“Mr. Mac, you are the smartest person I know. What in the world are you doing teaching school?” Given his age and background, it may very well have been that he was correct, though I doubt it.
The question came from a young man while we were working in the shop on some project that had him bumfuzzeled. By asking him a series of questions, I had led him to deciphering what the problem actually was and showed him that he really already knew the answer. He just was not asking the right questions.
“I responded ‘JT (not his real name), I learned a long time ago that the secret to being happy is to find out what God wants you to do- and do it.’
“I had already been teaching Ag in Devine about twenty-five years at that time, and loved every minute of it. Well almost every minute.
“I never intended to become a teacher, that was God’s idea, and looking back on it I should have known, because He had been preparing me for it my entire life. Actually longer than that in Devine. My Great Grandfather, Pleasant Earnest McAnelly was the President of the Devine School Board when the old Green Alamo, (present day VFW) was built. His son, my grandfather Gladden, was the Valedictorian of Devine High School in 1903. Two of his brothers taught Manual Training, an early version of Vocational Agriculture, in the downstairs portion of the school. His daughter, Dora Mae McAnelly, was one of the first Home Making teachers in Devine, and taught in the small rock building by the funeral home that is currently a business office for DISD. Both of my parents were teachers as well. My dad, John E. McAnelly was the Ag teacher in Hondo for decades, and my Mother, Elizabeth taught reading and eventually started the Special Education program for Hondo ISD. In addition, I had a younger brother, nine years my junior, that I taught everything from fishing to working cattle to coaching his Little League teams, and being the boy’s sponsor at Alto Frio Baptist Encampment until I graduated from A&M. He was, and still is, my little boy.
Still, I never even considered being a teacher until one night in northern Germany God called me to work with boys. Even before then, in Germany, in the Army, I was tagged by my commanding officers to work with the Canadian Air Force’s little boys to be their Little League coach. They knew how to play hockey very well, but at that time baseball was an American game, and most had never even played before – and I was supposed to be the “Canadian All Stars” Little League coach. Luckily, many of them were excellent athletes and caught on very quickly. The Canadians supported us very well, providing a bus and driver to take us all over free Europe, a seemingly unlimited budget, and a nice young couple to travel with us on overnight trips. We started with learning how to bunt- and ended up one game out of the European World Series.
Within days of God’s call, while still in the Army in Germany where I was serving as the Commander of a Nike Hercules missile site- the first line of defense against Russia’s threatened air attack during the “Cold War”, I received a phone call from my former high school football coach, asking me to come to Tahoka, Texas to coach football.
At that time, Linda, my beautiful wife, later a teacher at Devine ISD for years, eventually ending up as Superintendent, was a young thing. We had our first little boy, Lance, but she had to cut short her education at Texas Tech to accompany me to Germany in 1970. It just so happened that Tahoka is only thirty miles south of Lubbock, home of Texas Tech. She would be able to finish her education while I was coaching. Lucky – or divine providence? “Find out what God wants you to do-and do it!” We did, and God blessed our efforts with wonderful kids and athletes and parents. In two years we sent eight boys to play college ball, with two of them going on into the pros. This from a little school of less than an hundred and fifty in high school who had not had a winning season in over thirty years.
After Linda finished up at Tech, we taught together for a year in Tahoka, where we both also taught Sunday School at the Baptist church there. We started looking for a way to get back down here to God’s Country so I could enter my lifelong dream of ranching. But once again- God had different plans. I got an offer to come to Devine as a football coach by Paul Jette – “I want you to work with boys”. We accepted the offer, Linda had a job as well, but later she found out that we were pregnant, so put her career on hold for a while longer. We started building our house on land that had been in the family since 1883, where there had never been anyone living. “Little House on the Prairie” comes to mind. Character building but not very enjoyable at the time – especially for Linda, who was by now very pregnant with another McAnelly boy.
One day – right after we got down here – Mr. Henry Moss – famous Ag teacher in Devine for over forty years drove up. “Phil” he said, ”do you really want to coach football and worry every year if you are playing the right boys to keep your job, or would you rather teach Ag and stay here for the rest of your career?” My degree was in Ag Education-not because I ever wanted to teach, but because that course of study best prepared me for my chosen career of being a rancher. I had done my student teaching in Brownwood, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My path for the next twenty eight years was set – Ag teacher in Devine High School.
