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Southwest Airlines’ “Love is in the air” over Midlothian

Patty Hullett
The Mirror
These Southwest Airlines flight attendants all share the same alma mater -- Midlothian High School. Front row, Lauren Edwards, second row, Katie Roberts and Haley Thorne, back row, Faith Roberts, Heather Blackwell, Kelcey Ellis and Lindsey Goss. Not pictured in this photo are Dana Sorrels of Flower Mound and Maggie Bowman of Nashville, Tennessee.

A good portion of the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (“SWA”) flight attendant corps is led by 10 different Midlothian High School graduates – ranging from classes of 1983 to 2012. The nine featured ladies in this story are: Dana (Jordan) Sorrels – 1983; Heather (Anderson) Blackwell – 1998; Lindsey (Fowler) Goss – 2005; Margaret “Maggie” (Jones) Bowman – 2007; Lauren (Folkers) Edwards – 2008; Kelcey (Fowler) Ellis – 2008; Katie (Osburn) Roberts – 2010; Faith (McFarlane) Roberts – 2011; and Haley (Cleveland) Thorne – 2012. (One remaining SWA flight attendant was unable to participate in this newspaper story.)

“Sometimes it is difficult to know that you are truly preparing students to be successful beyond the walls of the school building. However, when 10 individual students all find success within a single career field, you know that is not just luck. That is a combination of preparation, individual determination, and the ability to set success driven goals. Midlothian High School is proud to share in helping each of these young ladies make their dreams come true. They truly represent our campus motto, ’Go 2 and Go Panthers!’ said Midlothian HS Principal Gary Gates.

Without hesitation, all nine of these lovely ladies are over-the-top about their luck in launching a wonderful career with one of the United States’ favorite employers.

Company leaders with a vision for its employees

Herb Kelleher, the airline’s founder, is quoted in the book, “Nuts,” by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, about the fact that in 1973, Southwest became the first major airline to introduce profit-sharing to its employees, by saying it "is an expense we want to be as big as possible so our people get a greater reward.”

The late Kelleher (1931-2019) tried his best to run a successful airline that also kept its employees motivated and content. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to hear stories about flight attendants picking up trash, gate agents tracking down borrowed staplers, or pilots cutting back on fuel usage, precisely because they know that will impact their company’s profits.

As the Freibergs write in their book: “The real secret to Southwest’s success is having one of the most highly motivated and productive work forces in the world. They are driven to excellence by a sense of fairness that says, ‘We want your well-being to be tied to the company’s well-being because, after all, you are the company’.”

As Gary C. Kelly, current Southwest CEO says: “Our people-first approach, which has guided our company since it was founded, means when our company does well, our people do really, really well. Our people work incredibly hard and deserve to share in Southwest's success.”

While it may seem odd that so many Southwest Airlines flight attendants would come from Midlothian High School, it is a fascinating fact. Midlothian is a city in northwest Ellis County, and the growing town 25 miles southwest of Dallas is also dubbed as “The Cement Capital of Texas”. Midlothian is the home to three separate cement production facilities, as well as a steel mill. The population of this city grew by 121% between 2000 and 2010 to a population of 18,037. In 2018, the numbers swelled to a grand total over 27,000 inhabitants.

This area has seen so much growth in the past decade that a second high school was opened in 2014 – Midlothian Heritage High School, which lists its current enrollment as 914 students. Midlothian High School, where the Southwest flight attendants went, is a 6-A school which has a total of 1,783 students listed for 2020.

Dana (Jordan) Sorrels – 1983 MHS graduate

The oldest of the MHS graduate flight attendants is Dana Sorrels. She lives in Flower Mound, located northwest of Dallas and northeast of Fort Worth.

Dana says, “I couldn’t be happier with my career choice. I have been at Southwest Airlines for 20 blessed years! Even though I always knew I wanted to be a flight attendant, it took me quite a while to finally take the chance to go for it. But, as fate would have it, my opportunity came, and I was accepted into the SWA in-flight program. It was tough in the sense there was a lot of material to cover in just four, short weeks. But from the very beginning, I knew this would be my second home – and it is! I chose this wonderful company because I love the down-to-earth atmosphere and the diversity of the people. I can truthfully say that on any given day, it is never boring.”

When asked if she gets tired of traveling so much, she answers, “It’s not the traveling part that’s hard, but it’s just that I get tired of packing and living out of my suitcase sometimes. On the topside, the travel benefits are incredible. I am looking more forward to using those special perks when I retire and my kids need to come visit me. That means that they will never have an excuse to not come home.”

