Saving for retirement is a great start. These strategies could help you save even more.
Regardless of your age or financial know-how, planning for retirement is a necessary venture. There are many things to consider, such as estimating how much money you will need during retirement; planning for changes in lifestyle, health and retirement; planning for changes in lifestyle and health; inflation; and other factors that may exist years beyond the present day.
Because of this, many Americans are unsure of the best ways to save, or they’re hesitant to retire even if they do have a nest egg. But with proper research and planning, it is possible to beef up your savings, so you have more to work with in your golden years. Here are a few retirement-related issues to consider:
Do you still have student debt?
The perception of the demographic affected by student loan debt is out of date: Significant college debt is no longer an issue only for young and middle-aged Americans. In fact, people 60 and older are racking up billions in student loan debt, and that number is expected to grow as young Americans carry their debt further into their futures. With that in mind, folks should try to understand the best ways to approach student debt at any age if they want to optimize their retirement savings.
Many loan servicers automatically enter borrowers into a repayment plan in which costs start low and increase gradually, in anticipation of a recent graduate starting with a lower salary and slowly increasing their income. This makes sense for younger borrowers; however, for borrowers close to retirement age, it may work better to find an alternate route that’s a better fit for their predicted future income and needs.
Can you downsize now to reduce stress later?
Downsizing works at any age to start beefing up retirement savings. Younger people may want to adhere to the following rules of thumb: Try to spend money on the things that matter most to you, and practice frugality on things that don’t enrich your life or support future growth. When making a purchase, ask yourself, “Is this a need or a want?” Consider things in the want category carefully and decide if the money is better spent or saved.
What’s your retirement destination?
Not all places are created equal when it comes to retiring. Retirees face choices such as location of family members, optimal weather, housing costs and availability of health services. In addition to those personal choices, some states have more-enticing tax codes than others for retirees.
States like Texas, for instance, don’t have a personal income tax, so those particular states won’t be taking a big bite out of the income from your 401(k), IRA, pension or Social Security benefits.
Are your accounts in order?
Many companies offer 401(k) accounts, which allow you to invest money pre-tax. That means you may not have to pay taxes* on that money until you withdraw it in retirement. Some employers will sweeten the deal by matching your contributions up to a certain percentage.
You can also choose to open an IRA. This option could be especially appealing to younger people because of the penalty-free withdrawal option for first-time homebuyers. Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs may also have tax benefits for retirees.*
It’s never too soon or too late to think about beefing up your retirement savings. Call 325-674-1885 or visit First Bank Texas to start planning your financial goals.
First Bank Texas Member FDIC Equal Lending Provider
*First Baird Bancshares and its subsidiaries, including First Bank Texas, do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. The information here is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisers before engaging in any transaction.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA Today Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
Don’t expect to run into Nicole Fletcher on Friday during the sales tax holiday weekend sales.
For one thing, she already has done the back-to-school shopping for her four kids.
Perhaps more significantly, she usually avoids the crowds looking to save the 8.25 percent sale tax.
“We’ve already done our shopping, but that usually isn’t the norm,” she said. “We usually don’t shop (during the sales tax holiday weekend) because of the crowds. It’s like my husband says: it’s just eight percent off. If you walked past a sale that was 10 percent off, you wouldn’t be impressed.”
However, plenty of other people will be out starting Friday, whether it’s to save the money or if it’s because the start of school is getting perilously closer.
Savings are available Friday-Monday throughout the state. Many stores also offer discounted prices, adding to shoppers' savings.
“It’s huge,” said Michelle Parker, Mall of Abilene marketing director. “It’s not as big as Black Friday (the Friday following Thanksgiving) or Christmas Eve, but it’s big.”
How much is saved not known
The sales tax holiday weekend is one of the three designated by the state.
In April, people can save the sales tax on certain emergency-preparedness items and Memorial Day weekend, Texans pay no sales tax on water-efficient products and Texas EnergyStar-designated products. But those two weekends pale in comparison to the weekend in which people can save on items for back-to-school shopping.
For years, the state said the event was not to save parents of schoolchildren money, but the timing certainly helps with efforts. Over the years, more school-related items qualified for savings.
The state comptroller’s office estimates that Texans pocket about $102 million in savings.
Though the holiday has been around since 1999, most of the information you get about it is anecdotal.
The comptroller’s office doesn’t break down the savings by cities or region, and Mike Rains, the finance director for the city of Abilene, said he doesn’t know how much money stays in people’s pockets rather than go into the city’s coffers.
“The money we don’t get is the unknown,” he said. “I guess we could break it down store by store, but we haven’t done that. We know what we usually get in August and we budget for that. We’re just grateful to get it.”
Some items will sell quickly
Sarah Moore, manager of the Shoe Department store at the mall, said the weekend is the biggest of the year for her store, surpassing even Black Friday. The days leading up to the weekend are big for her store as well as the Salvation Army will bring children there for school shoes.
If you’ve been window-shopping a pair of shoes at the store, you might want to grab them early.
“We get more stock from corporate for this weekend, but, yeah, you might want to go ahead and make sure you get them,” she said.
Walmart, which one would assume would do a big back-to-school business, said it didn’t calculate the impact of the sales tax holiday on its individual stores.
Make sure your purchase qualifies
The sales tax exemption applies to certain items priced under $100. It might not apply to everything on a child’s school supply list. For instance, notebook paper wouldn’t be taxed, but hand sanitizer and a box of tissue would be. If you buy school supplies already bundled, only the approved items would be untaxed.
When it comes to clothing, the same $100 limit applies and certain items aren’t exempted. For instance, a golf cap wouldn’t be taxed, but a pair of golf shoes (if dad is trying to sneak in a pair) would be taxed.
Using Moore’s store as an example, the shoes and socks would be exempt from the sales tax, but not bags and wallets or shoe polish.
The state’s comptroller’s website, www.comptroller.texas.gov, has a list of items that are exempt and those that aren’t.
A store cannot advertise that it will pay the sales tax for non-exempted items, but it could include the sales tax on the price of an advertised item.
What is tax free?
School/office supplies: Eligible items include backpacks (limit 10 per purchase), book bags, calculators, chalk, crayons, erasers, folders, glue, highlighters, index cards, legal pads, lunch boxes, markers, notebooks, paper, pencils, pens, protractors, rulers, school supply kits, scissors, writing tablets.
Abilene ISD teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians are in for a large pay increase, no matter their experience level.
School district trustees approved, in a 4-3 vote Monday evening, to give at least 6% increases to every teacher this coming school year.
It was a plan proposed by Trustee Samuel Garcia that won barely enough support to become the adopted salary schedule, thanks to board President Randy Piersall giving his approval despite vocally advocating for a different plan.
"In the end, I wanted teachers to get as big of a raise as possible," Piersall said after the vote. "The issue I had was with beginning teachers making close to what experienced teachers make. And after conversations, I realized that's not a problem that's going to be fixed overnight."
Piersall and Garcia were joined in their support by trustees Angie Wiley and Billy Enriquez. Trustees Danny Wheat, Daryl Zeller and Cindy Earles voted against the plan, though they openly supported the other alternative that promised one percent lower increases to teachers with 10 years of experience or less.
The difference between the two plans was less than $230,000 in a spending plan of almost $140 million.
Under the approved plan, new teachers starting with zero years of experience, will earn $47,000. This past school year, that starting salary was $45,000.
Calculating everyone else's increase will be easier, thanks to the district eliminating a confusing midpoint pay raise plan started two years ago.
Teachers with five or less years of experience will receive a 6% bump in pay. Those with six through 15 years of experience will get a 7% bump. The largest pay raise, 8%, is reserved for teachers with 16 or more years of experience.
