Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Olabelle and the Muleshoe Library

If you read last week about Magann Rennels (Need An Answer? Ask Magann), you know her mother was an interesting person with a story worth telling and who has also made a lasting contribution to Muleshoe.

Olabelle’s family originated in deep East Texas in the town of Jefferson. She was a New Year’s baby, born on January 1, 1906. The family moved to Tahoka in 1915. In 1935 she moved to Austin to work as campaign secretary for state Senator George H. Nelson from Lubbock. She did such a good job for him that she landed a job as secretary for Governor James V. Allred and later as personal secretary to Governor Allred’s wife. Her duties involved serving as hostess in the Governor’s Mansion, even when Eleanor Roosevelt came to Texas for a visit and Mrs. Allred was recuperating from childbirth. She went on to meet a veritable who’s who in early Texas politics: John Nance Garner; Olveta Club Hobby; an up-and-coming LBJ, and many others. This at a time when Republicans were few and far between in Texas. She never mentioned to Governor Allred that she happened to be a Republican.

Even though Olabelle suffered with muscular dystrophy, she never complained. But navigating the ornate staircase in the Governor’s Mansion proved to be too strenuous, and she was forced to leave that job behind but was still involved with Texas government, this time working for the State Board of Control.

young OlabelleOlabelle in 1929 at the age of 23.

In between those two jobs  she met her future husband, Gil Lamb, on a blind date in O’Donnell when Gil was working as an actor for one of the traveling tent shows. Eventually  they moved from Austin to Muleshoe, and Gil got into broadcasting.

Gil and OlabelleOlabelle and Gil Lamb

Now, remember, Olabelle came from Jefferson, and Jefferson had a Carnegie Library. A Carnegie library might not ever happen in Muleshoe, but Olabelle knew the advantages of a town library, so she thought Muleshoe needed one, too.  She was told pretty bluntly that Muleshoe didn’t need a library. What passed as a library at the time  was books  housed in Lela Barron’s abstract office. Later the books were moved to a forgotten little room in the court house with no great supply of books and resources, no card catalog, no organization, and no real librarian.  Both the Muleshoe Study Club and the 1939 Study Club volunteers worked to keep what they had usable for the  public and Minnie Solomon served as a librarian. Later the Friends of the Library and others saw to it  that  the Hunkey Electric Building in the Lenau Addition was purchased in 1964 to house the books from the court house. 

Well, that wasn’t enough for  Olabelle, so she decided to pursue the library idea further. She became the chairwoman of the Muleshoe Study Club’s Library Committee, and the fight was on. One of the first things she did was to start the Friends of the Library group who helped her with this mission.

Remember, this is the woman who recognized that women weren’t always taken seriously by the men who ran things. Also remember this is the woman who had ties to state government, having worked in Austin. Through the Texas State Library, Olabelle set up a meeting for the state librarian to visit with local groups like the Rotary Club, Bailey County Commissioner’s Court, the Chamber of Commerce, and others  to discuss the possibility of establishing  a real library. Her efforts were met with ridicule from some individuals. If people wanted a book, she was told, they could just go to Lubbock.

The Texas State Library also demonstrated the use of bookmobiles for rural areas, so an agreement was struck through commissioners’ courts in the counties of Bailey, Cochran, Lamb, and Parmer for a bookmobile to serve small communities in those areas.  The daily destination of the bookmobile would be announced on the Muletrain and a driver, first Larry Hartsell and later Tommy Black and Ruby Henderson, along with a librarian, Georgia Pena and later Lorene Sooter, would pull up to the back of the Hunkey building, load up with books, and be on their way to places like Morton, Hart Camp, Lums Chapel and Three Way as well as Muleshoe. The bookmobile ran for 14 years from 1964 to 1978.

It happened that the day of that  meeting with the Texas State Library was very cold and Olabelle contracted pneumonia. The muscular dystrophy that she continued to suffer with  had weakened her lungs. She became ill on Tuesday, and she died on Sunday, January 12, 1964, under an oxygen tent. She never had the chance to see her dream become a reality. 

