Farmers Spared Towering Oaks from the Bulldozers of Urbanization

After an aquifer-filling 24 hours, the clouds parted just in time for this morning’s opening ceremonies for Phil Hardberger Park. 

Former Mayor Hardberger does not take the responsibility of having the 300-acre park named in his honor lightly.  Since leaving office, he has assumed the presidency of the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy; along with his wife Linda, donated $100,000 from their private foundation; found the conservancy a home in his former office space in the Milam Building; and, perhaps most importantly for the future of the park, installed the powerhouse behind several former mayors – Betty Sutherland – as the conservancy’s executive director.

The opening provided a break from editing the edits in a book about the farmers, Max and Minnie Voelcker, who lived on the land now Hardberger Park.  Editor Lynnell Burkett and I agree about the placement of the oft-cursed comma (refer to earlier ‘ode’) surprisingly more frequently than that of the devilish colon.  

During this morning’s ceremonies, the former mayor said the parkland will endure for centuries to come, long after those who had anything to do with it are forgotten.  Already, Voelcker is far from being a household name, even for those living near the park. 

Although the Voelckers ran cattle on their land once dairy-farming became unprofitable for small operators; they always considered themselves farmers.  The stories of their farm and all the dairies that flourished in this part of San Antonio once known as Buttermilk Hill are endangered.  A May 14 editorial in the San Antonio Express-News provided evidence some of the few who know the Voelcker name now term the land’s historical usage as “ranch.”

While Max and Minnie were simple farmers, their legacy stands in the towering oak trees they carefully preserved and the foundation they endowed to support medical research of benefit to many, The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund.  But, having spent months and months with their papers and photos encircling my desk, I want others to know these stubborn farmers who so tenaciously clung to their land despite the immense pressures of urbanization.

So back to the edits.  Let’s get The Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill on the press, before everyone forgets that “on this farm there was a cow.”

New York Notices Our Mayor

Zev Chavets profiled Mayor Julian Castro in the May 3 issue of The New York Times Magazine.  Among his observations:

Nothing seems to ruffle him.  Recently, after Arizona passed its tough immigration law, most Hispanic politicians reacted with fury.  Some even compared the decision to apartheid.  Castro, through a spokesman, phrased his own opposition to the decision in characteristically understated and inclusive language, saying, in part:  “Texas has long been an example of how two neighboring countries can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way for the American economy.  A law like Arizona’s would fly in the face of that history.”

And, while some of Chavets’ questions to our Mayor seemed designed to stir up racial tension where it does not exist, the Mayor did not bite:

“I consider myself Mexican-American, both parts of that phrase,” he said.  “I don’t want to turn my back on my mother’s generation.  But we are less burdened.”

The last line of the following paragraph indicates Chavets did grasp part of what makes San Antonio work:

In 2000, while Castro was still in Cambridge, the political theorist Samuel P. Huntington argued that mass immigration from Mexico poses an existential threat to the United States.  “Mexican immigration,” he wrote, “is a unique, disturbing and looming challenge to our cultural integrity, our national identity and potentially to our future as a country.”  At the heart of Huntington’s critique, which many Americans share, is the sense that Mexican-Americans will form a permanent, unassimilated superbarrio across the Southwest and elsewhere.  Julián Castro’s San Antonio is one place that counters that concern.

Will continual national attention go to the Mayor’s head?

…in San Antonio, he added, “nobody likes people with big heads.”

Note Added on June 30:  View Mayor Castro on The Colbert Report