Tag Archives: Rotary Club of Amarillo

Time of My Life, Part 33: Hoping it would hit the fan

My career as a print journalist allowed me to do many remarkable things, and to see many remarkable places.

Two of those career elements came together a decade ago. I now will explain.

About two or three weeks after I reported for work at the Amarillo Globe-News, my boss — publisher Garet von Netzer — informed me that someone from the Rotary Club of Amarillo would call me and invite me to join that Rotary club. “We need to have someone in that club,” von Netzer said. Thus, I was slated to join the Rotary Club of Amarillo. When Garet von Netzer said I would join, well, I had no choice.

I got the invitation from the late Basil Walker. I joined and then settled into my membership. I made a lot of new friends. More than that, though, I developed many valuable sources for potential issues I might cover as editorial page editor of the Globe-News.

Some years later, in 2008, I applied for — and received — an appointment to lead a team of young professionals to Israel as part of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange.

That journey illustrated how my career allowed me to travel abroad. I was able to travel twice to Southeast Asia; I traveled three times to southeastern Europe; as president of the Rotary club, I was allowed to travel to Denmark and Sweden to attend Rotary International’s annual convention in 2006.

Then came this Israel adventure.

I was torn while training with my team members for this event. In late 2008 and early 2009, violence erupted in Gaza. Hamas terrorists lobbed rockets on Israeli communities. The Israelis responded with brute force, inflicting considerable damage at quite a cost in human life.

If the Israeli counteroffensive were to continue, our trip might be canceled. My Rotary mentor — with whom I was working to prepare for the trip –told me that RI was working closely with the State Department monitoring the situation in early 2009.

Israel’s potent armed forces took control. They put down the Hamas uprising. Order — if not peace — eventually was restored.

Our trip commenced in May 2009. We would spend four weeks in Israel. We stood on the doorstep of the Gaza Strip. We looked down onto the valley below the Golan Heights. We stood below a fortified fence along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where another terror outfit, Hezbollah, was capable of doing damage.

For the entire four weeks, I harbored a wish; it wasn’t exactly a secret, although I don’t recall sharing it with our Israeli hosts. I wanted all hell to break loose while we were there.

No, I did not want to put our team in danger. I would have hoped we could get them on the next plane out and headed for home.

However, the reporter in me wanted to be able to cover events unfolding in real time.

It didn’t happen. Our journey was spectacular, even in the absence of violence and mayhem.

Don’t misunderstand me on this. I have never, ever harbored an instant of regret over the peace and tranquility we enjoyed while traveling through one of the world’s most thrilling nations.

If it had gone the other way, though . . . I was ready.

These are far more than mere ‘friends’

This blog features commentary on “politics, policy and life experience,” but you likely know that already. I want to talk in this post about the third of those items.

I want to share a life experience with you in two parts.

The first part involves an event that occurred 10 years ago this month. I had a wonderful chance today to relive that moment with four of my best friends in this whole world.

I want to back up just briefly to a time prior to that experience.

The Rotary Club of Amarillo, of which I was a member, is part of a West Texas district that runs from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. In 2008, the district leadership paired up with another district in Israel. Rotary International, the worldwide governing body of the civic organization, had established a program called Group Study Exchange. It charged each district that took part to select a team leader to take a group of young professionals to the partner district.

That year, our Rotary district decided it would send a team to Israel. It needed a Rotary member to lead that team. I applied for the position. I interviewed for it. The committee that heard my pitch — along with those of three other Rotary members — selected me to lead that team.

My first task was to select four non-Rotary members to join the team that would travel to Israel for four weeks in May and June 2009. I completed that task. I selected three young women and a young man to make that journey. They are pictured with this blog post.

Fernando, Aida, Katheryn, Shirley and I then trained for several weeks. We learned the customs of Israel. We sought to acquaint ourselves with the nature of the country that seems to be in the news almost weekly. Often, the news is grim, filled combat, turmoil and assorted forms of violence in that volatile region of the world.

We were sufficiently trained over time. Then we took off from Amarillo’s airport. These four individuals would meet with professionals in Israel, share experiences and knowledge with them. Thus, the name of the program was brought into play.