Dana remarks, “Some of my favorite travel spots in the U.S. are San Diego, California, Nashville, Tennessee, and the State of Hawaii. Outside of our country, my best trip ever was to Australia.”

Dana shares, “I was very involved in my school back in the early 80s. I was not only a cheerleader for the Panthers, but I also enjoy participating in fast pitch softball in Midlothian, but that was before it was even a recognized sport in high school. One of my proudest moments was when I was selected the Homecoming Queen of my senior class in 1983.”

Dana continues, “I very vividly remember some awesome teachers at MHS, along with a great faculty. She relays, “My typing teacher was very memorable, as she covered up the keys on our electric typewriters with tape so we could not physically see the keys. No worries, I wrote on top of the tape anyway – because I could not type without looking at the keyboard, and I still can’t!”

“My very favorite memory of attending Midlothian High was an easy question for me to answer. It was most definitely my ‘friendships’ I developed over my last few years there. My best friends, then and now, still live in Midlothian or in towns nearby. My hometown back then was very small when I lived there. It still makes me smile when I recall some of notable moments that are everlasting. And best of all, I still have my ‘Panther Pride’.”

Heather (Anderson) Blackwell – 1998 MHS graduate

Seasoned professional flier Heather Blackwell shares, “The flight attendant job kind of ‘landed’ in my lap in 2001. I randomly went to a job fair with a friend I knew. I ended up getting asked back for a follow-up interview, and from there, it all happened very fast. I didn’t even love flying at the time. In fact, I actually didn’t know what I was getting into. I started training the day before Sept. 11, 2001. When the unbelievable terrorist hijackings starting happening on the morning of 9/11, it was my second day of a very intense and emotional five weeks of training after the national tragedy that shook the entire world. However, I ultimately realized that I was in the right place, doing the right thing. I will be celebrating 19 years with SWA in September.”

Heather explains that she has so many wonderful memories at Midlothian High School. She remarks, “I absolutely loved my school, I loved my classes, I loved being in the hallways and being with friends. I often think of two of my very favorite things: MHS Panther football games and pep rallies. I even enjoyed the cafeteria food and those round, greasy pizzas we ate all the time. I have such fond memories of proms and parties and all the fun we experienced together. It was also heartwarming when I would drive through town back then, practically knowing everyone on the roads, as this town seemed very small 22 years ago. I also cherished the love our teachers had for us. I felt so secure knowing almost all my classmates at MHS, and now I love how so many of us still live here in town. It feels like we are family, a special bond we share because we experienced those years together.”

Heather states that she is proudly raising her third-grade daughter in M.I.S.D. schools. “My husband, Justin Blackwell, has worked for the school district for over 14 years now. He was at MHS where we both graduated from, until Midlothian Heritage High School opened six years ago. He is now a history teacher and head baseball coach at MHHS. We would not want to be anywhere else. My daughter is a third generation Midlothian student and we are proud to live here!”

She continues, “In addition, I have enjoyed mentoring, and even recruiting, so many young ladies to become SWA flight attendants. I have enjoyed seeing ‘my local girls’ come fly with me!”

Lindsey (Fowler) Goss – 2005 MHS graduate

Lindsey Goss tells, “I went to college to become a school teacher. A year after I graduated, I decided to apply at Southwest Airlines for a Flight Attendant position, all thanks to my friend Heather Blackwell. She is the one who talked me into it, and it's been the best decision I’ve ever made!”

In rating SWA as an employer on a scale of 1 to 10, Lindsey says quickly, “Absolutely, this company is a ‘10’. They are extremely good to all their employees. Their extra flying benefits are amazing. Because of being a SWA flight attendant, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Paris, France, Hawaii (before our airlines started flying there, thanks to our other benefits on other airlines), and Cayman Islands – just to name a few.”

Looking back on Lindsey’s high school days at MHS, she recalls her favorite teacher – Mrs. Chapman. She says, “This extraordinary teacher was special to me because she was always so caring and seemed to love every one of her students.” Lindsey shares that her favorite memory from attending Midlothian High School was graduation – “but isn’t that every high schoolers’ favorite memory?”

Margaret “Maggie” (Jones) Bowman – 2007 MHS graduate

Maggie is the only SWA lady who is no longer in Texas; her home and her family are now based out of Nashville, Tennessee.

She lists her favorite teacher at MHS as her band director, Mr. Larry Doran. Maggie says, “He was (and still is) the head band director there, and I learned so much from him during my time in the band program. I played the trombone, and my most memorable part of attending Midlothian High School was Friday night football games and performing with the band.”

