A gift to Amarillo and a posthumous honor, the Friends of AJ Swope are planning to construct a privately funded plaza downtown.
The public green space will include a 300-seat amphitheater, the Texas Panhandle Walk of Fame and the Texas Panhandle First Responders Memorial.
Named for the late newsman, musician and wind energy advocate, AJ Swope died in a car crash on January 15, 2013 at the age of 27.
“His death was devasting,” said Wes Reeves, chairman of the FAJS committee. “He was very well known because of his music career and his career in wind energy. He had a really wide following. He was one of those people that almost everyone loved, probably really quickly. He had that ability to connect to people.”
Swope was the front man for his band, AJ Swope and The Last Train Home. Simultaneously he was the first executive director of Class 4 Winds & Renewables and prior to that, he was a local weekend television news anchor.
Reeves said Swope’s death seems like only yesterday.
“For me and some of the other community members who grieved his death it feels like a way to help heal some of that heartbreak and focus our emotion into something positive,” he said. “I felt like his work wasn’t finished and we feel charged with the need to finish his work and benefit the community.”
The corner of Southeast Eighth Ave. and Lincoln St. will be home to the plaza, which the Friends hope will be constructed in 2019. Reeves said the downtown location is apropos for Swope.
“AJ really loved downtown and was behind the downtown development,” he said.
The TPWF will celebrate the lives of notable area residents. In conjunction with that, the TPFRM will honor the memory of law enforcement personnel, firefighters and first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty. Reeves said both memorials were positive additions to the project.
“The plaza will reflect his personality and provide a central place for remembrance, reflection and celebration that all the citizens of Amarillo can enjoy," he said. "It is a gift to the community from those who love and miss AJ Swope, and a fitting memorial not only for him but for all the people who have impacted our lives through their talents and service. And in the case of our fallen first responders, their very lives.”
Both the Amarillo Police Officers Association and the Amarillo Firefighters Association have voted to join forces with FAJS in support of the memorial.
Craig Vaughn, FAJS committee member and KPUR-FM program director and on-air personality, thinks this is a project everyone in the community can support.
“My fear is making other radio stations not want to have anything to do with it but … I want other radio stations to get involved with the fundraising,” he said.
Vaughn initially began the TPWF on Facebook to honor contributors to the Texas panhandle.
“I thought that Amarillo and the panhandle needed some kind of recognition for the great people that have come from here,” he said. “This started off as a dream, now it’s a drawing and we have meetings. This will be a really neat thing for the city. There’s been so much bad news …. and this seems to me to be a big bright spot that everybody can grab on to.”
Vaughn was also connected to Swope through music and he twice before had him as an in-studio guest. He still plays music by AJ Swope and The Last Train Home on 95.7’s daily music lineup.
“He was such a nice guy. I use him as a scale – you meet a nice guy, but he’s not AJ nice,” he said. “We were not as close as I wish. After people pass away you think, I really wish I would’ve called him more often and hung out more.”
Vaughn said he admired Swope as a husband, businessman and musician.
“He put Wendi and that life first as a commitment. He was creative, his base morals and values were really deep and I don’t know that people get that from just hearing his music or hearing that he was a nice guy.
“I thought that was really neat for somebody so young to have those kinds of values and priorities. He would’ve been a neat dad, that’s for sure.”
The campaign committee has set a fundraising goal of $2.5 million, which would cover construction costs and provide a fund to help cover future maintenance and repair costs. More information on AJ Swope Plaza can be found at ajswopeplaza.com or facebook.com/ajswopeplaza. Donations can be made to AJSP in care of the Amarillo Area Foundation or online at amarilloareafoundation.org/givenow.