From the days of Amarillo’s founding, if an individual wanted to show off their wealth, one of the expectations was that they would do so by donating to or founding a charitable organization. The first major rancher in Amarillo, William Bush (no relation to the presidents), realized that the area desperately needed a hospital. He looked at options, and even though he was not Catholic, decided that the Sisters of Mercy were the best at managing a hospital and providing care, so he invited them to the wilds of the Texas Panhandle and founded St. Anthony’s Hospital. Other ranchers, bankers, and developers followed suit.
When I moved to the region in the 1980s, you quickly saw certain names like Bivins, Harrington, Ware, Wyatt, and others on foundations, hospitals, the science center, and on plaques inside other buildings. While Dallas and Houston had their foundations and institutions, up here, the Panhandle had its own, and took care of its own. Regional money tended to stay in the region, and instead of lots of cars, furs, enormous houses, gala balls (aside from the Amarillo Symphony Ball), if you made lots of money you showed it off by helping refurbish a community center or funding a charity clinic or contributing to a wing of a museum.
A number of well-to-do families preferred to work behind the scenes as well, and unless you were one the board of certain agencies or groups, you had no idea how much different people gave. Or didn’t give. I remember hearing whispers that yes, one prosperous bunch were quite well off, but they never gave to anything other than their church. I got the feeling that this was considered most certainly not proper.
What started with Mr. Bush extended through the rest of the Panhandle and down the economic ladder. Middle class people also give, and smaller churches and business organizations contribute a great deal of assistance to regional schools, art groups, libraries, community centers, shelters for those in deepest need and those trying to pick themselves up, summer camps, you name it. There was and is a sense that we are so isolated from the rest of the state, for good and for ill, that we have to help ourselves. This year, when the volunteer fire departments got hit and stretched to their limits, everyone from around the region chipped in with in-kind and cash donations. A family traveling through were in a bad wreck and several people had to stay in the hospital. Again, food, housing, clothing, car repairs were quietly taken care of. Because that’s what we do.
This is not to say that the Panhandle is any better than the rest of the country. Scratch a true community and you’ll find quiet charity, neighbors helping neighbors, churches assisting those in need. You also find people who would prefer that the government take care of such things, because the government knows best. And I’m well aware what the Bible says about the reward for well-publicized charitable giving. I’m also all too aware that a number of people come to the region because we are charitable, and overuse and abuse the systems. Because people are people.
But the big story on the local news this week? How an 82-year-old retired teacher and Army vet had his house gutted by a fire last Thanksgiving. His neighbors helped as much as they could. Then the Panhandle Builders Association heard about it, and so did a Vets charity, and others, and on the gentleman’s 83rd birthday, he walked into a modernized, completely re-done house with all needed furnishings down to a piano.
Because the neighbors cared, and word spread about a good man in need who had done all he could do with what he had.
And people wonder why I like the Panhandle so much.