But the bookmobile was doing a good  job, and its popularity and requests for books housed in  the Hunkey building proved that there was a demand for a library in Muleshoe-apparently people who wanted books didn’t want to be forced to find them in Lubbock- so the next step was an actual library. By this time the city had accepted responsibility for the library rather than the county. A bond election was passed in 1968 to help fund the endeavor, and by 1971 Muleshoe was the proud home of the new Muleshoe Area Public Library, built at the corner of West 2nd Street and West Avenue D, where it remains today. And finally there was a real full-time librarian, Ann Camp, who served until  she  retired in 1996 and  Dyan Dunagan became librarian. 



Today the Muleshoe Area Public Library boasts many popular programs to augment the books and periodicals that readers expect to use in a library. The Summer Reading Program for kids from the ages of two to 18 runs through June and July. Free computer classes are being held right now. In March the Social Security Administration will be on hand to answer SS questions. During Library Week in April the Library Family of the Year is announced, and the annual book sale is also held that week. Books, however, are on sale year-round. For seven months of the year, teens and pre-teens are invited to a movie night.


So even though Olabelle never had the opportunity to enjoy a library in Muleshoe, she helped make it a reality for those of us today who make use of its many resources. Thanks, Olabelle.

If you would like to read a more detailed account of the history of the  library, then trot yourself over to the library and  look for  Tales and Trails of Bailey County, the First 70 Years  in the reference section, and you can read Ann Camp’s article about how it all came about. You will also find lots of other neat stories about Muleshoe, and one about Olabelle, in that book.

One of the comfy and inviting reading areas in the library.

Shorty Flores checks out a book to Mateo Galindo.

On a slightly different note, readers need to be aware that the library’s services, programs, and materials  are in danger of being lost as proposed state budget cuts will wipe out 99 percent of state funding on the local level. Things like the purchase of large print books, the inter-library loan service, loss of databases of research information, and a host of other valuable resources will be lost to these cuts. This might be a good time to let your state congressmen and senators know that library funding will be sorely missed in all libraries, but small town libraries in particular.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Need An Answer? Ask Magann.

While gathering information the other day for another article I am working on for the blog, a question came up my source could not answer. “Ask Magann,” I was told. “She’ll know.” So I did. And she knew.

IMG_3496Magann was named after her grandmothers Mag Singleton   and   Ann Lamb. Many people misspell her name, but she’s never   met another Magann.

And then it hit me-this is a person I should be writing about. Magann Rennels should be considered a national treasure in that she can give a local color story in connection with anything I asked her. For example, when I double-checked the year she and Jack were married, without missing a beat she told me 1967, along with the story of the argument she had as a little girl with her mother about planning to carry a parasol in her own wedding and her mother told her opening a parasol in the house or church would mean bad luck, to which family friend Marie White said, oh, just hush, she can get married  in my back yard under the willow trees I plan to plant. The willow trees were planted, and flower girls Tyree- Wagnon and Alison Pool carried a blue and a green parasol like a basket  filled with rose petals which they tossed on the ground as they walked down the lawn, after which they opened the  parasols.

IMG_3483Jack and Magann Rennels

But I digress-as is easy to do when following one of Magann’s stories…

Magann Lamb Rennels was born in Lubbock, Texas, on January 26, 1943, to Gil and Olabelle Singleton Lamb, both of whom are stories in themselves. I kept telling Magann I wanted this to be about her, not her parents or Channel 6, the local cable television station the family has operated since 1980, but about the time I would get her on the subject of herself, invariably the talk returned to Mama and Daddy or Channel 6 or family history. Magann is inextricably tied to her family and Channel 6.  I couldn’t write about one without writing about the other.

Her dad Gil Lamb was in show business, working in traveling tent shows. He sang, acted, and played the trumpet with the Harley Sadler and his Own Company tent shows in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Magann said people 60 and older would remember the tent shows as these traveling shows were a major source of entertainment at the time  and the performers were the rock stars of their day. Magann laughed that Inez Bobo was thrilled to realize that the man she heard sing Are You Lonesome Tonight at one of the shows turned out to be the Gil Lamb that she now counted as a friend. Later he sold wind chargers to farmers and eventually got into radio sales which led to  KMUL and then later opened the path to Channel 6.

