Second Place Feature Writing - North and East Texas Press Association, Spring 2021 - by Autumn Owens
After losing their 12-year-old son, Hayden, to suicide on April 17, the Hunstable family, of Aledo, is making it their mission to share his story and tell the world that conversations matter.
“Hayden took his life, which has absolutely devastated our family and is a complete travesty. He was truly a special person and the love of my life, my best friend,” Hayden’s father, Brad Hunstable said. “It was a beautiful sunny day — my dad and I were preparing our well, Hayden was helping us — and everything was fine. Then during a 30-minute window, he had broken his Fornite monitor for a second time in a couple of months by accident. I can only imagine, but afraid he’d get in trouble, mad at himself, embarrassed, stressed out about everything — he could be hard on himself a little bit — he went in his closet and took his life.”
Hayden was a student at Aledo Middle School who had a passion for sports, fishing, the outdoors and playing Xbox with his friends.
Following his death, Brad contacted the parents of Hayden’s friends to break the news and the Hunstable family mourned while trying to find out what happened.
“The first two days we had no idea what happened. It was like, ‘Where did this come from?’ We had no idea about the monitor at that point, and it was probably the most painful part, the unknown. As we learned what happened, it was a little more accepted, to say, in knowing why,” Brad Hunstable said. “As we started learning, I spoke to one of his friend’s dad, who is also my friend, and they told me a situation where their son had had some thoughts, and they had actually gotten him some professional help over the years. I was shocked by that. Hayden never said anything to us and we never saw anything other than the occasional moping around like any kid might do — normal pre-teen stuff.”
Soon after, the Hunstable family was contacted by Aledo ISD and asked if they would issue a statement because the district was receiving a lot of questions about Hayden. With school districts being shut down since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brad Hunstable decided to issue a statement about what had happened to Hayden.
“Obviously in the wake of that tragedy as we mourned, I had a split second decision about how we go about talking about it. Most families, as I’ve since learned, and most news reporters don’t report on suicide, and I’m increasingly convinced based on the data and all I’ve learned, that’s probably not the right approach,” Hunstable said. “I do believe Hayden passed from a whole list of factors, but I believe isolation was the trigger. I do believe isolation will amplify any underlying conditions around mental health. My thought process was that we need to talk about this and I want parents to know.”
On April 29, Aledo ISD sent out a reminder email with resources for families and students that might be struggling, which included counseling support that can be located through the district’s website at aledoisd.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Aledo ISD counselors are ready and available to help support all Bearcat families related to any matters that come up while schools are closed. This includes, but is certainly not limited to COVID-19 help, mental health support, connecting with community resources, suicide conversations and prevention efforts,” according to the email from AISD. “Counselors are available to help families however necessary during this time.”
The Hunstables then created Hayden’s Corner to bring awareness to suicide.
“So we formed Hayden’s Corner with the idea that conversations matter and my belief is that we can’t brush this under the rug anymore. Suicide is a taboo subject. Many brush it under the rug, some may even be embarrassed about it and it’s hard to talk about, and what I saw I can tell you, I don’t think there’s anything more tragic in life,” Brad Hunstable said. “Social and emotional development in kids, particularly 10 to 14, is critical and that’s what Hayden’s Corner is going to be focused on. The data around this is horrendously sparse, horrendously fragmented and delayed significantly.”
Since March 1, there have been at least five suicides in Parker County and 52 in Tarrant County, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Hunstable said he hopes that by creating Hayden’s Corner, they can help solve some of the problems.
“I’m trying to raise $100,000 immediately for an emergency public safety announcement for parents and have about $20,000 of that, so we have a ways to go. We shot a documentary and that’s being finalized and it’s really going to be educational, plus a document of Hayden’s story. There’s a trailer at haydenscorner.org, and it’s tough to watch, but I did it on purpose,” he said. “In full disclosure, there are probably some people who disagree with me on this, but to me it’s a national wake-up call for parents.”
