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Rutledge Haggard talks Plano's past and future

The Haggard Family Haggard Farm, Haggard Middle School, Haggard Park and the list goes on. If you’ve lived in Plano for any amount of time you’ve surely seen the name somewhere around town.

The Haggard Family

Haggard Farm, Haggard Middle School, Haggard Park and the list goes on. If you’ve lived in Plano for any amount of time you’ve surely seen the name somewhere around town.

Rutledge Haggard is the great-great-grandson of the Haggards who settled here in 1856, just before the Civil War. I meet Rutledge in the Party Barn, off Windhaven and the Tollway; it’s the site of his family’s original home. The Party Barn, built for his father’s birthday, is a large, well barn, with walls covered in memorabilia from his family’s rich history.

One wall is home to the original tools Rutledge used growing up on the farm, there’s newspaper clippings and magazine pages of days long past framed mixed among vintage signs. Party tables with oil lamps fill the room, two Blues Brothers statues frame a platform, and a larger than life photo of Rutledge from the ‘80s hangs humbly in the corner. (It’s from his Citizen of the Year recognition, which he was late for because he didn’t know he was being awarded it!) His favorite treasures are his father’s shop equipment and other vintage artifacts hanging on the walls.

Rutledge is the oldest of three, has five children and a dozen grandkids spanning the ages of four to 15. Over the years, as his family sold land, he invested in rental and commercial properties, but his heart was always at the farm. He’s seen Plano go from a small town to the thriving city, and was kind enough to let me ask him a few questions about the city his family helped build.  

Mr. Haggard at the Party Barn in Plano I Photos by Cori Baker

What was your childhood like?

My family settled here in 1856, and my great-grandparents moved to Alma and Custer in 1884. My great-grandfather went to Plano schools in the horse and buggy days, so the family wanted to be closer to the Plano schools. He would ride his horse to school, tie his horse up at his aunt’s place and then walk over.

From my home, it was 10 miles to school and nothing there except dirt roads. We were the first on the bus and last off the school bus. The driver was a cousin and he would come to the house quite often and drink coffee with mother and daddy in the mornings. Then we got on the bus, here we go!

A lot of friends I still have today, we grew up together riding the bus together. That was until high school. I got my first car my junior year; a 1948 four-door Sedan, fluid drive.  

Probably one thing I did in high school, I can’t imagine a senior doing today … there were two buses. One went east, and one went west. The driver for the bus also refereed the baseball games, so when there was a home game in Plano, I drove the school bus for him. Can you imagine that happening today? I can’t. We were a small town, everyone had to wear multiple hats. In total, there were about 400 of kids in all grades K-12, in what is known today as the Cox Building.

Read more: How high school football integrated Plano schools

What did you do after high school?

Arlington State Junior College, two years there. ROTC, engineer major, math and physics were my courses. Military was mandatory. I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do, even though I got drafted after finishing TCU.

My family has been involved with TCU but I never thought I would be going to school there. It was natural for me to go there though. For social events we always went to Fort Worth and TCU because there was very little happening at Arlington State which at that time was a small Junior College and a commuter school.

Going to TCU was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and love going to watch the frogs play. I’m a big football fan!

Tell me about your time in the service.

I served two years in Germany. There was a very small percentage of us that had a high school degree, and only six or seven, out of 2000 that had a college degree. So they pulled us out, and I taught school the whole time. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

I taught physics, math and believe it or not, they never had anyone for a typing course and they offered it at night as an extra class. So, I taught typing and I had to say, “Don’t do as I do; do as I say.” [laughs]

The goal was for as many guys to get their GED. It was an excellent opportunity for them and for me. When I got out I did some substitute teaching. I was working on the farm but during the cold months or bad weather days, sometimes they’d call me and say we need a teacher. So I would go.

One of my closest friends and biggest supporter of the school district is Nancy Boyd. I met her while I was substituting at Williams and we’ve become lifelong friends. I enjoyed it. But all my life I wanted to come back to the farm. I have dirt under my fingernails.

While attending college my mom begged me to go work for [Texas Instruments], she said, they’ll furnish your pencils for you. I said, no mom I want to farm.

What do you love about farming?

I love the mechanics of it. I love to go out to the field and to mow hay, you get that smell of new mown hay in the air. And to plow a field and to see where the plow has run and not run, and the difference in the color of the soil. Watching the wildlife when you’re working is very entertaining and interesting.

It’s comforting and relaxing. Long hours, long long hours. Someone says, did you go to work today? I say, well the sun came up didn’t it? And the sun goes down. Clocks don’t mean anything to me I could throw them away.

Work is my crutch. If I’m feeling some anxiety, I find something to do with my hands. The farm did that for me. It was physical and labor intensive.

I don’t remember a day where I didn’t know how to farm. I can remember when my Dad still used mules to farm. I had a shetland pony, and he would saddle up my pony and I would ride with him up and down the rows. I stayed as close to him as I could, all my life. I loved what he did, and I had no desire to do anything else.

I’m not as fond of the animals as much as the farm. My brother is the opposite, the horses you see now, those are all his. I guess I got lazy because when the bad, cold weather comes you still got to feed them.

