Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Hula Hoop Craze Hits Kerrville, 1958

Hill Country Hula Hoop Contest, downtown Kerrville,
Earl Garrett Street, November 1, 1958
Click on any image to enlarge
In October of 1958, a series of articles in this newspaper announced an upcoming community event, the Hill Country Hula Hoop contest, to be held on the evening of October 30th on Earl Garrett Street in the block beside the courthouse.
I found some photographs of the event in my files, and I hope they bring a smile to your face, and hopefully spur a few memories from those who were there that day.
The articles about the event started very early -- September 24, more than a full month before hoopers of all ages were to compete.
"A hula hoop contest -- open to anyone, any size, from toddlers through age 90 -- will be held on the streets of downtown Kerrville," that issue reported in a page-one story. The event was sponsored by the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce. A trailer with a public address system was lined up, as well as three live bands. Merchants were asked to stay open late that night, because of the crowds expected in the downtown area.
Kerrville was early to catch the hula hoop craze; the modern hula hoop was invented in 1958 by Arthur Melin and Richard Kneer. A nationwide fad for the toy started in July 1958, when twenty-five million were sold in less than four months. Quite a few, apparently, were also sold in Kerrville.
To promote the event, this newspaper published numerous page one photographs in the weeks before the contest, and those pictured included Ace Reid, supporting his hoop with suspenders; Ava Eldridge, hula-hooping while water skiing on a disc; then-mayor Hilmar Pressler sporting a hoop.
Judges for the event were Mayor Hilmar Pressler, Mrs. Lloyd Luna, Mrs. Kenneth Manning, Jerry Bizzell, and Glenn Petsch. The news story reporting the names of the judges included the line "It was not stated, but it is assumed these people are experts in the use of the hula hoop."
The prizes were quaint: in the six years old and under, the winner received a $10 savings account at First State Bank; the oldest hooper was awarded a $7.50 gift certificate from Fawcett Furniture Company. Schreiner's, Central Drug, Lehmann's Stores, Brehmer's Jewelers, and J C Penney each awarded $5 gift certificates; the Arcadia Theater, a one-month pass; and the American Pure Milk Company offered a gallon of ice cream to a lucky winner. The article boasted that over $100 in prizes were up for grabs.
In an unsigned editorial published October 26, 1958, the editors wrote "Your attention is directed to the hula hoop contest Thursday evening from 6 until 7:30 in downtown Kerrville... We are concerned about the effect it will have upon the older participants. As one who has frustratedly tried to unravel the apparently simple technique of making the hula hoop hula, we might suggest the attendance of physicians and trained nurses.
"It is amazing how much agony and physical soreness the plastic hoops can cause after an hours bout with them."
When the appointed day arrived, after weeks of publicity, the skies opened up and rains fell. The event had to be postponed until the following Saturday, November 1st, which gave participants more time to practice.
The award for youngest hooper went to Debbie Yarbourough, three years old. The prize for oldest went to Harry Crate, whose age was not published. Freddy Perkins and Tina Plummer won in their age group for "trickiest" and "fanciest" hoopers. Freddy's trick: the ability to take off his shirt while keeping his hoop in orbit.
The event was held in the midst of an election campaign, when news of rockets filled the pages of the newspaper, when a typhoon struck Japan, and a category 4 hurricane came near North Carolina. It was a simpler time, but the news was just as worrisome as today.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who cannot hula a hula hoop. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 30, 2017.

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