Don Blackburn wasn’t always a Wylie Bulldog, but it only took him four years to realize that the school was very special.
Blackburn attended Wylie from 1949 until he graduated in 1953, and those four years changed his life. When he began having children of his own, he knew he wanted them to grow up Wylie Bulldogs.
He also was determined to do whatever he could to help the district, including spending 15 years on the Wylie school board – five as board president. Because of that service, he was chosen for induction in the Wylie Hall of Honor.
“You couldn’t find a better person,” says longtime friend and fellow Hall of Honor member Leland Robinson. “What makes him special is his integrity, his honesty and his character. If he tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”
A Special School
Blackburn’s parents moved their family from Shallowater to the foothills of Potosi in 1949, a decision that Blackburn calls “the best move they ever made.”
Blackburn started 9th grade at Wylie.
“The whole campus was right there on the corner of Buffalo Gap Road and Antilley,” he said. “The High School was the building next to the gym.”
Blackburn had never played sports, but the Wylie football coach saw him in PE class and talked him into coming out for athletics.
“That really changed my life – got me into sports and I never looked back,” Blackburn said.
He ended up playing football and basketball and running track (everything that Wylie offered at that time).
He also played football for a year at Cisco and then transferred to Hardin-Simmons University for a year, before moving to Amarillo to go to work for an insurance company. He married and had children and began to realize that he wanted those children to attend a good school.
“I knew I wanted my children to attend Wylie schools because in my opinion, Wylie has the best schools in the state,” he said. “I was determined to get back.”
He had to wait to get a transfer, but it finally came. In 1978, he and his wife, Ella, built a house on his family property in Potosi. His children, David, an ’89 Wylie graduate, and Holly, a ’93 graduate, became Wylie Bulldogs. David was quarterback of the football team his senior year.
Don became a Wylie parent “and went everywhere they did and offered my assistance in anyway I could.”
In 1985, he decided to run for the Wylie school board.
“I wanted to contribute to the school district,” he said. “I just wanted to be a part of it. I was encouraged to run by a lot of people.”
Years Of Service
The 15 years that Blackburn served were some of the most critical in Wylie’s history. The district was seeing unbelievable growth, as Fairway Oaks and Abilene Regional Medical Center were built on the south side of town.
“We were seeing so many years of double digit enrollment increases,” he said. “Two new schools were built while I was on the board.”
One of those was the campus on 707 that is now the Intermediate School. The other was the high school.
To build the High School, the board needed to pass a bond election, something that can be very challenging for most districts.
But not for Wylie.
“That’s one thing about Wylie,” he said. “The support that the schools have is outstanding. Most of the voters could see the handwriting on the wall – Wylie was growing so fast.”
He said the public really came together to help pass the bond election.
“The involvement of the people was such an important factor,” he said. “Wylie just always supported what we did. It was a no-brainer really. It had to be done.”
Blackburn said that the board tried really hard to balance the needs of the children with the needs of the taxpayers.
“I think we did a good job of that,” he said.
Robinson, who went to school with Blackburn and served on the school board with him, said his friend felt a sense of responsibility to the children and to taxpayers and took his role on the board seriously.
“He always thought things through,” Robinson said. “He was fair and did his homework. He was a tremendous board member.”
Another really important move that the board made under Blackburn’s leadership was hiring Cecil Davis as superintendent. With the challenges facing the district, the decision on who to hire as its next leader was critical.
The board hit a homerun when it chose Davis, who is himself a Hall of Honor member.
“We couldn’t have done a better job,” Blackburn said. “When it comes to someone like Cecil – he just stood head and shoulders above the other applicants. He was so good for Wylie.”
Wylie also added a baseball program during Blackburn’s tenure. His son got to play on the new team for one year as a senior.
In 2000, Blackburn decided to retire from the board – the same year that Davis retired as superintendent.
“I just decided it was time to let someone else get involved,” he said. “There were others out there who could do a good job.”
Blackburn is thrilled to be going into the Hall of Honor, where he joins many people with whom he had relationships over the years. Many of his teachers and coaches are members as are several of his good friends and fellow board members. He even has two relatives enshrined there.
“I am just thrilled that I can be there with so many nice and good people who were inducted before me,” he said. “It’s a thrill for me. There’s no doubt about that.”