We spent four weeks traveling through Israel, seeing the country from top to bottom — Nahariya to Eilat and everywhere in between; we sampled their cuisine; we visited holy sites; we stayed with families that opened their homes to us; we saw a marvelous nation up close and in a way that most foreigners never get to see it.

After a month in Israel, we came home. We went our separate ways. We have stayed in touch, however, over the past decade.

Which brings me to the second point of this blog post.

We have maintained friendships unlike any other I have ever known in my nearly 70 years on this good Earth.

And today, we gathered at the home of one of our team members to salute each other, to remember that marvelous journey, to express our love for each other and to revel in what I believe is the rare fete of continuing the relationship that began when we met as total strangers a decade ago.

In my more than 20 years in Rotary, I have met many Group Study Exchange team members and team leaders. They all tell me the essentially the same thing: Their relationships ended when their tours ended. They went home and rarely have shared any time together upon their return.

That’s not nearly the case with this group of friends my wife and I have made. Today capped off one of the most remarkable life experiences either of us have ever known. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we did immediately after returning from the Holy Land. That doesn’t matter. We still know what each other is doing. We maintain an interest in everyone’s lives. We still cheer each other on, we offer emotional support when the needs arise and we still communicate via various messaging platforms available to us.

The best part of this experience? It’s far from over. Our lasting friendships won’t allow it to end.

Downtown health: key to cities’ well-being

Gary Jennings returned to Amarillo years ago from the Texas Gulf Coast and then plunged into a project he knew would consume much of his time and energy.

It has been worth all of it. And then some.

He has turned a one-time dilapidated structure on the edges of downtown Amarillo into a showpiece. He owns the Firestone Building at the corner of 10th Avenue and Tyler Street. It used to be a tire shop. It has been turned into a “niche” complex of apartments, with retail space on the ground floor.

My point in bringing Jennings up with this blog post is to relay something he told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week. He said that a city’s health depends largely — if not exclusively — on the health of its downtown district. He ticked off a few successful American cities and asked, rhetorically, what they had in common. The common denominator was a vibrant downtown district.

To which I wanted to shout from my seat in the crowd, “Amen, brother!” I held my tongue. Of course.

I have enjoyed watching from the peanut gallery over the past five-plus years as Amarillo’s march toward the future has progressed nicely, despite a hiccup or two along the way. I had a more-or-less front-row seat at the Amarillo Globe-News until August 2012. Then I quit the newspaper and have been viewing this progress since then from the cheap seats.

The ballpark construction is under way; an Amarillo Economic Development Corporation official told the Rotary Club that it’s “a week ahead of schedule.” I won’t quibble over how he knows such a thing this early in the project that is supposed to conclude in time for baseball in April 2019.

So much has happened downtown. It gives me hope that Amarillo is moving forward at a steady — if not accelerating — pace toward a future few of us saw more than two decades ago. I arrived here in early 1995 and, so help me, I saw few tangible signs of forward movement in the city’s downtown district.

That has changed. The hustle, bustle and sizzle along Polk Street — the one-time “main drag” — provides plenty of evidence of forward movement.

Jennings’ list of forward-thinking American communities didn’t include one that I know quite well. It’s my hometown of Portland, Ore., where I believe a once-young and innovative mayor — the since-disgraced Neil Goldschmidt — set the gold standard for urban planning.

Goldschmidt disappeared after being caught up in a hideous sex scandal a few years back. In his day, however, when he was a 30-something Portland mayor, he set his sights on redeveloping a once-moribund downtown district.

Goldschmidt decided in the early 1970s to veto a freeway project through the southeast quadrant of Portland. He said the city would instead direct its resources — meaning public money — into developing a viable mass transit system. It would create a bus system that served the downtown district. His goal? To turn downtown Portland into a destination.

Goldschmidt’s strategy worked. My hometown’s central business district thrives in a way I couldn’t possibly imagine when I was growing up there.

I cite this example as proof of what Gary Jennings said this past week. He is correct in asserting that a city’s health depends heavily on the health of its downtown district.

We don’t yet know where Amarillo, Texas is heading after the last project is finished … whenever that occurs. I remain confident in the extreme that it will be in a different and far better place than when the work began.

Be patient, Amarillo neighbors

If our plans work out as we hope, my wife and I won’t be living in the Texas Panhandle when they remove the final construction cone or barrel from the myriad road and highway projects underway in Amarillo.

