Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Texarkana at 139

"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 (www.panola.edu) 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.

On Monday, December 3, Texarkana celebrated the 139th anniversary of its founding. The principal event was held at Texarkana College. Dr. Beverly Rowe, a member of the history faculty and the author of three books about Texarkana's past, spearheaded arrangements for the community event.  At ten o'clock a large crowd of students and citizens gathered in the assembly hall of the Truman Arnold Student Center. Dr. Vernon Wilder, Chief Instructional Officer and Professor of History and Government, provided the welcome and introductions. Featured on the program were Bob Bruggeman and Wayne Smith, the mayors of respectively, Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas. 

Mayors Bob Bruggeman (left) and Wayne Smith
I assumed that mayors Bruggeman and Smith would make remarks about the background of Texarkana. Instead, they took the podium together and read a joint proclamation describing the State Historian of Texas. The Office of State Historian was mentioned nine times in the joint proclamation, in conjunction with my program commemorating the anniversary of Texarkana's founding. Mayors Bruggeman and Smith finally announced that "we welcome Bill O'Neal, Texas's State Historian, to Texarkana and confer upon him honorary citizenship in Texarkana, U.S.A., and herby proclaim December 3, 2012, as BILL O'NEAL DAY." I was called to the speaker's stand and presented the proclamation. Then each mayor affixed the pin of his city upon my lapel.

Dr. Vernon Wilder
I was astounded and proud and deeply grateful. When Dr. Wilder introduced me as speaker a few moments later, he mentioned that he had been unaware that there was such a position as State Historian of Texas. That is a common impression - one that I am trying to change. The office of State Historian of Texas was created just seven years ago, and I am only the third historian to hold the title. I was informed from the beginning that a major goal of mine should be to make the Texas public aware that there is a State Historian.

And so I speak wherever I am invited. I travel to museums and to other historical sites across Texas. I hand out State Historian business cards to everyone within reach. I appear as State Historian at schools from elementary to university campuses. I post my historical travels and adventures on this blog. Since my appointment I've given newspaper interviews, from the New York Times to the Panola Watchman. I was in radio, primarily as a sportscaster, for 36 years, and I readily participate in radio interviews as State Historian, includng last Monday in Texarkana. Indeed, the Texarkana College marquee announced to all passersby that the "Texas State Historian" would speak on campus at Texarkana's 139th birthday. My thanks to Texarkana for their most gracious hospitality - and for helping me spread the word about my position as ambassador for the incredibly rich history of Texas.

During the Christmas season of 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon famously expressed concern about the existence of Santa Claus. Francis P. Church of the New York Sun, as part of his classic reply, reassured the little girl: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." With that settled, please allow me to add: "Yes, Texas, there is a State Historian."

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have happened to a greater guy! So proud of you!
    Dana Yule Reeves