Letterman’s sweater becomes a family heirloom
Long-time Ferris resident, Amelia (“Midge”) Endler Douglas, started a family tradition over 70 years ago by receiving a Letterman's sweater for her successful endeavor in playing the sport of girls basketball (all four years), while attending Ferris High School from 1949 through 1953.
From there, the sweater became a multi-purpose family heirloom to enjoy by others in her immediate family, and most recently, the black and orange keepsake sweater has ended up at the Ferris Historical Museum to be displayed for local patrons to enjoy.
A difficult family background
Now at age 86, Midge Douglas lives in a retirement facility in Dallas – C. C. Young Retirement Center, but remembers her childhood days in Ferris as a hard-knock life because her family was so poor.
Douglas explains, “My father was an alcoholic and very abusive. My mom made the majority of the family’s living, and we have to move around a lot in the Ellis County area – mostly in the vicinity of Ferris. I didn’t know it back then, but I now realize that our traumatic moves were usually a result of not having the money to keep the house rent up-to-date. We often had to move back in with my grandmother, who had no love for my father at all.”
Douglas continues, “I had one older sister, but she recently passed away last December. It was basically my mom, my father, my one sibling, and me that had to face a difficult world together. Back in the day, in the early 1940s, Mother and Daddy both worked at the defense plant during World War II, until Daddy was diagnosed with TB (Tuberculosis). After that, he was sent to a hospital close to San Angelo for about two years, and then to Baylor Hospital in Dallas for 4 major and 3 minor operations over the following years.”
According to Douglas, her father was not able to hold a job after that, and his drinking only intensified. She admits that he did try to help out some by mowing lawns and selling watermelons. It was quite a hard life for the Endler family, as they had no transportation (no automobile) and no home phone. And it made it very tedious to be successful students as the girls were entering Ferris High School.
One thing that was a positive for Douglas was the fact that she had learned to play the piano at an early age, and that was always her kind of go-to talent that she could fall back on and pull her confidence from.
Hard but busy life at Ferris High School
Since the family didn’t own a car, Douglas would ride the bus home to Bristol — where they were currently living — and get off the bus while it went down to the Trinity River bottoms to deliver kids even further out. On basketball or football days, she would quickly change into either her basketball uniform or her cheerleader suit, then catch the bus back to Ferris.
She explains what a hardship it was, as she never knew for sure how she was going to get home in the evening after her extracurricular activities concluded. She admits that her mother and father were never able to see her play basketball or lead cheers at the Ferris football games.
Douglas says, “Somehow I always managed to find someone to catch a ride home with! I do remember one very cold night that the other cheerleaders decided not to wear their uniforms, but I didn’t have a home phone, so they couldn’t call and let me know. I sat in my boyfriend’s car during the halftime, trying to thaw out my somewhat frozen, bare legs.”
Because Ms. Douglas was always tall and slim during her high school years, she chose to play her favorite sport of basketball – all four years at FHS.
She admits, “I basically wasted my freshman and sophomore years on the team, as my first two years I was coached by Charlie Pollan, who also was the high school principal. Unfortunately for me, Coach Pollan had also coached my mother and she had always been a natural ‘forward’. Hence, Pollan placed me in the forward position as well, but I wasn’t ever forward material. Bessie Lee Wimbish took over the girls basketball program in my junior year, and she changed me over to become a successful ‘guard’. I knew all along that I was more cut-out to be a guard. Thus, I lettered my junior and senior years (1951-1952 and 1952-1953).”
Also, Douglas was the “head” cheerleader for the Yellow Jackets in her final two years of school. At that time, she recalls that the “head cheerleader” led the pep squad when the band was marching and that group was under the direction of the drum majorette.
Douglas led a very active and varied school life at Ferris. She also enjoyed drama, and she excelled in the lead role in her senior play – “Here Comes Charlie” – where she was “Charlie”. But what she was even more remembered for was her ability to play the piano so beautifully. She says, “If there was a piano around, I always had to play the song ‘Down Yonder’. Also, I recall playing several years for Miss Ingram’s 8th grade graduations; I played songs like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. I wasn’t an overly smart student, but I did usually make A’s and B’s. When I graduated in 1953, I was presented with a black wool Ferris school blanket, trimmed in orange, and my initials in one corner and an ‘F’ in the middle. In addition, the teachers voted on the award and I was named ‘the most outstanding all-around student’ at the end of my senior year. I had lost my Daddy in August before my final school year, and that affected me tremendously.”
