Every so often, County Progress asks our distinguished Judges and Commissioners to allow us a glimpse into their public lives, giving us a fresh appreciation for the myriad of roles and responsibilities they shoulder every day. Our thanks to Childress County Commissioner Lyall Foster for taking the time to visit with us.
I believe God has a plan for all of our lives, and here is what He had for mine. When I was born, my parents lived on a farm 20 miles south of Socorro, N.M., in the Rio Grande Valley. My father farmed cotton, hay, and a few green chilies. My mother was a registered nurse and worked until we came along; then she was a full-time mother. All of our family lived in Oklahoma, so my mother chose for us to be born there.
We lived on the farm for seven years before selling out and moving back to Oklahoma to be closer to family. My father already had a farm where he ran some cows, and he opened a salvage yard. My parents divorced, and I lived with my dad so I could finish school in Mangum, Okla. My mother took a job in Childress, Texas, at the hospital, and my little brother moved with her. My dad had a heart attack and passed away Jan. 12, 1972, and an adopted family took me in so I could finish school in Mangum. Zane and Frena Winters let me live with them, and with that came three brothers making me the foster child; we just lost Momma Frena this past April 22, and she was the last of my parents.
After finishing school I moved to Childress and started working at the Lancer Mobile Home factory in the cabinet shop. I had a great shop teacher in high school, and we were always doing construction projects with Zane which helped in this endeavor. I was a little wild growing up; in fact, my theme song was Charlie Rich’s “Rolling with the Flow,” and the words of that song described my early life. I continued doing construction work after the factory shut down in 1986 with projects including all kinds of woodwork, especially cabinet building. I had been blessed with good health, but at some time we got to thinking about insurance, and so I started looking for employment that furnished insurance. This led me to my first job in Childress County in May 1990 as one of the custodians at the courthouse.
As I worked in this job, I was able to see how all of the offices conducted business. It was rewarding meeting so many people who came in and out of the courthouse. I enjoyed helping people. For example, there were many people who did not like riding the elevator, so I would ride with them. I saw how the offices worked, but I never did attend Commissioners Court while I was working as a custodian.
I decided to run for County Commissioner because the money was the same and I wouldn’t be at the courthouse all day. There were four who ran including the incumbent; I was fortunate enough to be the top vote getter and went on to prevail in a runoff.
In 1991, Childress hired a new Extension agent, and I spent a good bit of time in that office when she wasn’t on the road. With the help of some friends and the Good Lord, we started dating and ended up getting married on my father’s birthday, Aug. 19, 1993. My wife, Pam, retired after 32 years with Extension. In fact, one of Pam’s former 4-H students, Kelli, is an Extension specialist and is like a daughter to Pam. We don’t have any children of our own, but through the lives that she has touched we are blessed to have thousands of kids. We also have two fur babies, Spanky, a 3-year-old Westie, and Macie, a 9-year-old Schnauzer. As far as hobbies, I just purchased a 1972 Chevelle SS in February, and I enjoy woodworking.
When I ran for Commissioner, I didn’t have any expectations or idea of what it entailed. In the old days everyone just talked about the Road Commissioners, but there is so much more to it with the workings in Court and all the legal things that you have to know. When I was first elected, V.G. Young offered their 16-hour training in College Station and a wealth of knowledge. Now, the new Commissioners and Judges seminar is offered every year after an election, and it is invaluable! Another wonderful thing about the Commissioners Court is you have four other members you can learn from and who keep you out of too much trouble.
I was pleased to learn upon my election that our county helps provide fire protection. Through the years we have become more versed in firefighting, and the Texas Forest Service has provided training for our road hands. My view on this has always been safety first, man, machine, in that order. We have also had all of our NIMS training, and that helps when out on an incident.
I greatly appreciate having road hands who are so adept at their jobs. I have a man who has been with me over 20 years, and we are more like family than some family I have. Junior Sullivan takes care of the county roads and me. He has been a blessing in my life, and he has a calmness about him that helps me when the sky is falling! I am thankful!
A typical day has changed over the years and has evolved from spending more time out on the roads to time spent dealing with courthouse workings. When I started we would meet at the barn and plan out our days and decide what needed attention. Now we spend more time accepting calls and listening to concerns of constituents about what we need to address in the future. You can be assured something will pop up that you weren’t expecting. So you just handle it.
Some of our biggest challenges have been things like the floods in 1995 and the fires in 1996 and 2006. Those are the most memorable and notable in my recollection. We have had the help of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission which has been invaluable in these catastrophes. I can’t say enough about our local council of governments.
You know, when I took office either I didn’t have the knowledge, or things just weren’t so out of kilter in our state government. It seems back then they tried to help with county issues. My father used to tell me, “If you’re going to build a good fence, set a good corner post.” I believe that this applies in all aspects of life. The Bible tells us not to build a house on sand, so we need a good foundation for everything we do in life.
It is apparent to me that the Texas Legislature, mainly the Senate, is trying to squash the very foundation of government with all the bills they are passing to hamper county government including revenue caps and spending limits. I do want to commend Sen. Kel Seliger for going to bat for our small counties and rural people. It seems others are trying to cut our money off at the top and telling us how much we can spend at the bottom. What does that leave the county to do? I believe all of this attention on counties is being used to cover the main issue here, which is the state’s responsibility to fund the school system. I have always believed if you have a gripe, you need to have a solution to go with it. My solution to school funding would be to add 1.75 cents to the sales tax to raise it from the 8.25 to 10 cents and use the extra 1.75 cents exclusively for funding the school system.
FAVORITE PART OF BEING A COUNTY COMMISSIONER:
The best part of my job is being able to make a difference, whether it is in the courthouse helping with a public need that makes someone’s life better or on a county road making someone’s travel better. I have been blessed with the ability to remember names and faces. I believe it is important to call everyone – especially children – by name to give them self-worth and acknowledgment. Life is short, so tell your loved ones that you love them!