Chapter 2 The Beginnings Đ Ballinger, Texas
Nestled in the southern end of Runnels County, Texas is the convergence of the Colorado River and the Elm Creek, at the city of Ballinger, a small community of some 4,400 people in the 1940 U.S. Census. It boasted a handful of main line churches, one of which was the First Presbyterian Church. Its pastor was my father, the Rev. Mr. Dwight Alfred Sharpe, a second-generation Texas native from Georgetown and a 1925 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a 1926 graduate of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, located in Austin as well. Mr. SharpeŐs wife, my mother, was Martha Dixon Chapman Sharpe, a native of Lufkin, TX, and a 1926 graduate of UT as well, which is where the met. Their family consisted of two daughters, Martha and Elizabeth, who were born in 1927 and 1929. The family had moved to Ballinger in 1936. This was a photo used in our familyŐs Christmas Card in 1936.
My life in Ballinger was from my 1939 birth till 1941. Bursting upon the scene of the Sharpe family was what was to become their one and only son, Mr. Dwight Albert Sharpe. He was brought kicking and screaming into the world of West Texas in the cityŐs hospital on that fateful day of June 24, 1939. The event was the stir in town, as this was one of the stalwart pillars of that community. That was the beginning of my life, which has a history of being greatly blessed in GodŐs good providence! Since my fatherŐs calling in the ministry brought a move of our family in the summer of 1941 to serve the Central Park Presbyterian Church in southeast Houston, near the Ship Yards, my recollections of Ballinger living are blank! They rely only upon hear-say evidence.
HereŐs my Mother, giving comfort to me, shortly after delivery. On the right, here is the occasion of my first hair cut!
My fatherŐs continued close connection with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary included having one of its famed faculty members, Dr. Samuel Joeckel, travel to my home church in Ballinger to administer water baptism to me on September 11, 1939 when I as about three months old. He was on a preaching mission at a near-by country church. Here is a photograph of Dr. Joeckel and my two sisters, Elizabeth Ann (L) and Martha.
The Clerk of Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Ballinger, Ms. Judy Eaves, provided me with a copy in 2016 of their listing of baptisms during the years one mine took place.
That not only gave me the date of my baptism, but two other names of interest were noticed. First, my first cousin, Harry Franklin Sharpe, was baptized March 20, 1937. HarryŐs father, Harry Simons (Dede) Sharpe, and my father were brothers. Harry and his parents lived In Georgetown, Texas, also my fatherŐs hometown. IŐd never realized that theyŐd traveled to Ballinger for my father to baptize Harry.
Secondly, a boy named Tom Guin was baptized in 1938, the year before me. I met Tom (L) when he was a sophomore at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, the year I was a freshman there (R), 1957-58. We were fellow Drake Fraternity brothers! ItŐs a small world, isnŐt it?
Here is my first Christmas. This would have been December 25, 1939.
The boy's name, Dwight, is pronounced as it rhymes with light. It is of Flemish origin, and its meaning is "white or blond." It is a variant of DeWitt. Possibly it could be a short form of the surname derived from Dionysius. Dwight was given fame in the United States by two Yale University presidents, and by United States President Dwight David Eisenhower.
My first name comes from my father and my great Uncle Dwight Sharpe of Chicago, whom I never saw. My middle name, Albert, is immediately from my Uncle Herschell Albert Chapman (my Mother's brother and only sibling), but it also goes back to my great grandfather, William Albert Abney, Sr. The only time I ever saw Uncle Herschell was when my Mother and I visited him and his wife, Gertrude, in Oakland, California in 1940, the summer of my first birthday. They all visited the World's Fair of San Francisco that was exhibiting at the time. Of course, I can't remember it, but the photographs Mom kept around a while gave me memories of the trip and of my Aunt and Uncle.
Taking place at the time of that only visit to Uncle Albert, was the Golden Gate International Exposition held 1939-40, a WorldŐs Fair celebrating the newly built. This spectacular almost five-mile long bridge spanned the Oakland Bay and the entrance into the Pacific Ocean. It opened in 1936, so we were among the earlier travelers to cross that famous bridge in the summer of 1940! The crossing enabled us to visit the WorldŐs Fair grounds. It became the only WorldŐs Fair I have ever attended!
Uncle Herschell was a successful insurance salesman who prospered so that my mother was said that he always drove a Packard automobile, one of the luxury cars of that era, whose production ran from 1899 through 1958.
That 1940 visit to California was the one and only time ever I was in the presence of Uncle Herschell and Aunt Gertrude. He died in 1952 and she in 1983, never bearing any children. California was so far away from us in the patterns in which we moved that we never got out there again. Gertrude did have a first marriage and had a child or children, but I have no records of them.
An interesting aspect about that June of 1940 visit to Oakland, California was that my genealogical friend, Mr. Henry Z. (Hank) Jones, Jr., whom IŐd meet some 64 years later, and from whom much valuable genealogical information was learned, was born in Oakland that very same month, June 4, 1940, that my mother and myself, her one-year-old son, were in Oakland! There could have been Divine destiny for me to be there when Hank came into the world! Hank, professionally, is an entertainer and film actor, having appeared in several Walt Disney movies, etc. Another common thread with us was both having been Deacons in the Presbyterian Church at various times.
At some point in our familyŐs life, which I believe began in our Ballinger years, my father took up the hobby of photography, including the developing of film and prints in his own home-made Ňdark room.Ó One of the most memorable aspects of that hobby became the annual Christmas Cards he designed and mailed to their friends and to the church members.
HereŐs a photograph of the familyŐs household caretaker, Ruby, as she is giving me some hair care!
Above, here, is Nick, our family pet, joining me for lunch!
When my father accepted a call to become pastor of the Central Park Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, 1941, the people in the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Ballinger gathered the funds in many gifts to provide a 1941 2-door Chevrolet sedan as a going away present for our family. That was in March 1941.
That was again an instance of GodŐs provision and protection for our family repeatedly over the years. The familyŐs current automobile was an early 1930s model that may have been on its last legs (or wheels!). The other aspects of this Devine gift were that World War II broke out December 7, 1941. One of the many changes affecting American life was the cessation of passenger car manufacturing. The automobile industry capacity was re-directed to assembling vehicles for military use. It wasnŐt until the mid and later 1940s that passenger cars were back on the market in quantity. Our familyŐs old vintage car probably would not have lasted through the war years! Here is a photo of my mother by our car shortly after arriving in Houston in 1941.
Ballinger was one of those small west Texas towns that has not grown over the years. ItŐs population for when we resided there of 4,400 had declined by 2016 to about 3,700. ItŐs current day ethnicity is 61% Anglo, 34% Hispanic and 5% other races. Its household income is about $27,000, whereas the state-wide household income is about $51,000.