Our Ag department consisted of Henry Moss, Bob Spacek, and me. Between the three of us we had about half the boys in school in 1974. Some of my early students were Sherriff Randy Brown, Herby Watson, Pete Morales, Jeff Howard, Daniel Jay, John and Tom Oppelt, Robert Schott, Howard Goslin, Donald Bohl, Robert Hernandez, Doug Whitaker, Byron McAllister, at least one Ehlinger, and many others. The lone female was Cynthia Whitaker, now Sultenfuss, who was a senior in with a whole class of freshman boys. She was my Sargent of Arms as it were, as all the young boys were the same age as her brother Doug, and all were afraid of her. She was one of the first girls to break the gender barrier in the FFA, before then, only the “FFA Sweetheart” could be a member of what was originally an all-male club.
After a couple of years, Mr. Ronnie Outlaw came over and joined our team as Bob Spacek had taken a job down at the electrical generation plant south of Jourdanton. Ronnie and I taught together for nearly thirty years, with never a cross word between us. After Mr. Moss retired, I stole Travis Byrom from Natalia to join our team. Our Ag program got stronger and larger each year as we started to figure out how to get more and more students really involved in the FFA.
Ag teaching was great back then, as local farmers would call us and ask us to come out to help them with some needed task-such as castrating calves or pigs. I called these “targets of opportunity” as they afforded real learning situations. We would load the boys (and later girls) up in the back of our pickup trucks – appoint a time keeper so we would get back in time – and head out.
One of the interesting things about those first years, nearly every boy had direct ties to the land. Some lived on a farm or ranch, others dads grew up on a farm, or their grandfather was a farmer/rancher. The experiential base of knowledge about all things agriculture was much higher then than it was in the years to follow, as new generations moved away from agriculture. By 2003, only a few students had firsthand knowledge, but many learned to love it anyway.
One of the most memorable trips was on a field trip to Jeff Howard’s farm. He came in one morning and said, “Mr. Mc, we had a baby calf last night and it has a hole in its stomach. Every time it nurses, it runs out of its stomach”. “Is it white?” I asked. “No – it’s clear” he answered. “Well, he is just peeing as he nurses” I surmised. “No” he protested, “it’s a girl”. Field trip. We got out there, looked at the calf, and sure enough, it was a girl. Then we continued to look for the hole, and guess what – it was a boy too! They had a hermaphrodite – very rare – only one I have ever seen. Later the same year, Hartly Howard, a longtime local rancher, brought in a calf with two heads. Easy to teach about genetics and inbreeding and why you don’t marry your cousin when you are looking at that third eye staring at you.
As the years went by it was no longer acceptable to leave the school with your class, and the classes were too large. So, in order for the students to have the hands on learning opportunity, we built a set of cattle pens that could be set up in the Ag shop parking lot. I would bring in a load of calves from the ranch and every student had the opportunity to give vaccinations, three ways to castrate, dehorn and brand. We also set up pens inside and outside in the parking lot to weigh, wash and clip hogs headed to the stock shows in Hondo and San Antonio. Many interesting stories about hogs, sheep and chickens.
I have told for years about the people in Devine-good people. People who care for each other, who take care of each other. Parental involvement is the key to any successful school program, and we were blessed with wonderful parents. Anytime we needed sponsors to go with us to State Conventions, contest, or even stock shows, we always had parents ready to ride the bus-at that time non air conditioned, or haul a trailer load of animals to the stock shows.
Linda, my wife of fifty three years, started teaching in Devine in 1976, and we taught together until I retired in 2003. At that point, she had moved into Central Office, but before then it was great being on the same campus, working on prom together with so many wonderful and talented teachers, teaching our kids and the kids of other teachers and our friends. In our heyday Bob Bendele was our Principal, and his love and passion for Devine was contagious to faculty and student alike.
We started taking fishing trips at the end of the year in 1982 as a way of encouraging FFA members to become more involved in more activities during the year. It worked! Nearly half the students in DHS were in the FFA. We set up a calendar of all the things we would be doing during the year, such as different contests, stock shows, District, Area, and State conventions, service opportunities, fund raising, attendance at meetings, etc., assigning each a point value. Then we would figure a minimum number of points that a student had to have to be eligible to go on the fishing trip. The response was phenomenal!
At first we had a three day fishing trip for the boys, and a day at Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels for the girls. That lasted a couple of years until the girls figured out that they were getting the short end of the stick and started yelling about women’s rights. By now, Travis Byrom had retired, and one of our own, Todd Herring, had replaced him as the third Ag teacher. Ronnie, Todd, and I put our heads together and told the girls that if they could get enough mothers to go with us – and I mean one for every four girls, that we would take them too. We would have a very strict set of rules of what and what would not be done, worn, and a schedule where everyone did their share in preparing the meals and cleaning up afterward. What a blast! We started taking a four day, three night fishing trip to Lake Buchanan, with dads, moms and more boats than we could use. We literally taught 100’s of kids to ski. A few actually fished. We even had parents that continued to go as sponsors after their kids were out of school. Never heard of anything like this before or since. The relationships developed through the years, and the trust that they engendered were the envy of schools all over the state.