So, a teacher who just finished their first year in May will collect $47,700 next school year, $2,700 more than last school year. Likewise, a teacher with 10 years of experience will receive $51,360 ($3,360 more than last school year) and those with 25 years experience will be paid $60,588 ($4,488 more than last school year).
There is some concern among trustees, and among state lawmakers, that the funding formula in the house bill might not be feasible long-term.
Wheat said he was happy to hear those on the board discuss the viability of the current system and be aware that it might not be the same situation for teachers in two years when the next legislative session reevaluates school funding.
While Wheat voted against the eventually adopted plan, he said both of the options were great.
As for those on contracts other than teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses, trustees approved separate raises for them which include midpoint calculations.
These raises are part of the state's plan for House Bill 3, which provided Abilene ISD with about $13 million in additional state revenue.
In that law, lawmakers demanded district use 30% of the extra money to give raises to every employee aside from administrators. Of that 30%, 75% must be given to teachers and those with similar contracts.
In Abilene ISD, teachers, librarians and nurses share a contract. Counselors were also given the same raises approved by the board.
Under the rules of House Bill 3, AISD needed to provide about $4 million in new money. The approved plan includes more than $6 million in raises.
With the employee compensation plan out of the way, trustees will next meet during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26 to approve the district's tax rate, revenue budget and spending plan.
The district's finances are almost ironed out, with estimated $141.6 million in revenues and $139.1 million in expenses expected to be decided by trustees.
The tax levy, affected by the district's recent approval of a $138.7 million bond and the state's reduction of the maintenance and operations tax from $1.04 per $100 valuation to 97 cents per $100 valuation, will be finalized before the meeting.
Marine Corps SSgt. Charles Valentine of the 1st. EOD Company from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, crawls through a bus window during a to reach a hostage during a training exercise Thursday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Civilians and military mixed it up last week at Dyess Air Force Base, but in the best way possible.
About 40 U.S. Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and officers from Abilene, Austin and Midland police department bomb squads trained Thursday and Friday in a variety of explosive ordinance disposal scenarios.
Some involved a situation where a hostage had been left to hold a device on a bus. EOD personnel had to crawl inside through the windows because the doorways were rigged with devices, in this case, sirens.
George Ewing of the Austin Police Department works on a simulated bomb on Dyess Air Force Base. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
SSgt. Alex Geml, 7th CES Explosive Ordinance Disposal flight at Dyess Air Force Base diffuses a simulated explosive device inside a car Thursday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Others learned to drive the base's bomb disposal robot, taking it up stairs, picking up object and finding objects using only the onboard cameras.
The Abilene City Council adopted a first version of its Fiscal Year 2020 budget Monday morning, examining a need for increased salaries for employees, including fire and police, and a planned hike in water rates for residential, commercial and industrial users, among other items.
"Senate Bill 2 has created a dynamic that we are going to be more aggressive this year than we would be otherwise," said Mayor Anthony Williams, citing recent legislation that will put harsh caps on future property tax increases.
The council went forward Monday, again in first reading, with a proposed tax rate of 79.68 cents per $100 of property value, a 2.46-cent increase over the previous year's rate.
For every $100,000 of property value, that would increase the tax burden $4.17 per month, or about $50 a year.
But anticipated gains in property value assessments may ultimately lower that number by almost a penny to 78.77 cents per $100, a decision the council will make later based on more accurate figures.
If needed, the council can reexamine the rate at its Thursday night regular meeting, or in future sessions.
"Today is not setting anything in stone," Councilman Kyle McAlister said.
There is time for both the community and the council to have further say, William said, describing the proposed budget as a "living organism," with the "opportunity to make needed modifications" still in place.
Some good news?
After Monday's meeting, City Manager Robert Hanna said the possible reduction in tax rate was "good news."
Even at the lower level, the rate would be sufficient to "fund fire and police at their needed levels," he said.
"It'll also fund necessary salary increases for our city employees that need the adjustments, especially our lower wage-earners," he said.
The reduced rate doesn't exactly equate to lower taxes, since it assumes higher property values to be plugged into the equation.
The city started estimating a bump of 3 percent in assessed property values.
The final rate likely will be closer to 5 percent, Hanna said.
The likely lower number is good, he said, in light of the restrictions Senate Bill 2 will impose on Texas cities and counties in an effort to reduce property taxes.
The bill, which goes into effect in January, requires municipalities and counties to receive voter approval before raising property taxes more than 3.5 percent.
Even with that looming, the goal was never to "grab all we can grab" under the current, far more generous 8 percent cap, Hanna said.
"It's an exercise in making sure we adequately fund city services in the light of Senate Bill 2," he said. "... If values are higher than we thought it would be, it would be wrong for me to recommend keeping the rate the same."
The council also heard about adoption of a five-year plan to adjust water utility rates.
Residential users can expect an annual adjustment of 5 cents per "unit" of 1,000 gallons to all tiers of consumption rate, with an annual adjustment of sewer base charges of 50 cents per account and an annual adjustment to sewer consumption rates of 15 cents per 1,000 gallons.
A residential customer paying, currently paying $53 for 5,000 gallons, would by year five pay $60.50, for example.
Personnel key to current budget
The council started with a proposed budget of $106.5 million in expenditures in its general fund, with a planned $106.6 million in anticipated revenue.
The city’s general fund is the principal fund of the city and is used to account for core government services, such as police, fire, streets, library services, parks and recreation, code compliance and building inspections.
Personnel costs make up about three-quarters of the general fund, and if there is a theme to the 2020 budget,Williams said, "it's personnel."
"Providing increases for police and fire, that is leading the conversation," he said.
Pay concerns for all employees also are major part of the budget, with some employees currently on the city's lowest pay scale not able to earn a livable wage.
Those costs need to be dealt with now, Hanna recently said, noting it will not be possible to adequately fund public safety obligations and non-civil service pay adjustments under Senate Bill 2's limits unless property taxes are increased in 2020.
Afternoon talks examined changes to the city's schedule of fees, the need for certain new personnel among 22 proposed and the potential fate of a glass recycling program.
Councilwoman Donna Albus, long a champion of local recycling, took a stand on the latter, stating that she had contacted at least one local plumbing company that said it would buy crushed glass instead of gravel, if available.
"I just think we've got to do our part, and this is something we can do," she said.
Keeping the program would require purchase of a new glass crusher, Hanna said.
The city's original glass crusher was purchased through a Council of Governments grant.
The cost of the crusher, around $100,000, and the attendant manpower required made continuing the program prohibitive, said Greg McAffrey, the city's director of public works.
Williams said he could see supporting such a program if it essentially made enough to offset its costs.
"This is one of those areas where staff at least feels the money we currently spend on that service could be better spent somewhere else," Hanna said.
However, "if there is a market out there, we could determine that," he said.
The elimination of recycable plastics met with no opposition.
The next phase for the budget process will be a public hearing and adoption of the 2019 revised budget at the council's Aug. 8 meeting.
Public hearings on the tax rate will be Aug. 22 and at a special meeting Sept. 5.
The final adoption of the 2020 budget, tax rate, and fee schedule, accompanied by public hearings, will be at the Sept. 12 regular council meeting.
When it comes to marking special moments like the historic landing, Texas goes big.
In tribute to NASA and the 50th anniversary of the appollo 11 mission, here are five ways the milestone and the space program has been honored in the Lone Star State:
As you can imagine Houston has no shortage of tributes to the moon landing and NASA given its contributions and rightly so. H-town is home to Johnson Space Center, which opened in 1961, and the Space Center Museum.
But who doesn't remember the Astrodome, once touted as the "eighth wonder of the world"? When the stadium opened on April 9, 1965 - four years before Neil Armstrong would become the first person to walk on the moon - it was a big deal.
