Tag Archives: Ernie Houdashell

We were foes … not enemies

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The death of a longtime Texas Panhandle political stalwart brings to mind an axiom that has gotten lost in recent years, which is that people of good faith can disagree but not demonize each other.

So it was with the late Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell and yours truly. Houdashell died over the weekend. I am still seeking ways to handle my profound grief.

I loved Ernie Houdashell at many levels. I admired his commitment to the county he served; I reveled at his patriotism; I honored his service to his country, serving two tours of duty during the Vietnam War, the second of which exposed him to fierce combat aboard an Army helicopter. I marveled at the creative ways he sought to improve the quality of life for his constituents.

However … I wasn’t a fan of Houdashell’s politics. He was a staunch Republican partisan. I am, shall we say, of a different ilk. I knew Houdashell at two levels: first as a journalist working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News; second as a former journalist who maintained a personal friendship with him.

Indeed, our friendship flourished even as we disagreed about the nature of the politics that drove Houdashell and which once consumed many of my waking hours as a full-time opinion journalist.

But we never, ever let our differences interfere with how I felt about him. I hope — and I believed — that he felt the same toward me.

We have seen a diminution of that kind of adversarial relationship in recent years. Ernie and I disagreed fervently about Donald J. Trump. Indeed, I know of several friends who have seen other relationships suffer grievously because of political differences regarding the lame-duck president. Not so with Ernie Houdashell and me.

We were foes. Not enemies.

I am going to cherish that friendship until the very end of my time on this good Earth. If only I could bottle and peddle it to others who suffer from the loss of their own relationships over something as petty as partisan politics.

This news hurts deeply: RIP, Ernie Houdashell

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My Facebook news feed has just delivered some devastating news.

A longtime friend and an invaluable source for me back when I toiled for the Amarillo Globe-News has died. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell is gone.

It is difficult for me at this moment to gather my thoughts and stop the heartbreak I am suffering.

Ern was a jewel. He loved Randall County deeply. He loved serving the folks who elected him to multiple terms as the county’s presiding officer. Ernie loved doing deals and was proud of the work he delivered on behalf of the commissioners court.

On his watch, the county moved heaven and Earth to modernize the service it delivered. The county relocated its Amarillo courthouse annex from a cramped site on South Georgia to a new location on Western Street. The county vacated the old 1909 Courthouse on the Square in Canyon and renovated the former Wal-Mart center into the county Justice Center. Yet, the county managed to acquire some state grant money to assist with the renovation of the exterior of the old courthouse structure, a move that Ernie at first resisted but later embraced as the Canyon square began to flourish and grow.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment well might be what transpired at the old annex site, and the development of the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. Ernie was a proud Vietnam War veteran, which gave us a common bond. I enjoyed reliving the bad old days with Ernie. He was proud to have taken possession of the F-100 jet on display at the memorial, as well as the UH-1 Huey helicopter; indeed, he saw duty during his second tour of duty in Vietnam as a door gunner aboard a Huey. And he was able to acquire a piece of the USS Arizona to be displayed at the memorial.

Ernie Houdashell could spin a yarn like few others. He grew up in Donley County and brought some of that rural humor with him when he spoke to civic groups.

Our relationship grew from a professional one to a deeply personal friendship after I left the Globe-News in the summer of 2012.

Man, this news hurts deeply. I will get past the immediate pain that has pierced my heart. However, I will cling for as long as I live to the love I acquired for Ernie Houdashell.

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.

USS Arizona still gets earned reverence

A social media acquaintance of mine has voiced an objection to the placing of a USS Arizona artifact eventually at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial.

She believes the Arizona is too sacred a place — a resting place for more than 1,000 U.S. servicemen — to be taken apart for display in other locations.

I will disagree with all due respect to this person.

I happen to endorse the idea of placing this artifact at the War Memorial. I also happen to agree with her that the USS Arizona — a World War I-era battle wagon that was sunk by Japanese bombers on Dec. 7, 1941 — is a sacred place.

But the ship’s hulk that rests on the bottom of Honolulu harbor isn’t being dismantled. It isn’t being taken apart. The sailors’ remains are still interred with the superstructure that sank during the attack. Thus, they haven’t been disturbed.

The USS Arizona serves to remind all Americans who came along after the Second World War of the sacrifices made by those who served in harm’s way.

We all can rest assured, in my view, that the War Memorial board — along with Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell, who engineered the delivery of the Arizona artifact — will ensure that it is displayed with all due respect and reverence.

As for the ship’s hulk that will serve forever as a reminder of the “date which will live in infamy,” it remains a sacred place.

USS Arizona to add to War Memorial

AMARILLO, Texas — I guess it can be stated clearly: A piece of one of the darkest days in U.S. history is going to adorn the Texas Panhandle War Memorial in south Amarillo.

It’s the product of some wheeling and dealing by Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell, who has been working with federal and state of Hawaii officials to bring a piece of the USS Arizona to the Texas Panhandle.

