One of the intentions of our travels is to reconnect with family and friends. To reestablish relationships with those in which we had lost touch during the years of raising kids, building careers and caregiving for parents. This is why the first destination of choice was our hometown of Wichita Falls, a bit of a sleepy town located just south of the Oklahoma border in north central Texas. It is where both Trey and I developed our strong work ethic, perseverance, and sense of knowing right from wrong – not just from the great examples of our parents, but also from the community as a whole. We very much enjoyed catching up with family and friends, and we visited our favorite old haunts and drove by childhood homes.
There were several areas that had since been developed, and some that had notably deteriorated including the neighborhoods around Trey’s childhood home and his high school, Wichita Falls High School, or “old high.” The highlight was an 18-mile bicycle path that is being expanded to circle the city; but for the most part, the city was similar to the one we left in early 1988.
Trey and I have longed joked that the rule of six degrees of separation doesn’t apply to those from Wichita Falls. Instead, it is closer to one to two degrees of separation. At least, that has been our experience living in Austin…just a few of many examples: An Austin city councilwoman graduated from my high school class; after years of friendship, we found that Trey and the husband of a former co-worker of mine graduated from the same high school class; and the manager of a Wichita Falls grocery store when it was directly hit by the 1979 Wichita Falls tornado was the manager of an Austin area grocery store when it was directly hit by a 1997 tornado.
Sadly, I’m afraid that these regular “small world” occurrences may be due to the fact that, like us, a lot of people born and raised in Wichita Falls end up leaving it for different opportunities. A quick check of the census data shows that its population growth between 2000 and 2010 was less than ½ of a percent while Texas’ total population grew by more than 20%.
We also found the city facing huge challenges: A school board at odds with the community on how to best address aging secondary school buildings while better balancing enrollment at each; and foremost, a water shortage at near crisis level due to extreme drought.
Kudos to city leaders and staff that took initiative to address the city’s impending water crisis. We first heard of Wichita Fall’s unique solution prior to our visit on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. While not ideal, it appears city officials had no other options, so they did what they knew was right to best sustain the city through the continued drought.
As for the high schools situation, we are hopeful that the good people of Wichita Falls will continue to speak up and work with the school board and district to come up with a best solution. One that expands the opportunities for learning, growth and positive experiences for every student across the city and on an equal basis. The school district and citizens should see this as an opportunity to invest in and create a better, stronger foundation for the city’s future. Because, using ourselves as examples, people don’t stay where there are not ample opportunities.
God speed Wichita Falls.