Texas Agriculture News
Building on a legacy
Friday, June 4, 2010
State headquarters grew from worn out farm to areawide showpiece
By Bobby Horecka
Some would never see it as more than a worn out old farm on the edge of town, a sight for only the sorest eyes.
But such thoughts were far removed from that same piece of Waco property on May 13, when dozens of dignitaries, county leaders and staff from the state’s largest farm organization unveiled its newest addition to the Texas Farm Bureau state headquarters.
Surrounded by stately oaks, terraced hillsides and beautifully manicured lawns, the crowd gathered in front of the new TFB Conference and Training Center, located at 7410 Fish Pond Road, for the building’s official grand opening.
"Today marks a significant milestone for Texas Farm Bureau, both in the future of our organization and in its rich legacy of working for the farmers and ranchers of the Lone Star State," said Kenneth Dierschke, a San Angelo cotton and grain farmer and organization president.
"This building is the embodiment of a dream that many of us had for the organization," he said. "It represents a commitment of service to our members and it serves as a pledge to the current and future leaders of our dedication to that commitment."
The $12 million, 73,000-square-foot conference center is truly a sight to behold, a rounded contemporary design welcoming visitors to its hillside perch atop the rolling Central Texas terrain, resting just beyond the afternoon shadows of the larger five-story complex that houses organization staff and employees of its affiliated companies. It broke ground Sept. 26, 2007, and today features a spacious new state-of-the-art board room overlooking Lake Waco, several meeting rooms, a 256-seat auditorium and a below-ground bunkered facility built to secure the organization’s central data and necessary operations, should disaster ever strike.
But long before that dream became reality, long before a single shovel ever marred the soil, there was a vision, Dierschke reminded his visitors on May 13.
"From the beginning, the vision of the founding leaders of Farm Bureau was that this organization would take its place among the great organizations representing the trades and industries of Texas," he said. "Our headquarters building next door, dedicated in 1973, was the realization of that vision. The conference center we open today is the next step in that journey."
But like any journey, one cannot fully appreciate its depth without understanding the distance already trod, and for Farm Bureau, it dates back to the earliest days of the organization itself.
A look back
Texas Farm Bureau first made its mark in the Lone Star State in the 1920s. Begun as a means to support county Extension agents and provide a marketing tool for members, the organization would serve as one of the earliest federations of farmers and ranchers in the state.
As leaders would soon learn, however, hinging the bureau on the rises and falls of market prices would prove a fatal flaw, one that ultimately led to the dissolution of the first organization when the depths of the Great Depression set in.
But even then, in 1933, there existed a vision, a dream of something greater.
This new organization would be based from the grassroots up, built of county-level volunteers who work as one to defend and promote the business they held so dear. Rather than basing its structure in uncertain markets, it would build upon benefits and services. And in the same Dallas hotel where organization members voted to do away with the original bureau, they agreed to form one anew.
It would be called the Texas Agricultural Association, and it would serve as the precursor to the modern Texas Farm Bureau.
The fledgling organization was largely nomadic over the next few years, with some of its earliest records showing Dallas and Brownwood as its base of operations. But in 1938, under the leadership of founding fathers like J. Walter Hammond of Tye, one of the organization’s earliest and longest serving presidents, members would once again gather for another vote, this time choosing to call Waco its new home.
Like most visions, however, they grow from humble origins.
Early members would recall that men like Hammond ran the early Agricultural Association—then just a few hundred families strong—quite literally from the trunk of his car as he coursed the roads to Austin and Washington, D.C. to represent farm interests in some of the organization’s earliest battles such as rural electrification and the institution of Texas’ farm-to-market road systems.
As successes mounted and membership grew, the haunts of the original Farm Bureau name recognition would eventually fade, and leaders would agree to return to the group’s original namesake, first opting to call themselves the Texas Farm Bureau Federation and later opting to drop that final bit of nomenclature entirely.
Still, facilities for the headquarters operation would remain elusive.
Never one to pass on a good deal, Hammond eventually squared a deal for some borrowed space in downtown Waco, with offices located directly above the Chamber of Commerce. As the organization and need for services grew, so did the need for office space, prompting at least two more moves to larger, rented quarters in the downtown Waco area.