We will have relocated to North Texas, where we’re quite certain we’ll get to witness even more such construction.

I watched my friend Sonja Gross — Texas Department of Transportation public information officer for its Amarillo Division — offer some sound advice on a TV news broadcast to Amarillo residents.

Be patient, she said. The payoff will occur when the road work is done and we can all get around more easily.

TxDOT is in the midst of some major highway infrastructure makeovers.

Interstate 40 between Helium Road and Grand Street in Amarillo is undergoing a major renovation and expansion; Hollywood Road south of the city is being redone; TxDOT has built that direct-access exit from I-40 to the Canyon E-Way, but it’s not yet open for traffic; crews are tearing I-27 apart south of the interchange; crews are building a new bridge across I-40 at Bell Street.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much orange in my entire life.

I’ll agree with those who gripe about the road work that it is a pain in the posterior at times. It occasionally is difficult to navigate through the city. I get their frustration, as I feel it at times myself — although I occasionally get angry at myself for letting my frustration get the better of me. I figure that if being delayed a few minutes is my greatest worry, then I’m doing all right, compared to the troubles that so many others have to endure.

Amarillo, though, is going through a serious renovation at many levels. TxDOT’s work on the highways suggests that the state has committed considerable amounts of public money to this region in an effort to improve our infrastructure. How can we complain about that?

Indeed, as state Sen. Kel Seliger said this week at a Rotary Club of Amarillo meeting, Texas remains a “commodity” state that relies on good roads to get commodities, such as cattle and corn, from “their source to their destination.”

Those roads and highways don’t achieve excellence all by themselves. Human beings need to tear them up, put them back together and then ensure that they’re renovated properly — and safely.

I endorse Sonja Gross’s plea to our fellow Amarillo travelers. Our patience might be tested on occasion, but there will be a reward when they remove those cones and barrels.


Conquering telecommunications hurdles


I am all to eager to admit many things about myself.

One of them is my technical shortcoming. I am not a geek. I am not fluent in the language used to discuss telecommunication devices — although I consider myself to be mildly conversant.

My sons are geeks. One of them is an uber-geek. My wife? She’s less so than even I am, although she’s becoming quite good at Internet research.

I say all this to tell you of a huge hurdle I cleared today. Well, at least I think it’s huge.

I had the pleasure today of introducing our guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Amarillo weekly luncheon. State Sen. Kel Seliger spoke to us today about education legislation and related issues with which he is familiar, given that he’s the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves on the Education Committee.

I’ve known Seliger for the entire time we’ve lived in Amarillo. That’s 21 years. But I don’t know everything about him.

So, as I was preparing to leave the house this morning to head downtown for our meeting, I called Seliger’s Senate office in Amarillo.

“Hello, Cindy?” I said to the woman who answered the phone; I’ve known her a long time, too. “Do me a favor, please. Could you send me something that you might have in your computer system that serves as an intro for Kel? I’d like to use it to introduce him today.”

Sure thing, Cindy said. “Do you want the long form or the short form?” she asked. The short form is fine, I told her. “I’ll make up the rest of it,” I added.

Just send it to my email address, I said. She did.

My fancy-shmancy smart phone has an email “app” that allows me to receive emails on the thing. I got it within moments. I opened it. I read the text.

“Perfect,” I thought.

So, with my smart phone tucked safely in my belt holster, I drove downtown. I had some lunch with my friend and his district manager and then — shortly after our club president, Jeff Lester, called the meeting to order, I was asked to introduce Seliger to my fellow Rotary Club members.

I pulled out the phone. Opened up the email attachment and then proclaimed to my friends at the top of the Chase Tower — where we were having our lunch — that “I am finally a 21st century man.” I used the text on the phone as a crutch to welcome the senator to our club.

Yes, I know, others give entire speeches using their smart phones. I am not going to do that. I am merely going to proclaim that I have taken another baby step forward into this new age of telecommunications technology.

Hey, you have to declare these victories whenever they present themselves.


Construction crane: sign of downtown progress

amarillo downtown

There used to be a time when I ventured into downtown Amarillo daily.

I worked there full time. I would see the same sights as I drove toward my place of employment. When you see the same things each day you don’t always notice changes while they’re occurring.

