What was supposed to be a one-time surprise birthday party for a former Big Spring resident more than two years ago has turned into something much, much more. Saturday, the self-proclaimed “Big Spring Bunch” will be getting together once again to get a first-hand look at the historic Hotel Settles.
Jack Bowen, a Crossroads native and graduate of Big Spring High School, will join fellow Bunch members James Bowen, Danny Zant, Warren Kelley and Lloyd Curley to tour the city and enjoy a lunch at the hotel restaurant.
According to Jack Bowen, the group enjoys several impromptu reunions each year, with the first coming a little more than two years ago as he looked for a special way to celebrate his brother's birthday.
“My brother, James, was having his 66th birthday in January 2011 and I was trying to think of something special to do for him,” Bowen said. “I remembered that he had not seen his two best friends from Big Spring High School and Howard College for maybe 40 years, so I decided to see if I could arrange a surprise reunion.
“So, I called Danny Zant in Odessa and Warren Kelley in Lubbock. They liked the idea and, on the day of our meeting, they went to Al's Barbecue. I had called my brother and just told him I wanted to drive over from Fort Worth and have lunch with him that day. I drove by his house, picked him up and walked into Al's where he was surprised to see his two old friends. It was a Saturday and we sat and talked for about three hours about everything from baseball teams we played on and cars we drove to our current families and what we'd been doing for four decades.”
According to Bowen, the topics of discussion varied, but always seemed to come back to the BSHS Steers and other events the group had shared as children.
“We probably talked most about our favorite moments in BSHS football games we attended, especially the night of Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated,” Bowen said. “All that week, most of the talk in town was about the upcoming Steers game that Friday night with the much-disliked San Angelo Bobcats, rated by some as the No. 1 high school football team in the nation. Despite the assassination that afternoon in Dallas, the game was played and, almost unbelievably, Big Spring didn't just win, they beat San Angelo like they owned them.
“We've been meeting about three times a year and have added two more friends, Greer Willis, who lives in the San Angelo area and Lloyd Curley of El Paso. Some folks will remember Lloyd's dad as a housing developer and owner of a lumber company near Fourth Street and Birdwell. We always have lunch at a local restaurant, then just sit and talk. In between meetings, we trade emails and phone calls. Danny Zant was the one who started calling us 'The Big Spring Bunch,' and it just kind of stuck.”
Members of The Big Spring Bunch have been back to the Crossroads area from time to time for other purposes, however, Bowen said it's the times he spends with the group he looks forward to the most.
“We've all occasionally been back to Big Spring through the years, just not together,” Bowen said. “It's very different to come back and spend time with a core group you feel close to, because you relive so many good memories with people who are part of those memories. Every time I drive into town, I remember every individual customer I had on my Herald paper route, which was my first job. Most of all, I think I can speak for the group and say we remember, more than anything else, what a town full of good people we grew up with, with few exceptions. And that's true now, too. We see it and feel in both in old friends and in total strangers we come into contact with.
“I know I'm prejudiced, but there's something different about the good quality of people in Big Spring. Now, with the resurrection of the Settles, thanks to a former Big Springer, I think we all love the new hope it's infused in the community. In our group, we had some doubts it would really happen and now are so pleased it did. That's why for this, our first meeting since the Settles lighting ceremony, we wanted to have lunch Saturday at the Settles. I'm driving in Friday to play golf with Warren Kelley, then all of us will meet at noon at the hotel."
Saturday, members of The Big Spring Bunch will get a special walk down memory lane, as they prepare to tour the landmark, which has undergone years of renovation funded by Big Spring native Brint Ryan.
“Juan Rodriguez, the general manager at the Hotel Settles, has agreed to give us a tour of the hotel before we have lunch,” Bowen said. “I don't know about the other guys, but my memories of the Settles are things like visiting the studios of KHEM radio — in the basement, I think — when I was very young. I remember receiving an award when I was at BSHS from a service club that met there; going there with my BSHS government class to hear a campaign speech by Sen. John Tower; and the story the Herald did of me getting my first haircut in the Settles barber shop when I was maybe 3 years old.
“Seeing the Settles is definitely what we're looking forward to most. My wife and I got to tour the inside of the Settles in June of 2011 when construction was underway. To see it go from that to what I've seen in the great Herald coverage and now in the wonderful Texas Monthly Magazine article that just came out is, I'm sure, really going to be inspiring when we see it in person Saturday.”
Bowen said the Settles represents a shining star in the future of the Crossroads area, a star he hopes to see continue to rise.
“I so want to see Big Spring succeed. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I definitely left my heart in Big Spring,” Bowen said. “I'm just blown away by Brint Ryan's decision to invest the kind of money he has, not just in the Settles' future, but in Big Spring's future. And I'm so grateful Big Spring has had the leadership, like that of my former classmate, the late Mayor Russ McEwen, who have invested so much of themselves in this and other projects to put Big Spring on the road for a chance to thrive again.”