But it would take nearly four decades before Farm Bureau would have a place to truly call its own, and as one might imagine for an organization based largely on a vision, there would be those who might not always see eye to eye.
Just a worn-out farm
Vernie Glasson was fresh from the Air Force just starting his career when he first laid eyes on the headquarters property on Fish Pond Road in 1973.
The original building was already under construction at the time, and Glasson would be bound for some windswept patch of West Texas for his first job in the organization as a field representative, helping county leaders organize events and make better use of the larger statewide organization.
"I can’t say much about what this property looked like pre-1973," Glasson says. "I came on board on Jan. 8, 1973, and went through two weeks of training here in Waco at their old office, downtown. I did get a ride out here during that time, just to show me where the new facility was going to be. It was under construction at the time, pretty rough looking. The grounds were certainly not as beautiful as they are today."
That there were political ramifications for building the project, Glasson would not come to know for years.
But as chance would have it, Glasson would eventually learn of those ramifications from someone who had witnessed them first hand, a man named C.H. DeVaney of Coahoma, who served as president of Texas Farm Bureau from 1962-1967.
It was during that time that leaders of the statewide organization made the decision to purchase the property on Fish Pond Road, a decision DeVaney would later confide forever changed the course of his career.
"One of the greatest pleasures of my career was work with C.H DeVaney for about a year prior to his retirement," Glasson says.
Following his time as president, DeVaney had gone on to work as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., assisting in the development of the national farm policy of the day. Having earned his spurs as a young field man, Glasson was given the opportunity to join DeVaney on Capitol Hill and, ultimately, serve as his replacement.
"C.H. and I worked together for about a year before he officially retired," he says. "He and I spent a lot of hours together."
A man of diplomacy who chooses his words carefully, Glasson says he’s made it a practice never to ask why a past president ultimately lost his post.
"It’s not a pleasant subject for most people," he says. "But one day C.H. was talkative, and he and I got to talking about this property and how beautiful it was. And that’s when he told me, essentially, that this place was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to why he was defeated as state president."
Of course, times were different then, Glasson says. Presidents of the statewide farm organization today are elected in rather lengthy affairs involving hundreds of voting delegates from across Texas.
Back then, only a majority of the board of directors was required to elect a new leader.
"The board thought he paid too much for this old worn-out farm out here on the edge of Waco," Glasson says he was told. "Buying this property ultimately cost him his presidency."
It would be years before Glasson says he truly grasped the expediency with which DeVaney’s replacement was named.
And much like before when chance played such a big part in his meeting with the former president turned lobbyist, hundreds of miles from where the events unfolded, the confirmation of his story would come from an equally unlikely source.
By this time, Glasson had returned to Texas and assumed his current position as executive director of the organization and its affiliated companies.
It was a year or two after DeVaney had passed away, Glasson recalls, and it came from someone contacting his office on a completely unrelated matter.
"The man, an elderly gentleman, wrote me a very nice letter thanking me for what I did and told me he had a very long history with the Farm Bureau. In fact, he had done the title work on this property when the sale was transacted," he says.
As most deals often go, the man’s story would normally have a fairly lackluster finish at this point, Glasson admits, but that’s when his letter took a rather unusual turn.
"The man recounted a strange set of events that occurred," Glasson says. "Prior to lunch, he was working with a president by the name of DeVaney (actually, it was recalled as "McIlvaney"—but close enough to be correct), and after lunch, there was this surprise new president by the name of ‘Sidney something’ (Sidney Dean).
"Apparently, a part of the reason Mr. DeVaney was no longer president was because there was some conflict over this property transaction, and that gentleman’s letter, I think confirms what Mr. DeVaney told me personally."
Most who were involved with the property purchase have long since passed, but no doubt, Glasson says he is certain the decision to oust DeVaney was one no board member took lightly.
Even today, each board director is charged with making weighty decisions about the future of the organization and best uses of members’ hard-earned dollars.
"It’s like everything else in Farm Bureau," he says. "It was an idea. People worried about whether we could afford it back then or whether we paid too much, what people might think."
Then, too, were the lessons of history to consider.
