An upcoming show of Joe's collection of historic photographs....

Monday, June 13, 2016

Zelma Hardy: Kerrville Pioneer

With the recent election of Bonnie White as Kerrville mayor, who is the second woman to hold that office, I was reminded of the first woman to serve as Kerrville's mayor: Zelma Hardy. Hardy was mayor here from 1973 to 1976, serving two terms. Since its founding in 1889, Kerrville has only had two female mayors.
I researched Ms. Hardy's story, and found an excellent newspaper article written by my friend Michael Bowlin, which was published in this newspaper on January 31, 1991.
"Hardy moved to Kerrville in 1946," Bowlin wrote, "when her late husband, George, became chaplain at the local Veterans Administration hospital.
"'I took a position teaching English at Tivy High School which I continued to do until 1954. I then went to Alamo Heights High School where I taught for four years. I came back to Kerrville and taught English at Schreiner College from 1962-69, when I retired,' Hardy said."
She didn't "bask in her retirement," according to Bowlin. She sought a seat on the Kerrville City Council, and was elected in 1970.
Hardy was the first woman to serve on the council. It only took 81 years from the establishment of the municipal government here for that to happen. The second woman to serve on the city council, if I remember correctly, was Mindy Nicholson Wendele, who was elected in the late 1980s.
Zelma Hardy was on the council here for six years, and they were busy years.
"While I was on the council we made the first major improvements to the streets. We also upgraded the drainage system and the sewerage system and voted to build the two swimming pools (Kerrville Municipal Pool and Theodore Martin Pool) and the Singing Winds ballpark," Hardy is quoted as saying in Bowlin's article. During her time on the council, in 1972, a contract was awarded for the study of a proposed "River Walk," a very early precursor of today's "River Trail."
In those days the voters of Kerrville didn't directly elect who would serve as mayor; the voters chose five city council members, and then the five chose among themselves who would serve as mayor. Hardy was chosen by her fellow council members on April 11, 1973, and was chosen before she arrived at the meeting: a power outage had caused the clock to stop at her house, and she was late arriving to city hall that evening. On arriving, she found she'd already been elected mayor. The Kerrville Mountain Sun reported she "smoothly presided" over her first council meeting as mayor.
Hardy was a volunteer in our community, too, finding time to help out at the Dietert Claim, the Friends of the Library, with community education and literacy programs. She also tutored students on the subject of English, was a Sunday School teacher, and a board member of the First United Methodist Church.
"One of her pet projects," Bowlin wrote, "is the Good Books Group, which she formed at the Dietert Claim" in the late 1960s. (The Dietert Claim is now called the Dietert Center, and is in a different location.)
She was chosen as Citizen of the Year by this newspaper in 1978.
"While she enjoyed being part of the city's political scene, Hardy said her heart has always remained with education.
"'I enjoyed teaching. Even though I had difficulty with some students, as all teachers do, I really enjoyed being an educator. If I have any talent at all, it would be as a teacher,'" Bowlin reported her saying.
Zelma Hardy moved to Georgia in 1991 to live near her daughter; she passed away there in 2003.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is a big fan of teachers, especially first-grade teachers, and of one of those in particular.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 11, 2016.