It was home to professional baseball, professional football, one of the world's largest rodeos and many concerts featuring the likes of Elvis Presley, Tina Turner and B.B. King.
And cue Astros fever!
The debut of the Astrodome led to the local baseball team - then the Colt .45s - to be re-christened with a new and lasting moniker: the Houston Astros. Go 'Stros!
The Major League Baseball Team played in the Astrodome until 2000 until moving to downtown Houston to play in Minute Maid Park.
The professional basketball team got its start in San Diego in 1967 but found its permanent home in Houston in 1971 — fitting considering it's home for NASA.
The team won back-to-back NBA championships in the 1990s.
AstroWorld amusement park
Kids rejoiced on June 1, 1968, with the opening of Astroworld in Houston.
Its proximity to the Astrodome — it was across the highway — and out-of-this-world rides, including the famous Texas Cyclone rollercoaster, made it a staple attraction for Houstonians and beyond. But in 1975 it was bought by Six Flags Entertainment and ultimately closed in 2005. It's now a parking lot for Reliant Park. #RIPAstroWorld
Streets named after astronauts
Besides Houston, El Paso is another Texas city that takes its love for NASA and its many astronauts to the next level.
There are more than two dozen streets named in various zip codes that pay tribute to astronauts like John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth.
Several streets are named for the astronauts killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. There's also Space Shuttle Lane, a nod to not only the Challenger but also Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, Columbia and Enterprise.
Workmen bring in stone blocks as construction at Dyess Memorial Park continues Tuesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
On artist renderings, the most poignant element of the semi-circular, stone installation at Dyess Memorial Park is not visible.
Providing an ethereal quality will be the interplay of sunlight and shadow on the Lueders limestone stone arc colonnade, monuments and plaques with the names of Dyess Air Force Base airmen and other personnel killed during flight and nonflight incidents.
The memorial is an expansion at the Dyess Memorial Park, which consisted of a flagpole and covered area, under which bricks honoring those who served in the military were placed. A small museum also is located at the site.
The new memorial will recognize 79 airmen and other personnel since Dyess opened in 1956.
At the expansion, stones and memorial plaques may seem randomly placed. However, they are configured so that at the time the fatal event occurred, sunlight will be focused through slits in the colonnade onto the respective memorial, said Gray Bridwell, Abilene Chamber of Commerce vice president for military affairs.
The daylight incidents will be inside the semi-circle, and the night-time ones on the outside near a walking path. Numerous limestone benches provide seating for visitors to fully experience the space.
“I know some of the concepts we’re trying to pull off on this deal may be hard to grasp just by lecturing about it. So, we’re hopeful that with the ribbon cutting that we’ll actually get a hands-on preview of what we’re trying to accomplish on the site,” said Mitch Wright, landscape architect who designed the expansion.
Workmen align stone blocks Tuesday at Dyess Memorial Park. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
At that expansion dedication at 10 a.m. Friday, visitors can see the light-and-stone symbiotic dance. As of Tuesday, about 125 family members had indicated their plans to attend the event.
The park is at Arnold Boulevard and Military Drive, just outside the Dyess security fence near the main gate. It will be open for public viewing.
“It’s really not about a visual object or a visual design to be looked at. It’s something for people to move around in and for people to have something more experiential,” Wright said. "I hope it brings a certain level of emotion."
Those in attendance will include the four sons of Staff Sgt. William C. Burdette, originally from Talladega, Alabama. He was one of four airmen killed July 17, 1957, when their B-47 crashed during takeoff from the base. It was the new base's first fatal crash.
Abilene Air Force Base opened April 15, 1956. Its name later would be changed to Dyess AFB, in honor of Shackelford County native and World War II hero Lt. Col. William E. Dyess. He died in December 1943 in a plane crash near Burbank, California.
“Coming to the memorial will help because we were so young, and maybe this will help make us feel closer to our father,” said David Burdette of Alabama.
At the time of the crash, David was 3. His siblings, and their ages then, are Larry, 4½, Johnny, 2, and Ronnie, 6 months. After that fateful day, the family returned to Alabama, and Larry later served in the military, David said.
Staff Sgt. William Burdette was the crew chief on Dyess Air Force Base B-47 that crashed just after takeoff July 17, 1957. The four airmen who died were the new base's first casualties. (photo: reporter-news files)
“My father joined the service as soon as he was allowed to. He and my mother married at a young age,” David said. “I know from talking with my aunts and uncles that he was a good man.”
The memorial is important for not just the families but for the country as well, David said.
“It is important to come to the memorial to let people know not only did the families lose a lot, but also so does the country anytime a service person gives their all,” he said.
Talk of the expansion percolated during discussion on how to honor the crew members who died in a fatal crash of a Dyess-based C-130J in Afghanistan in the fall of 2015.
Civic and military leaders realized that memorials for previous airmen killed while in service were scattered at the base and in the city.
“I love the fact that it’s outside the fence but still part of the Dyess campus. That way, the public can engage in it at their leisure as well as the Dyess community.”
The expansion enables all to be honored and respected in one place that will be convenient for even non-military personnel to visit.
“I love the fact that it’s outside the fence but still part of the Dyess campus. That way, the public can engage in it at their leisure as well as the Dyess community,” Wright said.
Based on comments from Dyess officials, the space also may be used for special occasions, such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, graduations and promotions, Wright said.
Inspiration from above
Wright grew up in Abilene and lives in Austin. He is the son of Abilene entrepreneur, author and photographer Bill Wright and the grandson of the late civic leader William P. “Dub” Wright. The latter was among Abilene’s movers and shakers who brought Camp Barkeley south of Abilene during World War II and facilitated the creation of Dyess.
“Dub Wright had his way of celebrating the Air Force, and I have my own different spin on it just through my talents, and I’m glad to be able to carry on that tradition,” Wright said.
Since graduating from Texas A&M University in 1986 and entering the profession, Wright has worked on a variety of projects as a landscape architect, master planner, site planner and certified city planner.
William P. "Dub" Wright honors the flag at the April 1976 dedication of the Wright Drop Zone at Dyess Air Force Base. His grandson, Mitch, designed the new Dyess Memorial Park, which opens Friday. (Photo: Reporter-News file photo)
Previous Abilene projects include designing the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Sculpture Park at the Abilene Convention Center and crafting the master plan for Kirby Lake Park, including the children’s nature play area.
“We’ve got the dinosaur discovery sand pit that will be installed this fall or winter,” he said.
The Dyess expansion, however, is Wright’s first memorial. Because of pilots' affinity for the sky, he found inspiration from above.
“So, looking up in the sky became something about sunlight. Obviously, sunlight is an interesting tool to play with as a designer,” Wright said.
The expansion is being built in phases. The first part being unveiled this week was made possible by private donations of more than $600,000, secured by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.
In the coming months, there will be more site work. And, there are other ideas to further enhance the Dyess Memorial Park in the future, which will take additional funding, Bridwell said.
“I hope that they will continue to add on to the space as the original master plan showed. But, that will take lots more fund-raising and time, and it was a big project in its initial concept,” Wright said.
Lt. Col. Mitchell Spillers, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, bows his head during a moment of silence during a fallen comrade memorial ceremony held in honor of six Airmen Oct. 3, 2015, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo: Photo courtesy of the Air Force)
If You Go
What: Dedication of the Dyess Memorial Park expansion
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Where: Near the intersection of Arnold Boulevard and Military Drive, just outside Dyess Air Force Base
"Ben-Hur" (1959) (Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
SATURDAY, JULY 13
Free movies at the library
"How To Train Your Dragon 3," rated PG, will be presented at 11 a.m. at the South Branch of the Abilene Public Library, in the Mall of Abilene. "Gravity," rated PG-13, will follow at 2 p.m.
