Tag Archives: Randall County

Appreciating town squares

I grew up in a large city, Portland, Ore., which has exploded into a major metro complex over the years.

My experience with smaller communities, thus, was related to brief visits to nearby suburban towns or those that dot the landscape along, say, the Willamette Valley south of Portland.

I didn’t have much of an appreciation for the value of town squares … until I moved away from Portland in 1984. My family and I relocated to Beaumont, Texas, where I was able to pursue my career in print journalism.

East Texas is where I became acquainted with town squares, the places where county courthouses are located. They are places with mom-and-pop stores around the square. Where people congregate for coffee, an adult beverage, to just exchange some idle gossip. The sight of some old guys playing dominoes on the square in Hemphill, Texas, in Sabine County, has stuck with me for more than three decades.

I learned of the value of town squares to those communities. My wife and I moved later to the Texas Panhandle, where I saw even more evidence of how town squares give communities their identity.

These are worth mentioning because I just finished writing a story for KETR.org, the website affiliated with the public radio station at Texas A&M-Commerce. I won’t divulge what’s in the story, because I don’t want to scoop myself … or my bosses at the radio station.

I do, though, want to hail the virtues of town squares, which is the subject of the story I have written. The Texas Historical Preservation Commission doles out money to counties that ask for grants to help them pay for the restoration of courthouses that sit in the middle of these town squares.

The commission claims great economic success as a result of the grants it provides. I saw evidence of it today in a Northeast Texas community I visited in doing research for the story I have just completed.

There are other examples, some of which I have seen up close. Others’ stories are told by the officials and residents who live in those towns.

I like telling the story of the renovation of the 1909 courthouse in Canyon, Texas. The exterior of the building was spruced up and made to look as the builders intended when they erected it at the turn of the 20th century. The interior, though, is vacant, empty, nothing going on in there. Randall County had moved most of its operation out of the town square to a site on the other side of town.

However … and this is the point I want to stress, which is that the town square in Canyon has thrived anyway, despite any real activity inside the 1909 courthouse structure. Businesses have filled once-empty storefronts. It’s a happenin’ place, man!

That is the kind of story I am hearing throughout North Texas as I continue to cover the courthouse restoration issue for KETR-FM radio.

Counties have a resource available at the Historical Preservation Commission that they can use. It’s not exactly free money, but the return on that investment is, well, priceless.


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.


Town presents spectacular image

SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas — I got a major surprise early this afternoon as I arrived in this Hopkins County community on a story assignment for KETR-FM radio.

It was the appearance of what I consider to be one of the most spectacular small-town squares I ever have seen.

Sulphur Springs is a town of about 16,000 or so residents. It is the Hopkins County seat. I visited for a time with County Judge Robert Newsom about the impact that Cooper Lake is having on the county. What we didn’t connect was how the city and the county have combined to create a gleaming downtown district that is utterly brimming with activity, with color and personality.

The highlight of what I saw involved the massive veterans memorial in the middle of the city square.

The city has erected a memorial with specific exhibits remembering and honoring those who served — and died — in battle in virtually all the conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. I was drawn — quite naturally — to the Vietnam War segment of the memorial.

Once I took my eyes off the veterans memorial, I scanned the surrounding businesses and was struck by the absence — at least what I could see of it — of any empty store fronts.

Newsom told me about the courthouse, which the county renovated through a historic preservation grant that is a popular method of financing that counties have used for the past two decades or so. I mentioned to him how Randall County in the Panhandle acquired a grant to fix up the exterior of its 1909 courthouse building, but then left the interior of it empty. It is unused. Newsom couldn’t believe it. It’s true, I told him. The exterior looks fantastic and it has drawn many new businesses to the square in downtown Canyon.

Newsom said with emphasis that Hopkins County intended to make full use of its courthouse — which was built in the 1890s — when it was done. “It’s expensive to maintain,” he said, adding that it is worth the expense. Indeed, the Hopkins County Courthouse is a beautiful structure … that fits right in with what Sulphur Springs has done to its downtown district.

Readers of this blog perhaps know of my love for vibrant downtown districts. I have written about it many times here and when I worked for newspapers in Beaumont and Amarillo.

Man, oh man! Sulphur Springs has hit a grand slam home run with its downtown district.


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.

Jury duty will have to wait

JPhoto by Jason Doiy
By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

An automated phone call this afternoon dashed my hopes … yet again!

I had hoped to be called for jury duty next week when I reported to the Collin County administration building. Alas, it won’t happen. The call came to inform me that I was being dismissed, that my services are not required.

Maybe next time, yes? Perhaps? Do ya think?

This is a big deal for me. I have always wanted to serve on a trial jury. Not because I lust for the duty. It’s just that I always have wondered to myself what happens in a jury room when a group of men and women gather to ponder how a particular case — civil or criminal — should go. I guess it’s the reporter in me, the nosey, inquisitive side of my persona that drives this interest.

Then again, perhaps I can blame the career I pursued for nearly 37 years as one reason why I never have been called.

When we lived in Randall County, Texas, I would get a summons. I would call the day prior and the automated system would tell me not to bother.

I did serve on a grand jury in Randall County for a period of time. That was a fascinating call to duty. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in the jury room pondering whether to indict someone on a criminal complaint. When we were sworn in by the presiding judge, though, I recall vividly something the district attorney at the time told us. James Farren said we likely never would be summoned for trial jury duty in Randall County because of our grand jury service. Why? Defense attorneys would strike us because they could argue we are prejudiced in favor of the prosecuting side. Oh, well.

We moved from Randall County to Collin County. I want to wipe the slate clean.

However, the call won’t come this time. Again!

I’ll have to wait for another summons. I hope to serve on a trial jury before I check out of this world.

Is there a trial in my future?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A longtime dream of mine took a baby step toward coming true today when I fetched the mail from the mailbox.

It contained a jury summons from the Collin County Courthouse.

The dream involves serving on a trial jury. I long have wanted to perform that particular act of citizenship.

I came of age in my native Oregon. I never got a summons, not from Multnomah County or from Clackamas County, where we lived until we moved to Texas in 1984.

I would get a summons from Jefferson County on occasion, but then would be dismissed. We moved eventually to Randall County in the Texas Panhandle in 1995, where I would occasionally receive a jury summons. One time — just once! — I had to report for duty, where I joined other potential jurors waiting to be selected. Then out came District Judge David Gleason to tell us that our services wouldn’t be needed. Every other summons I got from Randall County would result in my being informed that everyone had settled so I didn’t have to report.

We have migrated to Princeton, in Collin County. The summons arrived today. To be honest, this summons doesn’t tell me if I might be called to serve on a district court jury, a court at law jury or a justice of the peace court jury. Does that mean my chances of being called might pan out? I hope it does.

I know you might think I am a bit loony in the noggin, but I want to serve on a jury. I am aware of those who seek exemptions, citing their work or their age or their physical infirmity. The only thing I can claim is my age, given that I am well north of 65 years of age now. I am not going to evade jury duty.

I know the pay ain’t great. It used to be $6 daily. They’ve kicked it up a bit. That doesn’t matter to me in the least.

Don’t mistake me as some sort of do-gooder, although I have been distressed to read over the years about Texas courts struggling to find eligible residents willing to serve on juries. I have long been curious about how jurors interact with each other and with officers of the court.

I hope I get the chance to find out.

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.