Magann’s mother, Olabelle Singleton, lived in Tahoka but met Gil Lamb on a blind date in O’Donnell when he was   an actor with one of the tent shows.  Olabelle, who later went on to work as the personal secretary for  the wife of  Texas governor James V. Allred,  told her daughter, “Maggie, remember, women are not treated like men in the workplace.” As I listened to Magann chronicle her own life in radio and television, it became apparent that Maggie understood that comment  but never let it slow her down. I asked if she thought her mother would be a feminist if she were alive today. “No,” she smiled proudly, “but she would be thrilled at how far we have come.”

After Magann was born in Lubbock, the family moved to Tahoka, Austin, back to Lubbock, Clayton, NM, back to Tahoka, and finally to Muleshoe in 1954.  Her dad was working for KICA in Clovis at the time selling ads in Portales, NM,  and Muleshoe. Magann, a sixth-grader at the time,  was not thrilled with the move.  “I hated Muleshoe,” she laughed, and said she made no bones about it. In an effort to change Magann’s perception of the town-after all, this was going to be home-her mother saw to it that she wrote a story about a Girl Scout meeting held at the Boy Scout Hut, the very one that was recently demolished. She dictated the story to her mother and loved every minute of it-her first radio report! She even decided Muleshoe wasn’t so bad a place.

By 1956 Gil  was broadcasting for KMUL and Magann hosted a show called Teen Time Parade. She took music requests till it was time to go to school. Elvis’ I Want You, I Need You, I Love You was big at the time and she hated it because it took so long to write  down the title  when it was requested. “ It never dawned on me that I didn’t have to write down  the whole thing,” she giggled. But she never ran out of paper; she used the back side of the old AP news stories that came over the wire 24 hours a day. No shortage of paper there. She was recycling before it was fashionable.

At that time the KMUL DJ was Johnny Kilmer, then Buddy Peeler, and when he went off to college, it was her turn. She was thrilled because  at the time it was customary for women to work behind the scenes in radio, never on the air. Just like her mother had told her.

Magann continued to DJ until she graduated from Muleshoe High School in 1961. Always intending to come back and work for her dad, she attended Texas Tech University and majored in radio and TV journalism and worked for KTXT-FM before most people  had FM radios, so naturally few people heard her! But she went on to do the Techsan’s Talk every night for two years before transferring to Los Angeles City College for a summer. It was a wonderful experience. She lived with her aunt Mariet Lamb, went to school four days a week and then the other days they did all these exciting things like going to plays, fancy restaurants, and the beach. At this point Magann said, “ I was the only grandchild, so I was spoiled and was considered perfect,” no doubt allowing her to enjoy all these experiences that  broadened her horizons.

She could have gone anywhere but chose to go back to Muleshoe and work for her daddy after graduation from West Texas State University.  And then she  meet her future husband. John Black was on the air from 7 to 11 at night and Jack Rennels would come to visit him at the station. Seems Jack took to visiting with Magann on those trips as well, leading up to that 1967 marriage. I dutifully took a page of notes on  Jack’s contributions to Channel 6 and his history working with Bailey County Electric Co-op and Five Area Telephone and all his contributions to the success of Channel 6 and Gil Lamb Advertising  before reminding her and myself that this was her story, so we switched back to years later when dad Gil wound up selling his part of the radio station to the remaining partner and Magann was then unceremoniously fired in November of 1979  as was Gil the following March. The family was devastated.

Earlier Magann had gone on to earn her teaching certificate, doing her student teaching for our own Dr.  Kerry Moore, but she felt inadequate to be a teacher because, in her words, teachers should be the very best, and since her heart was in broadcasting, she was afraid she wouldn’t be the very best teacher she could be. Then she told me, very seriously, that she walked into the hallway and said, “God, what do you want me to do?

And He said to me,  “How did you start?”