"WALL-E," rated G, will be presented at 2:30 p.m. at the Mockingbird Branch of the Abilene Public Library, 1326 N. Mockingbird Lane.
The After Hours Market will be open from 1-8 p.m. at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. Approximately 50 local vendors will be present, with live music and children's activities available.
As part of the Paramount Film Series, "Ben-Hur" will be shown at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St. Tickets are $7 for adults and $6 for students, seniors, military and children. For information, go to paramount-abilene.org.
Party on the Patio
Party on the Patio, featuring Jennifer B and The Groove, will be open from 6-9 p.m. at Kent’s Harley-Davidson, 3106 S. Clack St. Listeners are invited to bring chairs and coolers.
Central Texas Gem & Mineral Society of Abilene, 7 p.m., 7607 Highway 277 South. 325-692-0063.
Abilene Toastmaster’s Club 1071, 7 p.m., Conference Center, Texas State Technical College, 650 E. Highway 80. 325-692-7325 or abilene.toastmastersclubs.org.
Al-Anon, 7 p.m., First United Methodist Church, 1501 N. Broadway, Ballinger. 817-689-2810 or 325-977-1007.
Mid-City Al-Anon, 7 p.m., First Christian Church. 325-670-4304.
Memory Men (4-part a cappella singing), 7 p.m., First Baptist Church University Place, 302 Hickory St. 325-676-SING or www.memorymen.org.
Those Left To Cope, 7-8:30 p.m., First Baptist Church Ministry of Counseling and Enrichment, 1502 N. First St.
Abilene Community Band rehearsal, 7:30 p.m., Bynum Band Hall, McMurry University. 325-232-7383.
South Pioneer Al-Anon Group, 8 p.m., 3157 Russell Ave.
Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous, 8 p.m., Avoca United Methodist Church. 325-773-2611.
Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Group. 325-676-1400.
TUESDAY, JULY 16
Square dance workshop
TYE — The Wagon Wheel Squares will conduct a square dance workshop at 6:30 p.m. at the Wagon Wheel.
Mission on the Move Soup Kitchen, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Southwest Drive Community United Methodist Church, 3025 Southwest Drive.
Duplicate Bridge, 11:45 a.m., Mabel Lilius Bridge Center, 3001 S. Ninth St. 325-672-7990.
Abilene Southwest Rotary Club, noon, Beehive Restaurant, 442 Cedar St.
High Noon Al-Anon, noon, Southern Hills Church of Christ, 3666 Buffalo Gap Road (south end; follow the yellow signs).
Stroke/Aphasia Recovery Program support group, 1:30-2:30 p.m. West Texas Rehabilitation Center boardroom, 4601 Hartford St. 325-793-3535.
Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), 3:30 p.m., Brook Hollow Christian Church, 2310 S. Willis St. 325-232-7444.
Dystonia Support Group, 5:15-6:15 p.m., Not Without Us, 3301 N. First St. Suite 117.
Legacies Al-Anon Family Group, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Open Door Building, 3157 Russell Ave. 325-280-7584.
National Alliance on Mental Illness, 6 p.m., Grace Fellowship, 910 Cypress St.
Family (of Mental Health Consumers) Support Group, 6-7 p.m., Mental Health Association in Abilene, 333 Orange St. 325-673-2300.
MHAA Bipolar/Depression Peer Support Group, 6-8 p.m., Ministry of Counseling & Enrichment, 1502 N. First St. 325-673-2300.
Free certified nurturing parent class (pregnancy to toddler), 6-8 p.m., Mission Church, North Third and Mockingbird streets. 325-672-9398.
Abilene Star Chorus, 6:15 p.m., Wisteria Place Assisted Living Chapel, 3202 S. Willis St.
Overeaters Anonymous, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Exodus Metropolitan Community Church, 1933 S. 27th St.
Family Support Group for parents with special needs children, 6:30-7:30 p.m., West Texas Rehabilitation Center boardroom, 4601 Hartford St. 325-793-3500.
Alzheimer’s Association — North Central Texas Chapter, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Chisholm Place, 1450 E. N. 10th St. 325-672-2907.
Al-Anon Parents Group, 7 p.m., Hillcrest Church of Christ, 650 E. Ambler Ave. Use Church Street entrance.
Al-Anon, 7 p.m., Doug Meinzer Activity Center, Knox City. 940-658-3926.
Brigadier General John Sayles Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 366, 7 p.m., American Legion Building, 302 E.S. 11th St.
Abilene Society of Model Railroaders, 7-8:30 p.m., 598 Westwood Drive.
Unity Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, 8 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, 602 Meander St.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 17
Overeaters Anonymous, 8 a.m., Baker Heights Church of Christ, 5382 Texas Ave.
Abilene Cactus Lions Club, 11:45 a.m., Beehive Restaurant, 442 Cedar St.
Abilene Wednesday Rotary Club, noon, Abilene Country Club, 4039 S. Treadaway. $12 for lunch. Jo Ann Wilson, 325-677-6815.
Kiwanis Club of Abilene, noon, Abilene Country Club, 4039 S. Treadaway Blvd.
Clearly Speaking Toastmaster Club, noon, Hunter Welcome Center, Abilene Christian University.
Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Support Group, 2-3 p.m., Western Hills Healthcare Residence, Comanche.
Parkinson's Exercise Class, 3:15 p.m., Hendrick Health Club, 2110 Pine St.
Alzheimer’s disease support group, 5:15 p.m., Cedar Crest Care Center, 1901 W. Elliott, Breckenridge. Assists those who have a family member with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. 1-800-272-3900 or 254-559-3302.
Free swim class for people with multiple sclerosis, 5:30 p.m., YMCA, 3250 State St.
Veterans Peer Support Group, 6 p.m., 765 Orange St. 325-670-4818.
Mid-week Al-Anon Family Group, 6-7 p.m., Open Door Building, 3157 Russell Ave. 325-698-4995.
Al-Anon, 7 p.m., First United Methodist Church, 1501 N. Broadway, Ballinger. 817-689-2810 or 325-977-1007.
DivorceCare support group, 7 p.m., Hillcrest Church of Christ, 650 E. Ambler Ave. 325-691-4200.
Anton Yelchin is Chekov, Chris Pine is Kirk and John Cho is Sulu in a scene from the 2013 movie 'Star Trek Into Darkness.' (Photo: Zade Rosenthal, Paramount Pictures)
THURSDAY, JULY 18
Movie at the library
A free showing of "Star Trek Into Darkness" will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the Abilene Public Library, 202 Cedar St.
Chronic Pain and Depression Group, 11 a.m. to noon, Mental Health Association of Abilene, 333 Orange St., 325-673-2300.
Duplicate Bridge, 11:45 a.m., Mabel Lilius Bridge Center, 3001 S. Ninth St. 325-672-7990.
Kiwanis Club of Greater Abilene, noon, Beehive Restaurant second floor, 442 Cedar St. 325-692-5673.
Retired Military Wives Club bunco social meeting, 12:30 p.m., Rose Park Senior Activity Center, 2625 South Seventh St. 325-677-9656 or 325-793-1490.
Mental Illness Open Support Group, 1-2 p.m., Mental Health Association of Abilene, 333 Orange St. 325-673-2300.
Abilene 42 Club, 6 p.m., Rose Park Senior Center.
Teen Recovery Group, 6-7 p.m., Mission Abilene, 3001 N. Third St.
Free certified nurturing parent class (all ages), 6-8 p.m., Mission Church, North Third and Mockingbird streets. 325-672-9398.
Take Off Pounds Sensibly, 6:30 p.m. Our Savior Lutheran Church, 4933 S. Seventh St. Weigh-in begins at 5:30 p.m. 325-665-5052.
Free swim class for people with multiple sclerosis, 6:30 p.m., YMCA, 3250 State St.