"We have to always remember that we have not always had what we have today," Glasson says. "In fact, when you look back at our history, there was a time that the Texas Farm Bureau ceased to be."
What seemed like wise purchases at the time all but felled the organization.
"When you have roots like that, it tempers your thinking. It makes you think about everything you do, whether it’s building a building or buying land or creating a program," Glasson says. "Can we sustain what we’re doing? That’s the decision our board of directors makes every time they meet, when they think about whatever it is we talk about doing.
"But ultimately, an organization has to have a home," he continues. "Our home, for many years, had been the trunk of our president’s vehicle, for all intents and purposes. But our folks decided we needed to have a home.
"Looking back now, this land—this 60 acres that we sit on—is prime property, and I tell most anyone who will listen that we have one of the most beautiful places in Texas to work, most certainly, I think, the most beautiful place in Waco, Texas. It’s a real tribute to the leadership and dedicated vision of those leaders all those years ago."
So from humble beginnings, a vision was born, and a story began to unfold. "It’s really an interesting story," Glasson says, "one that has a beginning, but no ending yet because the story continues to develop."
And it started with the many who came before, folks like Mr. Hammond and Mr. DeVaney, who each did their part to build an organization that would ultimately serve as the voice of Texas farmers and ranchers.
"At this stage in my career, I have a few years left, but 90 percent of my career is in the rearview mirror," Glasson adds. "I’m anxious to see what this story looks like 20 years from now, and I’m almost certain that this building will play a critical part in getting us there."
He’s not alone.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, one of several state and local dignitaries to attend the new building’s grand opening, offered similar sentiments during the day’s ceremony.
"For Texas to be a leader in agriculture, it must have strong voices advocating for the industry statewide," Staples said. "And I couldn’t be prouder to have Texas Farm Bureau as a partner in that effort. Founded in the Great Depression, they have become the largest and strongest advocates for farmers and ranchers in the world, and they have helped to make Texas the agricultural powerhouse that it is."
It’s a point each and every employee Texas Farm Bureau ever hires should always hold dear, the ag commissioner said.
"As I travel around the state, I talk to lots of farmers and ranchers and I want to assure you they appreciate the work you do on their behalf," he said. "I want to encourage you to remember them as you go about your jobs. They are the ones for whom you and I work. And with this new facility, Texas Farm Bureau shows that it is ready to move forward in its established role of defending Texas agriculture."
Meet the Builder
One of Waco’s elected city officials can nearly chart his professional career by the growth of the properties at the Texas Farm Bureau state headquarters.
Newly-elected Mayor Jim Bush, a former city councilman and owner of Waco’s Bush Construction Co., went to work for his father’s construction firm as a third generation contractor in the early 1970s.
As it would turn out, the Bush family would lead every construction project at the Fish Pond Road location, from its original three-story office building, completed in 1973, to its two-story addition, finished in 1982. When the organization broke ground on its new conference center on Sept. 26, 2007, Jim Bush would supervise the project to its completion.
The mayor recently shared some of his experiences of working with the state’s largest farm organization in its building projects through the years. Here is what he had to say, in his own words:
Q: What are some of your earliest remembrances of the headquarters property on Fish Pond Road?
A: I worked for my dad at the time that this project was being built. It was the early 1970s and I had just moved back to Waco and I was working in my dad’s drafting department, doing most of the coordinating for the architectural and engineering drawings. This particular building (the main headquarters office), being built where it is on a suspect geological ground, took a lot of specific engineering and a lot of dedication on my dad’s part to be sure this thing was built right. Obviously, he did something right because it’s been here for many, many years.
Q: What was your personal involvement with the construction of the first structure built here in the 1970s?
A: My dad had me come out here during the construction of the original basement and two floors, and I checked every post tension cable in this whole building with a ruler to be sure the cable was in the right spot in the beams and columns. I was measuring them to be sure they were exactly where they needed to be in the building. I was in my late 20s, early 30s. I had been on the professional bowling tour two years prior to that. I had come back to Waco and gone to work for my dad, and I worked for him for about six or seven years before I started the construction division.
It was just a beautiful piece of property, as it is today. It was just as gorgeous, rolling hills and lots of trees, an outstanding site for any facility. I think the Farm Bureau had some real foresight picking this location because it is a landmark building in Waco, there is just no question.
