In the same way that people who only focus on national elections miss out on the value and important role local elections have on their daily lives, so too are those who do not see the history where they live.
Each city – both small and great – has a rich history that has shaped and continues to shape those living in them today.
Commerce, and the rest of the cities in Hunt County, are no different. Local history is something I think worthy of consideration.
In the 1950’s, Live Oak Street in Commerce was considered a highway. The main road for travelers going to and from the train station, Live Oak bustled with cars zooming by. That meant commerce and profit, and a thriving downtown. But it also spelled potential danger for children who rode their bikes down the bustling highway.
The following story, written by Bettina Zvanut, Secretary and Local History Librarian for the Commerce Public Library, was one I had never heard about until Bettina mentioned it during last month’s library board meeting.
I grew up on Roy Rogers and John Wayne, Gunsmoke, the Rifleman, and Bonanza. So when Bettina mentioned that Roy Rogers had made his way to Commerce to present a national safety award, I knew I had to put it in the column.
Here is the story of how Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale, came to Commerce, Texas, and presented the children of W.J. Wheeler Elementary School with a bronze statue of Roy’s trusty horse, Trigger:
The Roy Rogers National Safety Award
The children of W. J. Wheeler Elementary School began working on issues of traffic, bicycle, home, and sports safety in 1953. Their principal, Mrs. Faye Rabb, began inviting policeman, fireman, and inspectors to address the school body; then she initiated poster contests, a bicycle rodeo, safety patrols, and lessons over a three-year period. She entered them in the Roy Rogers National Safety Contest for which they earned an honorable mention. In 1954, they were best in the state and received a statuette of Trigger, Roy’s horse.
By 1955, they won first place in the contest while Mrs. Rabb was in Chicago for the 43rd National Safety Congress. Roy Rogers, famous for his popular songs and movies, announced the award at the Congress and then announced that he and his wife, Dale, would travel to Commerce, Texas to deliver the award. The school would receive a bronze sculpture of his horse, Trigger, and a 3-D View-Master projector for the auditorium.
On February 16, 1956, Roy and Dale visited W.J. Wheeler. They sang the “Yellow Rose of Texas” which Dale played on the piano. Mr. Rogers said that, “If this safety program saves one life, it will have been worth the effort.”
At that time, W.J. Wheeler was on a busy highway (now named Live Oak Street) through Commerce, and safety for the children walking and riding to school was of paramount importance to the community.
Mr. Martey Massey remembers being bused to the program from A. L. Day Elementary. He was excited to see this pair because he had seen them on Television in “The Roy Rogers Show”. Now when he looks back, he realizes that the show was a little goofy since Roy, Dale, and the bandits all rode horses. Yet Roy’s sidekick Pat Brady drove a jeep! He and his friends called Roy “The King of the Cowboys.” Martey also remembers drawing and painting the statue of Trigger in his art class when he later attended W.J. Wheeler.
W.J. Wheeler did not quit emphasizing safety. They won second place in the Roy Rogers contest the next year, and they won first place in the Carol Lane Safety Competition also.
Beginning June 7, the Commerce Public Library will have new hours, so please make plans to come by between 10-5 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; 10-6 on Tuesday and Thursday; and 10-2 every Saturday.
Also, be sure to stop on by today, Saturday, June 5, from 10-2 at the Commerce City Park to see our Storybook walk and get in touch with the library and all the other great organizations in Commerce.
Joseph Hamrick is a semi-professional writer and sometimes thinker. He lives in Commerce and serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org