the Amarillo Globe-News until 2017, is far more wedded to conservatives and Republicans than the Hearst Corporation, which still owns the Beaumont Enterprise.

It is true that Dallas County has tilted Democratic in recent election cycles. It also is true that the Dallas Morning News has endorsed plenty of conservative candidates and stood behind plenty of conservative issues over many years.

The Morning News is not a doctrinaire publication. Although I do not know what transpired when the paper’s editorial board deliberated over whom to endorse in this year’s Senate contest, I know that the published record reflects an editorial board that is far from rigid in its political outlook.

Believe me, I know a rigid media organization when I see one. I’ve worked for them.

There’s something to this ‘Texas friendly’ thing

I concluded not long after moving to Texas in 1984 that Texans, by nature, are a most hospitable bunch.

It’s not a trait unique to Texans. However, it is a quality I didn’t grow up with in my native Oregon.

My wife and I just returned from a walk through our Fairview neighborhood and, so help me, I lost count of the number of times I waved at and/or said “good morning” to total strangers.

Almost everyone we usually encounter either greets us initially or returns a greeting from either of us, usually with a smile.

Why is this so remarkable? I want to mention it in the context of what we keep hearing about our government leaders and how angry they are at each other and how that anger is being projected toward their “bosses,” the voters — such as you and me.

I don’t find that to be the case as I go about my day.

I am generally a social animal. I like people. I like being around them. I enjoy the give-and-take with strangers. I like talking to people and getting to know them just a bit beyond the surface level — although I know enough not to get too personal with my inquiries.

Maybe it’s the nosiness in me. I was a reporter/editorial writer/editor for a lot of years and that particular personality trait served me well as I cultivated sources during my career.

When we moved to Texas back in the spring of 1984 I was taken aback almost immediately by the friendliness of the folks who live along the Gulf Coast, in the Golden Triangle, where my family and I called home for nearly 11 years.

Then my wife and I uprooted ourselves in early 1995 and ventured a good bit up yonder to the Panhandle. We encountered the same sort of openness and friendliness as we greeted strangers.

What’s interesting, too, about West Texas is the way motorists wave at each other while traveling along lengthy stretches of highway. One can drive several (dozen) miles at times without seeing another motorist; when one approaches from the opposite direction, the driver is likely to toss you a wave … or he or she might lift an index finger off the steering wheel as you whiz by.

I guess that’s what those signs at the border mean when they welcome visitors to “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

One doesn’t get that kind of greeting in the Metroplex, where such right-of-way desolation doesn’t exist, if you get my drift.

And so … about the time you get dismayed at the negative tone you hear on the news each day emanating from the halls of power, I have a solution for my fellow Texans.

Get out of the house and take a walk through the neighborhood.

Happy Trails, Part 128: Getting tired of rain … again!

I once posted a blog item that told of how I had grown to appreciate the rain, given that we lived in the Texas Panhandle, where annual rainfall amounted to fewer than 20 inches.

We moved to Amarillo from Beaumont, where it rains a lot more than that; we moved to Beaumont from Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. Growing up I hated the rain.

Now we have relocated to Fairview, just north of Dallas.

It has been raining here. A lot! It’s making me grow tired of the rain yet again.

My wife and I spent a few days out of town. We pulled our RV from our garage location in Amarillo to Copper Breaks State Park, about a dozen miles south of Quanah. It rained a good bit while we were there, but it was mild compared to what fell on the Metroplex and the Hill Country while we were staying at Copper Breaks.

Then we returned home Wednesday, driving into the deluge that had flooded much of the Metroplex.

Now we hear that “a lot more rain is on the way,” according to a TV meteorologist.

OK, I am not going to gripe about the rain. I know it brings life to any region that is fortunate enough to receive it. I also know that it brings destruction if it comes too rapidly; just as those who live along the Llano River in the Hill Country have learned.