Q: How about the subsequent addition of the two upper floors in the 1980s?
A: By the time they added the two floors on this building, I had just started my construction business in 1975, so I was about four years, five years into that for the planning stage of the fourth and fifth floors. At that time, I didn’t have a whole lot of input on that, but my dad, he had gone from being an architectural engineering firm to a structural engineering firm. When they added the top two floors, it was basically an engineering project because the architectural design wasn’t going to change. They were just going to carry it straight on up. My involvement with that was basically just dealing with my dad. We were in the same office building, so I was privy to what was going on and how it was being put together.
Q: You mentioned earlier some geologic issues posed by this building site. Can you elaborate?
A: It’s really kind of interesting because if you go down and look at Fish Pond Road down here—being on City Council we are constantly having to resurface that road because the soil is just so expansive—it looks like a roller coaster after about three or four years and you just have to go in and level it out and redo the road. Fortunately, that fault or geological change occurs about where the grand yard is in front of the present facility. In fact, you can see the difference in the curbs and the paving. You can almost tell exactly where that fault starts and stops. Basically, this building that we’re in right now and the building that we built up on the hill, they’re built on solid rock. This building has huge spread footings and the building up on the hill, we were closer to the bedrock, so we used drilling piers and isolated all the structural concrete.
Q: Obviously, Farm Bureau came to you asking you to build what amounts to a bunker. Can you tell some about it?
A: That lower floor over there and the floor above it is serious, high level protective space. In other words, it would take a disaster beyond our comprehension to compromise that structure because it is designed with Level 5 tornado specifications, which we have only had one in the history of Waco. It’s designed to where the top two floors of that building could literally be blown off and still function in the lower floors. It has redundancy and, in some cases, double redundancy for generator power and everything you can possibly imagine to where the Farm Bureau can keep up and running if something—either a manmade disaster or natural disaster—should ever happen here at the headquarters building, still be able to talk to and keep in contact with all the agencies around the state.
Q: Have you ever built anything of its kind before?
A: Not to that extent. The basement in this building (the larger headquarters office) is similar to that, but not to that degree. The floor over the basement over there is 13 inches thick with a layer of waterproofing material between it. All the columns are designed to sheer off, should a major disaster happen. You might get a little water dripping here or there, but it’s not going to be pouring in to that basement area. For the disaster recovery area and the computer system and the print and mail area, they’re all in that same protected area, and the level of protection is just unreal. Even the backup generators are under that same construction, so it’s a bomb shelter. If you want to get someplace in Waco and it be the safest place you could possibly be under any disaster mode, this would be the place to be.
Q: Is there any place else like it inside of Waco?
A: Actually, there are several. There’s one downtown, back from the Cold War days, in fact two that my father built that I can think of: One is the basement of the Tribune Heraldand another is the basement of the old Lone Star Gas Building. Both of those are designed very similar to this, probably not to level 5, but easily a level 3 or 4. You had fallout shelters, is what they called them, and they had the big yellow insignia that showed you where to go. There’s still quite a few of those around. They’re being used for other uses now, rather than just a shelter, but they’re still there.
Q: It sounds like your family has been building much of Waco for a while now.
A: Actually, we’re celebrating our 100th year of building Waco. My grandfather started in 1910 and built some notable structures, such as the Palm Court Garden Apartments on Austin Ave., several buildings out on North 19th that’s the old state home—it’s the center for youth now. You can go out there and see plaques that have my grandfather’s name on them. My dad built numerous buildings, was in charge of the design and building of many schools, most of MCC, this facility, Richfield High School—you name it, his plaques are all over town. Since 1975, I’ve probably been involved in 150-200 facilities.
Q: What has it been like working with the Farm Bureau?
A: The relationship with Farm Bureau has been wonderful for me personally and I know it was for my dad as well. Warren Newberry, one of the first executive directors of the Farm Bureau, and my dad were good friends. From the kind of work that my dad did on this facility and the addition, I think that the confidence carried over to our company, which was just an outgrowth of my dad’s architectural engineering firm, and we were chosen to do the new facility. It’s kind of a neat deal to come in and see my dad—my dad passed away about five years ago now—but to walk in and see a plaque that says 1973 and his name on it, and go to the next plaque right beside it and it says 1982 and his name on it and then there will be a plaque over there with my name on it… It’s a very special relationship, especially because this was probably my dad’s signature project. It’s certainly been my signature project, and I’m coming up on 40 years of business.