Gary Rodriguez, known as the “People Mechanic” and co-founder of Unblock, a consulting agency that provides training and coaching on ownership, self-leadership and communication, will be working with Brad and shared some of his decades of knowledge, saying it’s critical that parents have conversations with their children as they move into their teen years.
“Suicide is a complex, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional aspect that I personally have not really heard anybody talk about. This is something that I’m super passionate about. My mission has been to help people heal the hell between their ears and be able to lift themselves out of that. When a child reaches their teenage years, especially now with the amount of information on the internet and all the different platforms and the apps and TikTok and everything, kids are developing their own sense of, ‘I’m not my parents child only, I’m evolving to be my own personality with my own beliefs and my own sense about what’s right and what’s wrong,’” Rodriguez said. “The parents are not having conversations with their child as if their child has a legitimate different point of view and so the child is going to self-isolate, the child’s going to disassociate from the parent and then the parent really loses the influence to be able to help that child directionalize themselves. They must hold critical conversations and listen to their children.”
Since creating Hayden’s Corner, Hunstable said he’s received thousands of messages from people all around the world.
“There’s a couple of significant underlying themes that come across, which is, ‘I’m seeing the same things in my kids, thank you for opening my eyes. I’m leaning in more, I’m taking my kid out more, we’re going for walks, thank you.’ The other big theme is, ‘I have checked in on my kid and had a deeper conversation with no judgement and I found out my daughter was a cutter, I found out my son tried to commit suicide, I found out my son or daughter was depressed,’ so my premise is about how conversations matter,” Brad said. “Particularly conversations amongst parents and kids, but also amongst kids and kids. At Hayden’s funeral, I said, ‘You see something, you say something.’ Talk amongst yourselves because most of the time kids will tell their friends about this first and then the kids don’t tell anybody. You’ve got to say something if someone’s hurt, and they need to be educated on this.”
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide was the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 14, 596 deaths; ages 15 to 24, 6,211 deaths; and ages 25 to 34, 8,020 deaths, in the United States in 2018.
Hunstable said he isn’t sure where the line is to start having conversations, but talking is not a bad thing.
“This is a tsunami, it’s taking over the nation — combine that with the unemployment rate and combine that with isolation and we’re creating the perfect storm — so we have to lean in aggressively. Not talking about it is absolutely the worst thing you can do,” he said. “I’m not sure where the line is to start having these conversations — you can have them differently with younger people than older people — but I’m convinced that having some conversations around this at a very young age is not a bad idea. It’s a good thing. You have to worry about it now and if they say anything, immediately go get professional help because there are a ton of resources out there. There’s nothing wrong with counseling. Talking is not a bad thing.”
Rodriguez said he will be helping Hunstable provide resources through Hayden’s Corner.
“We’re going to be working very closely with Hayden’s Corner and providing a lot of free resources to people and I want to build out a strategy for having critical conversations so people can have that right out the gate and then all the subtleties of how to start helping parents and teenagers,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve done a lot of coaching with teenagers on the verge of suicide and I haven’t lost anybody. It’s been an incredible ride and the one thing I discovered is kids really do see their parents clearer than they did when they were younger.”
For more information or to donate, visit haydenscorner.org or www.gofundme.com/f/haydens-corner.
“The world’s changing so fast, technology is changing so fast, we’re not property equipped. You want to parent like you know it all, but get help,” Hunstable said. “Parenting is just like anything, you have to build a skill set and you have to learn what the best practices are.”
First Place Featuring Writing - North and East Texas Press Association, Spring 2020 - By Autumn Owens
Veal’s Station is the oldest community in Parker County, with the first settlers arriving in the early 1850s, and to this day has homesteads occupied by the original settlers’ descendants.
