Jon Vandagriff’s veracity for the past ensures his own mark in local history.
Looking back at the beginning of his journey, it’s hard to think there was a time when people took little notice of Weatherford historian Jon Vandagriff.
Over the decades, the once shy boy grew in confidence and made friends and business acquaintances with Texas Governor Preston Smith, Speaker of the House Jim Wright, US Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, Fort Worth Cats manager Bobby Bragan, as well as local community leaders Roy Grogan, Nolan Queen, Harry Hopkins and Larry Fowler.
But when he was helping organize his 50th high school class reunion and contacted the class valedictorian he was recalled as the “little kid with the short hair.”
And it’s no wonder his classmates took little notice of him. Vandagriff spent much of his childhood taking care of his sick mother or sick himself. He missed school the first week of October 1947 and passed the time listening to the World Series on the radio. That’s when he became a New York Yankees fan.
While still in high school he was hired at the Weatherford Democrat to help cover local football games and the writing bug took hold. He had two years of employment at the Democrat when he came to Weatherford College in 1953, and college president Vernon Parrott called him to his office during the first week of class.
“For a freshman student, to have the president call you into his office you begin to wonder what’s going on,” Vandagriff said. “Well, I sat down. He was typing, and the room was very silent for a little bit. Then he turned around and said, ‘Jon, are you working at the Democrat?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘Would you like to be the press representative for Weatherford College?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir!’ And immediately he turned around and typed out a little press pass. It said: ‘Jon Vandagriff, as press representative for Weatherford College, is entitled to attend any college event free of charge.’ Better than that, it said I would have excused cuts from classes. How great an introduction to college is that?”
Sports and writing were Vandagriff’s first two loves, but his third and greatest life-long interest was introduced in Bill Raupe’s history classroom.
“In class we had three walls of blackboard and he would start on a Civil War battle and go all the way around the room or a Texas battle and go all the way around,” Vandagriff said. “And I realized then that’s what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to know about history.”
Vandagriff graduated from WC in 1955 and continued his education at Howard Payne University in Brownwood where he also worked as the assistant sports editor at the Brownwood Bulletin and was a member of the college annual staff.
At Howard Payne, Vandagriff met Dr. Tom Havins who was known as an authority on Texas history. Vandagriff would ask Havins about local places in Parker County by describing the surroundings and Havins would respond with the name and historical significance of the location. That sealed Vandagriff’s fate as a historian.
After completing his bachelor’s degree at HPU, Vandagriff returned to Weatherford and went back to work at the Democrat working his way up to managing editor.
It was at this point he made the transition from journalist to teacher. He started at Weatherford Middle School teaching social studies and reading before moving on to Tarrant County College as the director of publications and instructor of Texas history.
Now working in higher education, Vandagriff decided he needed to return to school to earn his master’s degree in order to secure his position. He completed his master’s in journalism from the University of North Texas where he wrote his thesis on the history of the Weatherford Democrat.
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Vandagriff worked in a variety of offices at Tarrant County College including the district office where he helped set up booths for events like May Fest and the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
“I was walking around one day at the rodeo and I noticed the Weatherford College booth,” Vandagriff said. “There were a couple of young girls there, and I walked up and said, ‘I graduated from Weatherford College before you were born!’ They laughed and we talked a little bit. One of them said, ‘Do you have a Weatherford College belt buckle? Would you wear it if we gave you one?’”
The girls gifted Vandagriff a WC belt buckle which he has worn nearly every day since.
After 16 years as a journalist and 34 years in education, Vandagriff retired, joined the WC Ex-Students organization and became a self-proclaimed ambassador for the college.
“I think Weatherford College has one of the finest faculties you can find anyplace,” he said. “The one thing that sets Weatherford College’s faculty apart from anywhere else is their interest in students.”
He frequently travels and takes along a collection of WC shirts and hats which he wears to start conversations with people near and far about the college, and he’s always on the lookout for prospective WC students. He also leaves behind WC pens whereever he goes.
“At Bellingham [International Airport in Washington state] I saw a group of tall girls from Canada headed to a basketball tournament in Las Vegas,” he said. “Dottie (his wife) started talking to one of the girl’s mom and my wheels began to spin. I got their contact info and sent them information about the school when they got home. You never know.”
Vandagriff’s latest project in support of his alma mater was spending two years writing “Weatherford College: The First 150 Years” released at the start of the college’s sesquicentennial year. He and his wife, Dottie, also created a $10,000 scholarship fund for history students to kick off the 150th year of WC.
For all of these reasons and so many more, Vandagriff was recognized in April as the 2019 WC Alumnus of the Year.
“Timing is everything,” said Brent Baker, WC’s vice president of institutional advancement when he introduced Vandagriff during the April awards luncheon. “Could there have been a better time for Jon Vandagriff to win this award? In our sesquicentennial year as we look back on the history and heritage of this institution, could the selection committee have chosen anyone but the man known as Parker County’s historian?”
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