Gambler’s Anonymous, 6:30 p.m., Unity Spiritual Living Center, 2842 Barrow St. 325-338-2575.
South Pioneer Al-Anon Group, 8 p.m., 3157 Russell Ave.
Unity Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, 8 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, 602 Meander St.
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (Photo: Sony Pictures)
FRIDAY, JULY 19
A genealogy lock-in will be conducted from 6-8 p.m. at the Abilene Public Library, 202 Cedar St. Members of the West Texas Genealogy Association will provide assistance. Admission is free.
Sci-Fi Film Fest
The two-day Sci-Fi Film Fest will begin with a showing of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" at 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St. Tickets are $7 for the movie, or $15 for a festival pass.
Parkinson's Exercise Class, 3:15 p.m., Hendrick Health Club, 2110 Pine St.
Abilene Chinese Corner, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Abilene Christian University library. email@example.com.
Mid-City Al-Anon, 7 p.m., First Christian Church. 325-670-4304.
Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the emotional ending of 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.' (Photo: CBS Television Studios)
SATURDAY, JULY 20
A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing will be conducted from 1-5 p.m. at the Discovery Center, 810 Butternut St. Carl Baugh will be the special guest. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
Sci-Fi Film Fest
The two-day Sci-Fi Film Fest will continue with a showing of "Flash Gordon" at 1:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St. "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" will follow at 4:30 p.m., with "Mad Max: Fury Road" at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for each movie, or $15 for a festival pass.
Movie at the library
A free showing of "Muppets in Space," rated G, will begin at 3 p.m. at the Abilene Public Library, 202 Cedar St.
'James and the Giant Peach the Musical'
Members of Mrs. Z's Performing Arts Studio will present a performance of "James and the Giant Peach the Musical" at 7 p.m. in the Williams Performing Arts Center at Abilene Christian University. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
TYE — The Wagon Wheel Squares will conduct a square dance at 7:30 p.m. at the Wagon Wheel.
Big Country Chapter American Association of Medical Transcriptionists meeting, 10 a.m., Arbec Room, first floor, Texas State Technical College, East Highway 80, Abilene. For medical transcriptionists or anyone interested in becoming one. 325-698-8898.
Abilene Society of Model Railroaders, 10 a.m. to noon, 598 Westwood Drive.
Gardeners from other parts of the country are often horrified at the growing conditions here in the Big Country. Our difficult soils produce shudders even from seasoned gardeners in other parts of Texas. Compost and mulch are the dynamic duo that address many of the issues that make our soils so unfriendly to plants. That makes them the closest things to superheroes that serve those of us who love plants.
Soil: A healthy soil has about 50 percent solid matter, 25 percent air space and 25 percent water, with organic matter making up 5 percent of the solid matter. It has rich color, a great earthy smell and a crumbly texture and is teeming with life.
Our soils, by contrast, range from heavy clay to the finest of sand. Texas heat burns organic matter up before it can be incorporated into the soil. This translates to less than half of 1 percent organic matter, the life blood of soil. Dirt may be hard and dense or run through your fingers.
Compost: Compost is simply decomposed organic matter. You can buy in bags or in bulk from stores. Look for a quality product that is dark, smells like great soil and does not look like the parent material. Or, make your own compost (I'll have a column soon). Till a 3-inch layer of compost into the soil.
What benefits can you expect? Those tiny particles of clay that make it so dense will loosen some with the addition of compost, allowing better movement of air and water in the soil. Add it to a sandy soil and the same product will help hold the sand together, increasing its water-and nutrient-holding capacity. The compost is full of microorganisms like fungi and bacteria that provide nutrition for growing plants. It reacts chemically with soil to help buffer the typically high pH of most of our soils (measure of alkalinity or acidity) that can bind up needed plant nutrients.
What if you have established plantings? Top-dressing with compost will still be beneficial. The process will just be slower.
Mulch: Mulch is used to cover the soil. It can be inorganic like rocks or organic. Wood chips are the most popular organic mulch, though not the only option. Both will help prevent erosion and inhibit weed growth.
Rocks might be a good choice in a very xeric bed with cacti and other heat-loving succulents. They will appreciate the protection provided from standing water and the heat-holding capacity of the rocks. You will feel the extra heat, too, so keep that in mind.
For most uses, an organic mulch is much preferred. A two- or three-inch layer of coarse wood chips will help maintain soil moisture that would otherwise be lost to evaporation and help moderate soil temperatures. As the mulch degrades, it acts as a very slow-release fertilizer, adding nutrients and yet more organic matter to the soil. Since the soil does not heat up as much, more beneficial organisms like the amazing earthworm remain active in the root-growing zone.
When mulching woody plants, don’t mound the mulch around the trunk or stems of the plant. That creates an unhealthy environment for the plants. Think doughnut, not volcano.
Search txmg.org for the “Take Care of Texas” guide to mulching and composting. If you have questions about this or any other gardening topic, please call the Big Country Master Gardener Association’s hotline at 325-672-6048, or email us at Bcmg@txmg.org.
La Fiesta de Verano, featuring Grammy-nominated group La Maquinaria Norteña, will open at 7 p.m. July 12 at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. La Fiera de Ojinaga will be special guests.
Tickets are $20, and are available at stubwire.com.
If you’re a musician who has a gig, or you’re a venue owner who has a musician playing, send us your information. It’s FREE to be listed here, but we can’t tell everyone who’s playing if no one tells us.
Send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org; via fax to 325-670-5242; or via mail in care of the Reporter-News, 101 Cypress St., Abilene, TX 79601.
Deadline is one week before publication.
Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. 6th St. La Maquinaria Nortena and La Fiera de Ojinaga, 7 p.m. July 12, $20.
Abilene Zoo, 2070 Zoo Lane. Grady Spencer and the Work, 6-9 p.m. July 11, $20.
Firehouse Bar & Grill, 2074 Butternut St. Curtis Grimes, 9 p.m. July 13.
Mezamiz Deux Coffee House, 3909 S. 7th St. Stevie G, 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Mill Winery, 239 Locust St. Jess Goodlett, 7 p.m. Friday. Matt Ellis, 6 p.m. Thursday and July 18. Christy Patton, 7 p.m. July 13.
La Nueva Luna, 1082 S. Second St. Randall King, 9:30 p.m. July 13.
Play Faire Park, 2300 N. 2nd St. 2 Old Guys on Guitars, 7:45 p.m. Friday. Indie Rock Road Show, 7:45 p.m. July 12. Jackson Hatch & the East Lake Band, 8 p.m. July 13.
VFW 6873, 1049 Veterans Drive. Kelby Hodges, 7 p.m. Wednesday. Last Dance Band, 7 p.m. July 17.
OUT OF TOWN
Denton Valley's Backyard, 11949 FM 604. Texas Touch, 6:30 p.m. Friday, $5. Anaka Grace, 6:30 p.m. July 12.
The Lumberyard, No. 7 Cypress. Joe Nichols, 9 p.m. July 13.
Abilene City Hall, Public Health District, Convention Center Offices, Development Corporation of Abilene, Airport Administrarion Office, Recreation & Senior Services, Animal Shelter, Police & Fire Administration Office, Environment Recycling Center, Brush Center and Citizens Convenience Center.
Solid Waste Services Offices (residential and commercial trash pick-up will run on regular schedule)
Abilene Municipal Court (citations due next business day with no penalty)
CityLink Transit (dialysis patient transport only on Friday)
Main and Mockingbird branches of the Abilene Public Library
Abilene Zoo until 3 p.m.
12th Armored Division Memorial Museum, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Frontier Texas! until 4 p.m.
South Branch of the Abilene Public Library, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Water Service Center, 701 E. Highway 80, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
EASTLAND — Eastland ISD Superintendent Jason Cochran had absolutely no idea singing a song on video was one of his skills.
