Shirley Mae Welch Caldwell

Shirley Mae Welch Caldwell, born June 23, 1935, to Vernon Wade "VW” and Mable Karr Welch in Blairstown, Mo., where VW was superintendent of schools. At age nine the family moved to Adrian, Mo., with younger sister Ada Ruth, who survives her. She spent the formative years of her life playing basketball, cheerleading, fishing, participating in Girl Scouts, and playing piano for her church’s Sunday school. Living near Kansas City, her family also attended many of its cultural activities like parks, theater, and professional sports. In 1953 she graduated from Adrian High School as valedictorian of her class. 

In the fall of 1953, having received a small scholarship, Shirley entered the University of Missouri at Columbia, where her father had acquired his Master’s degree. As a freshman, she joined the Association of Women Students, where she served on the hospitality committee. At a first event, she met and spoke with President Harry Truman, and later attended a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt. 

As a junior, she was “capped” to Mortar Board, a society of outstanding women students, and was treasurer her senior year. During summers she worked as a camp counselor to help pay for her school. She was a member of Delta Delta Delta social sorority, and graduated with honors from Missouri in 1957.  

After graduation, Shirley secured a position as junior executive trainee with Titche-Goettinger to work in their main store in Dallas, Texas, as assistant buyer.  

In Dallas she met and married Clifton Caldwell. Together they had four boys, including a set of twins, before they moved to the Walker-Buckler Ranch in Shackelford County, Texas, in 1962. In 1968, their daughter Marilyn was born. She died in 2011.

Later she returned to Dallas for a few years, and was appointed to the Dallas County Historical Commission from 1982 through 1987, serving as chairman for four years. Among her numerous awards was one from the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for her role in raising money to renovate and preserve the Old Red Courthouse in 1992.

Upon returning to Shackelford County, Shirley was appointed to the Texas Historical Commission by Governor George W. Bush, serving as vice chairman for two years, and on the commission for nine years. She was instrumental in initiating the Texas Historical Courthouse project, which has been responsible for renovating courthouses across the state. Shirley helped ensure that the Shackelford County courthouse was one of the first to be renovated. She also urged the responsibility for historic sites to be moved from the Parks and Wildlife Commission to the Historical Commission, which was later done. 

During her tenure on the THC she began promoting the preservation of historic courthouses, state historic sites like Fort Griffin, and historic cemeteries. She developed a program to pep up the county historical commissions. In this effort she visited 64 counties, encouraging the county judges to have more active county historical commissions. 

Earlier, Shirley had served as the Shackelford County Historical Commission chairman, receiving several awards. She also served on the board of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, later receiving the Cornerstone Award from the Albany Chamber of Commerce in 2001 for leadership and personal service in the economic development of Albany, Texas. Her impact on Albany was considerable, from the Aztec Theater to the Lynch Building and Lynch Line Bookstore, and the Archives Building at the Old Jail Art Center.

Shirley also singlehandedly waged a successful campaign to get air conditioning for the Albany public schools.

In 1986 she received the Ruth Lester Award, the highest award given by the THC, for meritorious service in the field of historic preservation. In 2008, Shirley and Clifton were presented with the Texas Humanities Award in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to the humanities of Texas for financing the publishing of numerous books on Texas history through the establishment of the Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series and other contributions during their combined 22 years of service on the Texas Historical Commission.

Shirley possessed a keen intellect, and a fierce interest in politics and the world around her. This curiosity extended to the activities of her family and friends, as she was also interested in what interested you.

Shirley was predeceased by her husband Clifton, her beloved daughter Marilyn, and her parents. She is survived by her four sons, Wade and wife Lisa of San Antonio, Texas, John and fiancé Tisha Wilkins of Albany, Ray and wife Tina of McKinney, Texas, and Tom and wife Anne Marie of Keystone, S.D. She is survived by her sister and next-door neighbor Ada Ruth Cotter and husband Jim; niece Julie Carlile and husband Jack of Lewisville, Texas; nephew Mike Cotter and wife Darla of Albany; nine grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren; and a niece and three nephews on the Caldwell side of the family. 

A graveside service for family members and those living in the Alpine, Texas, area was held on June 5, 2021, at Our Lady of the Mountains Cemetery, Mitre Peak Ranch, Jeff Davis County. A memorial celebration of her life was held June 7, 2021, at the Aztec Theater in Albany. A  reception followed at the Old Jail Art Center.

The family gives special thanks to Carmen Alvarez, Lavina Fink, and Rosa Garcia for their love and care of Shirley for many years. 

Memorials may be directed to the Old Jail Art Center or Aztec Theater in Albany, or the recipient of your choice.

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