By JAMES WEAR
Liberty Hill has had its share … and more.
If you’re among the many who has discovered Liberty Hill in recent years, chances are you’ve overheard various names dropped in conversations about folks who played pivotal roles in shaping the community. The list is too long to address in a single article and one should approach the topic
of community leaders with a bit of caution. No doubt, any one piece runs the risk of failing to mention individuals whose selfless contributions
made the community a better place to live. With that in mind, we plunge into these waters and offer up a brief overview of people who made
a difference, many of whom we have known personally since first discovering Liberty Hill more than 30 years ago. These are folks who
through hard work and leadership steered the development of this community. We do not attempt
to rank their accomplishments in importance and believe it best to simply recognize them, whether
they are still among us or have passed on.
WE BEGIN with WANDA LANE, who passed away in 1995. Even today, Wanda and her small downtown cafe remain a cherished memory for many. A recent post on Facebook with an accompanying picture depicting her at work preparing a meal attracted a number of “likes” and many comments, including one post by a former patron who noted, “Wanda was the best, such a sweet woman. Love her and miss her. That was such great times going to Wanda’s cafe and eating a burger and fries. I remember she made my little sister a special burger called the ‘Holly Special.’”
Perhaps it was her ability to make each customer feel just a bit “special” that was the key to Wanda’s success. Or perhaps it was her willingness to visit with customers and over a cup of coffee, give them the opportunity to share their problems. “My mother took a lot of secrets to the grave with her,” says her daughter, Paula.
She opened her cafe on Hwy. 29 in the mid-1970s, spending a year at that location before moving to downtown where for the next two decades her reputation grew.
After being diagnosed with cancer and facing overwhelming medical bills, Wanda discovered how much she was appreciated by the community when, in October 1994, friends staged “Wanda Lane Appreciation Day” in Veterans Park with an auction and various other events raising nearly $30,000 in a single day.
She died Feb. 17, 1995, with her family at her side. Two days later, a graveside service was held at Liberty Hill Cemetery with more than 1,000 persons attending.
During her life, Wanda influenced many, including a young man by the name of Danny Goodson. She raised him as a son, and looked on with pride as Danny joined the fire department and local EMS in the mid-1980s.
Danny was perhaps the most flamboyant personality to ever serve in the fire department and was seldom at a loss for words. He didn’t mind stepping on toes and pushed fellow firefighters and medical personnel to be the very best they could be…and expected more from himself, becoming a paramedic after he and Brenda Cascio, another longtime volunteer, attended classes in Temple for a full year to earn the qualifications. This was long before a vote was held to create an emergency services district, and money to run a fire department was tight. Danny and Brenda both dug into their pocketbooks to finance their education, and Liberty Hill citizens were the ones rewarded with their dedication.
At the time, Liberty Hill ran its own ambulance, one provided by the county with the understanding that the local fire department would provide the personnel to operate it. With their paramedic status, the local ambulance would be elevated to ALS (advanced life support) when either Danny or Brenda were on board.
Often viewed as brash due to his outspoken criticism of other community leaders, Danny had another side at the scene of medical emergencies where he would calmly address the situation, and display a deep level of compassion for those in his care. In debriefings following particularly jarring incidents, he could be moved to tears and was a shoulder to lean on for other responders who had assisted on those calls. Danny was often joined at scenes by fire chief James Pogue, who in the years to come would be highly regarded as a fine medic himself.
James was among the members of the department when it first organized and served for several years as a volunteer before becoming the community’s first paid fire chief in the late 1990s. He, along with then assistant fire chief Roy Floyd, designed the fire station built by volunteers on property donated by the Liberty Hill Development Foundation. His devotion to the community’s well-being and safety earned respect from much of the community.
GLORIA MYERS operated a flower shop in downtown Liberty Hill. Gloria passed away in 2011 after several years of declining health.
Gloria, who left a career at Southwestern Bell to purchase Fantasia Flowers from Helga Smith, was perhaps the biggest supporter of the school band program this community ever had. For several years she donated proceeds from homecoming mum sales to scholarships for Liberty Hill band students and there’s no telling how many thousands of dollars she gave. One could find her in her shop in the middle of the night making the mums and no student ever had to go to Homecoming without one — if they couldn’t afford to purchase one, Gloria would absorb the cost herself.
But Gloria’s support of the community wasn’t limited to the school. She was an early member of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce, and threw her backing to Chamber events such as the annual festival, each year undertaking the task of promoting and organizing the arts and crafts portion of the event. She despised “organized” meetings, preferring instead to meet with others in her shop and laying out plans in an informal setting. Her strong advocacy of Liberty Hill eventually led to the local Masonic Lodge recognizing her with the Community Builder’s Award — the highest recognition Masons bestow upon a non-member. The Chamber itself, in the mid-1990s, named her as Citizen of the Year.
