WT announces Cultural Foundation of the Texas Panhandle

By Chip Chandler

A new organization that will combine the missions of two longstanding Panhandle institutions officially was announced Feb. 8 by West Texas A&M University President Dr. Walter Wendler.

The Cultural Foundation of the Texas Panhandle is an advisory body that will place Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation, producers of the outdoor musical drama “Texas,” under the same umbrella.

The Cultural Foundation will be led by an advisory board made up of prominent Texans with a history of service to the state who will be devoted to advancing CFTP’s mission.

The board’s members represent an array of business, industry, civic and education leaders:

Brendon Anthony of Austin, director of the Texas Music Office;
Mark Bivins of Amarillo, rancher, partner in Corsino Cattle Co., and prominent Amarillo philanthropist;
John W. Crain of Dallas, former museum director, current chairman of the Summerlee Foundation board of directors and member of the Texas Historical Commission;
Mike Heard of Amarillo, managing partner and general manager of Cattle Town Feeders and Spearman Cattle Feeders;
Pat Hickman of Canyon, chairman of the board for Happy State Bank and Trust Co. and Happy Bancshares Inc.;
Mark Hodges of Amarillo, Amarillo Market President of FirstCapital Bank of Texas;
Joel Hogue of Amarillo, a senior member of Amarillo law firm Sprouse Shrader Smith PLLC;
Tim Leach of Midland, vice chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents and executive vice president of ConocoPhillips, Lower 48;
Amy McLane of Salado, a public relations expert who has worked for the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Stars and the AT&T Cotton Bowl;
Will Miller of Amarillo, president and chief lending officer of FirstBank Southwest Amarillo;
Judge Morris L. Overstreet of Amarillo, community leader and former member of the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals;
Jerry Patterson of Austin, former Commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas and former state senator for District 11;
Nancy Painter Paup of Fort Worth, a manager of Texas business, real estate and ranching interests who has served on several prominent statewide boards, including the Texas State Historical Association;
Donald E. Powell of Amarillo, former CEO of First National Bank and former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.;
Karen Price of Amarillo, a community leader and former television reporter;
Rodney Ruthart of Amarillo, executive vice president and chief credit officer at First United Bank;
Carter Smith of Austin, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department;
Lionel Sosa of San Antonio, independent marketing and creative consultant and founder of Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates;
Neil Terry of Canyon, WT executive vice president and provost and former dean of the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business;
Richard Ware of Amarillo, chairman of Amarillo National Bank; and
Walter V. Wendler of Canyon, WT president, former chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and former vice chancellor for planning and system integration with The Texas A&M University System.

Hickman will serve as the CFTP advisory board’s first committee chair.

“My family home growing up was east of Canyon, just 10 miles from the state park. Both the museum and the play are near and dear to my heart,” Hickman said. “It is my hope that the CFTP helps create a new passion for these Texas Panhandle icons. A strong board of directors has been assembled — individuals from all over the state, with unique spheres of influence and vested personal interests in preserving and passing the stories of our pioneers to generations to come.”

CFTP will preserve the culture of the Texas Panhandle and beyond, focusing the efforts of both long-lived institutions under the oversight of WT, as a member of The Texas A&M University System.

“Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum houses the largest collection of artifacts in the state, representing what I think of as the ‘real Texas’,” said Hogue, chair of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society board of directors. “We are excited because we think the foundation can help us share our history and culture to a broader audience.”

“This will provide new opportunities for people to bring new ideas and innovations to the table and allow us to tap into newer technology and enhance the audience experience,” said Hodges, chair of the TPHF board of directors.

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Society was founded in 1921in an effort to preserve this region’s human and natural history. Construction on Pioneer Hall began in 1932, and Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, now the largest history museum in the state, opened its doors the following year on the campus of what is now West Texas A&M University.

The effort to celebrate the history of the region through an outdoor musical began in 1960 when Canyon community leader Margaret Harper reached out to playwright Paul Green. The musical, produced by the TPHF, debuted in 1966 and, until COVID-19 forced a cancellation of its 2020 season, has been performed annually before thousands of audience members in Pioneer Amphitheatre inside Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

“The Cultural Foundation of the Texas Panhandle will provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate civic pride and service to the Panhandle,” Wendler said. “Both the Museum and the Foundation share a common interest in promoting an understanding of and an appreciation for Texas history. Combining their efforts will result in a regionally driven entity that will champion the Panhandle around the state, the country and the world.”

WT is seeking a full-time executive director to lead CFTP’s efforts for the WT campus in Canyon.

WT will coordinate the essential ventures of PPHM and TPHF, serving as a “storehouse of insights and ideas that will empower and inform future growth and service,” Wendler said.

The PPHS and TPHF boards in January unanimously approved the memorandum of understanding that led to the formation of the CFTP board. The three boards will work together to support their shared missions while expanding their roles in preserving the cultural treasures of the Texas Panhandle.

Tickets are on sale now for the 55th season of “Texas,” which is scheduled to run May 29 to Aug. 14. Virtual auditions have begun for the cast, and hospitality staff is being hired.