Monday, June 6, 2016

1932 Flood: Trapped in a Tree

The tree to which young Howell Priour clung
for 23 hours during the 1932 Kerr County flood
On July 2, 1932, the skies opened as they'd never opened here before, and the Guadalupe River threw off its mask of green calm and became a charging, swirling bull of mud and debris.
When a big event happens in a community, it's noted in stories, photographs, and occasionally song, and while the facts of the stories don't always exactly coordinate, the theme, the stronger message, comes through loud and clear. The story of July 2, 1932 is a story of warning, and a story with heroes.
This is the story of Howell Priour, a 17 year old boy who was trapped in a cypress tree near where the dam in Louise Hays Park stands today. I remember the tree -- it was often pointed out to me when I was a boy -- and it was a huge thing, although later it was struck by lightning and left a hollow spot near the base of its trunk. I believe it was finally washed away in the floods of the late 1970's. I found the following story in the "Kerr County Album," in an article written by the late Clarabelle Snodgrass.
"Howell's family," reports Snodgrass, "lived where the Rio Robles Mobile Home Park is now. He had gone down to the river area in search of livestock to get out and on to higher ground before the river washed them away.
"The death dealing waters rose so swiftly that it caught him in the fast current and washed him downstream. He was able to catch onto a limb and go as high as he could in a large cypress just across from where the Blue Bonnet Hotel stood and is now where One Schreiner Center has been built.
"The young man was stranded there for twenty three hours and on account of the high swift water the attempts at rescue were practically an impossible thing to accomplish."
Remember, that this was before the Louise Hays Park had been built in a day (1950), and the river bank there was a tumble of trees. The old mill dam was still there, but it was completely submerged beneath the rolling Guadalupe.
The rescue of Howell Priour was costly.
"Two men," Snodgrass writes "lost their lives in the rescue efforts. Mike Odell, 24, of Houston, and Charles H. Greenleaf, 50, of Chicago both drowned in the efforts at trying to reach Howell.
"Ben Calderon was the first to try to brave the waters . . . The swift water carried him downstream more than a mile before he grasped a tree and later made his way out to safety. Then B. P. Roberts, a former sea captain, crossed in a small boat, but his frail craft was swamped just as he reached the goal and he landed in a small tree 50 feet away from Priour. Next was Homer Vivian, who was traveling from California to his home in Florida . . . He swam the river in a valiant effort, but was swept past the . . . tree, landing in another small tree near Roberts."
It was a young Kerrville resident who finally reached the boy.
"Cooper Fletcher, 19, . . . strapped food and medicine in a watertight box to his shoulders, was the first to reach the Priour boy. He gave food and coffee to Priour and . . . three hours later he helped Howell from the big tree and assisted by Roberts and Vivian the three men took the exhausted young man out across the river and to his home on the other side.
"This was a fearful time as people in town gathered on the bank back of the Blue Bonnet Hotel and watched all through the night. The fire department came and kept lights on Howell in the tree. People called and sang and prayed and watched the young man they feared might fall asleep and drown in the raging waters below."
I often wondered what happened to young Mr. Priour, and looked up the rest of the story this week. I found his obituary in the Kerrville Daily Times issue of January 25, 1990. He lived to be 75 years old, and was a retired carpenter.
And even though decades had passed, his obituary included the story of his spending the night in the tree, of the two men who died trying to save him, and of the heroism of Cooper Fletcher.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers that lonely cypress tree, and the silent warning it offered. This week's storms have certainly reminded him of that warning.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 4, 2016.


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Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering Raye Haney

I was saddened by the passing of Raye Haney this past week. Ms. Haney, along with her husband Dub, have been very involved in our community for many years.
I knew them from church; they joined First Baptist Church in Kerrville when I was in middle school, so it's hard for me to remember a time when I did not know the Haneys.
Along with her husband, Dub, Ms. Haney was a constant participant in community events. There were few events here which they didn't attend, and for many of those, Ms. Haney brought along her camera, taking photos she'd share with others. They were so involved in community affairs this newspaper named them Citizens of the Year in 1996.
Here are some of the organizations Ms. Haney helped as a volunteer: the Hill Country Cowboy Camp Meeting; the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce; the Texas State Arts and Crafts Fair; the Kerrville Senior Games; the Kerrville Centennial; both the Ingram and the Hunt garden clubs; the Christmas Tree Forest on the courthouse lawn; and the Kerr County Historical Commission. I'm sure I've left a few out by accident.
Here's the thing I'll always remember about Raye Haney: her smile. It was so genuine. Whenever I saw her, she had such a warm smile and greeting for me -- but I observed she greeted everyone that way, whether she'd had the pleasure of meeting them beforehand, or not. She was kind and friendly to everyone.
She was also a faithful visitor at area hospitals, stopping to let folks she knew who were patients there know she was praying for them. Her visits were welcome and thoughtful.
She often shared stories of Kerr County's history with me, and more than once she shared historic photographs with me. She often helped me identify people in photographs, and other details, such as when and where the photograph may have been taken.
One of the best known photographs in my collection is an interior shot of Pampell's, taken from the balcony above, looking down at the crowded soda fountain. For those of us of a certain age, it is a photograph that brings back many nostalgic memories of milk shakes and ice cream floats enjoyed there. She's the one who told me when the photograph was taken: after a big July 4th parade. After the parade passed by the crowd just surged into Pampell's, where it was cooler, and where ice cream and refreshments were available. You can see the happiness on so many of the faces in the photograph.
Though born in Fredericksburg, Ms. Haney most of her life was spent here, in Kerr County. Together with her husband, she made our community a better place. Her memorial service will be held Saturday, at 2 pm, at Trinity Baptist Church in Kerrville. While I know she is now in a better place, visiting with her long-time friend Pauline Mosty, I will certainly miss her. If you're the praying sort, I hope you'll say a prayer for her family -- and especially for Dub.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers seeing Raye and Dub Haney at an important event in Austin: my wedding, where I finally tricked Ms. Carolyn into tying the knot. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 28, 2016.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The mystery of street names

