Tag Archives: Ernie Houdashell

Ernie would be proud

Dang! I regret not snapping a picture of a building in Amarillo that is the subject of this blog. That would be the Ernie Houdashell Randall County Annex.

You see, it is Houdashell’s name that gives me reason to comment. I am delighted to have seen the building with the late Randall County judge’s name on it. My bride and I made a quick trip to the Panhandle and we took a moment to gaze at Ernie’s name on the annex.

Houdashell died recently of complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. His passing saddens me to this day. He and I became acquainted shortly after my arrival in the Texas Panhandle in early 1995 when he was district director for state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo. Houdashell gravitated to the county judgeship not long afterward.

He worked hard to acquire the site of a former store on Western Street and build a county annex in south Amarillo. The county seat is in Canyon, but the bulk of the business in the county occurs at its annex, which formerly was stuffed into a tiny structure on Georgia Street.

Houdashell wanted county employees to operate in a modern and spacious venue and wanted the public they served to avail themselves of all the services the county offers.

He fought, cajoled and negotiated a deal for the county to build the annex. Then he died. The county then rewarded Houdashell’s memory by putting his name on the shiny new courthouse annex.

Oh, one more thing. The old annex structure has been repurposed into the Texas Panhandle War Memorial Center, next to the memorial honoring all the individuals from the Panhandle who gave their lives in conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War. Houdashell worked to acquire an Air Force F-100 fighter jet, an Army UH-1 Huey helicopter (similar to one on which Houdashell served while deployed during the Vietnam War) and a piece of the battleship USS Arizona that was sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack.

Again, he did that all of that because of his eternal love of the county he served with distinction and honor.

I will miss my friend forever and then some. Randall County has done well by inscribing Ernie Houdashell’s name on the county annex.


County honors former judge … bravo!

Randall County’s courthouse annex owes its existence to many individuals, but one of them stands out … as in he really stands taller than the others.

The county has performed a remarkable act of honor in putting the late Ernie Houdashell’s name on the building. Houdashell, who became a dear friend of mine after I left daily journalism in Amarillo nearly a decade ago, worked hard to swing the deal that enabled the county to build a government office building that serves the bulk of the county’s population.

Houdashell, who served as county judge for 18 years, died in November 2020 of complications from the COVID-19 virus. The Commissioners Court elevated a commissioner, Christy Dyer, to the judgeship. Dyer, who is running for election this year, presided over a ceremony at the annex that resulted in its now carrying Ernie Houdashell’s name.

I cannot even begin to express adequately my pleasure at learning that the county has taken this important step.

Eighty percent of Randall County’s population resides in south Amarillo; those residents pay the vast majority of the tax revenue that funds county government, even though the county seat is in Canyon.

That vast majority of the county population formerly renewed its car registration, paid its property tax bill and did its business with the county in a cramped structure on South Georgia Street. Houdashell laid eyes on a former department store site on Western Street and negotiated seemingly forever for the county to aquire that property. He did not quit. He didn’t surrender.

The county secured the funds to remodel, refurbish and renovate the Western site and opened the new annex a couple of years ago. It is spacious. modern and well-appointed. The county was able to bring many of its services under a single roof, creating a level of efficiency it didn’t have prior to the construction of the new site.

Ernie Houdashell made it happen!

Randall County honors annex after former judge (yahoo.com)

According to Yahoo News: “He was a mentor, my friend, and an inspiration,” Dyer said. “Randall County was so blessed to have him at the helm. He leaves big shoes to fill. I work very hard and every day, I think about him and what would be his thoughts on if we were taking the right step forward for Randall County.”

Ernie Houdashell would be proud. Of that I am absolutely certain.

Well done, Randall County.


County to honor late Judge Houdashell … yes!

As my dear old dad would say, “I’ll be dipped in sesame seeds.”

I just found out that the late Randall County (Texas) Judge Ernie Houdashell is going to be honored for his work as a devoted public servant for the county he loved with all his heart.

The county commissioners court has decided to put Ernie Houdashell’s name on the county annex building on Western Street in southern Amarillo. It will be called the “Ernie Houdashell Randall County Annex.”

To which I offer a heartfelt cheer and congratulations.

I had written a blog item just the other day lamenting the absence of Houdashell’s name on any structure nearly a year after he died of COVID-19 related complications. It turns out that county commissioners had been working on honoring the county judge’s memory for the past few months.