Q: Did any particular challenges arise in the building of this new conference center?
A: The biggest challenge was getting the infrastructure for the things most folks will never see. Many of the obvious items—the auditorium, the board room—they’re beautiful, but they’re not incredibly complicated. All of that bunker mentality that we had to put in for the lower level for the disaster recovery and the computers and being able to get the power and all the services to those computers and all the interfacing that had to be done with that and the specialty air conditioner and the redundant air conditioner, and the redundant, redundant air conditioner…That was the biggest challenge, but I got to admit, it was also fun. The part of the job I enjoyed most was getting out and getting that basement started and coordinating with Darren Callaway and all the folks I worked with here to get that thing right from the beginning. That view of the lake was an important aspect. It’s just gorgeous. It turned out as good as I could expect for a project. But the most challenging part was the complexity of the disaster recovery and the things that related to a disaster happening and it still being able to function statewide.
Q: You mentioned your father several times now. What do you think he might say today, seeing the new building his son added to this location?
A: I think my dad would be very, very pleased, especially me being sworn in as mayor the week after the grand opening of the new facility. I think he would be very pleased and very proud. I wish he was here to still enjoy it, but he’d be 92 or 91 now. He passed away when he was 85, and he worked right up to the last half a year that he was alive. He was very involved in his profession and his profession was, a lot of it, his basic hobby. He enjoyed his work and he was always just extremely proud of the relationship he had with the Farm Bureau folks and the facility that he put here. There were a lot of people who questioned this location just because of some of the challenges with the geo-technical part of it. As it turned out, it was a very smart decision. Today, it is some of the most valuable property around, and certainly a showcase for the Farm Bureau statewide. I think our end result of where we located the building and the basic design, the color schemes and all that, tied in with the 1970/1980 facility without looking like it was just stuck up there on the hill. And I’m real proud of that.
Q: We’re told there is a time capsule buried here on the property, set to be uncovered in 2073. What do you think it will look like then?
A: I figure there will probably be a couple more buildings somewhere on the property, and hopefully it’s all looking as good as it does right now. These buildings are designed to stand the test of time. That’s something we also worked on with the addition over here was to get a clean, contemporary design, similar to the original structure so that it would stand the test of time.
Q: Obviously, this is the state headquarters for the Farm Bureau. What does this company mean to the city of Waco?
A: Farm Bureau has close to 500 employees here. Most of them probably live in Waco or pretty close to it, so the economic impact is huge when you have a company that does that. Plus, the Farm Bureau is so active in the community. They sponsor numerous events, from events down at Baylor to charity events; you name it, the Farm Bureau is involved in it. They’re just a great corporate citizen, and one of the things that has always been a hallmark of the corporate office here is the fact that they are part of Waco, an integral part of it. When you have that many employees and contribute that much to your economic base, plus you are involved in the community itself in so many various ways, it shows. And they are certainly one of the companies that are on the top of my list that I am proud to have in my city as mayor.
Q: Do you have any other major building projects in your horizon?
A: I’m kind of in the twilight of my career. I’m 67-years-old. That doesn’t mean I’m going to quit working, but I am scaling way back and do mostly consulting and construction management, similar to the way we handled this project. Having been around this community since I was born, I know a lot of people, and I feel like I have a lot to offer to people who want to do it right and have a vested interest in building something that will stand the test of time, and that’s exactly the bill the Farm Bureau filled. It has been a great association.
Watching it grow
Longtime employees share views from the inside out
If there is any one individual who knows well the growth and evolution of Texas Farm Bureau and its state headquarters facilities in Waco, his name would be Bill Hoover.
Now retired since 1990, Hoover started work for the statewide farm organization in the 1950s, back when the bureau was still housed in downtown Waco, what was then the Citizen’s Bank Building.