Now, he and three other school district administrators can add the talent to their résumés.
Cochran and the others helped the district unveil the "Buy No More" program, an initiative to eliminate school supply purchases for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade and, more importantly, their parents.
He said his wife came up with an idea to make a parody video, and they chose Billy Ray Cyrus's "Old Town Road."
"We were completely out of our comfort zone," Cochran said. "We were trying to think of a creative way to get our message across. Our high school band director, Stephen Cox, is a whiz at editing and taught us all to sing, and we hit the ground running."
Cochran starts the video off behind his desk with aviator sunglasses on, exclaiming "You know what? It's a great day to be a Maverick," while a guitar strums the opening notes to the Cyrus tune.
As the song kicks in and he starts singing, he throws pens over his shoulder before the image switches over to Eastland Middle School Principal Jason Henry, who is rapping about pencils, glue sticks and more as he walks down the stairs at his school.
While the video is catchy, it also serves a purpose: To let parents in Eastland know they won't need to purchase school supplies if their child is in one of the lower grade levels.
And, Cochran said, the mission of the program is to be sustainable. So parents won't ever again need to do it. It's not just this one upcoming school year.
Jason Henry, principal at Eastland Middle School, performs in the "Buy No More" video announcing that the district will provide school supplies for grades prekindergarten through eighth.
In February, he said, administration approached teachers about their school supplies. They asked questions like, "What do you wish you had on your list at the start of the year?" and "What supplies do you end up buying out of your own pocket?"
Cochran said the school board managed its finances well and was able to fully purchase all of the supplies each teacher stated they needed, plus a few extra in case there are developments. Tissues? Check. Colored pencils? Check.
Everything needed for a successful day at school? Check.
"We bid it out to several vendors, and working with Eastland Office Supply, we were able to make this reality," Cochran said. "We'll be able to start Day 1 with every kid having all their stuff and teachers not having to lose a day. So, while this is great for parents, it also could mean we gain a day or two in the classroom" instead of dealing with students not having the necessary supplies at the get-go.
It doesn't cover everything students need to start the year, such as backpacks.
But there are other ways for parents to secure these items at reduced or no expense before the start of the year, Cochran said.
Corn stalks are silhouetted by the evening sky as a firework explodes overhead Saturday during Boombah. The fireworks show was the 25th year the Smith family said they have held it, charging no admission and using fireworks available for purchase at their stand.
It's a clever idea.
Hold a free fireworks show with the product you sell. Invite a few food trucks, set up some games and, suddenly, it's a party.
Doug Smith addresses the crowd gathered on his property before Saturday's Boombah fireworks display. Up to 1,700 people were estimated by the family to have shown up for the show, thanks to advertising on social media.
Boombah has been organized by the Smith family for 25 years, but it's only been in the past five or so that it's started getting bigger. The family showcases their products, which went on sale this week, by lighting them for those coming out to watch.
Men check the fireworks before Saturday's Boombah show at the Smith family property.
And come out they did.
About 1,700 had responded to the Facebook event page set up for the show. At least that many brought their beach chairs to Summerhill Rd., some setting up on the Smith property while others stayed with their cars on the road.
The result was the intimate sort of display that you'd find at neighbor's house or family reunion.
A tractor is lit by exploding fireworks during Saturday's Boombah show off Summerhill Road north of Abilene
Ballinger City Park will host the 2nd Annual Hotter then Hell Cookoff & Party in the Park on Saturday, June 29, 2019.
The small town of Ballinger is planning a big event next weekend.
The 2nd Annual Hotter then Hell Cookoff & Party in the Park is scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at Ballinger City Park.
Among the activities being offered are:
• a washer tournament at 5:30 p.m.
• a sand volleyball tournament at 10 a.m
• free swimming at the city pool from noon-6 p.m.
• live music by West Texas Funk from 7-10 p.m.
• a fireworks show at Ballinger Lake at 9:30 p.m.
• a silent auction featuring over 40 items
In addition, there will be a cornhole tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Kayak rentals were originally planned but have since been cancelled.
The cookoff Saturday will feature seven categories -- brisket, ribs, chicken, beans, hot sauce, margaritas and an open category.
This event is also an opportunity for Ballinger to showcase two new features in its city park -- a sand volleyball court and washer pits. A 9-hole disc golf course is expected to be installed in the park later this summer.
Elaine Paske, a member of Ballinger's park board, said this event will help fund future park projects.
"We built the Imagination Station playground in the city park in March 2013 ... but the park board is not just over the city park," Paske said. "We're responsible for the lake park, the plaza downtown by the courthouse and the little park behind (the Toliver Brothers car dealership).
"So our fundraising now is to expand some things to the other parks. Now that the lake is full again, we want something out there for the kids. First and foremost, I think we have to get some shade."
This event began years ago as a birthday celebration for Ballinger, Paske said, but when the Chamber of Commerce made the decision to discontinue it last year, the park board took it over.
"Last year, we had about 30 days notice, so I was really pleased with the outcome with that much notice," Paske said. "This year, we've been working on it since the first of the year."
Ballinger will also hold its quarterly Sidewalk Showcase on Saturday, which will include vendors along the sidewalks downtown in addition to local businesses.
A farmer's market will be held downtown Saturday morning on 8th Street.
For more information on the cornhole tournament ($30 per team), washer tournament ($40 per team) and cookoff, contact Tony Flores at 325-977-0453.
For more information on the co-ed sand volleyball tournament ($10 per person), contact Deena Esser at 325-763-9150.
Do, eat and enjoy more vacation with these 5 saving tips
Save your vacation money even while you’re on vacation.
Congratulations, you’ve saved responsibly and booked your dream vacation. You’ve been stockpiling vacation days, squirreling away money in the bank and are now finally booked and ready to fly. After all this planning, you may have a finite budget to spend while you are on vacation.
Because budgeting in a foreign destination, or even just a different state, isn’t easy; tourist activities like transportation and dining can be expensive. Here But here are a few wallet-friendly suggestions during your trip:
Hop a train or bus
Taking taxis gets expensive. There can also be those awkward moments when can’t remember how tipping works in a foreign country.
Instead, use public transportation. In most cities, there’s tons of research you can do about local buses and trains ahead of time. Planning out schedules, routes and how payment is tendered, can help you find the perfect path. Also, public transportation can function as a sightseeing tour as well, so be sure to find a window seat!
For when hunger strikes in the middle of a vacation adventure, keep some snacks in your purse or backpack. Stock up before you leave for your day. Buying snacks along the way will most cost more. It’s especially good to avoid overpriced airport food.
Energy bars, nuts and dried fruit work great, especially if you have kids in tow.
Eat the path less travelled
Dining is one of the biggest expenses for vacationers. Cuisine is a wonderful part of experiencing a new place or culture. Street food and farmers markets can be a thrifty and charming break from the ordinary.
Bratwurst in Berlin, hotdogs in New York, vegan donuts in Portland and noodles in Bangkok. Stop at a food cart for something local. Another good way to dine on the cheap is to take advantage of free hotel breakfasts or bring some groceries back to your room. Try to choose lunch as your restaurant meal, as dinner is generally more expensive.
Bring a water bottle
You and your family will probably be out and about for most of the day. Staying hydrated is important so don’t forget to bring along your own water bottle. Buying water bottles at tourist destinations will almost always be a rip off.
If you are in a place where you are hesitant about the drinking water, get a self-filtering water bottle, or buy a few cheaper water bottles from a bigger store. Some countries charge money for water as a menu item!
Don’t “buy it when you get there”
Sometimes during the stress of packing, it is tempting to say you’ll buy needed items when you get there. Contact solution, sunscreen and shampoo add up.
