A Long Way from Fig Tree Lane

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by Bill Hedrick

My service to the Texas Professional Photographers began in 1988 when TPPA President, Robert Suddarth asked me to serve as Councilor-at-Large for TPPA. For several years, I had been writing articles for the magazine, attending TPPA events, and entering print competition. This would be my opportunity to do something for an organization that had been so beneficial in the success of my own studio and I jumped at the chance to serve. Little did I realize at the time that it would be the beginning of something that would be the center of my world for many years to come.

At that time, the Executive Director of TPPA was my old friend, Walt Hawkins. Over the next decade or so, I would get to know Walt and his wife, Ann, and learn to appreciate the job they were doing for our association. They were a team and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make our association strong and viable. But most folks today might be surprised to learn that the headquarters of the largest state affiliate of the Professional Photographers of America worked out of a portable building behind a farmhouse.

Walt and Ann Hawkins lived on the outskirts of Troy, a small town just off I-35 north of Temple, Texas. To get there, you would exit at the Love’s Truck Stop and go west on FM 1237 for a couple of miles until you spotted their country home on the left. It wasn’t far from Temple’s Draughon-Miller Regional Airport and, in the late 1990’s, I would fly to Temple and “buzz” their house on the way to the airport and Walt would get in his pickup truck and drive to the airport to meet me.

After we returned to their home, Ann would usually have fresh brownies made and we would sit at the kitchen table looking out on the countryside and enjoy the sounds of country life. They raised nine children in that home. When it was time to get down to business, we would go out the back door and enter TPPA Headquarters, just a dozen or so steps away. It was a small building that was well organized to efficiently meet the needs of our 800+ members. In fact, there was a time when both the Texas Professional Photographers Association and the Southwest Photographers Association were run out of the same office. Walt was Executive Director of both associations for several years.

Walt took over as Executive Director of TPPA in 1976 after selling his studio, custom frame shop, and their interest in an art gallery in nearby Salado. The studio was founded in 1958. For the next few years, the extent of his own photography business would be limited to an occasional commercial photography assignment. But there was little time for all of that with the demands and duties of his new position with TPPA. Over the coming years, Walt would be instrumental in managing the funds of TPPA and establishing a savings account for use in the event of a major disaster for the association. That fund is still in place today and has insured the stability of our association, especially during the current pandemic.

In July of 1993, Walt Hawkins officially retired as Executive Director of TPPA but remained as the Magazine Editor for the next four years. The building that housed TPPA’s Headquarters for so many years was given to Walt and Ann by TPPA.

Taking over his position in 1993 was Doug Box and the TPPA Headquarters was moved to Caldwell, Texas. The new facility would be next to his country home but upgraded to a newly remodelled metal building, very much in keeping with what had worked so well for so many years. It would remain there until Doug’s retirement in 2017 when Steve Kozak would become TPPA’s new Executive Director. The new office would take up two rooms of his home, not to mention storage in his garage and nearby storage rental buildings. TPPA has long outgrown a portable building.

A couple of years ago, Steve Kozak and I drove to Austin to meet with one of our vendors and, on the way back, I asked him to exit near the Love’s Truck Stop on I-35 and to drive west on FM 1237 for a couple of miles. Suddenly, there it was… the old farm house formerly occupied by Walt and Ann Hawkins… and that same portable building where it all happened.

It was just as I had remembered, just a bit more weathered. I could almost hear Ann’s voice welcoming me in and I could almost smell the fresh coffee and hot brownies right out of the oven. I could almost hear Walt’s voice with his often dry sense of humor. No wonder we got along so well. But it was quiet and the only sound was the wind blowing through the huge oak trees.

Walt and Ann are long gone but not forgotten. There have been many times that I’ve wished I could go back, “buzz” their home with my plane, wait for Walt to arrive in his pickup, and go back and visit with my old friends.

But we live in a new time and many things have changed. The world has turned digital and the profession seems to have little in common with what it was in those days. We face new challenges and we have the right people in the right positions to make sure TPPA members are informed and prepared to get the most out of the profession they love so well.