City names new park after first mayor

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The City Council voted Monday to name a downtown park after Nathan Wetzel (left), the first Mayor of Liberty Hill, a former school board member and teacher. Wetzel and his wife, Margot (right), are remembered for their lifetime of community service. (Courtesy Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

City Council voted unanimously on Monday to rename a small park in town after Nathan Wetzel, a man remembered as the town’s first mayor, a well-respected community leader, and an Agriculture teacher for many decades at Liberty Hill High School.

Wetzel, who passed away in 2001, won Liberty Hill’s first mayoral election in May 1999 with over 79 percent of the vote. The town had incorporated earlier that year in January, after similar efforts had failed in the 1930s, 1970s and 1980s.

“When Nathan ran for mayor, it was a no brainer, a slam dunk,” said Gary Spivey, a former member of the city council and a local historian.
Citing his status as a community builder, Walmart awarded Wetzel a $2,500 grant after the election. According to Spivey, that money helped Liberty Hill “get off the ground running.”

The bid to rename the park at Loop 332 and CR 279 came as a unanimous recommendation of the City’s Parks & Recreation Board of Directors.

Michele Wetzel, Nathan Wetzel’s sole surviving daughter out of three, said she’s glad the Council made the decision.

“I can’t think of anyone that deserves it more. There aren’t many people that lived here longer than him, or been able to make more of a difference than he did,” she said.

Wetzel’s imprint on Liberty Hill extends far beyond his time as mayor, a job he was elected to after living in Liberty Hill just shy of 50 years.

In 1966, when Wetzel taught Vocational Agriculture at Liberty Hill High School, he created a project for three of his students to complete — build Liberty Hill’s water system.

Three years later, the Texas Education Agency removed Liberty Hill’s school accreditation after a fallout with the school board. Spivey recalls that Wetzel met with another community leader in a hair salon that month to handpick three people to serve as a new school board.

Those three easily won election, re-secured accreditation, and later hired Bill Burden as the district’s school superintendent — a leader an elementary school would later be named after.

Many in town, including Spivey and members of the city council, remember Wetzel as their own teacher.

Wetzel taught Agriculture in Liberty Hill from 1950 to 1966, while his wife, Margot Wetzel, taught Home Economics. After a stint teaching in Georgetown, Wetzel retired in 1980.

One year later, on hearing that LHHS needed a vocational work program, he left retirement to start it.

In a 1984 public letter during his run for school board—a position he served in for many terms—Wetzel described himself as having been President of P.T.A., President of the first Liberty Hill Water Supply Corporation Board, Master of the Liberty Hill Masonic Lodge, President of the Liberty Hill Lions Club, Member of the American Legion, Member of Liberty Hill United Methodist Church, organizer for the first Little League Baseball in Liberty Hill, board member of the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department, and more.

Wetzel lived in Liberty Hill for over 50 years, starting in 1950 after moving from his native Winnsboro in East Texas. From 1965 to his death, he and his family lived in the same blue house on Bagdad Road, “the last house on the right leaving town toward Leander,” as Michele Wetzel describes it.

She recalls the phone always ringing when she was in school, as people asked Wetzel for help to deliver their calves and puppies, or any other host of problems Wetzel could help remedy.

“He was just a hardworking man dedicated to helping people,” his daughter said.

“Honest as the day is long,” Spivey added.

Now “Nathan Wetzel Park” offers one more way for residents to remember the rancher. The park is located at the corner of Loop 332 and County Road 279.

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