It’s worthwhile to purchase regulation travel size bottles to put your liquid toiletries in. These can be found at any major drugstore. Careful packing is key. Pack light and plan for things like the weather and the activities you are planning. For instance, do you need hiking boots or formal wear?
Regardless of where you are in the world, it’s taken a lot of planning (and dreaming) to get there. With the help of a knowledgeable and friendly advisor, you can figure out your vacation before and on your vacation.
Jaryn Prather reaches the end zone for a touchdown during the Abilene High Champions Football Game on May 17. The game for special needs children has been sponsored by Abilene High School for over ten years and benefits Hendrick Children's Hospital and Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
Before school ended for the year, the Abilene High Eagles held their annual Champions football game for special needs children at Shotwell Stadium.
Preceding the spring football scrimmage, the game has been a tradition for more than 10 years.
Nineteen players joined the Eagles for a fun game of touch football. The high school players advised and cheered their teammates, watching them experience the glory of running for a touchdown as the crowd cheered them on.
Joshua Duran is tagged by Tim Davis during the Abilene High Champions Football Game. Abilene High Eagles advise and assist during the annual touch-football game for special needs kids
Cheyenne Lambert is cheered as she runs for the goal line in the Abilene High Champions Football Game.
Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, was the first aboard Mr. Tiger, which was installed Wednesday at Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden and unveiled to the public Thursday evening, upon creator Peter Brown's arrival for the Children's Art & Literacy Festival. June 5 2019
Mr. Tiger didn't exactly roar into Abilene like a thunderstorm, but he's here.
The adventurous character from the Peter Brown storybook "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild" took up residence with the likes of Stuart Little, three pigs, kittens and bears, and his neighbor, Marcel the moose, at Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden. The latest of dozens of sculptures strategically placed downtown was unveiled Thursday evening as this year's Children's Art & Literacy Festival began its three-day run.
Mr. Tiger's creator, Peter Brown, joined the fun, parading six blocks with other storybook characters to the garden to see his tiger for the first time.
The sculpture arrived Wednesday morning, ahead of the afternoon's storm. Tommy Ladd of Schaefer Art Bronze Casting, a foundry in Arlington, joked that he had considered gassing up at Exxon, which is famous for its tiger mascot.
While placing the sculpture in the garden, a worker or two had this tiger by the tail.
It was plain to see.
Mr. Tiger is now one of eight Storybook Garden residents at the southeast corner of the Abilene Convention Center. Viewing is open daily and at no charge.
The CALF begins at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with assorted activities planned throughout downtown. Author-illustrator Brown will sign copies of his award-winning books from 9 to 11 a.m. both days at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, where a retrospective exhibition of work is on display.
James Parker, 4 , was dressed as Mr. Tiger for the Children's Art & Literacy Festival costume contest on Thursday at the Elks Arts Center.
Parents and children stand and move around after posing for a group portrait during the NICU Reunion on Saturday. Cookies, cakes and games were on hand for "graduates" of the Hendrick Health System's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Babies, babies, babies.
That's what I saw Saturday at the Shelton Building at Hendrick Health System's NICU Reunion.
"Graduates" of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and their families came out for snacks, games and fun. The event was held for the second time.
There were 256 babies in the NICU in 2018.
So far, 120 have been admitted this year.
Vanessa Bachtel holds her daughter Samara during the NICU Reunion on Saturday at Hendrick Medical Center Saturday. Samara, who will be a year old next week, was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 110 days after she was born.
Cord Adkins, 8, lifts his 3-year-old sister Rynn so she can touch the ceiling of a Metro Care ambulance Saturday at Hendrick Medical Center.
Madison Williams shakes Wylie ISD Superintendent Joey Light's hand after accepting her brother's diploma during commencement at the Taylor County Coliseum Thursday. Dylan Williams is recovering from a car crash and was unable to come to his Wylie High School graduation ceremony. He received a standing ovation from his classmates as his sister walked across the stage for him.
There were plenty of ovations at Thursday evening's Wylie High School graduation, but none more rousing than for Dylan Williams, who was not there.
The senior was critically injured in an auto crash after spring break and hospitalized. He still is undergoing rehabilitation for a head injury, Superintendent Joey Light said, and doctors did not give the OK for him to attend graduation.
In his place, his sister Madison, a WHS junior, accepted his diploma.
The crowd at the Taylor County Coliseum, where Wylie held commencement ceremonies for the first time, appreciated the moment.
"It was a standing ovation," Light said.
Madison Williams was in tears and her head bowed as she crossed the stage, he said. As she approached Light, he encouraged her to "stop and look at what they're doing."
Wylie graduated almost 260 seniors at its first ceremony as a Class 5A school. The Wylie ISD also streamed the ceremony online for the first time.
A second chance
If you didn't make it to a graduation or just want to read again what the valedictorians and salutatorians at the six Abilene high schools had to say, those speeches will be available online Sunday at reporternews.com. The val speeches will be published in Sunday's Other Views pages.
Philip Knowles, a retired B-1 crew chief who spent 20 of his 24 service years at Dyess Air Force Base, wore an Air Force baseball-style jersey to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. flags attached to a vehicle flap in a brisk southerly wind Monday at the entrance Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Attendees had to park on both sides of FM 600 to the south and north of the cemetery.
"I came to remember them all." A man who said he had served and knew some buried at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene sits Monday before the start of a Memorial Day ceremony. He holds a poppy given him moments before.
Will Holloway of Clyde, who put in 20 years in the Air Force, walked quietly by himself among the headstones at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene at a Memorial Day observance was starting Monday.
Salutes to the U.S. flag were given when the colors were presented Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington spoke about service Monday, but especially by the patriotic residents of West Texas. Arrington was the speaker for a ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The family of Ralph Edward Bragg Sr. decorated his headstone, newly arrived at Texas Veterans Cemetery at Abilene, with more than two dozen flags. Bragg moved from West Virginia to Abilene, dying just two months ago. His daughter, Jennifer Evans, and her husband, Ben, and other family members had hoped it would arrive by Father's Day but were delighted to see it for Memorial Day. The inscription "All my exes live in Texas" is a reference to the George Strait hit song; Evans said her father claimed to have had five ex-wives in the state, which is why he resided in West Virginia and not West Texas.
During his keynote address, U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington recognized Dennis Bruno, who served in World War II as a member of the Canadian Air Force. Arrington spoke at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Butch joined Jeff Jardine, junior vice commander for the Taylor County Disabled American Veterans office, at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Celestina Garcia showed her patriotism by wearing a flag bandanna to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Her father, Raul Garcia, served in the Air Force and was interred at the cemetery in 2017, she said.
The Air Force (from left), Marine Corps, Navy and Army were represented by the uniforms of four attendees at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. The four were asked to stand, to applause from large crowd.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Quilty, who is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, salutes during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A gun salute came at the conclusion of Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A recording of "Taps" often is played at a veteran's graveside service but Abilene Community Band member Bob Johnson, of Ranger, played it live Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The colors depart Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Yellow roses were placed by the Navy branch seal during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Gold Star parents were invited to take one to place at a headstone.
Adilynn Poteet, 6, reads the inscription on a headstone after Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. She just finished first grade at Hawley Eementary School.
Sharon Miller on Monday photographs a headstone of a cousin's best friend. Capt. Jeffrey Walter Welch. He died in 2018, and family living elsewhere has not seen his headstone at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The headstone of a Navy veteran, decorated with a flag.
Many who attended Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene wore patriotic clothing.
Military police officers tested their skills against each other Wednesday on an obstacle course at Dyess Air Force Base.
It was one of the activities planned for National Police Week, an annual acknowledgment of law enforcement and the ultimate sacrifice many of them have made.