They’re going to add the piece to the War Memorial on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7. It will arrive around 11 a.m. Saturday at the Randall County Event Center, where they’ll have a welcoming ceremony.

This is an extremely poignant addition to the War Memorial, which already includes — in addition to the stone tablets chronicling the conflicts this nation has engaged in and those who died in them — an F-100 Super Sabre jet and a UH-1 Huey helicopter.

The Arizona was one of several big ships sunk in Pearl Harbor more than seven decades ago in the event that brought the United States into World War II. President Roosevelt called it a “date which will live in infamy.”

It’s a date we cannot forget. We must always remember it.

Judge Houdashell told me some months ago about the Arizona memento coming here. He was thrilled beyond belief to get it done.

I am proud of my friend for scoring this magnificent addition to the War Memorial.

Hoping for a quick turnaround at old annex

Randall County has vacated its former Courthouse Annex at Georgia Street and the Canyon Expressway.

The building is dark.

However, as I understand it, the old annex might not be dark for too long. That’s my sincere hope.

The Texas Panhandle War Memorial board of directors hopes to convert the annex into a chapel. It would become a place where those who visit the nearby War Memorial can go to pray, to thank the Almighty himself for the sacrifice in defense of our country made by those who are honored at the memorial.

The annex once served as Randall County’s avenue for its residents who live in southern Amarillo. The tax office was there, along with a justice of the peace court; the sheriff’s department also had a small office in the annex. They’ve all moved to much more spacious quarters at the corner of Western Street and Paramount Boulevard into a building once occupied by Nationwide Insurance.

Thanks to some wheeling and dealing by County Judge Ernie Houdashell, the county has now opened a virtually full-fledged courthouse operation to serve the county’s Amarillo-area residents. The new annex features about six times the space, plus a county clerk, district clerk, district attorney and a court at law operation.

The old annex site, though, needs to be made functional in another form. It needs to be re-purposed to suit the needs of the War Memorial board, which serves to honor the memories of those who died in defense of our country.

The memorial board is seeking to raise money to build — eventually — an interactive education center next to the garden, the granite stones and the names of those from throughout the Panhandle who have fallen in battle.

Oh, how I hope the former annex site can be re-fitted and brought back to life as a chapel. Those who pay their respects to our fallen warriors need a place to pray and to reflect.

Eight years on, it’s still pretty — and still empty

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell can claim many successes during his years presiding over the county’s Commissioners Court.

For instance, the sheriff’s department has built a complex on South Georgia Street; the county just recently opened its new courthouse annex on Western Street in southwest Amarillo.

Oh, and the county was able to spruce up the 1909 Courthouse building on the Square in Canyon.

I found a High Plains Blogger post from March 2009 that commented on the old courthouse. I noted that the outside looks good. The inside, well, is unusable. It was then. It still is today.

Pretty on the outside

Let me be crystal clear: I am glad that the county was able to renovate the exterior of that courthouse. It was able to secure a state grant, and then spent local tax funds — with voters’ approval — to finish the job.

The county vacated the courthouse years ago. It moved some functions across the street into the old jail building. The Justice Center was opened a few blocks away across the street from West Texas A&M University.

The old building? It’s empty. Its interior is a mess.

I wrote a feature story for NewsChannel10.com years after leaving the Amarillo Globe-News about a possible new tenant for the 1909 Courthouse: The City of Canyon considered moving in, according to City Manager Randy Criswell. Then the city backed off when the cost estimates proved prohibitive.

The Square has blossomed since the exterior renovation. Judge Houdashell is proud of what has happened to the Square: Businesses have sprouted up along once-empty storefronts. It’s active, vibrant, busy in downtown Canyon.

Houdashell credits the 1909 Courthouse for luring that activity.

That’s fantastic! Houdashell’s pride is justified. However, there must be a move afoot to complete this mosaic.

I haven’t asked my friend, Judge Houdashell, what he has in mind for landing a new tenant for the structure. My strong hunch is that with the Courthouse Annex project complete, he is likely to turn his significant deal-making skill to finding an organization interested in fixing up a grand-looking old building.

My sense is that the success already brought to Canyon by a renovated exterior will explode even more once they find someone who fix up and occupy its interior.

County set to open a new door to its future

They’ve got some work to do yet on the new Randall County Annex building in Amarillo, Texas. But have no concern at all. They’ll get it done. It will be cleaned up and the county is moving in to conduct business as usual in late February.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell took me on a tour of the place this morning. To say he is mighty proud of it is to say that “it’s been a bit breezy in the Texas Panhandle these days.”

Let me put this another way.

Donald J. Trump calls himself the master of the “art of the deal.” In reality, Trump is a piker compared to the dealmaking skill exhibited by Ernie Houdashell.

The annex will replace a 10,000-square foot structure currently operating at South Georgia and the Canyon E-Way. The county is getting a 63,000-square foot facility. Houdashell said the county will occupy about 38,000 square feet of the new building. The rest of it will be available for use as the county continues to grow.