I guess it’s just in my nature to bitch about the rain, just as I griped for more than two decades while living in Amarillo about the lack of it and the incessant sunshine.

Now that I am older and possibly wiser (although that’s open to plenty of debate, as my blog critics might suggest), I’ll just have to learn with what I cannot control.

First-class wordsmith gets back in the game

I recently lamented the retirement of a man who has lent his wonderful written “voice” to the Texas Panhandle.

Jon Mark Beilue worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for 37 years before retiring in July from his post as a columnist. I have good news for readers of this blog: Beilue is getting back in the game, this time as a columnist for West Texas A&M University.

I want to share this bit of good news because I have used this blog to bemoan the gutting of the Globe-News — first by Morris Communications and then by the company that purchased the G-N a year ago from Morris, GateHouse Media.

WT announced Beilue’s new writing gig in a press release, which stated in part: “We are excited to welcome Jon Mark to the WTAMU family and to share his many talents with the people of the Panhandle,” Dr. Walter Wendler, University president, said. “West Texas A&M University has many interesting stories to tell, and there is no doubt that Jon Mark will tell them well.”

Read the entire WT statement here.

WT plans to distribute Beilue’s columns weekly to area newspapers. If the folks who run the Globe-News have a brain in their heads, they will make sure this fine journalist’s words are published on the pages of a newspaper in dire need of institutional knowledge of the community.

Beilue provides it. He lived his entire life in the Texas Panhandle, absent his four years as a student at Texas Tech University down the road a bit in Lubbock.

And as WT noted in its release: His talent with words is well known across the region and has been recognized at both the state and national levels as far back as the 1980s until his retirement in 2018.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: Jon Mark Beilue is a community treasure. I am delighted to know that WT has decided to put him back on display.

Well done.

Communities still need newspapers of record

A friend and former colleague posted this picture on social media, noting that the building appears to be “crying.”

It sits at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It currently houses what is left of the Amarillo Globe-News, where my friend worked for more than 20 years and where I worked for nearly 18 years.

It symbolizes a once-proud community institution. The Globe-News once stood tall as a pillar of the community it served with distinction and pride. Indeed, back in the good old days, the evening edition of the Globe-News — the Globe-Times — earned print journalism’s highest honor: the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

The editor of the Globe-Times, Tommy Thompson, uncovered corruption in county government. He and his staff hammered at the issue. Their hard work brought about reforms and needed change. The Pulitzer board recognized that effort by bestowing the paper with its highest honor.

That was in 1960. It seems as though it happened even longer ago than that.

Print journalism is undergoing enormous change at this moment in history. Amarillo is enduring some serious pain and suffering. It now functions with a staff that is a fraction of its historic size. The corporate ownership changed in 2017. Morris Communications, which owned the paper since 1972, sold to GateHouse Media. Morris is no longer publishing daily newspapers. GateHouse’s goals for the G-N and for the Lubbock Avalance-Journal, which it purchased, are not entirely clear.

Amarillo no longer has a newspaper that stands tall as the publication of record. Neither does Lubbock. The G-N closed its printing presses a couple of years ago; it now prints its editions in Lubbock.

The papers now are being led by “regional” executives: a publisher who resides in Lubbock but spends part of his week in Amarillo; and an executive editor who lives in Amarillo but spends part of her week in Lubbock.

Two men with a combined 60-plus years of experience in Amarillo have left the business. The newspaper is going to feel their absence in ways they cannot yet measure or define. Take my word for it, the paper’s mission will suffer.

I regret to note, further, that none of this is unique to the Texas Panhandle or the South Plains. My most recent experience in print journalism, though, involves Amarillo, a community my wife and I grew to love when we moved there in 1995. My newspaper career delivered many more good times and enjoyment during the years I spent at the Globe-News.

Then a lot of things changed.

Now I am watching from some distance as the newspaper that drew many craftsmen and women together and delivered many shared experiences struggles to find a new identity.

I am having serious doubt that the Globe-News will find it.