“The first white settlers arrived in the early 1850s. Among them was William Veal who opened a general store a quarter-mile from the site of the present town. In 1857, Veal and fellow settlers John Lantz and G.W. Coleman constructed a large building that served as a Masonic meeting hall and a common school. A huge bronze bell above the building was used to warn settlers of imminent Indian attacks,” according to a historical article written by David Minor of the Texas State Historical Association. “Soon after the building was finished, Veal moved his general store near the school, and gradually the place came to be known as Veal’s Station. By the late 1870s the Indians had been driven out, and the town began to grow.”
In 1890 a boarding house for girls and a dormitory for boys was constructed and was made into Parsons College. There were more than 500 students that attended at one point, but on Dec. 10, 1893, the college burned down.
After it was bypassed by the railroads, the town ceased to grow and gradually the number of businesses, students and residents declined, according to the article. In 1936, the state erected a historical marker at the site of the school building.
“It was the first town in Parker County and growing up in the 1800s were tough times — the smallpox outbreak and [having] to fight Indians,” Parker County Historical Commission Historian Donna McCauley said. “I would love to see some archaeological digs out there for artifacts for our history.”
Laurie Chance Smith, a descendant of four of the early Parker County settlers, recently published a book about Veal’s Station and its history.
“I’m a descendant of four of the early settler families in Parker County — the Cockburns, the Tuckers, the Gilleys and the Wrights, and members of all four of those family lines are buried at Veal’s Station Cemetery. I was visiting the cemetery with my mother several years ago and I asked her why there wasn’t a historical marker for the cemetery, it is surely one of the oldest cemeteries in Parker County. Like any good mother would do, she winked, and said, ‘Well, that would be a good job for someone,’” Smith said. “So I started my quest that day to get the historic Texas cemetery marker for Veal’s Station Cemetery and while I was gathering the history to present to the Texas Historical Commission, people started sharing suitcases filled with information on the community — the history, photographs, historical records — just an extraordinary amount of information.”
All that remains of Veal’s Station now is the cemetery.
Smith said that’s when she saw a book in the making and decided to run with it, publishing “Around Veal’s Station: An Illustrated History of Parker County’s Oldest Town” on June 30.
“I thought if I didn’t copy and record all of this, it would simply be lost,” Smith said. “So the book is organized along a timeline and it tells the story of Veal’s Station in order to the best of my ability and knowledge. A lot of the homesteads out here are still occupied by descendants of those original settlers and so it’s really interesting to hear the history of the land and the structures.”
One of those homesteads includes the William and Elisabeth Woody Homestead and the Woody Creek Farm, which will be receiving an official historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission on Oct. 26.
“The house has been there 165 years,” Kimberly (Woody) Boretsky, who helped get the historical marker, said. “It’s the oldest homestead in Parker County and Veal’s Station was a college town and is the oldest town, community, in Parker County.”
According to Smith’s book, Bill and Elisabeth Woody walked from their home in Roane County, Tennessee to Texas in 1846. In 1853, their Comanche guides took Bill to Veal’s Station.
“While living in their barn, Bill and Betsy planned and built their home. During 1854, most of the white settlers in Parker County lived in dugouts in the earth or log cabins,” according to the book. “The Woody House is considered the first permanent home in Parker County because it was built of yellow pine lumber.”
Bill became Veal Station’s shoemaker, opening a shop at his home.
The current owners of the Woody homestead, Marc and Elizabeth Salvatore, have made historically-accurate renovations and the subject marker was approved by the THS in 2018. The Woody Cemetery received its historical marker on Oct. 8.
Other historical landmarks from Veal’s Station include the Silver Creek United Methodist Church, the Wright Cemetery, the Tucker House, the Clark Cemetery and the Slover School-Robinson Cabin. The Bud Clark Cemetery and Veal’s Station Cemetery markers are forthcoming.
Veal’s Station Cemetery can still be seen in pristine condition today on Veal Station Road in Springtown.
