Drive to survive, excel, a common thread through Midland's history
Whether it be outliving drought, fighting injustice, surviving a bust, or improving the community simply because your situation in life allows it, the drive to improve one’s self and one’s community is frequently found in those who have guided Midland in its first 130 years. And it will likely be a characteristic common to these parts for as long as there are these parts.
One of my favorite stories has to do with the Midland Jaycees refusing to be told they could not sponsor a Soap Box Derby for the town’s youth back in the 1950s simply because there was no hill in Midland that would give competitors the speed needed. The organizers of the event didn’t whine. They didn’t settle for, “Oh well, it was a good idea.” Instead they had mounds of dirt brought in. The dirt was graded and packed until it reached the appropriate height and stability, and the race was on.
Midland’s drive to survive is exemplified through the many periods of drought the town has endured. The dry years of 1949-56 are said to have been the most severe drought in history.
Foy Proctor and Clarence Scharbauer, Jr., saw to it that their cattle survived that 1950s drought in a way not everyone can: instead of selling down their herd, they simply bought a ranch in the Panhandle -- Scharbauer once talked of the purchase as matter-of-factly as if it were as easy as buying a new house or truck. When the deal was done, the two men and, one can imagine, a great many cowhands, loaded the herd into cattle haulers and moved them to the Matador Ranch, west of Amarillo.
Another constant through the years has been the rivalry between Midland and Odessa, which has run deeper than football and longer than, “You raise your kids in Midland and hell in Odessa.”
Pat McDaniel, director of the Haley Memorial Library and History Center, recalls one of the oldest tales told about the two cities’ competitive drive.
“Midland National Bank was chartered out of Odessa National Bank, which failed,” McDaniel said. “The running joke was that everybody was happy because Midland traded Odessa a whorehouse for a bank by sending our (prostitutes) over there and getting a bank in return”
A variant of the joke would be return years later when Sheriff Ed Darnell liked to tell others there was an unspoken agreement between the sheriff’s departments in the two cities: Darnell was supposed to have said he wouldn’t have any running of prostitutes in Midland unless they were high class. All the low class prostitutes had to stay in Odessa.
Before his death earlier this year, Scharbauer Jr. insisted there never really was a rivalry between the two cities, but that it was a media creation brought on to sell books like, “Friday Night Lights.” Scharbauer, interestingly, was front and center for one of the biggest and most brutal scrapes between the two cities: the fight to land a university, a battle that produced two winners. Odessa landed its university, Midland received a first-rate junior college.
For all the bad blood that has, or hasn’t, come throughout the years, there is one story that stands out and can make longtime residents wonder if Scharbauer may not have been right after all. Perhaps there never really has been a competition between the two cities. The excerpt below from “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas,” paints a picture thin on any sort of feelings of animosity between the neighboring towns. The gesture of kindness and even friendship occurred just as Midland was at what is arguably its historical low point: the week First National Bank failed in October 1983.
Excerpt from “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas”
Several days before First National failed, three Midlanders organized a pledge drive to help rescue the institution. That same week, another group organized a community rally to give citizens the opportunity to come together to show their support.
“That bank should not be allowed to go under by members of the community,” said Margaret Captain, who helped organize the pledge drive with fellow Midlanders Ken Lough and Goodrich Hejl. Lough told the Midland Reporter-Telegram the three of them were just cheerleaders, helping to ensure an eleventh-hour turn-around. Hejl said he pledged his support of the bank in spite of occasionally getting mad at it.
Although Midlanders pledged millions of dollars, it was, of course, too little too late. Still, the effort of a pledge drive was another example of Midlanders coming together to try and help make a bleak situation better, a dark day brighter. Midland’s history is rife with these kinds of episodes.
The show of support for the bank at the Midland Center was termed “Midland’s finest hour.” The night was made even brighter when Odessa community leader Steve Late announced he had raised $500,000 to be deposited at FNB.
“How often have residents of a community joined hands and forces to show their support for and confidence in a bank in trouble, most of them not stockholders, many of them not customers, some of them even competitors? How often have citizens facing a similar situation come forward with deposits of any size, not to mention the magnitude of what has been pledged here in only two days? How often have residents of a competitive sister city with a history, admittedly with help from us, of having engaged in a longstanding feud, raised a large amount of money for deposit, not to their own banks, but to one of ours?”
In full support of the Odessans who, within two hours actually produced a half million dollars for deposit, the Midland Reporter-Telegram editorial board said it was one thing for a sister city to pledge support and pass resolutions in show of same, but it was quite another for them to put their money where their mouth was.