FLASHBACK: The Van Horn Place was home - Odessa American: Opinions

FLASHBACK: The Van Horn Place was home

BY CELINDA HAWKINS chawkins@oaoa.com | Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:30 am

Last week, when the news came out about the closure of Hospice House, it was quite a blow. A blow for this community, which has enjoyed wonderful service they have provided through their parent organization Home Hospice, but also a blow to all of the families who have experienced their love and compassion over the years.

Hospice House, opened for the past 14 years is for sale, but the folks at Home Hospice will continue the good work that they do. But the building, which is now up for sale, has a storied history and a long community connection.

Mrs. Mellie Lasseter Van Horn opened the Van Horn Residential Hotel at 903 N. Sam Houston in the fall of 1938 during the height of Odessa’s first oil boom. The boarding house became an Odessa institution from which many prominent citizens launched their careers and formed life-long friendships. My dad and his friends were among those citizens.

During renovation in 1996, the basic structure, hardwood floors, and interior walls were retained. And it was transformed into a bed and breakfast with a Historic Landmark where the elegance of the past meets the comforts and convenience of the present. Each of the 16 guest rooms is uniquely furnished with quality antiques, a private bath, telephone, and individual climate control. Guests may enjoy breakfast and refreshments throughout the day in the dining room, patio, veranda, or guest lounge. Then in 2000, the B & B was purchased by Home Hospice.

Since that time it has been where many families brought their loved ones as they faced catastrophic illness. In fact, I can’t say enough about them – two years ago, my mother, Judy, spent a few nights there. It was indeed a Godsend. And, everyone from Rev. Jimmy Braswell to Karen Carter and all of the staffers, were absolutely wonderful to my mother and to the family.

My connection to the home goes back more than five decades, when my dad, Bob Hawkins, was a resident there. Back in those days it was called Van Horn Place. Back in about 1955, Dad, fresh from graduating from Texas Tech, headed out to Odessa, where he took his first teaching job at Crockett Junior High. And the first place he landed was Van Horn Place, where he rented a room. I’m not sure Mellie Van Horn was still manning the store, but she may have been.

On Friday, as I thought about how I might confirm that Dad actually lived there, I remembered a stack of letters, that my mother kept, tied up with a sparkling white shoelace. I was on my way to work, and something made me turn the car around and head back to the house for the letters. Sure enough as I thumbed through them, I noticed the address on letters from my mom to my dad and it read 903 N. Sam Houston. I went right to them.

There were many more letters from my mom to my dad, in the two years they corresponded after he graduated and she finished up at Tech and before they married.

In a letter dated Jan. 16, 1956, she writes:

“Guess what? Dick bought a car. It’s a 1951 Dodge, 4-door and is metallic gray. It has a lighter, radio, heater and it is in excellent condition and he bought it for only $300….”

Or an excerpt from March 16, 1956 when she recalled calling him from the dorm phone:

“I’m so glad I called you, because I’ve missed you…After I hung up the operator called back and said that I owed 40 cents more so I had to run all over the dorm to borrow money…”

In every letter, Dad apologizes for not being a more ardent letter writer.

In one dated Jan. 18, 1958 he writes:

“I don’t know how to begin a letter to you, because it has been so long since I wrote you…I sure hope you do good on all your finals. My tests are coming tomorrow and I will be busy grading and recording grades next week…”

On April 21, 1958, he writes:

“I already miss you and I don’t know if I can stay here for a whole month or not. Well sweetheart I want you to be good and I love you very much.”

And on May 31, 1958 just a little over a month later, they were married in Dallas.

A very special connection to a very special house – and I am grateful.