Maggie adds, “After high school, I went to college at Texas State University where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after college, and while looking at all my options, a Flight Attendant position opened up at SWA. My mom, a 30+ year Southwest employee, suggested I look into it. I dove into the training, thinking I’d only stay a few years. However, I very quickly realized there’s nothing better than being a Flight Attendant for Southwest. And, once Southwest is in your family’s blood, it stays. In fact, my brother Gordon, a 2008 MHS graduate, also works for Southwest as a Ramp Agent in Denver, Colorado and has been with the company for 9 years.”

“SWA is my family”, Maggie continues. In fact, I just recently celebrated my five-year anniversary with my favorite company.” She also shares, “Flying is exciting! ... Some of my best vacation trips were spent visiting places like The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. These are wonderful places that I will never forget.”

Lauren (Folkers) Edwards – 2008 MHS graduate

Another “happy camper” at Southwest Airlines is Lauren Edwards. She and her family of four (Lauren, her husband, and two little ones) are excited to live in Midlothian. Her oldest child is just starting kindergarten at Longbranch Elementary School, virtually for the time being because of COVID-19.

Lauren expresses, “My SWA flight attendant job kind of fell in my lap. I was in my last semester of college and was having a change of heart with what I wanted to do. Southwest opened-up some flight attendant positions, and I knew Heather Blackwell loved her job flying for SWA, so I decided to take my chance -- along with the thousands of other people set to apply. I went for it, and thankfully, I got it! I am absolutely content with my career choice and I wouldn’t change it for the world. In rating my company, if 10 is as high as I can go, then absolutely a 10 it is!”

“With me jet-setting all the time, I miss the long car rides my family used to take on vacations when I was younger,” Lauren adds. “Sentimentally, I still choose to have long car trips with the kids, over flying.”

Lauren explains, “I haven’t been able to travel the world much yet, as my young children keep me much closer to home these days. The places I have been for work – places like Boston, Massachusetts and several locations in Tennessee – would be my favorites so far! These are two of the areas I had never been, before becoming a flight attendant. The atmosphere and history that you can see in these parts of the country are amazing. And after flying there multiple times, there is always something new to see and enjoy.”

A very involved Panther during her high school years, Lauren says, “I was proud to be a part of the PALS program at MHS.”

To better explain, from an article on the Internet, “The PALS reading program, otherwise known as ’Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies,’ was developed for students from preschool age through high school. As the title suggests, it is a peer activity in which students take turns as the coach while the other is the reader. To motivate students, points are awarded for both good reading and good coaching. PALS is specifically designed to provide additional support for readers, but it should not replace existing literacy curriculum.”

Lauren says, “I also enjoyed being a Junior Varsity, and then a Varsity cheerleader for the Midlothian Panthers. Those were some of my best memories from high school.”

She continues, “My favorite teacher would have to be Mrs. Posey. She taught algebra, and I just hated math! But her class had such structure and she was quite strict, but she knew how to get down on the student’s level. She would take, however long, to explain a problem and answer all our questions. I knew that if I ever needed help, I could go before school and she would always be there – and I was there a lot. Thanks to her great patience, her door was always open.”

Kelcey (Fowler) Ellis – 2008 MHS graduate

“I had always been really interested in being a flight attendant”, says Kelcey Ellis, “so when my college roommate told me that Southwest was hiring, I jumped on the opportunity to apply. ... I could never make it in a 9-5 job setting, after loving my career as a flight attendant.”

Kelcey admits, “I love to fly, but sometimes being away from home does get hard, but mostly because I miss my daughter so much. I am very thankful for my amazing travel benefits through my company. Just knowing that my family and I have the ability to go anywhere is really cool.”

Kelcey was very active in several MHS activities during her high school days. She lists tennis as her sport, but also enjoyed UIL spelling events, and was a part of community problem solving, and Panther Playback. Her very favorite teacher at MHS was Lynn Redden. Kelcey says, “I had this special teacher during my 10-12 grades for medial classes – and she was just the best!”

“My family and I don’t live in Midlothian, but instead, we are in Maypearl, a smaller town still within the confines of Ellis County.”

Katie (Osburn) Roberts – 2010 MHS graduate

Katie Roberts, is a local young lady who lives in Midlothian with a husband and a toddler daughter.

Katie remarks, “I graduated from Tarleton State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Most of my undergraduate studies were focused on human resources, and I was drawn to Southwest Airlines for their reputation as an employee-focused company. My original plan was to start out as a flight attendant and then shift into the HR field, and later work for Southwest headquarters in Dallas. After getting the chance to fly, I knew immediately that I loved the job.”

