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Monday, June 17, 2013

This week's newspaper column: Remembering Sherman Durst

Sherman Durst
Looking at this week's Fredericksburg Standard, I was saddened to read of Sherman Durst's passing.
It may be that few in Kerrville know Sherman Durst's name, but he once did Kerrville and Kerr County a kindness that will last for many years.  I am sure there are many other instances of his generosity to Kerrville, but I have personal knowledge of this one, and for those interested in local history, his contribution was a big one.
Durst's obituary took up two-thirds of a page, a tribute to the man and his love of his hometown.
Born in Fredericksburg in 1952, Durst graduated from Fredericksburg High School in 1971.  He got a degree in journalism from Texas State University, along with a teaching certificate.
He began a career in real estate in Fredericksburg in 1978, working for the Herber family at the C. C. Herber real estate company.  In 1985 he purchased Fredericksburg Realty, and farm and ranch sales became an important part of his business.
It was his love of Fredericksburg, however, that people will likely remember.  He served his community as a member of the Fredericksburg city council, as a member of the planning and zoning commission, as chairman of the early Oktoberfest celebrations, as president of the Fredericksburg chamber of commerce, and as a sponsor of the Fredericksburg 150th celebration.  In addition he served on numerous other civic boards and committees.
Many called Sherman Durst "Mr. Fredericksburg."
It was his love of history that I especially admire.
Chris Kaiser, in his eulogy for Durst, said "A symbol of his love for this town is his decades old obsession with Fredericksburg memorabilia, which made him a regular feature at the local estate sales.... But he didn't box and hoard these relics like many of us would.
"He cataloged them with museum curator-like precision and saving them for posterity was just an extension of his ingrained feeling of service and responsibility to his beloved city.  I think with regard to community and volunteerism and giving back, not only did Sherman do a lot of it, but he did it a different way."
Sherman Durst had been battling cancer for a long time.  The last time I saw him he no longer had his trademark beard; chemo had claimed it, along with his silver hair and even his eyebrows.  But he still had his trademark smile, and his eyes still showed his enthusiasm.
Durst's love of history was aided by his real estate business.  He saw many historic items before they were available to others.  It was in one of his clients' houses he saw an old portrait.
And so, the last time I saw him, he came by our print shop carrying the portrait of a man in an old oval frame.  I was shocked to see it and I recognized the person in the image instantly.
"James Kerr!" I said.  Sherman Durst was pleased I recognized it. "That's who I thought it was, too," he said.
Images of James Kerr, for whom Kerrville and Kerr County are named, are extremely rare.  Kerr was a Texas patriot involved in the creation of the Republic of Texas, and an early state official. He was also the first settler from the United States to live on the Guadalupe River, near where it meets the sea.  It is unlikely he ever visited the county and city named for him.  He died in 1850, shortly after Joshua D. Brown established a small shingle making camp here in the late 1840s.  The town and county were later named after Kerr at Joshua D. Brown's insistence.
The portrait of James Kerr
Since Kerr died well before cameras were common in Texas, photographic portraits are extremely rare.  (According to the Texas State Historical Association, the first photograph in Texas was likely taken by a Mrs. Davis, who advertised photographic services in Houston in December 1843.  None of her work is known to exist today.  The earliest confirmed Texas image dates from 1849, a photograph of the Alamo.)
I asked if I could copy the image of James Kerr, but Durst said no -- he wanted to give the portrait to "someone who would take care of it," and offered it to me.  I offered to pay him for it, and he said no, though I'm fairly certain he'd paid money for it himself.  He gave this extremely rare portrait of James Kerr to me.
To see the portrait, visit the Kerr County courthouse.  Enter through the front doors, and in the first little hallway to the left, you'll see Major Kerr.  The framed image is on the wall opposite the stairs that led to the old district courtroom.  Fair warning: James Kerr was not a handsome man.
Thanks, Mr. Fredericksburg, for your generosity.  Thanks, too, for your fine example.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 15, 2013.
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