Carter giving back as much joy as possible


By Kyle Mooty

LPR Editor

Joe Carter’s whirlwind life has endured a tornado or two along the way, but today he enjoys the calm breeze Lockhart has to offer.

At 77, Carter has run the gamut of life, growing up in St. John Colony in Caldwell County before living in other parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and even Germany as a member of the U.S. Army. He settled in Lockhart a decade ago and has told people he has enjoyed life as much in the last year or so more than at any other period.

Always quick with a smile and extended hand, Carter has finally retired from the military and various other jobs, volunteering his time around Lockhart. He is also a trustee at First Christian Church.

“God has given so much to me, I’d be as crazy as a road lizard if I didn’t give back,” Carter said.

He was born at St. John Colony on Nov. 17, 1945, but his father died when he was 4 and his mother when he was 16, so he was raised mostly by his grandmother, Estella Hill.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for that two-room school at St. John Colony,” Carter said.  “I went there for eight years. I owe everything I’ve accomplished in life to that two-room school.”

Carter graduated from Carver High School in Lockhart in 1964 and promptly headed to Austin, where he worked at the once-famous Leslie’s Chicken Shack, staying there for about four years until the owners sold the business.

He became the assistant chef at University Commons at the University of Texas in Austin for two years before moving to Fort Worth where he worked on the railroad, worked in a bakery, and drove a freight truck.

For two days in Fort Worth, Carter was homeless, sleeping in his car before he was helped getting a room at the YMCA. They waited until Carter could get his life in order, which he did by joining the military at the age of 30 in 1975.

Carter did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, then joined Field Artillery at Fort Sill outside of Lawton, Oklahoma. He was there four years. Later, he was stationed in Augsburg, Germany from 1976-78 while the Cold War was going on between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

“We were just there to show force and protect the interest of West Germany, and the U.S., of course,” Carter said.

Carter came back to Fort Sill, but his four-year commitment was up, so he changed to communications and spent two more years there before transferring to Fort Hood near Killeen.

He simultaneously worked for the government with the Federal Aviation Administration.

To this day, he helps raise money for the YMCA because of how it helped him.

Carter retired at 50 after spending 20 years in the Army, moved to Bastrop in 1995, and back to Caldwell County in 2013 where he has since resided in Lockhart.

“Lockhart was close to home,” he said. “If something happened to me, the V.A. Clinic was close by in Austin. I had always wanted to be back here, although Lockhart wasn’t too good growing up and being black. I left the area in ’64 when it was ready to integrate. A lot has changed since then.

“I would always go home to St. John’s Juneteenth, but I wouldn’t even come to Lockhart. I would stay at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin.”

Carter was trying to be retired but found himself bored.

After talking things over with a friend downtown, he learned that Lockhart Independent Schools District was looking for a part-time (20 hours per week) custodian at Bluebonnet Elementary.

“I thought 20 hours sounded perfect,” Carter recalled. “I interviewed at Bluebonnet Elementary, and 20 hours never came up. They wanted me full-time. They hired me. I didn’t really want to work full-time, but I thought I’d do it for two years. Two years turned into five.”

He would take another offer in 2015, this time in San Marcos at Texas State University at its Student Center.

Still having back issues with an old injury from the military, Carter had back surgery and hip replacement surgery both in 2018. Later, he left Texas State and managed some senior citizen apartments in Lockhart and Austin.

A recipient of dozens of medals from the Army — the four meritorious service medals his favorites — Carter’s brother was once a barber in Austin. There, he met the likes of legendary Texas and NFL running back Earl Campbell, Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, and singing legend Willie Nelson, among others. Campbell became a close friend and donated several pieces of his football memorabilia to Carter’s YMCA fundraisers while he was living in Bastrop.

Carter began volunteering around Lockhart, still helping with the Red Cross, on occasion with the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches, as well as Keep Lockhart Beautiful.

“Joe Carter is a valued volunteer with Keep Lockhart Beautiful and the clock museum, among his other affiliations” said Sally Daniel, Board Chair of KLB. “Joe is like the Pied Piper… we joke about erecting a statue in his honor. He has an innate ability to connect with anyone; a walking community builder whose friendships represent a cross-section of the population. If we tried to be a bit more like Joe, the world would be a better place, no doubt.”

Indeed, Carter fits in with every crowd.

“When Austin kicked all of the young folks out and they moved here, that was a Godsend to me,” he said. “They’ve been so nice to me. I’m going on 78, and I’m living the best part of my life right now.”

Carter was approached by members of the Fur Ball committee to see if he would walk the runway with a dog at the fundraising event in February for the Lockhart Animal Shelter.

“That’s something I had certainly never done before,” Carter said. “They asked me, and I said, ‘What the hell. Why not?’”

Then there his weekly appearance at Best Little Wine & Books in Lockhart, where Carter plays blues music selections from his Spotify list.

“What is the most fun for me now started out something of a joke,” he said. “I love blues and there wasn’t any blues played in Lockhart. I went to Best Little Wine & Books, and I said that to Kaye (Askins) one day. She said, ‘Well, why don’t you play some right here?’”

Carter can be found on Spotify at jecarter566, where he puts together up to 15 hours of a playlist.

Other than his volunteerism, Carter is completely retired.

“I’m gonna travel now,” he said. “In August, I’m going on a seven-day cruise somewhere from Galveston. I’m going to Rome in November. I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to, getting kids through college. It’s all about me now. I’m thinking about trying to buy property in Costa Rica. I will always keep an apartment in Lockhart until an ambulance takes me out of here.”


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