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.

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