They are working at this time on completing the signage that will be displayed on the front of the annex.

The annex was a huge accomplishment for Judge Houdashell, who wanted to give county employees working in the annex more room than what they had in their old quarters on South Georgia Street. He wheeled and dealt to acquire an abandoned store on South Western, which the county then renovated and turned into a shiny new office complex which could handle the volume of work required at the annex; indeed, nearly 80 percent of the county’s work occurs at the annex, even though the county seat is in Canyon.

This news makes me happy. It is satisfying in the extreme to know that Ernie Houdashell’s dedication to Randall County will be honored in perpetuity in this fashion.

Well done, Randall County.


Why not honor this good man?

A return to Amarillo — our first since the death of a good friend of mine — brought to mind something that I noticed is missing from a couple of prominent edifices around town.

It is the name of Ernie Houdashell, the late Randall County judge who in my humble view needs to be honored by having his name highly visible to anyone visiting a prominent public place.

What might that include? Two places come immediately to mind.

One of them is the Randall County Annex on Western Street. The other is the Texas Panhandle War Memorial next to where the Annex used to be located.

Why these two sites? For starters, they both have Houdashell’s fingerprints all over them.

Ernie Houdashell recognized the need to relocate the Annex from its cozy little site on South Georgia Street. He worked out a deal for the county to acquire the site that it would renovate and turn into a spacious office complex.

As for the Texas Panhandle War Memorial, I want to point out three attractions that Houdashell worked long and hard to bring to the site: the F-100 jet fighter; the UH-1 Huey helicopter (similar to one that Houdashell served on during the Vietnam War); and the piece of USS Arizona, the battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

I’ll admit some bias here. Houdashell was a dear friend. He and I were able to develop our professional relationship into a strong personal friendship after I no longer worked as a journalist for the Amarillo Globe-News. I saw how hard he worked as a passionate advocate for Randall County.

Ernie Houdashell loved serving as county judge, just as he loved working for state Rep. John Smithee and former Congressman Beau Boulter.

This is just a suggestion, but my sincere hope is that the county that Ernie Houdashell loved and served with honor can reciprocate by honoring his memory in a tangible fashion.


He never really left ‘home’

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

HEDLEY, Texas — Cruising through this Donley County community today at the end of a 5,400-mile trip across the western United States, my mind was drawn to a son of this part of the Texas Panhandle.

He was born and was reared in Hedley. Ernie Houdashell went on to serve two tours during the Vietnam War, then found his way into the political arena.

Ernie became a trusted source for me when I arrived in the Panhandle in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He later — after I left the Globe-News — would become a good friend, with whom I would share occasional lunches at an Asian buffet we both liked in Amarillo.

Houdashell was chief of staff to state Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from Amarillo, when I arrived at my post way back when. He then got elected and re-elected time and again as Randall County judge, presiding over a commissioners court that set policies and oversaw their implementation often at the urging of Houdashell, a consummate deal-maker.

Ernie and I disagreed politically. We never let those differences get in the way. He once told me that we only were “adversaries, not enemies.”

Houdashell died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year. Even though I have moved away from the Panhandle, we kept in touch. I would see him on my occasional forays back to the Caprock.

On Houdashell’s watch as county judge, the county moved from a cramped Amarillo annex to a more spacious complex in another Amarillo neighborhood; he also oversaw the relocation of the county’s government complex from the square in Canyon to another site across the street from West Texas A&M University; the county expanded the displays at the Panhandle Veterans War Memorial, adding a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, an F-100 fighter jet and a piece of the USS Arizona battleship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor.

Indeed, Houdashell was proud of his service during that war. He served two tours, the first of which qualified him as what was known back then as a REMF, an acronym for “rear echelon mother … ,” well you know the rest of it. That didn’t set well with Houdashell, so he volunteered for a second tour, getting orders for a Huey company, where he served a yearlong tour as a door gunner.

He told stories about growing up in Hedley, about the shenanigans he and his buddies would pull at the old water tower that still stands alongside U.S. 287. He told tales about a fellow he identified as “Gervis Pinkerton.” I know if Gervis was a real guy. It didn’t matter. Houdashell cracked me up with every story he would tell.

In some respects, Ernie Houdashell never left Hedley, Texas far behind. It was part of him and contributed greatly to the charm I recognized in my friend.

I will miss him forever.

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.