A man in a black polo shirt stands at the 50-yard line of a football field
West High School’s head football coach and athletic director David “Bubba” Woodard on the campus football field.

Ten years ago, on the evening of April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant in the Central Texas town of West exploded. The blast and fire at the West Fertilizer Co.’s storage facility destroyed the town’s northside neighborhood, a nursing home, an assisted living center, an apartment building, and two public schools. Fifteen people died, including 12 first responders; another 200 people were injured. Since then, the community has rebuilt, and in 2019, West dedicated the Fallen Heroes Memorial featuring a reflecting pool and a plaque for each of the 15 victims. Located 100 yards from the explosion site, the memorial is a somber reminder for West—an agricultural town known for its kolache bakeries, sausage shops, and Czech heritage. The latter is celebrated annually on Labor Day weekend at Westfest. David “Bubba” Woodard, West High School’s head football coach and athletic director, was returning on a bus from College Station with the track team when he heard the news of the explosion. His wife, Kim, and their two daughters were at home at the time. Their house was destroyed, but they were unharmed. That night, Woodard helped coordinate buses to transport people from the nursing home to the high school football field for treatment. “We worked until midnight,” Woodard recalls. “It wasn’t until the next morning that we learned how bad it was.”

Rebuilding

“Kim and I made the decision that we were going to rebuild our house exactly where it was and do it quickly. Our house was finished that November. We were the first ones to move back to the neighborhood. The community couldn’t have made it through without each other. It didn’t matter what you needed. It didn’t matter who you were—if you needed help, you got it. Even people who lost everything helped others.”

“Comma”

“That’s the town’s nickname. We got tired of saying ‘West comma Texas’ to explain we aren’t out near Lubbock. Now, it’s ‘West Comma,’ or just ‘Comma.’ One of our football jerseys says ‘The Comma.’”

 

Kolache-vore

“Cottage cheese kolaches are my favorite. I get them at every bakery in town [like the Czech Stop, Little Czech Bakery, and Slovacek’s]. Nowadays, anything you can think of is in kolaches—fruit, cream cheese, all kinds of meat. I love ’em all.”

 

Westfest

“The Westfest showcases our community and draws around 20,000 during Labor Day weekend. Our little hotel fills up quick. A lot of people stay in Waco and Hillsboro or with relatives. Kim and I go to the festival and enjoy dancing and walking around and visiting with friends. People who have moved away come back during Westfest and use it as a time to see old friends.”

 

Downtown Highlights

“We have a neat little downtown with some nice shops and restaurants. I don’t have a favorite because every place is unbelievably good: Pizza House, Czech-American, Two Amigos. Every Saturday morning we have a farmers market at city hall. There are Saturday night street dances. At Christmas we have Cocoa in the Comma, where shops open and serve cocoa and treats. In the summer, we have movie nights at the city park.”

 

Coach Life

“The best thing about being a school coach in West is looking up in the packed bleachers and knowing almost everyone. Because it’s a small school, the kids have the opportunity to play different sports and compete all year. People love to talk about how our kids are doing in sports. You can see the pride in their eyes. I love this job. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always rewarding, knowing that I’m not doing this alone. We’re all in this together.”

 

Selfless Souls

“We recovered quickly from the tragedy because West is a do-anything-for-anybody community. There’s not too many of those in this day and age. There’s a lot of selfishness in our world. West isn’t that way. We go to benefits on Sunday afternoons and wait in line for an hour to get served because everyone is there to help out. What makes West special is people’s love for each other. It’s second to none, and it’s a privilege to be part of it.”

Town Trivia:

Population:
3,208

Number of Stoplights:
3

Year founded:
1892

Nearest City:
Waco, 21 miles south

Marquee Event:
Westfest Czech heritage festival, Sept. 2-3

Map it:

Fallen Heroes Memorial at West City Park
1404 Stillmeadows Drive

From the April 2023 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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