Wednesday, November 7, 2012


"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Group photo at the THC retreat

During a period of less than two weeks, October 24 through November 5, I participated in six meetings in various cities. This series of gatherings began in Austin with a highly instructive retreat for the Texas Historical Commission. The THC and the strongly supportive Friends of the THC Board meet quarterly, along with THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe and members of his staff. The retreat preceded a quarterly meeting scheduled for the last weekend in October. Matt Kreisle, newly-appointed Chairman of the Texas Historical Commission, organized and led the retreat. 

Mark Kreisle presenting his vision at the THC retreat
A fifth generation Austinite and a graduate of the University of Texas architectural school, Matt Kreisle is a two-term president of the Austin Heritage Society. A principal in the prestigious PageSoutherlandPage architectural and engineering firm, Kreisle has led several large-scale construction projects. Although the THC has suffered the loss of 50 percent of state funding and 25 percent of staff, Kreisle is determined that the THC will do as much with less, thus encouraging the reinstatement of state funds. Pointing out that the THC accomplishes more than any other state historical commission in the U.S., Kreisle emphasizes that the THC courthouse preservation project is the envy of the nation. He hopes to secure private funding and to launch exciting new programs, such as the preservation of venerable school buildings, or perhaps old movie theaters. Kreisle's proposed strategy and tactics were artfully presented, and by the end of the retreat I was far better informed and optimistic about the Texas Historical Commission.

I'm with author Bill Neal and Cindy Wallace of
the Amarillo Public Library.
 A few days later I was in Amarillo for the Public Library's Second Annual Open Book Festival. Sponsored by Friends of the Amarillo Public Library, the Open Book Festival was held in the Heritage Room of the Amarillo Civic Center, across the street from the Public Library. From 9:30 until noon the vast Heritage Room featured book-laden tables manned by more than 50 authors. Patrons paid $15 to sample a breakfast buffet, visit with authors, and buy inscribed copies of their books. During the afternoon a Trivia Contest was held, with each team paying $50. That evening a Books to Broadway Gala took place, as participants paid $50 each to participate in a Silent Auction, Dinner, and a show based on Broadway Musicals that had been adapted from books. It was a delightful day, and all proceeds went to the Amarillo Public Library.

Gladewater Rotary Club
 On Thursday, November 1, I delivered a program on Texas Country Music at a noon meeting of the Gladewater Rotary Club. Most groups I address are history organizations, with audiences that have strong historical interests. But members of a community service club are businessmen and civic leaders who have only a passing interest in history, and when I address such gatherings I consider it important to present an entertaining program which will engage the audience while demonstrating that history can be fun and informative. I spoke on "Texas Country Music," a popular story that I try to tell with humor, and the audience was quite responsive.

Entrance to the Bob Bullock Museum

David Denney leading the Bob Bullock conference
On Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3, I was part of a "Scholars Advisory Committee" which met in Austin at the Bob Bullock Museum with Joan Marshall, Museum Director, and David Denney, Director of Special Projects, along with several members of their staff. Although the Bob Bullock Museum has been open only for a little more than a decade, the staff is in the process of rethinking the organization of exhibits and the storyline concepts of this flagship of Texas history museums. 

David Denney, Frank de la Teja (the first State Historian),
Bill O'Neal, Joan Marshall
 Such a major reorganization ordinarily would not take place within 20 or more years of a museum's opening. But in 2013 the preserved remains of La Belle, a 17th century French ship which has been recovered from Matagorda Bay, will be placed in the Bob Bullock Museum. An archaeological and historical treasure, La Belle and its artifacts will take up a great deal of the museum's ground floor. The subsequent rearrangement of exhibits has provided an exciting opportunity to restructure the museum while inserting topics that were not initially included.

Presenting at TACRAO
From Austin I drove to Dallas to attend the annual meeting of TACRAO, the Texas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The president is Dr. Berri O'Neal Gormley, and for months I've had reservations to hear my daughter's presidential address on Sunday night. Three weeks ago Berri called me with the news that a presenter had withdrawn from an eight o'clock slot on Monday morning, and I readily agreed to provide a program on "A History of Education in Texas." A record crowd of more than 850 attended the TACRAO meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas, and I was pleasantly surprised that a roomful turned out for my early morning program. I also was pleased to encounter three or four of my former students among the TACRAO attendees.

Entrance to the TSHA office suite
On Monday afternoon I arrived in Denton for a meeting at the headquarters of the Texas State Historical Association. The TSHA offices are housed on the campus of North Texas State University. The TSHA is a private organization founded in 1897; by contrast the Texas Historical Commission is a state-funded entity, created by the legislature in 1953. The oldest learned society in Texas, the TSHA promotes scholarship and knowledge of the rich history of the Lone Star State. The TSHA publishes the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the Texas Almanac, and the Handbook of Texas. No other state has a similar publication which rivals the six-volume Handbook, and now the Handbook of Texas Online has made this encyclopedic publication far more accessible. The TSHA Press has published more than 150 books. Student programs include Texas History Day, the Junior Historians of Texas (in public schools), and Webb Historical Societies (in colleges). To improve and expand such programs, the TSHA has launched a $10 million fund-raising campaign.

It was my pleasure to meet with TSHA Executive Director Kent Calder, Chief Historian Mike Campbell, Director of Educational Services Steve Cure, and former TSHA President Larry McNeill. Larry was instrumental in creating the office of State Historian, and he drove from Austin to Denton for the meeting. Many people around Texas still are unaware that there is a State Historian, and we discussed ways of raising awareness. I learned details of upcoming activities of the TSHA, and I volunteered my services in any way they might be needed.
L to R: Larry McNeill, Bill O'Neal, Kent Calder,
Mike Campbell, Steve Cure

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