ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: VACANT BUILDINGS AND VACANT PEOPLE, A YEAR LATER

By James M. Decker 

One year ago this week, I started this essay series. I was inspired by a national feature on local football hero James Washington, then an All-American at Oklahoma State, now a rookie second round NFL draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That national author wrote of Stamford’s vacant buildings but also its wonderful people. One year later, Stamford, Texas still has vacant buildings. Some buildings are recently vacant. Some previously vacant buildings are now occupied. We have other new construction happening. But the community’s greatest asset remains its people. If you read this essay back in November 2017, I hope you re-read it and enjoy it again. If this essay is new to you, I hope it inspires and encourages you.

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Recently, I read a wonderful and well-reported feature published at Bleacher Report on Stamford’s own national football star James Washington, and I was struck by several of the undertones. As a community leader and business owner, I cringed a bit reading of vacant buildings and closed businesses. But then, I took a step back and considered it some more.

This was not an author belittling a community or rural America at large. Nor was it, like some past stories, our own community members describing our town as “dying.” Rather, a reporter who had never been to Stamford, Texas wrote objectively about what he saw. What he saw included some vacant buildings and closed businesses, but he also saw something more. He saw something that captivated him—the people of Stamford.

He saw, as he wrote, “charm”…and a town that “celebrates its existence and its people.” He wrote of friends and family who look upon James Washington as a role model, but who are role models themselves—the good, honest, hard-working people who work hard, take care of their own business, and are the quiet cogs that make a community successful. He wrote of people who are proud of a favorite son, not merely because of fame and fortune, but because he’s worked hard and earned his way into accomplishing his extraordinary dreams. He wrote of schoolchildren who see James as proof that they can be anything that they want to be. This is something that we must work hard to instill in all children. Where you come from doesn’t limit the kind of person you can become or what you can accomplish. 

The author juxtaposing vacant buildings against wonderful people reminded me of a story from my own family in 1986, when my father had a career opportunity that would bring him to Stamford. He asked his father, my grandfather, what he thought about the town. My grandfather said that, in all his years as a deliveryman and route salesman in the area, even when times were lean for him, he was always treated decently when he came to Stamford. That’s something my family has confirmed in our experiences for the last 31 years here. This community’s greatest asset is its people. Seeing that quality observed and reported by national sports media is refreshing and exciting.

Vacant buildings can be changed. It’s a lot harder to change a culture of vacant people. When I read over the words in that article, I am energized to ensure that the buildings and economy of Stamford match its people.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.

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