Sunday, September 16, 2012

History Club of East Texas

"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.

On Thursday evening, September 13, Karon and I drove to Jason's Deli in Longview to meet with the History Club of East Texas. I've been a member for many years, and each year I've presented at least one program. This year I was asked to provide the opening program of 2012-2013.

Bill addressing the History Club of East Texas on September 13, 2012

The History Club of East Texas originated in 1987 as the Civil War Roundtable of East Texas. David Stroud, instructor of history at Kilgore College, offered a course on the Civil War at the college center in Longview. Dr. Waymon Norman of Longview enrolled in the course, and to his surprise half of the class members were mature men -- "A bunch of grayheads like me," Dr. Norman laughed.

When the course ended Dr. Norman and his friends wanted to hear more about the Civil War. David Stroud suggested the organization of a Civil War Roundtable, and Nick Holly of Kilgore offered the use of his cafe one night each month. Nick provided coffee and tea, and David Stroud, a gifted speaker and a published author, frequently offered programs. Stroud, Dr. Norman, and Bobby Nieman, a Longview businessman and history buff, lined up other speakers. When I first spoke at Nick's Cafe, I was deeply  impressed by the gathering of history buffs who filled a room to learn about their favorite subject.

Dr. Norman organized a trip in a rented bus to a re-enactment of the Battle of Mansfield. When Nick Holly closed his cafe, the group moved to a meeting room made available by the Citizen's National Bank of Kilgore. After a time the Roundtable moved to a restaurant in Longview, where membership increased.

After a time the Roundtable moved again, to Jason's Deli in Longview. Members enjoyed the menu, and a meeting room could be closed off during the program. By this time the membership decided that they would enjoy a greater variety of programs, and there was a name change: History Club of East Texas. Modest dues were assessed -- $10 at first, $15 annually now -- so that speakers could be offered an honorarium.

Monthly meetings begin each September; there is no meeting in December; and there is a hiatus each summer. Meetings are scheduled for the second Thursday in the month. Members begin arriving at six o'clock to eat and visit, and the program begins at seven. David Stroud traditionally opens the year with a dynamic September presentation. I was penciled in as the November program, and Bobby Nieman provided a program each year. Bobby became the Official Historian of the Texas Rangers. Bobby also compiled numerous interviews with survivors of the tragic New London school explosion, but his projected book fell victim to his untimely demise.

Bill and current club president Richard Ash

Bobby served as president of the club, and so did Dr. Norman and David Stroud. A Marine in Vietnam, David suffers from combat injuries. He continues to teach at Kilgore College, but I was asked to pinch-hit for him this September. In addition to David, Dr. Ken Durham, retired professor at LeTourneau University, is a longtime member who frequently presents programs.

But aside from a few professional historians, the membership consists of men and women who simply love history. The History Club of East Texas is not a county historical society. It is not a DRT chapter, nor is it an SCV chapter. But for a quarter of a century its members have met regularly for the sole purpose of enjoying history programs with depth and color, while associating with kindred spirits. It's a privilege to meet with them.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Mr. O’Neal. I hope to meet you next time you’re in Austin.