She thought a very short minute and said, out loud, “Well, in the living room of our house.” I failed to mention that much of the earlier KICA broadcasting was by remote, truly emanating from the living room. While that was all ruminating in Magann’s head, Gil went to KICA in Clovis to see if they would carry  the Muletrain program that had been on KMUL. At that time they just wanted country music, so the other option was asking Merlyn Neel at the cable company about putting the program on Channel 6. The approval came through and the Muletrain has started the day for many a Muleshoe resident from that time on. Magann was back, as God asked her, to where it all started, in her very own house.

IMG_3493Memorabilia in the broadcasting room, which has moved upstairs.

IMG_3494The staircase to the broadcasting desk.

Many changes has come over the years. Gil Lamb Advertising has flourished on the web and has embraced the age of Twitter and Facebook. Video coverage of local events has added a new dimension to Channel 6. There was a time in the 90s when Channel 6 was almost taken off the air, but local fans raised a cry and hue and it remains to this day.

But there I go digressing again into the history of Channel 6 rather than focusing on Magann. While she is still the voice of Channel 6 along with her oldest son Gilrobert, who also handles the Twitter and Facebook components,  she also enjoys time with  sons Payton and his wife, who live in Florida, and Greyson, who lives in New Mexico. Jack is still the love of her life, but now she is also the proud grandmother of two girls, Payton’s two daughters Julia Grey, 5, and Eila Ann, 16 months. 


rennels, magann, eila and julia rennelsEila Ann and Julia Grey love their grandmother.

I am  reminded how invaluable Magann is when we have our Christmas community dinner at the First United Methodist Church. She is in charge of the list of deliveries and can tell those of us who deliver all we need to know to make a successful delivery, things like who is deaf and won’t be able to hear us knock on the door, whether to knock or ring the doorbell,  which door to use, who won’t be able to walk to the door, or how to identify the house if it has no numbers. We couldn’t do without her wealth of knowledge.

IMG_3486The work place.

I couldn’t help thinking that this woman must surely be the person who came up with the idea of the '”rest of the story” long before Paul Harvey ever thought of sharing a little background on an event. So any time you need to know the rest of the story, just call Magann. You will enjoy the visit and learn something at the same time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Diamond Dust and Rabbit Tracks


The snow came, just as predicted, and Mari insisted she take a walk in it. So I bundled up and went out with her. I pulled out the extra-cold weather gear and my hiking boots from Kilimanjaro, and off we went.




The sky had cleared and was bright blue against the white snow. A vapor trail from one of the fighter jets from Cannon Air Force Base stretched across the sky. The sun was warm enough to start the melting process, which in turn caused droplets of water on the snow to glitter like diamond dust, sparkling as we walked.  Well, I walked. Mari bounded about, taking bites of snow and following the many trails left by the jack rabbits. We didn’t see any rabbits, who no doubt were surreptitiously watching us as they nestled motionless somewhere to enjoy the warmth of the sun. The wind was not blowing yet, which made the walk pleasant and quiet. The only sound was my boots crunching in the snow and the occasional splat of ice melting off the tree limbs.



Perla  joined us in our walk. She seemed as oblivious to the cold of the snow as was Mari. She was also in her attention-demanding mode, and every time I would squat down to take her picture, here she would come, rubbing on my legs asking to be picked up.

Later in the day our dirt road will be a quagmire as the bulk of the snow melts and makes a predictable mess. But for now it is pretty and provides a calm and peaceful alternative to the harshness of winter.

We asked for moisture, and it was given. The weather report says we are to be blessed with more tonight. But the wind has already kicked up and the wind chill is already bitterly cold, so Mari may have to be content with  dreams of chasing rabbits for a day or two.

So we will search for diamond dust and rabbit tracks another day.

Look closely and you may be able to see the glitter in the snow. Diamond dust is hard to catch on film, as most ethereal and fleeting  moments of beauty usually are.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Little Something to Brighten Your Day

I don’t know what it looks like where you live, but here it  is dull and drab, brown and brittle. What is usually hard packed ground has become inches of sand with zero moisture to hold the dirt together. The weatherman said just the other day that it has been over 70 days since we have had rain.

The award-winning cold front we have been warned about for a week has now hit, and boy, has it hit. At least it brought some snow-moisture at last.

So in light of all that, I think it is time for a little pick-me-up. I hope you enjoy-and I grew them all myself.