These days I get downtown far less frequently. It’s usually once per week to attend a Rotary Club meeting at the Chase Tower.

Those downtown sojourns, though, are producing a visual treat for me. I’m noticing the changes more readily. I cannot say I notice them week over week, but I do sense some serious changes — for the better — in our downtown district.

The most obvious change has been the sight of that construction crane over a major project going up on Buchanan Street. It’s the new Xcel Energy office complex. They’ve laid the foundation and have begun framing the multi-story structure. Xcel will move into the building in 2017.

OK, there’s more.

As I drive down Polk Street, I get the sense of more activity on what used to be the city’s “main drag.” It’s nothing I can define point by point. It’s just a feeling in my gut.

The last time I saw Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, I told her how proud I am of the courthouse complex renovation. She’s clearly proud of it, too. And she should be.

The Commerce Building at Eighth and Tyler is going to be transformed into an urban branch campus for West Texas A&M University.

My anticipation is growing as well as I await the start of actual construction of the Embassy Suites hotel, where they’ve “broken ground.”

And, of course, we have this multipurpose event venue that’s now planned for construction at the site of the vacated Coca-Cola distribution complex across the street from City Hall.

I’ve long believed that any city’s future depends on the health of its downtown district. Show me a city with a dilapidated downtown and I’ll show you a city in serious decline. Believe me, I’ve seen my share as I’ve traveled through Texas over the past 31 years.

I’ve also seen cities with vibrant downtown districts that also reflect the health of their communities.

My hope for Amarillo is that the momentum I sense is increasing in its downtown district will continue and pick up speed.

That Xcel Energy construction crane is a huge start. I’m ready to see more of them.


Mayor Harpole hamstrung by state law


I had the distinct pleasure today of watching Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole pull his punches so tightly he almost hit himself in the face.

He stood before the Rotary Club of Amarillo and talked about all the projects that are on-going throughout the city that have nothing to do with downtown redevelopment. But then he would remind Rotary Club members that, yes, there’s this thing called downtown revitalization that’s got him all fired up.

Indeed, he seemed wound tighter than a cheap watch today as he blazed through his luncheon program talking about highway access improvements, Loop 335 expansion, utility installations, drainage excavation, improvements to interstate access.

But you see, state law is kind of quirky. As mayor, he is not allowed to advocate for issues that are set to be voted on in an election. He presented himself today as mayor, which meant only that he could give us information about downtown revitalization.

You could tell — heck, it’s been all over the media — that he’s solidly behind the effort to revive downtown Amarillo. The package that’s been presented will proceed with a downtown convention hotel and a parking garage. During his presentation today at the Rotary Club meeting, Harpole showed slides of what the downtown district will look like when it’s done. He believes a key component to the city’s effort remains the multipurpose event venue — in its proposed configuration, which includes a ballpark.

But that state law prohibited him from proclaiming loudly and proudly what he really thinks of the MPEV.

That’s OK, Mr. Mayor. I got the message.

Dr. Moore's greatness was beyond measure

Communities don’t get to experience true greatness all that often.

Thus, when one of its great men or women leave this world, it’s good to take special notice.

Amarillo has lost of one of its true giants. Dr. Winfred Moore, the former senior pastor of First Baptist Church has died at the age of 95. To those who knew him and loved him, his absence in their lives will require lots of time for a complete recovery, if that will be possible.

Having said that, I now must acknowledge that I did not know Dr. Moore well. He and I were casually acquainted. But I certainly knew of this man shortly after arriving in Amarillo in January 1995 to take up my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He cast the longest possible shadow over this community.

I do have a single Winfred Moore story that I want to share. Those who heard him preach — or even those who heard him speak in any fashion — will understand the purpose of this brief story.

The Rotary Club of Amarillo had selected me to be its president during 2006-07. Our service organization at the time comprised about 150 members. One of them was Winfred Moore. The club long before had made him an “honorary member,” which meant he wasn’t required to attend meetings, but he was always welcome to attend. Dr. Moore’s wife was ill at the time and he was spending a lot of time tending to her.

He came to one of our weekly meetings, which then were held at the Amarillo Country Club’s main dining room. It’s a fairly spacious venue. I was presiding over the meeting.