The teams first were required to make a breach-entrance into a converted C-container, to rescue a large, filled sandbag. Then, each member carried one on their shoulder for the rest of the course.
The first obstacle was pushing a humvee 50 yards on a road, then another 50 back. The sandbags stayed in the vehicle with a driver, who was not part of the team, but who at least once accidentally steered the humvee into the grass when it was being pushed back.
Next was a box strung with rope that team members had to crawl through, followed by two giant tires they had to flip together several times. The final obstacle was an indoor target range similar to a video game. Each person shot at computer-generated "bad guys."
Senior Msgt. Pablo Rodriguez, of the 7th EMS at Dyess Air Force Base, fires an electronic M-16 during an obstacle course on base during a National Police Week event Wednesday. The military police officers were shooting with a computerized simulator. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
She remembers those days at Taylor Elementary, the product of the Abilene Independent School District said. For her, it was her kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers.
And she’s hoping somewhere down the line, a student will approach her with the same idea she had seven years ago when she first began in the noble profession.
“Maybe one day one of my students will look back and say ‘I can do what Mrs. Harless did,’” she said.
Harless was named 2019 Abilene Education Foundation Elementary Teacher of the Year at a late-April Teachers in the Limelight Celebration. With it, she’ll be entered into the statewide competition next year for Texas Teacher of the Year, with an opportunity to move on to the national competition.
Today counts for 'shining stars'
For Harless and her classroom, though, the focus is on the here and now.
This second-grade class at Lee Elementary starts the day with greetings. They each greet Harless with a hug and find two other students to exchange pleasantries with, whether through another hug, a fist bump or a high five.
Molly Harless assists Hailey Shaw (left) and Layla Mangum during Harless' second-grade class at Lee Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
They say their class motto, which the students decided at the start of the school year, and a daily chant to build up the energy.
Her “shining stars” spend more time in her classroom with her than they do at home with their parents or guardians, so it’s important, she said, to get things off to a good start each day.
Sure, it’s an economics lesson for the second-graders. They learn supply and demand, profit vs. expenses and more. But it’s also a lesson on compassion.
“Each year, I choose a nonprofit, and the students make keychains to sell,” Harless said. “This is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s awesome seeing their faces when the organization comes to pick up their check.”
Her students still are selling the keychains, which are made with beads. She said the students have a goal of $700, with the donation set to be made just before the end of school. They haven’t quite reached the figure, but there’s still time.
Outside of guiding little ones, Harless is a bit of an adventurer. She’s taken several mission trips to continents far away from her home city, along with study abroad opportunities when she was in college.
She’s even bungee jumped four times in Africa, possibly the most adventurous activity anyone can perform. Oh, and she’s also taken the plunge in Corinth, Greece.
What started when she was 12 has evolved, with her enjoyment coming not from being a tourist but from experiencing life in these other cultures as much as possible, she said.
“My favorite part of it is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s not doing typical travel things but going into someone’s home, seeing how they live, eating food with them.”
While the very pregnant Harless – her child is due in July – isn’t sure exactly when her next trip will come, she’s hoping to eventually check another dream destination off her list soon: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Guiding other teachers, too
Harless has another mission, too. She’s interested in making sure young, first-year teachers have the support to turn their career choice into the life-fulfilling opportunity they likely thought it would be when going through training.
It stems from her own love of the profession, and she has no intention of letting that joy slip away from others.
“It crushes me when teachers who once felt like I do have it slip away,” she said. “So I want to work with them, encourage them, help them understand that they’re a professional teacher. There’s nothing better than that.”
In Harless’s classroom, the students are exposed to more than just the information a book tells them they need to know. Take, for instance, their recent fundraiser for the local branch of Cancer Services Network.
Kaylee Pitcher with her mother Darla Sterling at McMurry University. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Editor's note: Saturday is college graduation day in Abilene.
One took the traditional route to graduation at McMurry University; the other took an extremely nontraditional route.
Meet the mother/daughter duo, Darla Sterling and Kaylee Pitcher.
A family affair
Sterling is 42 and her daughter is 22.
Pitcher graduated in 2015 from Hawley High School and will be graduating from college Saturday in the traditional four years, which she said have gone by quickly.
Not so with mom.
“I feel like it drug out for 20 years,” Sterling said.
And, indeed, it did. Sterling has taken a remarkable path to graduation when she will earn a degree in nursing, with a minor in business. She wanted to make sure that her three daughters, Amber, Kaylee and Carlee didn’t have it as rough.
“My kids didn’t have an option,” Sterling said.
They knew they were going to college or into the military as soon as they graduated from high school. All three chose college.
Amber graduated from McMurry in 2016 and Carlee is on track to graduate next year from Hardin-Simmons University — the only non-McMurry graduate in the bunch.
“She didn’t want to do the same thing as the rest of us,” Sterling said. “And, her boyfriend went to Hardin-Simmons.”
The future begins Saturday
Sterling will pick up her nursing degree and Pitcher will get her degree in finance, with a minor in criminology. The evening will be spent at Sterling’s home, 16 miles north of Abilene, with a full house expected for the celebration.
Soon, both mother and daughter will be moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Sterling wants to get a job as a nurse at a hospital and Pitcher will look for a job, probably in business.
“We’ll get there and then I’ll decide,” she said.
Sterling is glad that her daughter had the easier track to getting her degree. At Hawley High School, Pitcher was a star athlete in volleyball, basketball, track and softball.
“She was voted Iron Woman,” her mom added, proudly.
At McMurry, Pitcher ran track and played soccer before giving up both to concentrate on her studies and a job. She also is a member of TIP social club and Women’s Interclub.
Pitcher enrolled at McMurry in the fall of 2015 and her mother followed in January 2016. During the 2016 spring semester, Sterling and two of her daughters, Kaylee and Amber, were on the McMurry campus at the same time.
Pitcher was undaunted when she learned that her mother would be a college student on the same campus at the same time as she was.
“Cool, go for it,” was Pitcher’s reaction.
Way to work, mom
Sterling was 19 when Kaylee was born. She dropped out of high school and later earned a General Education Development certificate. She enrolled at Texas State Technical College and got training as a paramedic. She also worked overnight shifts at the Abilene State Supported Living Center to take care of her three girls during the day.
Sterling later worked at the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission, which led to her decision to become a nurse. After leaving that job in 2014, Sterling became a full-time student, taking classes at Cisco College for 1½ years before enrolling at McMurry.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she joked.
When Sterling enrolled at McMurry in January 2016, she was in for a surprise. Everything was done on the computer, unlike the last time she was in school.
“Trying to figure out how to do algebra online was crazy,” she said.
But she overcame that obstacle and many others en route to graduation. After Saturday, Sterling will settle into one job, with no homework to do and no children to watch over.
There were 11 motor vehicle crashes in Abilene in which unbuckled occupants sustained fatal or serious injuries in 2018, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT's annual Click It or Ticket campaign seeks to reverse that trend.
From May 20 to June 2, Texas law enforcement officers will be increasing efforts to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers, especially those on the road at night, TxDOT said in a news release.
"Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent in a passenger vehicle and up to 60 percent in a pickup truck," according to the TxDOT news release.
To kick off the campaign in Abilene, a flipped, airborne sedan with mannequin passengers was set up Monday in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch.
The display included video kiosks that recounted the of a 16-year-old Spring girl who was killed in a crash after unbuckling to take a selfie.
A flipped, airborne sedan with mannequins was set up in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch for the Click It or Ticket seat belt safety campaign. The Texas Department of Public Safety set up the interactive display with video kiosks stations for a few hours Monday. The kiosks recounted how a 16-year-old Spring girl was killed in a crash after she unbuckled to take a selfie. (Photo: Laura Gutschke/Reporter-News)