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Pep Rallies in Oil Country Lift Spirits Downed By Price Slump

April 11, 1986

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) _ Marching bands, balloons and pep talk all did their part to buoy low spirits in Midland and Odessa, twin cities in the heart of oil country where the collapse of oil prices has had a devastating effect.

Rallies in both cities Thursday, sponsored by several organizations, kicked off a four-month campaign dubbed ″People With Character: Fueling Progress In the Petroplex.″

But few oilfield roughnecks and blue collar workers were among the 800 people crowding a downtown Midland auditorium. Mostly it was office workers who turned out for the spirit-boosting celebration, an indication in many ways of just how dependent everyone here is on the oil industry.

″If you dwell on it, you could feel pretty low,″ said Tom Wageman, president of Republic Bank First National Midland, who attended the Midland rally with his wife. ″It’s not over yet.″

Wageman, who helped carry a white banner with his bank’s name in red letters, said he let 300 employees off early to attend the rally. Thirty workers remained to close the bank.

Midland and Odessa are capitals of the Permian Basin, which produces more than 20 percent of the nation’s oil. Both cities have been hit hard by the decline in the price of oil, which was selling for $13.58 a barrel on Thursday for the May futures market, up 58 cents from the previous day.

The February jobless rate reached 7.8 percent in Midland and 9.3 percent in Odessa.

″It’s to remind folks that they are the area’s greatest asset,″ said Joan Baskin, president of the Midland Chamber of Commerce. ″We can’t control OPEC or the federal government or speculators. But we’re toasting all folks in Midland and Odessa. They’ve been down this road before.″

″We had some rough times in the 30s, the old-timers tell me. We were so down we had to reach up to touch bottom,″ former Midland Mayor Hank Avery told the audience. Avery mayor during the area’s last recession, in the mid- 60s.

In Odessa, about 500 people showed up for the rally in front of the College Sports Center.

Mario Saavedra, 29, carried a placard that read: ″Bag of Ice 99 Cents, Gallon of Gas 75 Cents.″ Bar owner Ronnie Lewis carried another placard: ″Case of Beer $12.50, Barrel of Oil $8.75.″

″Maybe this will cheer him up,″ said 15-year-old Mary Madrid of her father, a worker in an oil tank company who has been returning home earlier each day as his hours are cut down.

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