Back to School Memories 3

Golden memories from some of Fort Worth’s finest.


The Cowboy

The term “schoolhouse” does little to describe the often massive structures that serve the modern-day student. Most schools now occupy several buildings and dominate the surrounding area, with restricted traffic zones, expansive sports facilities, fleets of buses and hordes of students. Back in Steve Murrin’s day, things were a little different.

“My first grade school was Chapin School, which used to be in the little community of Westland around what’s now West Camp Bowie,” says Murrin. “Back then it was way out in the country, a little rock school that had grades one through four.”

The little rock school, now commemorated with a historical marker, contained just two rooms. Originally opened in the 1870s, the Chapin School persisted until its closure in 1968. In Steve Murrin’s time, one teacher handled the lower grades, while another teacher did double-duty as the upper-level instructor and principal. The classroom arrangement wasn’t the only thing that might throw current students for a loop:

“We had dry toilets outside,” says Murrin. “Just four holes in the ground, no partitions. When it got cold in the winter, the older boys had to haul in the coal to heat the room.”

There was no drop-off zone or buses, but rather a hitching post for the students to tie up their ponies. After school let out, Steve would make the mile trek back home and take care of the daily chores.

“I was something of a non-student,” explains Steve. “I never did homework. We always worked after school, and joined in with whatever was happening out at the ranch.”

Still, Fort Worth’s Cowboy treasures his memories of the little rock school in Westland. As for back-to-school rituals, you wouldn’t catch a young Steve stocking up on clothes or supplies:

“This was right in the middle of World War II, so everything was rationed,” explains Steve. “We may have gotten a new pair of shoes, but that was it.”

The Voice

As the co-anchor of NBC 5’s Today morning show, Deborah Ferguson is used to waking up before the crack of dawn. It should come as no surprise that, as a child, the early mornings that marked the transition from summer to school caused Deborah little concern.

“I was always ready to get back into the routine,” says Deborah. “To get to see friends again and meet new people made going back to school an exciting time.”

The excitement was also tempered with a little anxiety, as Deborah often had to negotiate the demands of new schools and fresh starts. An itinerant “new kid,” Deborah moved often with her family, and split her grade school years between Temple, Austin and San Antonio.

“There were some mixed emotions, too,” says Deborah. “When you transfer to new schools, you worry about whether the other kids will like you, whether you’re wearing the right thing or have the right supplies. I’d also wonder about my teachers, and what they would be like.”

Thanks to field trips and a teacher’s fashion sense, a couple of memories in particular stand out: second grade in Temple, and fifth grade in San Antonio.

“I had a teach named Mrs. Dingus, and I remember this one polka-dotted dress she would wear,” says Deborah. “In fifth grade, we’d take field trips to the San Antonio Symphony, and I would always dress up. The first time I shaved my legs was for a symphony field trip.”

The Musician

Pat Green has played shows practically everywhere, and beaten a trail that’s crisscrossed the globe. He broke his traveling shoes in early, too, as a schoolboy that could never quite get settled.

“I changed schools six times between the second and sixth grades,” says Pat. “School was always a new place, and I was always the new kid.”

His talent for performance also began to develop at an early age, as the “new kid” strived to make an impression.

“I was definitely the class clown,” says Pat. “I came from a blended family of yours, mine and ours with 10 kids. I was number eight. I screamed for attention at the house, and I did the same thing at school. Class clown or teacher’s pet, I got as much attention as I could.”

It wasn’t just the new environment, friends and teachers that made school exciting for Pat; as a young student, the future musician already had a gear-minded bent.

“I loved going down the paper, pencils and crayon aisle and picking out my new stuff,” says Pat. “The lunchbox was really important, and what color my folder would be for the year.”

The class clown has come a long way in the intervening years. Pat’s thirteenth album, Home, released in August. A stripped-down, return-to-roots style record, Home should energize Pat’s longstanding fans and win him new ones alike.

“Overall, we went towards a sound with less polish than the records I made at RCA,” says Pat. “I think that the title track, Home, says quite a bit.”

The Mayor

The future mayor of Fort Worth had a special reason to look forward to back-to-school: chocolate milkshakes.

“Back then, everyone went to Skillerin’s Drug Store to buy their school supplies,” says Mayor Betsy Price. “Everyone got a free chocolate milkshake when you bought your supplies, so it was always a fun day.”

It would make sense that the future leader of Cowtown was a good student; back-to-school represented an exciting time that presaged future achievement.

“I was a good student,” says the mayor. “I was the fourth of four kids, so the teachers all knew my family. My mother was president of the PTA and was very involved at the school.”

It wasn’t all gold stars and honor roll, though, as Betsy got in trouble for a future attribute:

“I was a real talker,” says the mayor. “On my report card, it would say: fails to exercise control in talking.”

As for words of wisdom for new students, the mayor has a few:

“Get excited about what you’re going to learn and your new teachers,” says Price. “An education will take you wonderful places in your life, and is truly the backbone for everything you will do.”