First Place Featuring Writing - North and East Texas Press Association, Spring 2020 - By Autumn Owens
Acme Pressed Brick Company was established in Parker County by George E. Bennett in 1891, and is still going strong in its operation 128 years later.
Following its opening, a company town formed around the plant called Bennett, what is now considered part of Millsap, and included 100 Acme Brick homes for 100 employees and their families.
Play Video“George Bennett, Acme’s founder, left his home in Springfield, Ohio, at the age of 16 and arrived in Galveston, Texas, a few years later in the late 1870s,” Ron Taylor of Ashley & Taylor Advertising and PR, who handles public relations for the plant, said. “He realized that Dallas offered more business prospects and began a successful career with the McCormick Harvester and Reaper Company, which carried him across the state in pursuit of business. He left this successful career because he could see the need for brick to build homes and commercial structures for the booming population. He began to search around the state for the right economic conditions and clay reserves to build a brick company.”
That’s when the Acme Pressed Brick Company was born.
Besides housing for employees, the Bennett company town had its own store, shops and a hotel.
“I know there are people in Millsap who remember the hotel,” Parker County Historical Commission member Bill Warren said. “The company issued its own form of money that could only be used in company stores, although businesses in Millsap and other places would take the script at highly discounted values.”
Acme became one of the largest American-owned brick manufacturers and was the first to offer a 100-year guarantee to its customers, which is still in effect today. In 1916, the company began operating as Acme Brick Company, dropping “Pressed,” and Bennett’s son, Walter R. Bennett, was elected as the newly-named company’s first president.
The plant still remains on the same land today, but was rebuilt in 1996.
“Acme is still mining clay from the same area that produced our raw materials in 1891 and the clays there are of such good quality that Acme expects that it will be producing for many more years,” Taylor said.
Tracy Bruton, who has worked for the company since 1994, became the plant manager of the Millsap location in 2013.
“We have 73 total associates at this plant and about 50 of them work in the actual plant. We have a crew of 12 drivers, so we deliver a lot of our own goods to the DFW area and we also service Houston and out west like Midland and Odessa,” Bruton said. “This plant produces about 73 million bricks a year and it’s all residential brick. We’ve got between nine and 13 standard blends and we try to keep up with the changing colors. This plant specifically was built in 1996 and it’s a little bit more automated than some of our other plants.”
Since 1987 the plant has stamped its logo into bricks, which is a unique practice compared to other companies.
“We’re the only company that has ever done that, the other companies don’t for some reason,” Bruton said. “All of our residential, standard products get a logo and it helps with our 100-year warranty of the brick.”
The plant uses a continuous-cycle kiln that fits up to 48 large cars of brick and fires them at 1,920 to 1,950 degrees. Bruton said the kiln runs 24/7.
“We have 15 operating plants right now. This plant specifically has seen downturns, it’s seen upticks, and it had competition with Thurber Brick, but it survived the test of time,” Bruton said. “Acme Brick has always treated me like family, so I try to extend that out to the guys in the plant, and I truly believe we are a family-oriented company.”
Warren said the Acme Brick plant has two historical markers and a medallion — one medallion and marker at the plant itself.
“The other marker has recently been relocated from the former rest stop that was located on the Parker/Palo Pinto county line, and is now at the intersection of Bennett Road and [Farm-to-Market] 113,” Warren said. “[Precinct 3] Commissioner Larry Walden recently had a substantial pull off installed so people can drive up to the marker. Acme Brick is waiting for the road materials to settle before building a brick column around the marker poll."
First Place Featuring Writing - North and East Texas Press Association, Spring 2019, Weatherford Democrat - By Autumn Owens
When you think about singers and songwriters, a young face typically doesn’t come to mind, but 11-year-old Weatherford resident Jack Barksdale is already making a name for himself in the music industry, releasing an EP and traveling all around Texas and other states playing shows and festivals.
