While he did not yet have his sights on the mayor's seat, Kenny Weldon knew exactly where he and his wife, Carrie, would move following his more than 26-year military career. They planned to return to his hometown of Stephenville and the community he credits with shaping him into a leader.
"Above all, I am a Christian," he said. "I believe my (military) service was a calling and this now, too."
Weldon was sworn in as mayor of Stephenville Tuesday following a race that drew 20 percent of the city's voters to the polls, garnering nearly 69 percent of the votes.
Weldon sat down with the Empire-Tribune Thursday and opened up about his career, faith and family.
While he was born in Shreveport, La., he is a true Texan. Weldon's parents, Jerry and Patricia Weldon, lived in San Antonio, but his mother wanted to return to her hometown north of Shreveport for his birth. The family later moved back to Texas and eventually to Stephenville.
His father operated a hereford ranch near Clairette. He passed away in 2000 and his mother currently resides in Stephenville.
A 1981 graduate of Stephenville High School who moved to the city when he was in second grade, Weldon excelled inside and outside the classroom, lettering in football three years and basketball and baseball two years.
Remaining true to his ranching roots, Weldon showed lambs and herefords as a member of 4-H. His intellectual and oratory abilities revealed themselves when he advanced to state FFA competition in quiz and public speaking. He served as president of the National Honor Society and student body. The achievements would later be recognized through his induction into the SHS Hall of Fame.
"I was really involved in high school," Weldon said. "And it was this community that really shaped who I am. When I got to the (Air Force) Academy, so many of the things that were being taught I already understood, like respect for authority."
In high school, Weldon planned to continue his education at Texas A&M University, following in the footsteps of several family members, including his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
"I already had my dorm reserved," he said, adding he planned to study veterinary science.
That changed when SHS Coach Leon Manley entered Weldon's chemistry class to inform him a football recruiter from West Point wanted to see him.
Weldon visited New York and applied to West Point, but began researching other opportunities due to the distance from Texas. He submitted another application to United States Air Force Academy in Colorado and film of his gridiron action.
"I was accepted into both the Air Force Academy and West Point," he said.
With strong math skills and a grandfather and great uncle who had been on the team that surveyed the Brazos River, he decided to study engineering while playing football for the Falcons.
"At that point, it hadn't really sunk in that I was beginning a military career," Weldon said.
Meeting his wife while on break from the Academy is something else he never expected.
Weldon said he met Carrie Hanbury at a rodeo dance in Dalhart on a Thursday night and returned to Colorado the following Sunday. The couple began a three-year, long distance relationship. A rule of the Academy was that marriage could not come before graduation so the budding Air Force colonel said he was slow to propose.
"We got engaged at Palo Duro Canyon," Weldon said. "I think at that point she had almost given up on me asking."
Their nuptials quickly followed Weldon's graduation from the Academy, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering and Environmental Management. The couple wed in Dalhart, hometown of five generations of Carrie's family.
Following Weldon's first assignment to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, the couple developed a strong relationship that endured 14 moves in 26 years and gave birth to twins, Kyle and Kayla, 22.
"Carrie is quiet but very strong," Weldon said. "She has always been very supportive and a great mother and military wife. In a voluntary force, a military wife is a national treasure, and she quietly filled that role."
Over the years, Weldon obtained a masters of science in national security strategy at National Defense University and engineering and environmental management from Air Force Institute of Technology.
The twins are both graduates of Texas A&M with degrees in animal science. Kayla resides in Stephenville and is employed at Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery In Weatherford. Kyle is completing the ruminant nutrition graduate program at A&M.
With a whirlwind military career behind them, the couple returned to Stephenville last summer, and shortly after their return, a simple trip to the grocery store confirmed their relocation had been the right choice.
"We went to the store and were checking out when the clerk asked us how we were and told us to have a great day," he said.
As the couple left Carrie looked to her husband and said, "They really meant that."