She continues, “The adventure of flying is extremely rewarding. After almost five years of flying with SWA, I wouldn't want to do anything else. I love all of the places I get to travel, my flight crews, and the passengers are always interesting. The job also provides a lot of flexibility. And, as a new mom, I am so grateful for the extra time at home with my family.”

So far, most of her travels have been domestic. Her favorite states to visit are Florida, New York, and California. Internationally, she has enjoyed Mexico and Jamaica.

Katie says, “As far as my future life goes, I hope to send my children to Midlothian schools. I think it’s really neat to raise a family in the town I grew up in. I absolutely loved being a part of the MHS tennis program. I played my sport all throughout school at M.I.S.D. Tennis was one of my greatest memories from high school, and I was excited when I was voted ’Miss MHS Tennis’ in my senior year. Many of my best friends played on the team, so practice was always a lot of fun. I also enjoyed traveling with the varsity tennis team to out-of-town tournaments.”

Faith (McFarlane) Roberts – 2011 MHS graduate

Faith Roberts met her future husband while both were attending MHS. She says, “We fell in love and became high school sweethearts, then later married after college.”

She continues, “After graduation, I attended Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. I became a flight attendant for SWA because of the urging of by Katie Roberts, my sister-in-law (she and I married brothers), and by Heather Blackwell, a dear friend – and both were flight attendants for Southwest. They thought it would be something I would enjoy, and they were so right. I love traveling and being out in the public now. Flying has become a great passion of mine.”

Faith has been a flight attendant for two years. She admits that she is so excited because she is able to see and enjoy so many fantastic cities all across the country and go on amazing family trips. “I can’t tell you how many beautiful beaches and awesome mountain areas I have been able to experience because of my original choice to join the Southwest Airlines team.”

Faith adds, “My favorite high school memory was meeting my husband and attending all his sporting events as an athlete representing our school. My favorite teacher at MHS was Coach Justin Blackwell (husband of flight attendant Heather Blackwell). Coach always made class entertaining, and he had such a genuine connection with each of his students.”

She says, “Because my husband and I had such a great time as classmates at Midlothian High School, we remain in our hometown and plan on continuing to raise our two children here. We love the MISD and our city. We hope our kids will love this town as much as we do.”

Haley (Cleveland) Thorne – 2012 MHS graduate

The youngest SWA flight attendant from Midlothian, Haley Thorne, shares how lucky she was to be in the right place at the right time.

Haley explains, “I happened to randomly apply for a flight attendant position at SWA three months after graduating from Texas State University, with a degree in Communications and Public Relations. After only seven months (which is a very quick process), I was at SWA University, going through the required training. Now, I have been with Southwest for three years and have absolutely loved the job! Interacting with passengers, and even working with my passionate cohorts, is always so fun and interesting. I have learned that everyone comes from different walks of life and he/she is on their own venture in this world. No three-day trip goes by without me learning something new about people and life itself.”

Haley expresses how traveling can get exhausting – for passengers, as well as flight crews. She says, “As flight attendants, we are constantly bouncing around from time zone to time zone, waking to very early alarms (some as early as 2:30 a.m.) and sometimes getting into our hotel rooms in the middle of the night. Depending on weather and the world of traveling in and of itself, we can endure some extremely long days. So, yes, it literally can be exhausting some days, but it is worth every ounce of ‘sleepiness’ to connect our passengers with loved ones, friends, clients, and coworkers – all to destinations where they will make memories that will last a lifetime or get lasting results or benefits that complete the purpose of their trips.”

And Haley applauds Southwest Airlines for providing amazing travel opportunities to their employees. Some of her most excellent adventures so far have occurred in California, Florida, Colorado, Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee, and the Dominican Republic.

While at MHS, Haley was involved several school activities and events. Her special bond between her and a favorite teacher – Mrs. Walker – remains still today.

Haley recalls, “My ‘Personal Family Development’ class was significant because of a unique lady that was more of a mom figure than a teacher. I always considered her my ‘school mom’. Every student of hers knew that she was a safe place in our school. She was someone you could talk to and trust that she was going to give you the best advice that she had to offer. Mrs. Walker has always been there as a cheerleader of mine from freshmen year, through the remaining years of high school. She has even attended some of my graduations, and even celebrated with me at my wedding! I am very blessed to say that even though life gets hectic, we are still able to talk and catch up from time to time.”

Haley, her husband, and her two dogs currently live in the city of Waxahachie, and they plan to stay in Ellis County as their family expands in the future years.

These Southwest Airlines flight attendants all share the same alma mater -- Midlothian High School. From left, Katie Roberts, Haley Thorne, Kelcey Ellis, Faith Roberts, Lindsey Goss, Heather Blackwell and Laura Edwards.