Friday, May 17, 2013

End of the School Year

"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 over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Dr. Greg Powell
As the 2012-13 school year comes to a close, I want to blog about several end-of-the-semester items. On my last blog I mentioned  commencement exercises at Panola College, where I still have an office as State Historian. My office is in the Science Building, which was built in 1965. When I came to Panola as a history instructor in 1970, I was assigned an office in the "new" Science Building. More than four decades later the building still is handsomely maintained, but it no longer is a cutting edge home for modern science instruction. A new and updated science building has been proposed, along with other construction projects. Opened in 1948 in surplus World War II army buildings, Panola County Junior College erected two permanent brick structures with $400,000 in bonds. That initial bond issue, passed 65 years ago, is the only one in the history of the college. The student body has more than tripled since my arrival, and subsequent buildings have been financed through the general fund, grants, and donations. So this year a $35 million bond issue was passed and promoted tirelessly by President Gregory Powell. On May 11, Saturday, following the Friday night commencement exercises, the bond issue passed by a resounding 84 per cent of the vote. During the next five years construction projects will transform the campus. 

In December 2012 I was interviewed by Topher Paddie, a young student from Marshall. Topher's parents are Chris and Brooke Paddie (Chris is in his first term in the Texas House of Representatives). As part of his social studies project on the Texas Governor's Mansion, Topher interviewed the State Historian. Recently Topher learned that his excellent project had earned first place in statewide competition in the elementary division. At the awards banquet he was present a gold medal - a proud climax to his school year.

Another deserved award was presented to my niece, Katy Ashby of Lake Jackson. A fourth-grader at Bess Brannen Elementary, Katy won first place in the Enchanted Tree Essay Award competition. The "Enchanted Tree" is a big oak that was standing when Abner Jackson - for whom Lake Jackson was named - established a plantation. Each year Lake Jackson fourth- and seventh-graders are told about Abner Jackson, the Enchanted Tree, and related historical events. Students are then asked to write an essay from the perspective of the Enchanted Tree. Katy described the tree observing Civil War soldiers before the Jackson plantation was formed. Katy's tree saw Abner Jackson found his plantation, and later the tree viewed one of Abner's brothers kill another brother. The tree survived the ferocious hurricane of 1900. Katy's first-place essay earned her a sack of gold coins (mostly Sacajawea dollars), and it is on display at the Lake Jackson Historical Museum. Katy's fourth-grade year has climaxed on a high note.

For the final time this spring I presented a program on "Texas Cowboys." To the fourth-graders of Spring Hill Intermediate School, I showed sombreros and ten-gallon hats, spurs and branding irons, saddles and high-heeled boots. But a big difference in this program was the presence of my wife, Karon. She happily terms herself the "Chief of Staff" of the State Historian, and if not for Karon's technical expertise and efforts this blog would not exist. We have appeared together in period costume at programs and conferences throughout the West. Karon has accompanied me on State Historian weekend trips, but she teaches math at Panola College and has been unable to accompany me during the week. At Spring Hill Intermediate, Karon wore a fine cowgirl outfit, to the delight of the young ladies of the fourth grade. I look forward to the company of my Chief of Staff during the State Historian activities of the upcoming summer. 

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