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Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce began almost 90 years ago.

For the past several months, I've been writing a series of columns on the history of our community. Lately I've been talking about Kerr County's "Golden Era," a period of time from about 1869 to 1927, when so many of the institutions we value began.
Take, for example, the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce, the area's leading business group. Though it has gone by several different names, including the Kerrville Commercial Club, Kerr Country Chamber of Commerce and even the Kerr County Chamber of Commerce, this group has been instrumental in many developments for our community, and it had its beginnings during the "Golden Era."
Looking through my copy of Matilda Real’s “A History of Kerr County, Texas,” I found some references to the chamber:
“The Chamber of Commerce,” Real writes, “was organized at an early date but was not permanent until May, 1922, when Ally Beitel was elected president.”
The group held “monthly membership meetings, and the organization promoted courtesy and friendliness to visitors, encouraged the buying of home products, sponsored golf tournaments, and aided the jobless during the depression."
But tough economic times caused some to reconsider the necessity of the group.
“On August 30, 1935, the following resolution came before the organization: ‘In view of the fact that Kerrville now has a Junior Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Civic League, and other organizations, we feel civic needs [are adequately] cared for and that it would be an unnecessary financial drain on the businessmen of Kerrville to continue and we recommend to discontinue as of September 30, 1935.’ On October 4th, 1935, a special committee composed of W. A. Fawcett, Hal Peterson, Ed Carruth, E Galbraith, E. H. Patton, Wallace Miller, and G. H. Lang recommended that the Chamber of Commerce be continued. Following this recommendation, the Chamber of Commerce was reorganized with W. O. Harwell as secretary-manager of the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce. A new constitution and by-laws were passed to replace the old. There were to be a president and twelve directors. The first president under reorganization was Col. L. H. Webb (1936). The first directors were Roger Adkins, W. C. Bell, A. B. Burton, E. B. Carruth, L. T. Davis, W. C. Fawcett, C. E. Heckler, G. E. Lehmann, Hal Peterson, E. E. Saenger, Scott Schreiner, and Rudolph Stehling.”
Fortunately for our community, the chamber survived the depression and continued serving our community.
Here are some of the successes of the group, from a program celebrating their 75th year:
In the area of tourism, the group can count as accomplishments projects that became the Kerrville Schreiner Park, and the Scott Schreiner Municipal Golf course. Tourism is such an important part of our economy, and the Chamber has been working on tourism related projects since it began in 1922.
Transportation is an area of work that we often take for granted, as we drive our comfortable cars over the hills and across the streams, cruising along in the air-conditioning and listening to the stereo. There was a time, however, when our beautiful hills posed a pretty big problem: you couldn't get here from there. If you couldn't transport people and stuff in and out of our little valley, the town would be strangled by the very topography that lends the area such beauty. The roads that course through the hills didn't just happen, and the Chamber has often been involved in promoting improved highways and roads for Kerr County and Kerrville, from support and maintenance of the Old Spanish Trail back in 1922 to a ribbon cutting out on IH 10 in 1974.
Making a community great takes a lot of work, and often is the result of a thousand small projects that build upon each other like one brick upon another. The Chamber has been involved in early improvements to the local telephone system, funding the County Agents' work years ago, partial funding for the municipal swimming pool (the old Cascade Pool which was in Old Town), support for the creation of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, help with the creation of Louise Hays Park, and countless other projects. In 1985, the Chamber, along with Schreiner University, began Leadership Kerr County, a program to train future leaders of the community by educating them about different aspects of the county through a nine month intensive program. It's a very good program, because it exposes the participants to the problems facing the county, the whole county.
Of course, the purpose of the Chamber is largely economic -- to promote the commercial interests of the community. Some of the achievements that the Chamber can take at least partial credit for are the Fish Hatchery near Mountain Home, Methodist Encampment, the Kerrville State Hospital, Wildlife Management Area, the Veteran's Hospital, the USDA Entomology Labs, the relocation of Mooney Aircraft to Kerrville, the local Regional office of the Parks & Wildlife Department, the founding of the Kerr Economic Development Foundation, and a successful Physician Recruitment program a decade ago.
I'm glad we have the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce, which, in two years, will be 90 years old.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who serves on the board of the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.

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