Gloria had a particular love for older citizens, and one of those was the late Troy Joseph, who served alongside her on the Chamber’s board of directors and was also a staunch supporter of community activities. Troy died in July 2011 only a few weeks after his wife of more than 50 years, Norma, passed on.
Troy was a big supporter of the volunteer fire department and for several years served as auctioneer for the annual barbecue/auction. He also belonged to the Liberty Hill VFW, and upon stepping down from the Chamber’s board of directors was granted a lifetime membership. In his later years he took on the unofficial position of heading up the Liberty Hill Information Center. After the Liberty Hill Cafe closed down, Gloria moved her flower shop into that building and her former location provided space for Troy, and other Liberty Hill oldtimers, to meet and share old stories with visitors passing through town. He soon began collecting electric fans to help those less fortunate have a means of keeping their homes cool during the summer months.
Among those closest to Troy was the late Jimmy Waterston, who could often be found trading barbs with Troy inside the information center. Waterston, a veteran of the Korean War who also served during the Vietnam conflict, was also a big supporter of the Liberty Hill ISD athletic program.
He was the unofficial caretaker of Veterans Park, keeping the grounds mowed and watered on a regular basis and enjoyed walking over to the Liberty Hill Cafe while taking a break from work, where he would drink coffee and chain smoke unfiltered cigarettes.
Waterston was never one to hold office in any particular organization, but gained local fame as a member of the “Codger Construction Crew” that also included Sam Blair, Bob Harris and the late Bill Burden, retired superintendent of the Liberty Hill school district. After the Liberty Hill Development Foundation was formed in1992, the organization would soon acquire 18 acres from Featherlite Corp.
Two of those acres were given to the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department, and on the remaining acreage the “Codgers” soon went to work building two youth baseball fields and other amenities that would eventually become known as Lions Foundation Park.
Burden was perhaps the unofficial leader of the group, and it wasn’t the first time he stepped up to provide guidance for the community. In 1979, he was hired as superintendent of the Liberty Hill ISD. During his four-year tenure as superintendent, he implemented the changes necessary so that Liberty Hill would retain the accreditation status it had reclaimed only a couple of years earlier. Before passing away in 2009, he would be on hand to see his accomplishments honored as a new elementary school was opened bearing his name.
Bill became close friends with several of those who had served on the school board during his tenure, including the late Richard Wear, who died a few months after Bill. Richard, after having moved to Liberty Hill in the mid-1970s, served several terms on the school board.
Upon his passing, former Liberty Hill elementary teacher Louine Noble, along with Joyce Burden and Emily Adney (Bill’s daughter) issued a statement that noted, “During his tenure, times were financially challenging for the community and district. As a fiscal conservative, he watched carefully over the taxpayers’ funds. The district needed additional facilities. Children needed classrooms, swings and slides, and tennis courts. Because of limited funds, a professional school building firm could not be hired; however, Richard would not allow the children to do without. He led the amazing volunteer effort to build additional classrooms to the current Liberty Hill Elementary School. How many districts can claim such an amazing heritage?”
Louine Noble herself remains among one of the most beloved figures the school district produced. She spent her first year at Liberty Hill as a member of the elementary teaching staff before being hired as elementary principal in 1995. Over the next several years, in a firm but loving manner, she produced a lifetime of memories for her students — some of which involved a paddle when needed, other times her hair brush when an unwilling student needed a bit of encouragement to go to class.
Miss Noble was one of many Liberty Hill teachers to leave an impression on her students. Another was the late Nathan Wetzel, who went on to serve on the Liberty Hill school board and later, become the first mayor of the City of Liberty Hill following the city’s vote to incorporate. Nathan received 80 percent of the vote in the May 1999 election.
Before becoming mayor, Wetzel had already established himself as one of the most respected citizens of the community. In 1963, he served as the faculty advisor for three students — Tony Miranda, James Myers and Margie Frazier –who, as a class project, laid the groundwork for the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corporation. The students presented their plans to business owners who in turn offered financial support for the project, and later federal money was obtained to complete it.
Wetzel lived in Liberty Hill for more than 50 years, and during that time served as president for a number of organizations, including the PTA, the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. and the Lions Club. He also was a member of the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors, helped organize the Liberty Hill Little League and served as a master for the Liberty Hill Masonic Lodge.
Wetzel taught vocational agriculture in Liberty Hill from 1950-1966 and also spent time at Georgetown, finally retiring in 1980 although he came out of retirement briefly to help the Liberty Hill vocational work program get going.