“We bought this for $38.60 per square foot,” Houdashell said, adding that the per-square-foot price is a seriously good bargain. The county paid $2.5 million total for the building, which it purchased from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.

Randall County is unusual in this respect: Its county seat is in Canyon, but the vast bulk of its business is done in south Amarillo, which makes up about 80 percent of the county’s population and provides about 80 percent of the tax revenue. “We haven’t served the people of Amarillo well” with the old annex building, according to Houdashell.

The new structure is going to contain many features missing from the old annex: a district attorney’s office, the county clerk’s office, the district clerk’s office and one of the county’s courts at law all will be located inside the new annex. The county also will have a significantly greater space that it will use as voting center. Whereas the old annex often required voters to stand in crowded spaces waiting to cast ballots — or to wait outside occasionally in inclement weather — the new site will provide a much more customer-friendly environment.

Houdashell explained that state law prohibits state district courts from operating outside the county seat; thus, they will function exclusively in Canyon — with the courts with jurisdiction in Potter County also operating in Amarillo.

My brief tour of the new Randall County Courthouse Annex gave me a glimpse into the future of the county. The courtrooms will be fully secured, as will the main public entrance.

I have to say that I am mighty proud of my friend Ernie Houdashell. He is running for his fourth term as county judge. He is unopposed in the 2018 Republican Party primary and, given that there are zero Democrats running for public office in this heavily GOP county, the judge is assured of another four-year term.

Oh, the old annex building? It will be given to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial foundation, which will use it as a chapel while it raises money to build an education center alongside the garden and the memorial to those Panhandle veterans who have fallen in battle.

I don’t know what lies ahead for the judge once the new annex opens its doors to the public on Feb. 26.

I have this hunch my old pal might have another deal or two to strike before he calls it a career.

WT set to honor vets who gave their full measure

I am proud of West Texas A&M University, even though I never attended the school; nor did either of my sons.

My pride stems from the decision to erect a memorial on the WT campus that honors those grads from the school who have given their full measure of devotion in service to their country.

They broke ground the other day, with several dignitaries on hand to turn some dirt over to symbolize the start of construction.

This project exemplifies in my mind the nation’s continuing redemption toward the way it treats those who have served in the nation’s military. It wasn’t always this way, as those of us old enough can remember.

I was struck to see Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell (second from left in the picture attached to this post) among those breaking ground. Houdashell is a buddy of mine and he — like yours truly — served in Vietnam during the war that tore the nation apart. The national reaction to that war sank the nation to its emotional nadir as it related to its treatment of veterans. I know that Houdashell remembers that time, because he has told me so.

That was then. The here and now brings loads of respect and affection for the men and women who have answered the call.

As for the WT memorial, it will bring additional honor to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in every war this nation has fought since 1917, when we entered World War I.

Times do change. So do attitudes. It’s part of a national maturation. Indeed, the nation hasn’t always acted maturely where its veterans are concerned.

We’re doing so now — and that’s all that really matters.

Randall County office also set for major makeover

I have been commenting from time to time about the extreme makeover under way in downtown Amarillo.

Given that I don’t get out quite as much as I did when I worked for a living, I recently discovered another makeover project for which many Randall County employees — and perhaps residents, too — have been waiting.

We were driving south on Western Street when I shot a glance to the right and noticed a building that used to house an insurance company. Eventually, it’s going to house the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

Work on the building is well under way.

County Judge Ernie Houdashell told me some weeks ago about the purchase of the old Nationwide building and the realization of his longtime effort to relocate the county annex from its cramped quarters at South Georgia Street and Interstate 27.

I give Houdashell a huge dose of credit for bringing this project together. He had dickered and bickered with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation to sell the Nationwide structure to the county. AEDC apparently had some issues that it was able to resolve with the county.

So now the county owns the structure and is refitting it to meet its needs.

The annex does the vast majority of the county’s tax business, even though the county seat is in Canyon, about 15 miles south of Amarillo, which straddles the Randall-Potter County line. Amarillo contains about 75 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the tax revenue used to finance county government.

The annex will include the auto registration operation, along with a sheriff’s department presence and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace court. I cannot recall the precise square footage increase that the county will get in the new structure, but I am aware that it’s going to be substantially more than it has at the Georgia Street site.

What’s going to happen to the current annex building? Houdashell hopes the county can deed it over to the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, which is in the process of raising money for its new interpretive center.

Houdashell, always the dealmaker, already has added an F-100 fighter jet to the War Memorial grounds, along with a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey helicopter, the kind of ship on which Houdashell served during the Vietnam War.

Yes, the downtown work is important to Amarillo and will bring tremendous value to the city over time when all the work is done. It’s not the only place, though, that’s undergoing a serious change.

I will look forward to watching the courthouse annex work progress — along with Randall County’s continuing evolution.