Where there was once an empty glass display case in the main hallway of Santa Rita Elementary School, there is now a shrine devoted to providing a glimpse into the past.
The “Panther Museum” is filled with vintage photographs, memorabilia and other various artifacts of Liberty Hill history in a tribute to where the town has been and to serve the present generation with a reminder of what their home was like long before the local landscape was dotted with master-planned communities, strip malls and modern schools.
Fifth-grader Slone Williams is the mastermind behind the colorful, historic display and said the idea stemmed from the space originally going to waste.
“There really wasn't anything in them,” said Williams. “So, I thought 'Why don't we add a museum of history, so people can learn about Liberty Hill through the ages?'”
Santa Rita Elementary physical education teacher Gino Pena said Williams had the epiphany one day during a routine class.
“It was a regular day and the kids were going through their exercise stations,” he said. “All of a sudden out of nowhere, Slone said, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a Panther Museum?'”
Conceptualizing the museum was one thing, though, making it a reality was another proposition altogether and one that needed some outside help in the form of local historian Gary Spivey, who has cultivated a collection of local artifacts over the course of a lifetime lived in Liberty Hill.
According to Spivey – who provided the items on display – it's critical for the past to be linked with the present in order to pave the way for the future.
“Over the years, I've been saving all this stuff so people can see the progression of Liberty Hill,” said Spivey. “To understand the good times and bad times.”
In addition, Spivey said he would like to see other local schools follow suit.
“I want all of the schools to be involved together,” he said. “So, everyone is on the same page.”
Pena said he was directed to Spivey after a third party got involved with the process.
“I called the Chamber of Commerce and asked if they had any information on who might be able to help,” he said. “They got me in touch with Mr. Spivey – it was about making phone calls and getting the right person.”
Keeping the conduit to the past is vital for today's students, said Pena.
“It's good for them to have a connection with their roots,” he said. “So they can have an idea of what was here originally.”
Roughly half of the case contains relics from Liberty Hill's history, including a timeline of the town through the decades, along with old school textbooks, yearbooks and other items, while the other half contains Panthers sports memorabilia including letterman jackets, a pair of baseball cleats and a catcher's mitt from 1934 and a sports page from 1984 highlighting Liberty Hill's first-ever state playoff football team, along with a modern-day helmet.
Williams said it was important to have Panthers athletics prominently represented.
“I thought there were a lot of sports things that belonged in there,” he said. “It means a lot to me and a lot to other people. Liberty Hill is a great place to live and sports is a big part of it.”