High school girl who had to make a living
Because Douglas’ parents always had to struggle so much financially, she started working during the summers of her high school years. She had the responsibility of buying her own clothes and providing spending money for herself. She first worked in a restaurant in Bristol and then another one in Ennis.
She also was employed by Marilyn Belts and Bags in Ferris in the summer before her senior year. Douglas explains, “Mine was a hard life, but it made me the woman I am today. I have always been a perfectionist and a leader. Those are definitely traits of adult children of alcoholics. You feel you have to do this to get people to like you. I have been a caregiver all my life, so that means that I feel I have never done enough. However, that mindset helped me immensely in the business world after my high school graduation in 1953."
The bright young graduate didn’t get the privilege of getting to go to college, so instead, she set out to do the very best she could to learn and advance in her work career. Douglas started at Sears & Roebuck catalog division near downtown Dallas as a general typist/ messenger, and then worked her way up to Sr. Executive Secretary to the Personnel Director of Southwestern Territory at Sears over the years.
She was about to be promoted to be the Executive Secretary to the Vice President when Sears decided to close the Dallas territorial office. About that time, in the early 1980s, she took a position to work for Dallas County Commissioner Roy Orr, and she admits it was the hardest job she had ever in her life. She felt that Orr and herself grew-up under similar circumstances and hardships – and that gave them a lot in common to bond over. She worked there at the District 4 Road and Bridge office in Oak Cliff and was constantly in downtown Dallas in Court with Orr until she retired in 1997.
Handing down the letterman's sweater
“This is an interesting story,” says Ms. Douglas. “My Ferris letterman's sweater was awarded to me for my junior and senior years of playing basketball for the Yellow Jackets in the 1951-1952 and 1952-1953 seasons. Then, along comes my oldest daughter Sharron (Douglas) Hale, as a Ferris High School student from the years 1969 through 1973. So, I took my patches off the sweater and then sewed new ones of Sharron’s on. On the front of the sweater, I removed the basketball insignia and replaced it with a Ferris band emblem. Here is the list of the patches that now appear on the handed down sweater: (Sharron Hale’s accomplishments) – “Ferris Flag Bearer”; “Ferris Sharron Majorette”; “Ferris Drum Majorette 71-72”; and “Band Sweetheart 72-73”.”
Hale’s family moved to Rockwall in October of 1982, and then her oldest daughter (Douglas’ granddaughter) was raised in Rockwall I.S.D. – but that didn’t stop her from using the famous letterman's sweater again in her middle school days in a totally different school district. The two schools basically shared the same color schemes. Ferris colors are black and orange, and Rockwall generally uses white, orange, (and some black). The third generation young lady wore the 1952 sweater a few times during her middle school grades. Once she got to Rockwall High School, she earned and received her own Letterman's award, in addition to her very own patches.
Hale says, “I thoroughly enjoyed my busy high school days in Ferris. And I have gone back for a few high school reunions, but the most recent one was held at downtown El Fenix Restaurant in 2018. It was in celebration of my 1973 Class’ 45-year graduation anniversary.”
Douglas shares a story about when her daughter Sharron became the Drum Majorette for the Ferris Band in 1971. She relays, “When Sharron won the honor of marching in front of the band, she was a junior at FHS. I was bound and determined that she wasn’t going to wear that old hideous hand-me-down uniform from prior years. So, I drove down to San Antonio to Sol Frank Uniform factory and bought my own material, buttons, braids, etc. I returned home and then made my girl the most beautiful drum majorette’s suit ever!”
Sweater's new home
As the Ferris Historical Society has recently re-opened its Ferris Museum, Douglas asked for her well-worn sweater back from Hale. Next, once she had her sweater back in her possession, she then called her youngest daughter – Cheree (Douglas) Barrett -- to pick up the family heirloom. Barrett is associated with the local museum, so she handed the sweater over to the president of the organization, Connie (Edwards) Thatcher.
Within the walls of the Country Corner Treasures antique shop is where the recently reopened Museum can be found in downtown Ferris. There the treasured sweater will be on display for all to enjoy its heritage and storied past.