Where are they now?

Editor’s note: This feature is dedicated to profiling Van Horn High School Alumni and updating locals on what became of them after graduation.  The Advocate welcomes information for publication on VHHS Alumni and will try to highlight two Van Horn Eagles every week.

The following update was provided by Vangie Esparza Bender, Van Horn High School, Class of 1969.

I don’t have an astounding story since leaving Van Horn, but I did find a happy and rewarding life, truly the goal for all of us. Here is where I am now:

I moved out of Van Horn to McPherson Kansas.  The first years I stayed home raising my two girls.  When they went to school I set out to find a job.  The jobs that I sought had to be physical and rewarding, not monetarily, but rewarding in interaction.  I am a smiley cheery people person always have been.  Don’t ask me to stop smiling; that’s impossible!

I worked for the McPherson Police Department as a Traffic Control Officer.  After a few years I needed a larger wage. I still needed to be physical. I needed people. Mail carrying was the job for me.  I carried mail for many years then was promoted to Supervisor of Mails then to Postmaster of three different post offices.  Now I am retired which gets me to the real heart of my life.

I am an avid outdoor person.   I remember in the mid 70’s when I was relatively new in town here, I would run all over town.  Remember back then you didn’t see a lot of gals out running.  People were curious. “That little Mexican girl that runs all the time,” they’d say.  I biked everywhere and anywhere.  In the mid and late 70’s I biked with a group across the State of Kansas four times.  People got used to seeing me on my bike out in the country roads. When caught in a storm there was always a farmer that would drop me back in town.  To say the least I amused many folk.  I was delighted to see the fitness movement explode later especially in the 80’s. Yes, in McPherson I was a trail blazer.

My husband and I started hiking the Rocky Mountains soon after we got married in the early 80’s.  Every year of our marriage we went to Estes Park and stayed up to a month at a time to give us plenty of hiking time.   This last decade we are slower, but to be out in nature is our passion.  You cannot feel depressed or lonely when you are out in nature; you just CAN’T.  We have made numerous trips to Hawaii in search of trails.  We hiked Oahu, Maui, Kauai going back many times.  Many memorable trails to watch the sunrise at Haleakala then hike to the bottom of the volcano is awe-inspiring.

We hiked rim to rim at the Grand Canyon, staying at the bottom at Phantom Ranch for two nights so that we could do the hikes inside the canyon.

I always wanted to hike in Peru; we flew to Lima.  Making our way to Aguas Calientes to trek up to Machu Picchu. Crazy taxi rides, homeless people in Cusco in the middle of the night just eating at the dumpsite surrounded by homeless dogs and bleary sights among the majesty and beauty.  Isn’t that what life is? I was taking it all in. My poor hubby was not so sure especially when a dead body was in the middle of the street and no one thought that was odd.  We trekked up to Machu Picchu. Words cannot describe it. It is the essence of spirituality!

My grandkids always say, “You’ll never be in an old folks home, you do too many dangerous things. You’ll just fall off a cliff on one of your dangerous hikes!”    The sum of my life is keep moving, be amazed at everything.  My family doctor once jokingly remarked, “Vangie, your heart is so strong that in order to die one would have to take it out of your chest and beat it to death.”  I believe “my heart” is my spirit. No one can kill it.

I have 8 grandkids and 3 great grand kids, most of whom are grown and out on their own.  My daughters did well for themselves. I don’t take any credit or any blame. Life just carries most of us and it’s okay where we land.


The following update was provided by Donna Clark Phipps, Van Horn High School, Class of 1969.

Can’t believe you might be interested in knowing about VHHS alumni from 1969!

I left Van Horn the day after graduation headed for college at Baylor University to be a Speech Pathologist. I learned so much about college life, city life, and rain that might fall for days rather than less than 30 minutes. I met my future husband, Morris Trent Phipps, that summer and we married in April of 1971.

The fall of 1971, we moved to Lubbock, Texas.  Trent began his coaching career at Lubbock Cooper HS and I entered Texas Tech to continue my speech pathology degree. I completed my Masters degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology in May of 1974.

In the summer of 1974, we moved to Sweetwater, Texas, and our first child, Brett was born. Married to a coach, we bounced around Texas. Graham, Texas. our second son, Garrett, was born. Uvalde, Texas was our next location and Trent completed his administration certification and Masters degree. We spent one year with VHHS again and moved on to Amarillo where I continue to live.

Amarillo ISD supported my love for children with significant needs and I became an itinerant SLP specialist for students with autism and augmentative communication needs.

Trent retired from teaching/coaching with AISD in 2004. I retired from AISD in 2006, but worked two years as a SLP in a hospital setting and 5 years at Turn Center, a non-profit clinic for children. I still occasionally work to fill-in at Turn Center.

Trent passed away in 2009 from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. His brain and brain stem were harvested at his death and are a part of the continuing research at the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

My sons and their families are a big part of my life as are my faith and love of painting and creating my Faith Doodles.


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