As the organization’s former public relations chief, however, Hoover enjoyed the unique perspective of watching as the bureau’s elected leaders from across Texas made their decisions to plant their organizational roots in the Heart of Texas. He was there photographing the entire construction process of its original office building on Fish Pond Road, and he was a key player in the grand opening of the site’s original facilities in 1973.
As the date drew near for the grand opening of the Texas Farm Bureau’s newest addition earlier this month, Hoover was one of several longtime bureau employees more than willing to share their thoughts on what it has been like to watch the bureau grow, how times have changed and what the future may someday hold.
"This was a beautiful location, the first time I ever set eyes on it," Hoover said. "There wasn’t much out here to speak of—a few trees, pastures and rolling hills—but I thought it was a beautiful location for us to call our new home."
No, there wasn’t much out here, recalls Linda Patterson, another longtime bureau employee.
Patterson had a year of college at Baylor and was still in her teens when she first came to work in 1966. Her eyes glisten as she recalls those early years in downtown Waco.
"We were really in the center of everything down there," she says. "We had all the shops down on Austin Ave., a cafeteria, almost anything you could imagine. I was much younger then, of course, but it wasn’t difficult at all to go eat and buy a new pair of shoes on a 30-minute lunch break."
Living in Clifton, Patterson said she likely drove past the new headquarters location every day on her trek to work, but she was still taken aback when she heard where they were moving.
"We couldn’t believe they bought land so far out in the country," she recalls.
Country, indeed, remarks Jody Lott, another longtime bureau employee.
"There was absolutely nothing out here—I mean nothing," Lott says. "We were just about the only thing out here on Highway 6 at the time, from here to where the Interstate is. Some of the houses on Fish Pond were here, but we were the only business out here."
Farm Bureau wasn’t Lott’s first job. She and her husband had worked at an airplane factory in Grand Prairie, even served a brief stint in Illinois at an auto auction, before she first came to work in 1962.
Married life and child rearing would pull her away from time to time—"there was no such thing as maternity leave back in the 1960s," Lott says—but she and Patterson now have a combined 88 years of work experience together.
Lott’s a mother of four, the two youngest were mere infants when she started. Now in their 50s, she says her kids grew up knowing only the bureau as her job.
"They actually called me up the other day and told me they were working on my funeral plans. They wanted to know where I was going to be buried out here on the property," she jokes.
How she first learned of the move, Lott says she is no longer certain. But the biggest part that stuck with her was the drive. She lives in West, so that initial move added substantially to her ride to work each day.
"But it was so much nicer here," Lott says. "We just grew to love it."
Hoover still beams with pride as he recalls the grand opening celebration he played such a large role in planning back in 1973.
"We had folks from everywhere," he says. "There were members and county leaders from all over Texas, we had people down from the national office, we even had the governor of Texas, along with all sorts of other elected officials. It was really quite the occasion."
As part of the ceremonies that day, Hoover says organization leaders buried a time capsule, set to be opened in 2073, the building’s centennial.
"They put all sorts of things inside," he recalls. "There were letters from each of the state directors to whoever might be serving at that time. They put in price lists of every commodity we had, along with all sorts of artifacts and what-nots from the day. But most importantly, I think, they placed inside a list of every member we had on our rosters at the time."
Of course, not every planned grand opening day activity went off nearly as well as the time capsule.
Hoover says members brought in soil from every county in Texas, which was used to plant this tree just outside the new building. Apparently, the dirt cocktail proved too much, and the tree, along with its surrounding soil, had to be replaced.
"But who could ask for a prettier location," Hoover added, "especially for an organization that represents the farmers and ranchers of our state."
Being so far removed from the main part of town did pose its challenges, Patterson says. Lunchtime was no longer time to shop. In fact, it wasn’t always easy to get lunch in, especially if you had to drive someplace.
"We had our own cafeteria here for several years," she says. "That was really all there was around here, for a long time."
Asked what her best memory of the move was and Patterson quickly points to the furnishings.
"When we worked downtown, all we had were these old grey metal desks from World War II," she says. "When we came out here, everything was new. It was so exciting."
Both Lott and Patterson chuckle at themselves, thinking back to their glee at first seeing the bright blues, oranges and yellows that formed the entry ways to their new digs, complete with corresponding furnishings as was common to 1970s interior design.