One of the fun things for us teachers was to go to the Gov’t Surplus center in San Antonio. You never knew what was going to be there, but there was always something that we could use in our teaching or in the Ag Shop. In about 1990 they had a bunch of pontoon bridge floats – boat shaped, extremely deep sides, very heavy aluminum. The instant we saw them we thought-AG BOAT. We bought one for about $50.00 and hauled it back to school on our ag trailer that we had also built. For the next six months, students learned how to weld aluminum, fabricate parts for the console, build and strengthen the transom to hold an outboard motor. We also found an old Chrysler outboard motor, and that gave a bunch more students the opportunity to learn about two-cycle engines. When we got the whole thing finished, it would hold about twenty kids, and would draw only about two inches of water. It would not go fast enough to ski behind, but it was good for pulling tubes, and made a great fishing boat. But was it ugly.
When I first started in Devine, we would take to the State Convention only the FFA members who were to receive their Lone Star Farmer degree – the highest degree given by the state. Sometimes there would be one or two, but seldom more than four. We decided that if we were ever going to really motivate our younger students to excel in the FFA, especially in the area of leadership that they needed to experience as many State Conventions as possible. So we started hauling freshman (Greenhands) on up. Especially after we started the Fishing Trip, participation at the convention really took off. Each year it would be held at a different place, Corpus, then Houston, then Amarillo, then San Antonio, then Lubbock, then Dallas or Ft. Worth. It was normal for us to have thirty members, four mothers, and all the teachers on one big yellow school bus, heading out across Texas. To help make the trip more interesting, I started bringing a copy of “Why Stop Texas”, a book that has every historical marker in the state of Texas in it. Before we left Devine, I would assign each student a marker that we would be passing on the way, and they would have to come to the front of the bus and tell everyone about it. There was always a lot of groaning, but they enjoyed it. On more than one occasion the book would disappear only to make a miraculous reappearance after a certain person’s marker had passed. To this day, I have former students recall with fondness the history lessons on Texas that they learned on those trips. Every trip was started with a prayer, and we never had anything unfortunate happen.
After Todd Herring fell in love with Vanessa Runnels Parkey’s sister- in- law, he decided being married and moving up to north Texas was his future. So we began searching for a new, female, Ag teacher. We had so many wonderful young ladies in the FFA, Ronnie and I felt that we needed a female teacher that could help us reach the next level in developing them into what we knew they could be. I had come to know a wonderful young lady, Karen Harris, who was teaching up in Comfort. We were visiting at the FFA scholarship interviews in San Marcos when all of a sudden, it became clear to me that this is who God wanted for the first female Ag teacher in Devine. “You are a Christian, aren’t you?” I asked. “Yes” she answered, “and you are too.” After only a few minutes a bond developed that was second only to my bond with my wife. We called it our mutual admiration connection. With her on board, our program reached another level again as she was such a wonderful role model and encourager for so many of our girls. Her love and understanding of all things girl, spurred even the most timid to set and achieve goals they had only dreamed of. Those years with Ronnie and Karen and all the great kids and parents were probably the most satisfying of my career. Unfortunately for us, she became a stay-at-home mom, but she still stays in touch with many of her former students.
There are very few professions one can go into that afford the opportunity to affect so many lives for generations to come. To be able to get up each day, look into the mirror and say “Today someone will have a better life because of me.” What a gift. To say that I loved my students and being able to teach them and watch them develop into confident and competent young men and ladies would be an understatement. We did not make much money, but the rewards more than made up for the shortfall. The old saying that “if you love what you are doing, you will never have to work a day in your life” is very true. Life is too short to do something you do not love and cannot be passionate about.
I was very blessed to be able to teach my own boys, to watch them grow as young men, to watch them and their friends as they matured into the fine men they are today – and to know that I had a big part in making that happen, not only for my boys, but for hundreds of others.
One of the greatest pleasures was to be able to teach the children of my students, I called them my FFA grandchildren. One of the benefits of staying in one place for so many years is that you achieve generational trust. I cherished it then, and I do now even more. I work with the little boys in RAs at our church, and I taught some of their fathers and grandfathers. While I was still teaching I missed my third generation by only two years.
