Hometown boy made good
O’Donnell, TX, where the late Dan Blocker spent most of his “growing up years,” proudly claims him as the “crown jewel” in the local museum.
Folks who want to see memorabilia of the television immortal--“Hoss” Cartwright on the long-running American TV show, Bonanza--can pretty well visit on their terms. Manned (and “womaned”) by gritty volunteers, the museum’s regular hours now are limited to Saturdays and Sundays. However, names and phone numbers of folks with access to the museum are listed on the front door. Chances are, visitors can be accommodated most any time.
Many hats are worn by most of the some 800 residents of the little town on US Highway 87, 40 miles south of Lubbock. Stop in there for awhile, and you’ll learn much about volunteerism….
For starters, the O’Donnell Index-Press, a small weekly publication, has a collection point at in Moore-Rains Insurance, where Frances and Jim Stephens welcome news items. “Just put it in the basket” is frequently heard as residents drop by with items.
Publishers are John and Sharon Wells. He doubles as a full-time Lubbock nurse, and both he and wife Sharon are volunteers for numerous community projects.
The insurance office also is a meeting place for 6:30 a.m. Tuesday prayer meetings. There’s coffee “for the crowd.” Some days, a half-dozen or so show up; other days, it’s just Jim and Frances….
Mention the name of Dan or “Hoss” in town, and several people offer “up close” memories. Many stories center on his size. Weighing 14 pounds at birth in 1928, he grew to be 6-4 and 300.
Many are “car stories” when he wasn’t even behind the wheel. During high school, he was a leading prankster. One day when a gentleman attempted to drive his Model-T Ford, Dan lifted the back end off the ground, wheels spinning. The driver, maybe a 100-pounder soaking wet, decided to teach the youngster a lesson. He shifted to reverse, then took a walk around the block.
Upon returning to his car, Dan wasn’t yet at a full sweat, so the driver walked the block again. This time, Dan was contrite. The car owner shifted the gear from reverse and Dan breathed easily. Later, they were fast friends. (Another time, Dan rescued a man pinned under a car.)…
The star was used to “standing out.” He’s in a photo with his 1939 Boy Scout Troop. All members wore scout uniforms--except for Dan. None fit, so he wore extra-large khakis--waist size 42--at age 11.
Both physically and in spirit, he was bigger than life.
Many folks don’t know he served heroically during the Korean War. They say he didn’t speak of it often, but those he saved in combat do….
I met Blocker just once--during the height of his popularity. In the mid-1960s, he returned to Sul Ross State University, his alma mater.
He was honored at homecoming, and I was privileged to drive the convertible he perched on. The back wheels groaned as the weight increased. (I think I drew the lucky number to be his driver. I was a “very junior” member of the faculty.)
I recall asking him a question what he’d do if he had life to live over. I fully expected, of course, that he’d answer, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”….
In a flash, tears flooded his eyes. Then, he provided a surprising answer: “If I had it to do over, I’d probably still be teaching school in Sonora.”
In the little southwest Texas school, he felt he could see the difference he made in the lives of students.
Dan was the “gentle giant” he portrayed on TV. Too bad, though, that he couldn’t have enjoyed some “non-Hoss” time. Because of his size, Dan was “forever Hoss.”…
Thankfully, O’Donnell Rotarians spearheaded the effort that led to establishing the museum in 1976.
Wendell Edwards was museum president for two decades. Harold Hohn serves currently. The late John Saleh, Dan’s boyhood friend, helped financially.
It’s well worth a stop in O’Donnell, where the community of volunteers will provide a genuine welcome. And for those of a certain age, Blocker memorabilia is certain to “warm cockles” about the golden days of TV….
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Columns archived at venturegalleries.com, newbury blog.