“We were the first station to put him on the air,” Texas Home Grown Radio DJ Jody Lee Caudle, of Stephenville, who’s known Barksdale for a couple of years, said. “He just won everybody over instantly, of course.”
Barksdale picked up his first guitar when he was just 4 years old.
“My parents got me a toy guitar. I strummed it and it sounded terrible and I just wanted to know how to make it sound good,” Barksdale said. “So when I was 7, my hands were big enough and my parents got me guitar lessons.”
Barksdale’s parents, Clara and Brent, bought him a Hohner guitar from Craig’s Music to start with.
“We thought if he can keep it in tune and play it, and he sticks with it, then we can buy him a fancier guitar later,” Clara said. “I put him into fiddle lessons first for a couple of years and he played it, learned music theory and liked it alright, but he wanted to play guitar.”
Barksdale said he was hooked from that moment on and when he was 9, was invited to play in a “pickers circle” at a music festival in Luckenbach, Texas.
“I went and played a Johnny Cash song and was about to leave and they wanted me to play one more song, so I played an original that not even my parents had heard,” Barksdale said. “I never got nervous. The one time I got nervous it’s because I was playing with somebody awesome. I got to play with Verlon Thompson, who was the guitar player for Guy Clark for a lot of years, so I played a Guy Clark song and he jumped up and started playing with me. I was super nervous, but it was awesome.”
Now at age 11, Barksdale not only plays guitar, but the mandolin, ukulele, harmonica, resonator and piano, and said he primarily plays by ear.
“From the Nashville number system I can figure out what chord would sound good and then I always like to come up with different things, so I’ll play around with different melodies and different speeds,” Barksdale said. “I like my songs to be a little different than other people, so I don’t want to just strum a chord, I want to maybe pick it or I’ll try playing a lead riff in the middle of the song because that really changes it up a lot.”
Barksdale’s parents aren’t quite sure where he got his natural talent.
“My husband and I don’t play music, we love it, but we don’t play it so when it comes to music we don’t speak his language and he has to dumb it down so far to tell us things,” Clara said. “We have come to rely heavily on the music community and it is very much a family and they have taken Jack under their wing. For us it’s been invaluable that they’ve been so welcoming to him.”
Caudle said he thinks Barksdale is going to be huge one day.
“The thing about Jack is the stuff he sings and the way he writes, he’s an old soul,” Caudle said. “He does research and knows more about music than I do. He’s a special kid and I love that he’s more about the writing than the performing. He’s a writer first and a performer second.”
Caudle remembered a time when Barksdale was playing at a fundraiser show for kids with diabetes and said that Barksdale donated his entire tip jar back to the organization.
“I just really respect him and his attitude. I wish everybody looked at music the way he does and was the kind of person he is, he has a huge heart,” Caudle said. “That’s what really separates him from everybody else, he’s an
11-year-old kid and he’s a good person.”
Barksdale released an EP with four songs at the beginning of the month, recording it at AudioStyles studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, but Clara says they travel to different studios for other recordings for experience.
“We thought if this ends up being what he wants to do the rest of his life, we want him to have as much experience with all the aspects of it as we can,” Clara said. “We try different studios and different producers every time so that he could have that experience of knowing what he likes and what he doesn’t.”
Barksdale has played shows in Fort Worth — Magnolia Motor Lounge, Fred’s, Lola’s Saloon and Fort Worth Live; Stephenville — Twisted J Live; Bluff Dale — Greenwood Saloon; New Braunfels; and Austin.
Barksdale is currently in New Mexico playing at the Red River Folk Festival and said for now he will be focused on the new EP and playing shows.
“It’s always good to get what you have out and I will promote that for right now,” Barksdale said. “Then I’ll start recording more eventually, but we’re focused on the EP right now.”
When asked what he loves about music, Barksdale couldn’t put it all into words saying, “I just do,” with a laugh.
For more information about Barksdale and to check out his new EP, visit jackbarksdale.com.