Showing Respect for History in Calhoun County

By Madeline Clites, Program Specialist for CHC Outreach Program

April is National County Government Month, so we're taking this opportunity to express our appreciation to county officials and their staff for supporting historic preservation in the Lone Star State! The Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) programs work with counties on a daily basis to improve the livelihood of communities across Texas. This article is part of a blog series that highlights how counties value preservation.

Calhoun County Commissioner Roger Galvan views historic preservation as an integral part of stewardship and citizenship. In my interview with Commissioner Galvan, we discussed his love of history, his work with preservation organizations, and his interest in historic cemeteries. He shared information about ongoing preservation efforts that demonstrate respect for the valuable historic resources of Texas. 

Were you always interested in history?

Ever since I was a kid in school, I have been interested in history. All I did in school was read history books, and I became an avid fan of the subject. When I became a commissioner, history wasn’t on my mind at first. History and preservation issues fell upon me somewhat unexpectedly. Over time, I became more receptive to it. And I started taking a more active interest in the history of our county.

Do you have the support of your county judge on preservation projects?

Yes, [Judge Michael Pfeifer] supports us 100 percent because he trusts that whatever we are doing for our precinct is going to be good for the entire county. All county commissioners have their own budget and we have our own crews; we decide what we need to do independently. Whenever there is a local preservation project that the judge wants to get involved with, we welcome that.

Several years ago, Arlene Marshall, former Calhoun County Judge, had a passion to preserve the historic Matagorda Island lighthouse. She went to work on the project and the commissioners supported her efforts. All of the commissioners and the judge know that the work we do is not for us—it’s for the community—and because of that, we are all in it together.

How is your relationship with the Calhoun County Historical Commission (CHC)?

The Calhoun CHC keeps me updated, and they let me know when they need my help. I do my part with any project that comes in, including any research that I can do. In recent years, the historical commission is getting more involved in doing research and starting their own projects. If they call and ask for my help, I tell them, absolutely! Now they have taken the bull by the horns and they are doing a fantastic job!

For many years, anything historical was ignored. When I came in as county commissioner, I took an interest. That was 14 years ago, and I have been involved in it ever since. The historical commission back then was weak because they didn’t have much of a foundation. So I met with them in the early days [and] helped them get organized. 

Do you enjoy working on preservation projects?

I’m very passionate about these projects, and I help out any way that I am able. And of course, I have other responsibilities as a commissioner, but Mary Belle Meitzen (Calhoun CHC chair) won’t let me forget about helping out with historic preservation projects. She is such an active promoter of preservation and the programs that the CHC is involved with.

The other county commissioners saw what I was doing, and I think they got jealous! It was contagious—they all started working on preservation projects in their precincts. 

Tell me about your involvement with the cemeteries in your precinct?

When I became commissioner, I noticed that the cemeteries in my precinct were in real bad shape, so we started working on cleaning them up. I thought I would take a chance and call the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) to see if they had any funds available to assist with the project. I explained to them the importance of these historic cemeteries. I also reached out to the CHC chair, Mary Belle, and I told her that I needed the CHC's help on the project.

The DRT paid for the installation of fences all the way around the perimeter. The old fences were installed over 50 years ago and in disrepair. By the time we were done, we spent about $50,000 to get fences around two cemeteries. One of the reasons we needed the fences, was to make sure the hogs didn’t come in and tear up the grounds. We also picked up the old tombstones that had fallen, cleaned, and restored them.

Why is it important to you to take care of historic cemeteries?

Somebody has to do the right thing. Often, nobody has the time or the money to go out and take care of our history. It’s very important that we maintain and be respectful of the cemeteries. Being in a position where I can contribute with a little bit of the county taxpayer’s money, which I try to use it as gracefully as I can, is a way of doing the right thing.

For me, being a veteran and knowing the value of being a citizen also plays a part. If you’re willing to put your life on the line for your country, you might as well go out and do everything that you can for your community at home, and that includes preserving our history.

Thank you to Commissioner Galvan, Calhoun County officials, and the Calhoun CHC for their genuine interest in history and their work to preserve the real stories of Texas!

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