Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Colleyville and Van Alstyne

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. 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. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

O.C. Taylor Elementary (Taylor Tiger in front)
On Monday, December 14, I had the pleasure of presenting programs to two large groups of school children in Colleyville and Van Alstyne. These appearances coincided with Christmas visits by me and my wife Karon to the homes of our four daughters. On Sunday and Monday, December 13 and 14, we celebrated Christmas with Berri O’Neal Gormley, her husband Drew, and their children, first-grader Addison and kindergarteners Reagan and Nolan, who are twins. The Gormleys moved to their new home in Colleyville last year in time for Addison, Reagan and Nolan to enroll at O.C. Taylor Elementary School.

The Morning Show team
For Monday morning, Karon and I planned to accompany Berri in delivering her children to O.C. Taylor to have a quick look at the school in operation. Through Berri, I offered to donate to the school library an autographed copy of my children’s book, Long Before the Pilgrims, The First Thanksgiving, El Paso del Norte 1598. The school responded with an invitation to address fourth-graders (who currently are studying Texas History) and fifth-graders (who studied Texas History last year, of course). We agreed upon my program on “Texas Cowboys,” which I’ve delivered in numerous schools for a number of years.

With Nolan and Addion Gormley
waiting to go on camera
On camera with Nolan, Addison,
Librarian Dawn Bonacci, and Berri Gormley
We all arrived at O.C. Taylor at 7:30 on Monday morning. Principal David Kinney stages “The Morning Show, Featuring the Taylor Tiger News.” The show airs each day from 7:45 – 8:00, televised throughout the school on closed-circuit TV. A room has been converted to a television studio, with camera and sound equipment. Each week a new team of fifth-graders stages The Morning  Show. A boy and a girl sit at the anchor desk and deliver school news and announcements.  A weather-man or -girl alerts students to outdoor conditions, and a lunch reporter announces the cafeteria choices. During the last few moments of the telecast I was introduced as Texas State Historian by my daughter Berri, and I was flanked on-camera by Addison and Nolan, who were thrilled to be on the TV show that they watch each morning. I gave a brief description of Long Before the Pilgrims, emphasizing that the thanksgiving ceremony on the Rio Grande occurred in Texas 23 years before the Pilgrim event of 1621. I presented a copy of the book to librarian Dawn Bonacci, and as the show ended we all hustled to the library.

Within moments the library filled with fourth- and fifth-graders (as well as my three grandchildren). I presented this program in vaquero and cowboy attire, and Karon also dressed for the occasion, helping me with the cowgirl clothing demonstration. I use branding irons, spurs, and other props to describe the colorful elements which made Texas cowboys the world’s Number One Folk Hero. The program is designed for 30 minutes, but Principal Kinney requested an additional Q and A session. The questions came rapid-fire, well-informed questions about the Alamo and Native Americans and other Texas subjects, as well as about cowboys and great ranches and cattle drives. The social studies teachers must have been proud of their students, who repeatedly demonstrated sound instruction.

By mid-day Karon and I were driving northeast for Van Alstyne, where we were scheduled to celebrate Christmas in the home of my youngest daughter, Causby O’Neal Henderson, her husband Dusty, and their daughters, Bailey and Kendall. Causby is a kindergarten teacher at Van Alstyne Elementary, where Kendall is a third-grader. Bailey is in the fifth grade at Van Alstyne Middle School, and her language arts teacher is Carnelita Littlejohn. A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Mrs. Littlejohn, who explained the current activities and goals of her language arts students, before inviting me to address the entire fifth grade about my experiences as an author. Of course, a number of my books and articles have been about aspects of Texas history and culture. I mentioned to Mrs. Littlejohn that during my first three years in education I taught eighth-grade language arts at Lampasas Junior High. From Lampasas I became the head football coach and principal at Anna High School – four  miles south of Van Alstyne -  and my teaching assignment was all four grades of high school English.

With Principal David Kinney, Karon,
and Librarian Bonacci

Van Alstyne Middle School
At Van Alstyne Middle School I was greeted by Mrs. Littlejohn and by Principal Ryan Coleman. They ushered us to the library, where we were introduced to librarian Pat Kuhns. We were treated most graciously, and I was asked to explain to her students my role as State Historian. At 1:40 (the start of sixth period) about 120 students entered the library. They were attentive and responsive, and toward the end of the period I opened another Q and A. Again I received a lively barrage of questions.
With Carnelita Littlejohn and Librarian Pat Kuhns

In a single day I provided programs to two large groups of students: one group from a growing suburban community, and another in a small town of 3,000. In both schools the students were bright, well-disciplined, enthusiastic, and had absorbed quality teaching. The students are a credit to their respective communities, and these students and schools offer strong hope for the future of America.
With granddaughter Bailey Henderson
Holding the book I wrote on Van Alstyne

1 comment:

  1. Mr. O'Neal, thank you so much for talking with our students today. It was a wonderful experience and we appreciate you taking the time to speak with our learners. Sincerely, Ryan Coleman, VAMS Principal.