But I could sit on a tractor until midnight, doesn’t bother me. He loves the animals. I’ve had cattle, raised calves, hogs, sheep we’ve done it all here and I’ve been involved with all of it. But my love goes back to the mechanics and the farm.

Tell me about the Haggard legacy in this town.

The middle school is named after my great-great grandfather. Naming committee voted and all of the schools are named after founding families. There are some great families; Harringtons, Wells, Carpenter, Saigling, Rice, Forman, Haggard (to name a few) names on the schools, those pioneer families had a big part in making Plano what it is today.

Each family had its own likes and dedication, whether it was farming, ranching, school or on city council. My family’s contribution has been mostly to the school district, and a lot of my family has served on the school board.

I’m this way today, I’m very involved with the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation. I tell those kids every time I have an opportunity: “We can give you cars, clothes, or other valuables, but if you get an education, no one can take that away from you. Maybe you don’t go into the field your degree is in, but you’ve learned how to research and how to move forward.”

My family had the same philosophy. I served on the school board for 18 years, until 1989.

The school district brought the businesses here. I have to give Dr. Hendrick and David Griffin, former city manager, credit for a lot that’s happened in Plano. That foundation that was built, when Plano first started growing, comes from the things they did while in charge.

I’ll quote Dr. Hendrick: “Without a good sports program you can’t have a good academic program.” And he felt very strong about that and I’m … I’m going to have to concur with him.

I think if you look at the schools and what’s happening, TCU for example, they’ve been a good school for as long as I can remember. But the academic program and the funds that have come in after the success of Patterson football program are astronomical. Almost unbelievable.  

Dr. Hendrick says, with the sports program, you get your teachers, principals and everything else supporting of the program. For students to qualify to play, they need to do well academically. It all works together.

Do you wish Plano had made one large high school like Allen, so the football program would have more talent to pull from?

Our schools are so large it’s not hard for a student to get lost. Allen can be one school because they’re a fourth of the size of our district. There’s no excuse for Allen winning all the time because we’re all pulling from the same area size. But because of Allen’s program, families are moving there because they want their kids to pursue those sports. They’re not verbally recruiting but emotionally they are in a way.

What do you think about the Robin Hood Law, were money from more affluent districts is distributed to those with less resources?

I served so many years on the school board, I saw what we did to help Plano grow. The Plano Economic Development Board and Leadership Plano was established during this time. We knew we needed industry to come to Plano to help accelerate the school district. And we started finding ways and means to bring industry here that would help the tax base.

I saw what we did, so I’m not very excited about those dollars—we created for Plano due to advanced planning—leaving here to go to cities that didn’t or can’t.

If it’s just a residential community, the tax dollars are not available. It’s happening across the state … the smaller ones should probably consolidate if they can, before taking money from other districts. I’m a little bitter towards Robin Hood.

What do you miss most about Plano from the ‘70s, ‘80s?

Fact that you knew everyone in town. If you walked down Main Street you’d know everyone there. In the school, you knew everyone from first grade to twelfth. The way of life, it was slower paced than we live today. Not that I would want to go back, I don’t want to go to the days before microwaves, I’d starve to death. [laughs] But I miss the friendliness of the small community.

We have a house in Cedar Creek and I love the slow pace. It’s a different lifestyle.

Tell me about your involvement with the new Plano Children’s Theater?

I have a dozen grandkids, and one is very involved and very good. I look at the opportunities, everyone in Plano needs something they love and can excel in, sports or arts.

The Hendrick Program has a lot of the same characteristics. We give scholarships to kids who have faced adversity, who need a second chance. Kids who can’t go to college without our help. I see the theater doing the same thing for a lot of kids, affords them a way to express themselves and build emotions and character. The things they’re doing are very positive. When companies move in and start evaluating a community they look at the schools, the city and the arts.

Read more: Willow Bend Center for the Arts is open

Tell me about your grandkids.

One family is in Austin and everyone else is around here.

I have three boys and my wife has a boy and girl. They’re mine. Her kids are my kids. In fact, my wife’s daughter was in the house earlier today watching for you. We were talking and I said, “I’m meeting Cori at 11 and you watch for her while I change clothes.”

Karsen one of my Granddaughters is in the theater, she has a gifted voice. I twisted her arm to sing for our Christmas Sunday school class party. I don’t think she would have done it for anyone else. I told her I’d stand next to her—can’t do much else, but if she starts to faint I’d catch her. Going home afterwards, Karsen says, “He’s my supporter and my grandfather. My other two can’t be here for me.” [Rutledge tears up a little]

So, we spend a lot of time with her and all the grandkids. I have always loved kids and they are my life. They keep me young, they keep me going. We go to all their activities that we can. Susan is retired and that’s her life. I still work every day. I have no desire to retire. No desire. I’m tired but that’s just without the “re” in front of it.

Did you ever think Plano would become what it is now?

Not in my wildest dreams. When they put 75 in, I remember that, old Highway 5 was the thoroughfare. I never thought Plano would be what it is today. I don’t know if you can find a town that small nearby. When I was in high school there was a sign going up a hill on the west side of town that said: Plano, population 1275. Yes, I have seen a few changes.