"But it was some of the nicest things we had ever seen," Lott says.
Career callings within the bureau would later pull both ladies to other parts of the state as the organization and its affiliated companies grew. Both marked several "firsts" in their careers: Lott would become one of the first female supervisors in the company; Patterson one of the first female adjusters. And as chance would have it, both would eventually return home to the Waco headquarters location.
For others, however, organizational growth paved the initial road to Waco.
Steve Williams started his career with Farm Bureau Insurance in Lubbock back in 1968. Having grown up on a sandy, dryland farm and attended Texas Tech, Williams says he was just getting his feet wet in the business world, working at a car dealership, when opportunity came calling.
Today vice president of claims for the affiliated insurance company, Williams said he never imagined work in the insurance business prior to that first job offer.
"I figured I’d go ahead and give it a try, and here I am, still trying, I guess," he quips.
Aside from a few training sessions, Williams said he would spend little time in Waco until an opening arose at the home office in 1978. He’s been here since, but still, he says its difficult thinking of how things have changed about the facilities.
"It’s kind of like watching your kids grow," he says. "Whatever stage they’re at, you’ve almost forgotten what they were before because you’re so accustomed to what they’ve become now."
But one word crops up again and again as old-timers are asked about the single biggest change in the business since they started all those years ago: Technology.
Williams offered one of the best examples of the lot, rummaging through his desk to uncover this metal fastener, about half the size of a paperclip, he says once guided his daily affairs. Called a diary tab, they came in different colors and were clipped to the side of a manila folder to help assist others follow his work routine through the week.
"As you can well imagine, these pop off pretty easy," he says, fiddling with the tiny relic in his hand. "It definitely wasn’t the best of systems, but it’s the best we had."
Plenty of other improvements would follow. Computers replaced punch card machines and teletypes, paper files were replaced by data systems, and phones went from rarities to something almost everyone now carries around with them.
"We thought the fax machine was pretty well one of the greatest inventions on earth at the time," Williams said. "Now I can get responses back almost instantly from anywhere in a matter of seconds from someone’s iPhone or Blackberry. Who knows what the next technology may bring?"
Who indeed? Who knows when the next technology will take root, what people may someday drive, how farming or the actual business of doing a day’s work may someday be accomplished?
About the only things certain is that things will change, everyone agreed.
While no one jumped at the prospect of trying to predict the future, everyone was fairly certain Farm Bureau would play a hand in it.
"There will probably be a whole village of buildings out here by the time we dig up that time capsule, I imagine," Patterson says. "It will probably continue to grow, as it always has, but remain farm-oriented like it is now, regardless of the size. But it will be here, I’m certain of that."
"And I’m pretty sure it’ll still be the family sort of place it is today," Williams adds. "Sure, that can be a sort of cornball statement, I know, but really that’s the best way to describe it. No, we’re not all one big happy family—most families aren’t one big happy family—but we work together with a common purpose. We always have. And with the number of years so many of us have done so, we grow to like what we do and who we work with. It becomes like your family, and I don’t suspect that will ever change."
Original Farm Bureau offices, circa 1940s
Former President C.H. DeVaney, circa 1965
Original groundbreaking, circa 1970
Original groundbreaking, circa 1970
Downtown Waco offices, circa 1960s
Building Committee members include TFB President Kenneth Dierschke of San Angelo, current and former state directors Bobby Nedbalek of Sinton, Lewis Lehman of Bangs, Raymond Meyer of Pleasanton, Dewey Hukill of Olton and Don Smith of Sulphur Springs. Also from the TFB staff, Benny Stieg, organization CFO Cyndi Gerik, Darren Callaway, and Mike Puryear.
Official Conference Center Grand Opening, circa 2010
Conference Center grand opening May 13, 2010
TFB Executive Director Vernie Glasson, 2010
TFB President Kenneth Dierschke welcomes visitors to the conference center’s grand opening.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples addresses the crowd.
Former State Rep. David Sibley visits with TFB Vice President Dewey Hukill.
TFB Policy Director Jim Sartwelle and his wife, Beth, watch the grand opening ceremonies with outgoing Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy.
Grand opening reception, 2010