When we came to Devine, there were very few of our students who went to Texas A&M. It was not that they were not smart enough; there was just no one besides a parent or friend to help them see the possibility. In the late 70s, A&M started what they called “Career Day” where a prospective student could come up, visit the exhibits displayed by their chosen college, then attend an A&M football game to experience what Aggieland was all about. I started taking a small group of our FFA members so they could see firsthand what college was all about and to help them be comfortable with the idea of going to such a prestigious university. Each year we would have a few more, then we were joined by the “Computer Club’ with Sandy Miller. It got more and more popular until one year we had three busloads of kids. We would leave Devine about 4:00 a.m. and get there about 8:30. We would spend the day visiting different colleges, eating lunch at Duncan Dining Hall, eating with the Corps of Cadets, then being on the “quad” as the outfits “fell out” and formed up into formation to march into Kyle Field behind the Aggie band. I would lead our students to the front of the MSC building where the road was divided, and we could stand in the middle and have the band pass on both sides of us, playing all those great marching songs the Aggie Band is so known for. If your hair did not stand up you had to be a T-sip. Then it was into Kyle Field for the football game. We could get tickets in the end zone for five dollars. We would roll back into the parking lot about 2:00 am. Tired but happy.
It worked. We started seeing more and more of our students going to A&M, and now the next generation of those students are going there. Whole families of many who had never had anyone graduate from any college before. You can make a difference!
There are so many success stories of our students. Dreams fulfilled, hard work rewarded, lives changed for generations to come. We were blessed to have many great leadership teams – and to watch as they became leaders in their own chosen occupations using the skills developed in our classes. Many state and National Award winners bringing to fruition years of planning and working. Judging teams leading to scholarships leading to industry leaders and college teaching positions. We were blessed to have only the second female State FFA President, Tanessa Saathoff, who came into my class the first day as a freshman declaring that she wanted to be State FFA President. We set out a path, a plan for growth in all the areas she would need to be able to achieve that dream – and four years later – she did. And, by the way, she is now the head Ag Teacher in Boerne.
I have former students in the military, law enforcement, doctors, biomedical engineers, computer engineers, architects, welders, mechanics, business owners, mechanical engineers, insurance salesmen, feedlot owners, ranchers, farmers, coaches, mothers, ministers, musicians, lawyers – virtually every walk of life. I am proud of them all, and love to hear their success stories. But one of the things I am most proud of is the number of my students who followed me into the Ag Teaching field or the teaching field in general. At last count, there are well over twenty who have or are presently teaching Ag or other subjects. I am proud to know that I had the opportunity to guide their lives, and now my influence is being passed down to the next generation.
I have had many teachers ask me how I could stay in one school all those years. I always tell them. “It’s easy – treat every kid like he is your kid – and treat your kid like everyone else’s. Here in Devine we were very blessed to have many teachers who spent nearly their entire career here in Devine. They lived here, went to church here, rejoiced for the victories, cried for the tragedies, raised and taught their own children, and the children of all their friends. That is the beauty of small town Texas – I hope we don’t ever lose it.
One of the most poignant memories I have is of the FFA Convention in Amarillo. We had a wonderful young man named Clay Boyd – who was our FFA President. One of the evenings of the convention, we would take our members to see Palo Duro Canyon, let them hike a few hours and then go to see the musical “TEXAS” which is still performed there now. Clay and one of his friends ran all the way to the top of the highest peak in the canyon. Unfortunately, Clay was killed by a gun accident the night before our FFA Banquet at which he would have been leading. Five years later, we were back in Palo Duro Canyon – back on the same peak, where I had the opportunity to stand in the same spot Clay stood. This time holding and crying with his two younger sisters. I will never forget that. To say that there is a special bond that is formed between a passionate teacher and their students is an understatement.
When I retired it was common for people to say, “I bet you have seen a lot of changes in the kids in the last thirty years.” I always tell them, “No, teenagers have never wanted to be responsible for their own actions. And they still don’t. The difference is in the parents. When I started teaching, parents wanted all the help they could get to help their children learn to be responsible for their actions. Now it seems they do everything they can to keep them from being responsible.” They will learn; the question is at what cost, and how many ruined lives will be in the wake. God intended for us to be parents – not friends. If you will be a parent now, you can be friends the rest of your life.
As I surge on toward the end of what has been a most rewarding life – doing what God wants me to do – there are a few things I would like to pass on to anyone who will listen.
Without God – life is meaningless! Find out what God wants you to do – and do it!
Here is a truth that I have come to believe: Fear God – Serve Others – Accept Limits – Enjoy Life
It is not lost love that I regret, but rather the chance to love not taken.