Joseph Sidney Wheless, from
his time in the Texas Legislature, around 1900
Many street names around town were named in honor of someone.  Sidney Baker, Francisco Lemos, and Earl Garrett streets were all named for young men from Kerr County who died in battle at the very end of World War I.
Other streets come to mind, too: Rodriguez Street was named for a church pastor; Schreiner Street, for the family which developed the land; Lewis Street, for a family who had a dairy farm there.
Tivy Street was named for the man who gave Kerrville the land for its first public school; Captain Joseph Tivy also lent his name to our high school, and to a hilltop where he, his wife, his sister, and his wife's cat are buried.
Most of those names, however, are quite obvious.  Other street names are less so.
When Ms. Carolyn and I moved to Kerrville from Austin, in early 1983, we bought a small house on Wheless Avenue.  I've often wondered about the name of that street.
I noticed there was a local photographer with a similar name, Wheelus, but the spelling was wrong.  I'll admit I didn't pursue it further until recently, several decades after we'd moved away from Wheless Avenue to another part of town.
It turns out Wheless Avenue was named in honor of Joseph Sidney Wheless by the developers of the Hillcrest Addition, where the street is located.
Wheless was a native of Mississippi, and a graduate of the University of Kentucky.  He got his law degree from the University of Mississippi.
He married Miss Bertha Fishback in a ceremony at the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The bride's father happened to be the governor of Arkansas at the time.
The young couple made their first home in Galveston, Texas, where Wheless practiced law and engaged in politics.  He was elected to the Legislature from the district which included Galveston.
Then came the storm of 1900 which just about wiped Galveston from the map.  Wheless prudently moved his family inland, to Beaumont, where they stayed until around 1918.
In 1918 his health 'failed,' and he and his family moved to Kerrville, to a house on Earl Garrett Street.  That word about his health may indicate Wheless suffered from tuberculosis, like many who moved here during the early years of the last century, when it was thought the climate of Kerr County was helpful in treating that disease.
In Wheless's case, it may have helped: he lived another 20 years here.
During that time he practiced law, played golf at the "Kerrville Country Club," which is now the Scott Schreiner municipal golf course (though reconfigured from its original layout).
"One of his favorite pastimes," according to his front-page obituary in January, 1939, "was listening to the World Series baseball games over the radio and staying with his favorite team, no matter what the score."
According to the same article, he was "interested for several years in real estate development and when the Hillcrest Addition to the city was opened for expansion of the city limits, one of the streets was named in his honor."
He was active in civic affairs, too.  He was a member of the Rotary Club of Kerrville in the early days of its history here, a member of the chamber of commerce, and served as mayor of Kerrville in 1920-21, only two years after his arrival.
Joseph Sidney Wheless died in Kerrville at the age of 76 years, which is remarkable considering his trials with tuberculosis. He was obviously well-liked, and he served in each of the communities in which he lived, trying to make each a better place.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys small little mysteries, especially when he figures out how to solve them.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 21, 2016.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kerrville's Rialto Theater

