Forward thinking as much a part of Midland as character and important early buildings
So important is the word’s meaning that we still use it daily in our conversations around here. And we use it long after other words have come and gone in our fickle, often trending tendency to create fleeting terms that may make a point and sound good but quickly shrivel into cliché or memory.
Our early leaders had vision ample enough to lay the groundwork necessary to turn a spot of land into a thriving young city and finally a headquarters to one of the world’s most vital industries. We have never tired of the use of the word “vision” as even today our leaders refer to the decennial gathering of leaders and volunteers as the “Vision Committee.”
Pat McDaniel, director of the Haley Memorial Library and History Center, nailed it by saying the early vision of our pioneers is what provided the spark needed to get to where we are today. While luck played a role, it was the vision of people willing to spend time, talent and treasure to ensure those early days of survival.
Those early influential leaders numbered a modest handful, but the support staff surrounding them — the people who came here, stayed here and helped the leaders bring it all together — played a significant role just by being here and not giving up when times weren’t easy.
Any list of leaders who made it all possible would have to include Captain Randolph Marcy, who simply found the place while looking for something else (level ground for a railroad). There was Dr. John B. Thomas who built the first multi-level office building — The Thomas Building — which still stands occupied today.
The work and generosity of the Scharbauer family would have never occurred had John Scharbauer not left upstate New York in 1880 to come first to Eastland, then to Abilene, next to Mitchell County and finally to Midland in 1887. After years of farming sheep, he began working cattle, and in 1888 established the family’s first cattle ranch. John Scharbauer’s westward migration led to his brother Christian Scharbauer’s move to Midland in 1889. Then, Christian and Jennie Scharbauer’s greatest contribution to Midland and West Texas would come: they were the parents of Clarence Scharbauer Sr., who made the family name synonymous with vision.
Thomas S. Hogan and his son, Fred, are certainly near the top of the vision list along with Scharbauer, Thomas, Marcy and later people like Jno. P. Butler, CJ Kelly, George T. Abell and many others. The list could and maybe should go on and on, and Art Cole’s name would be on it, too.
Why Art Cole? “Didn’t he just give us a theater?” you might ask. To be more precise, Cole and his former wife, Ruth, both of whom died in January 2012, gave the town what would become the preeminent volunteer-supported, community-funded theater in the country, not to mention Summer Mummers, the annual hot-month answer to the question, “What is there to do in Midland?”
Cole was nothing short of one of the most brilliant visionaries our town has ever known. I particularly like the story of how he imagined Midland Community Theatre. After completing bombardier school in Midland, the Ohio native was sent to the South Pacific aboard a warship. For whatever reason — likely their intense focus in defeating the enemy during World War II — the Army Air Force brass had failed to stock Cole’s ship with reading material, and so Cole had no way to pass his idle hours. The only thing he had to read, in fact, were two theatre arts magazines he had brought along with him. In those magazines was a series of articles on how to start a community theater in a town that doesn’t have one. And so Cole read, returned to Midland and, with the tireless help of his wife, volunteers and funders, created what is now Midland Community Theatre.
Seeing positive and often radical change is not as easy as having an, “I Can See Clearly Now” attitude, although that can help. The kind of vision it takes to turn dreams into cities, buildings and theaters, takes passion, faith and more than a century of hard work.
While Midland may not have more doers and dreamers than sideline sitters and followers, it can sure seem as though sometimes it does, and we can be thankful for the visions and actions of those doers — movers and shakers as we would call them in today’s parlance — for all that Midland enjoys now.
Rancher, Banker, Hotelier, Philanthropist
Excerpted from “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas,” by Jimmy Patterson.
“Clarence Scharbauer took a scientific interest in improving Texas,” John Howard Griffin wrote in Land of the High Sky. “The first to bring in registered Herefords, he established a ranch of more than 3,000 acres south of Midland.” By the time he died, Scharbauer owned ranchland in Gaines, Dawson, Martin, Midland and Ector counties in Texas, and Lea and Chaves counties in New Mexico. Until his final illness confined him to his bed, he would visit at least one of his ranches every day.
Bill Collyns, longtime editor of the Midland Reporter-Telegram, was one of Scharbauer’s contemporaries and friends. “Mr. Scharbauer loved this place,” he once said. “He really wanted to see Midland do well, and if people made money that was great. That’s why he started the bank and the radio station (KCRS). He wanted to see Midland thrive. He knew if Midland was going to do well, he was going to do well.”
Scharbauer was a significant provider for Midland. In addition to his cattle, he was involved in the hotel business even before financing the inn that would bear his name. He was a principal investor in the Llano Hotel downtown, and a leader in a number of civic organizations, including the Midland Chamber of Commerce. As a banker, and as a leader of First Baptist Church, Scharbauer assisted in the construction of virtually every bank and church in Midland. He was also instrumental in improving roadways into and out of Midland during the early years of the oil industry.
Clarence Scharbauer Jr. remembered the story of how his father put bank depositors at ease with a simple yet grand gesture during the Great Depression. It was during a time of widespread economic uncertainty, when the people of Midland had begun to squirm about their financial security. “One day during the Depression,” said Scharbauer Jr., “when people had started making runs on the bank and wanted to get their money, my daddy went in to work and put a lot of the bank’s cash on tables in the First National Bank lobby, which was in that old white building that still stands at the corner of Wall and Main. When he put the money out on the table, a lot of people came down to the bank. And he would tell them, “Now, any of you who feel like you want your money, here it is, we’ll give it to you.” Of course when they saw they could access it, they didn’t want it anymore. They were just afraid they couldn’t get to it.”
Retellings of the story through history have suggested that armed guards stood alongside large Plexiglas containers, which securely held the cash. The total amount Scharbauer put out for the people to view also differs. Most versions say the amount was $250,000. Even Scharbauer Jr. himself was uncertain as to the exact amount but he agreed it was likely $250,000.
“A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas” will be published in September by The Abell-Hanger Foundation and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. For information about a presentation on the book for your civic organization or church group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome, and thanks for your interest in what will be a rewarding trip through our shared past. This "History of Character" blog is only the beginning. A book by the same name -- "A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas" -- will be published September 2014. Through this blog you'll be able to track the progress of the project and learn along with the book's author, Jimmy Patterson. If you have stories to share that you think deserve mention in the history of our city, drop an email to email@example.com.