More Than A Sticker – More Than A Fan
February 11, 2011
GW! Many Bobcat football fans didn’t even notice those two letters watching the games in 2010. Many more may have seen them but still had no idea about their meaning. If you, dear reader, are still unaware of their meaning, here’s the story. The initials GW were placed on every helmet of the 2010 Bobcat football team to pay tribute to Garland Warren.
It’s great the Bobcats and Texas State chose to honor Garland. He was an incredible benefactor to the University, particularly the Athletic Department. At the same time, it’s amazing to think tributes can be summed up by a small plastic sticker. Certainly it’s an honor to reach the status where people pay homage to your life by doing so, especially when you never played for the team. At the same time, if a person holds that much significance it seems a little insulting as well. A life of service honored with two initials on a football helmet that went unnoticed by a sizeable number of fans?
Now I’m not saying what the Texas State football team did is wrong – the university did what every other university or sports franchise does – but are stickers really the best tribute to someone’s life? I can’t even begin to pay proper tribute to Garland Warren with an article in a free magazine or on a Bobcat website. I’m not going to try! But I do hope this article begins to pay forward Garland Warren’s legacy to a new generation of Bobcat fans.
Garland Warren wasn’t one of “us” in the beginning. He didn’t even attend Texas State University. He played football at his hometown University of North Texas in Denton. He went on to play professional football in the CFL for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers under legendary coach Bud Grant, where he won two Grey Cups as a star linebacker. Following his playing days, he returned to Texas.
Fellow UNT football alumnus Ben McCollum was living in San Marcos in the 60’s. According to McCollum, one day, he and a friend lost track of time playing golf and forgot to buy much needed milk for their young kids. The problem was there was only one grocery store in town and it closed at 6pm.
“When Garland heard the story he picked up on that and called me to ask if he could stay with me while he visited San Marcos”, Ben laughed. “He came to San Marcos because of milk!”
McCollum’s story had spurred Garland’s imagination. “With money saved up from pro football and construction work, he purchased a piece of land on the corner of Hopkins and RR12 for $25,000,” McCollum continued. “Everybody in town thought he was crazy. No bank wanted to offer him a loan. He finally worked out a personal loan from a friend of a friend who lived in Martindale. That’s how he got the money to build his first Sac-N-Pac drive-thru grocery. When Garland did something, he did it full blast!”
Garland was known in his early days for being a rough and tumble scrapper. As a very savvy business man (and Sac-N-Pac was only one of his many endeavors), it’s easy to see how an over-confident ego could develop. As he was growing his businesses, Garland Warren had become a very successful man from a financial standpoint. However, there were areas in his life that were still to be developed.
Anyone who has lived more than 30 years already knows that no one is the same way their entire life. What you thought or acted when you were 20 will not always be the same when you’re 30 or 40. Life experiences change us. For most people the goal is to always get better. We audit ourselves and, hopefully, when we see something we want to do differently, we do it. We all have forks in the road and one of Garland’s biggest forks came at the age of fifty when a friend invited him on a walk.
Garland Warren was a church-going man, but maybe not keen on being too active a participant. For years he was asked to go on the Walk to Emmaus, a spiritual renewal weekend modeled after Christ’s servanthood. Every year, Garland would come up with one excuse, then another as to why he wouldn’t be able to attend that year. One day a friend called him out, gave him no choice and flat out told Warren he was going on that year’s walk with him. Garland complied.
To say that weekend was a turning point for Garland Warren would be a gross understatement. While he had always been a man of faith this took him from the “talk” to the “walk.” Becoming a “servant of all” and being rich in things other than money became paramount to Garland. His perspective changed that weekend and so did he.
Warren became a true part of the San Marcos community and, according to McCollum, he embraced it wholeheartedly. “Garland was the kind of guy who, if he made his money off a community, he wanted to give back to that community and that included Texas State.”
People now talked about Garland with admiration because his actions spoke so highly of his character. “He did things for people I didn’t even know about,” according to Grace, his widow who he married later in life. “Garland’s priorities in life were God first, his children second and me third, which I didn’t mind… and Bobcat football is in there somewhere as well.”
Now, running Sac-N-Pac and his other businesses was how Garland Warren made his living. Sponsoring Walks to Emmaus and supporting the growth of Bobcat football were two of his favorite things to do. “He loved everything about the game of football and the Bobcats were the community team. He wanted it to be at the highest level”, said Grace. “He wouldn’t miss a game and rarely missed a practice. Every coach in San Marcos, Garland befriended!”
It’s true. If Garland wasn’t greeting people at Centerpoint Station, a store where he displayed his favorite antiques, you could find him on the practice field talking to players and excited about the promise of another season.
Garland has been described by many as a person who didn’t think anything was beneath him. If the Bobcat Club needed to sell sponsorships he would round up a group of guys, start a boisterous contest, and hit the streets to see who could round up the most support from other local businesses. Being a door to door salesman for Bobcat athletics was a passion, and he happily donated his free time to do it.
Even as Garland’s health began to fail him, his desire to watch the team never wavered. Grace recalled, “Garland wanted me to take him to practice when it was 105 (degrees) outside. I told him if I did he needed to stay in the Suburban and watch from his seat. He was so sick he could barely walk. After he promised me he wouldn’t get out, he attempted to anyways. Practice stopped and the players and coaches came over, helped him out of the car and wheeled him over to the field.”
Garland Warren passed away May 3rd, 2010. When he left to meet his maker, in whom he had tremendous faith, he left an indelible mark on San Marcos that no one can replicate. Garland Warren’s fingerprints are all over this community, a community he loved being a part of, and, in the end, a community that loved him back as well.
A man with over 1500 people attending his funeral is an important man in cities the size of San Marcos. But how is importance measured? Is it by the size of your wallet? Sure he was the proprietor of Sac-N-Pac, a chain of over 45 convenience stores that he built from the ground up. But richer men than Garland die every day that don’t receive the turnout he did. So what is it? How was Garland perceived? What did he leave behind? What did his life mean to others?
It comes down to respect. After all, people go to funerals to pay their respects. Some respected Garland Warren because of his wealth, or because he employed them, or because of his stature in the community. Mostly they respected Mr. Warren because they just liked who he was. That was the important element.
To truly appreciate the impact Garland Warren had on others, all you had to do was witness what occurred at his funeral. One of the speakers asked the people in attendance to stand if they went on a Walk to Emmaus because of Garland Warren. “People gasped when they saw how many people stood,” Grace fondly recalled. “Garland realized you’ve got to pay it forward.”
Pay it forward he did!
By: Rick Koch & Steve Helsing