Before we convened the meeting, I noticed Dr. Moore sitting in the back of the room eating lunch with some of his Rotary pals. I went to the person who was scheduled to give the invocation to start our meeting and said I wanted Dr. Moore to pinch-hit with the blessing.

I then went to Dr. Moore’s table and said, “Dr. Moore, would you mind giving the invocation when we start?” Of course he agreed.

I rang the bell, we sang the National Anthem, said the Pledge of Allegiance and then I said, “To give the invocation, we have Dr. Winfred Moore with us today. Dr. Moore, would you like to come to the podium?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “I’ll just do it here” … from the back of the room.

With that, the man known around the Texas Panhandle as “The Voice of God” boomed out an invocation that — I’m telling you — brought chills to those of us in the room. Winfred Moore could make anyone a believer.

He filled us with renewed faith and inspiration.

What a man, indeed.

Sure thing, we ‘hold ’em up’

This blog post is taking an unusual turn. It’s something I haven’t done before, but I’ll give it a shot today.

I wrote a letter to the director of commentary at the Amarillo Globe-News, in response to an earlier letter the paper published. I don’t know if the paper is going to publish my response. So … I’ll give you a preview of what I wrote.

It’s worthy of a response because it seems to cast in a negative light something quite positive that occurs in Amarillo every summer, during the run of the outdoor musical “Texas.”

The gentleman who wrote the letter has written to the paper many times. He did so while I served as editorial page editor, before they changed the job title to what it is now and “restructured” me out of my post.

He sought to compare Amarillo to Corpus Christi. He thinks Corpus Christi does a good job promoting itself and said the Coastal Bend city doesn’t need to “kidnap” motorists to “get them to slow down.” I took respectful umbrage at that statement, because I think it miscasts what actually happens. Here’s how I explain it in my responding letter:

“Floyd Galegar’s letter to the editor (Feb. 26) seeks to point out that Amarillo isn’t Corpus Christi. Despite the obvious differences between the communities that everyone gets, Galegar inferred something in his letter that needs clarification. 

“He stated that Corpus Christi doesn’t need to ‘kidnap tourists to stay in their city.’ He refers to a program I’ve been involved in for many years as a member of the Rotary Club of Amarillo. 

“Yes, the Rotary Club ‘kidnaps’ motorists traveling through the city on I-40 every spring and summer; we call it our “Hold-Up Program,” and we’ve doing it for decades. We do so as a public relations campaign to promote the city’s friendliness.

“We work with the Amarillo Police Department at the Texas Travel Information Building on the east side of the city. We identify a couple driving a vehicle with out-of-state plates. With the officer on hand, we extend an invitation. It goes like this: Would you like to spend the night in Amarillo free of charge at one of our hotels, enjoy a nice dinner at one of our restaurants – also free – and then spend an evening in Palo Duro Canyon’s Pioneer Amphitheater to watch a performance of an acclaimed outdoor musical, ‘Texas’?

“Visitors often need to be persuaded that this is no gimmick. Once we persuade them, our guests are treated to an evening of fellowship with a Rotary Club member and his or her spouse.

“We ask only thing of our guests: When you get home, say something nice about your visit to Amarillo. Having participated in several of these “hold-ups,” I can tell you our guests are more than happy to oblige. They tell us repeatedly their Amarillo experience is something they never will forget and they appreciate the hospitality more than they can express.

“That, as they say, is the rest of the story.”

I still hope the paper publishes my letter. If not, well, here it is. If it does, you read it here first.

Bank tower elevators need fixing

This rant will be brief and, I hope, to the point.

Amarillo has one bona fide skyscraper. The Chase One Tower reaches 31 stories into the air. It elevators are under repair and/or are being renovated. Today, only two of them were going all the way from the ground floor to the top floor.

Coming back down was a nightmare. Only two of the four elevator were working at the Amarillo Club, where I meet every Thursday with the Rotary Club of Amarillo.

We crammed 14 bodies into the elevator. It then managed to stop at virtually every floor en route to the lobby. Some of the floors had people waiting to get on board; they couldn’t fit, so they waited.

Many of the stops were at empty floors. No one standing there. We trudged on.

We finally got to the bottom and piled out.

Fix the elevators … please.