Kerrville's Rialto Theater, in the 600 block of Water Street.
"Virginia City" was released in March 1940, so the photo is from around that time.
In the parking lot between our print shop and Grape Juice there once stood a movie theater called the Rialto.
A few weeks ago a kind person gave me some photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County, and among them were three photographs of the Rialto Theater. I'd only ever seen three other photographs of the Rialto, so now I know of six different photos of the place.
The Rialto opened on February 11, 1938, and showed "Hollywood Hotel," starring Dick Powell and Frances Langford as its first feature.
A front-page story in the February 10, 1938 Kerrville Mountain Sun offered this schedule for the theater: "One-day runs will be shown on Saturdays, and the theatre will offer four bills each week, three of them on two-day schedules. The first of a regular series of Saturday night matinees is set for 11:30 pm Saturday."
I checked up on that late time -- 11:30 -- and it appears to be accurate.  I thought Kerrville, in the late 1930s, would be all buttoned up and asleep at that time, but I was wrong.
The Rialto was owned by Hall Industries, headed up by Henry W. Hall of Beeville, which also owned the Arcadia Theater a block away on Water Street, and the Rio Theater, one block farther. (The Rio Theater was originally named the Rialto, but when the new Rialto in the 600 block of Water Street opened, its name was changed to Rio. This Rialto/Rio theater was in the 800 block of Water Street. Another theater was there before the Rialto/Rio: The Dixie Theater.)
I believe Henry W. Hall is from the same family of Halls which own the Rio 10 Theater in Kerrville today.  (Yes, I noticed today's movie theater has the same name as one from the 1930s.)
There were a lot of movie theaters here in the late 1930s!
In fact, the businesses in the 600 block of Water Street took out an ad to celebrate the new Rialto Theater. "The Theatre District is Extended into the 600 Block on Water Street. The following firms Welcome the Modern, New Rialto Theater: F. F. Nyc (public accountant), Miesch Optical Co., Norge Appliance Co., Roland Insurance, Campbell's Lunch Room, the Modern Beauty Salon, Kerr County Motor Co., the Cone Car Co. (and service station), the Sunshine Laundry, and Peterson's Garage (and service station)."
I mention this because the 600 block was once filled with businesses. Now it's just us two, really: Grape Juice and Herring Printing.
Some remnants of the Rialto Theater still exist. Grape Juice's northwest wall (the wall closest to the print shop) is actually a wall of the theater. If you stand in the parking lot and look at the Grape Juice wall, you'll see several smooth places in the plaster: these are hints of the stairway to the movie theater balcony, and the risers of the theater's balcony.
Likewise, some remnants of the other businesses in our block also remain: our print shop offices are in the building that once housed the "Modern Beauty Salon," and a sign for "Campbell's Lunch Room," which was originally painted on an exterior wall, is now an interior wall in our building. I think the Voelkel's building might have been the Cone Car Co., or perhaps its service station.
The three photographs new to my collection have movie names on the Rialto marquee: "Edison the Man," "Virginia City," and "Northwest Passage." All three were released in 1940, and from the amount of promotional signage, apparently during the heyday of the Rialto.
The Rialto was empty for many years, though for a brief time in the late 1960s it was a sort of dance/ music venue called the Casket. My memories of the building are from this period, when it was empty. We neighborhood children found a way to get inside the place and explore; it was dark and spooky in there.
The Rialto Theater was eventually torn down in the 1970s by the Charles Schreiner Bank, and the land was used to construct a parking lot. In 1990, my family purchased the parking lot from what was left of the Charles Schreiner Bank after it failed.
I'm thankful to the kind person who shared these photographs with me (and with you, Gentle Reader).
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is said to have once locked his sister in the empty Rialto Theater, or at least that's what she remembers. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 14, 2016.

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