Earlier this year, the Liberty Hill City Council chose to honor Wetzel’s memory by naming a park after him. He passed away in 2001.
Also serving with Nathan on that first council was Charles Canady. Charles continued to serve on the council for 13 years until 2013 — the longest serving member in the city’s history. He passed away in October 2014 after a battle with cancer and years of health problems following a major electrocution in 2005.
Charles operated Quick Service Garage, a business that had been in the family since 1927. Quick Service Garage, the community’s oldest business still in operation downtown, is now owned and operated by his wife, Kathy Canady.
Driven by a deep commitment to community service, Charles and Kathy gave life in 2006 to the annual Liberty Hill Christmas Festival and parade. Charles played Santa and heard the wishes of thousands of Liberty Hill children through the years.
In an October 2014 issue of The Independent after Charles’ death, editorial writer Charley Wilkison noted, “He (Charles Canady) moved our community, sometimes by sheer force of will, toward steady reasonableness. While others staked out their political positions, Charles seemed to enjoy finding the center, the place where he could make good things happen.
“Charles loved his hometown and was driven by a heartfelt connection to this place on the Shin Oak Ridge. He spent his entire life here and wanted Liberty Hill to be a place where his children could raise their families. As an elected official, he helped to shape his hometown, motivated by a desire to make this place better for everyone.”
Charles was not the only member of the Canady family to serve the community. His father, Joe Ed, was elected chief of the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department when it first organized in the late 1960s. Charles’ brother, Joey, also served with the fire department. His mother, Nina Faye, served as postmistress of the Liberty Hill Post Office. Joe Ed also served on the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. board of directors for a number of years.
Across the street and down just a ways from Canady garage, beginning in 1958, was another Liberty Hill businessman who over a course of more than a quarter of a century developed a loyal following. Roy Allman, who passed away in 2004, operated a small grocery store that both young and old loved to visit. His friends enjoyed stopping by some evenings for a few hands of dominoes, and youngsters found themselves often treated to candy.
Roy is said to have supported all Liberty Hill sports and was also considered a good friend of the fire department. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge. He was among the charter members of the board of directors for the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. In addition to operating Allman’s Grocery, he was employed by the US Postal Service for 27 years, retiring in 1991. He actually sold his store in 1985, but continued to work part-time for the new owners.
Roy passed away in 2004.
ANOTHERLiberty Hill man who gained the respect of many was Pete Kauffman, who passed away earlier this year. In a story following the funeral, The Independent reported, “Kauffman, as many born in 1921, developed frugal spending habits early in life. He came of age during the Great Depression, poor and living off what little the shallow soil in Liberty Hill would provide. The average life expectancy for men born that year barely tops out near 60 years, and so Kauffman’s passing leaves one fewer than the already few who remember a much different Liberty Hill.”
Another Liberty Hill man who grew up in the same era was James Randolph Vaughan, who passed away in 1998. James also loved sports (he played semi-professional baseball in his younger years) and served in the US Army during World War II. He went on to work in the US Postal Service.
James recorded much of Liberty Hill’s history with his movie camera, and is credited with convincing the late Mel Fowler that Liberty Hill was the place to hold the International Sculpture Symposium in 1976. The community rallied behind Vaughan and Fowler’s proposal, and less than a year later, from mid-October through the end of November, 23 artists from six countries worked away in Veterans Park at works of art still valued at more than $1 million. Local residents provided room and board for the sculptors, and local businesses chipped in financial support for the endeavor. When complete, the sculptures remained in Liberty Hill. More than 40 years later, the works are considered by community leaders as a unique resource to incorporate into the city’s overall design.
James was among those to organize the volunteer fire department in the late 1960s and served as a firefighter for several years. He also served on the board of directors of the Liberty Hill Cemetery Association. He loved to tell stories about Liberty Hill’s yesteryears and maintained a collection of photographs and collectibles. He was also heavily involved with the development of the Austin Steam Train Association.
Another individual who played a key role in researching and preserving Liberty Hill history was Myreta Matthews, who passed away in 1993. Myreta’s family history in the area dated back to 1872, when the family established a private school just south of Liberty Hill. The one-room log house opened as a free school two years later.
In 1977, she was appointed chairman of the Williamson County Historical Association, an organization she first became involved with in 1972. She was a teacher, having followed in her father’s footsteps.
Myreta also served as chairman of the Liberty Hill Cemetery Association during her lifetime.
She is credited with researching the Liberty Hill Cemetery, the Stubblefield building, the Masonic Lodge, the First Baptist Church and the John G. Matthews farm. Her efforts paved the way for those historic locations to eventually be granted historical markers noting their significance in Texas history.