New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Water Skiing in Downtown Kerrville

Mrs. Fred (Melody) Bernhard, April Clover, Mrs. Clifton Mackey, and Mary Dyer
as Flag Bearers for the Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show,
in Kerrville's Louise Hays Park, 1950s.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Last week, I wrote about the many improvements made to Kerrville’s Louise Hays Park over the years since it opened in April, 1950. Many of the comments from readers mentioned the water ski shows which were once produced right there in the park.

Though the lake made by the dam in Louise Hays Park is deep, it's also very narrow. Looking at it today, it's hard to believe this spot was once the venue for a daring water ski show. Without the improvements made by the Kerrville Jaycees in 1954, these ski shows would not have been possible; the Jaycees dug a ‘canal’ at the upriver end of Tranquility Island and made other improvements with the express purpose of providing a venue for “speed boats” and water-skiing exhibitions.

Here's a story about those water-ski shows, from my files:

One of those shows, The Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show, was produced by Cotton Eldridge and his wife, Ava, in the late 1950s. During the 1959 July Fourth celebration, hosted by the Kerrville Jaycees, the "Water Thrill Show" was performed nightly, with an advertised price of "50 cents per car," though an afternoon matinee show was free to the public.

"A crowd of about 200 people came away from a preview performance of the Ave-Cot Water Thrill Show impressed by the variety and daring of the acts," one newspaper reported.

"Cotton's jumping boats, which he takes over the ramp and jumps into a circle of fire as a grand finale, are believed to be unique in the water show field.

"Star of the show, besides Eldridge himself, is Jimmy Simmonds, who does most of the fancy jumps, works in the clown acts, and drives one of the jumping boats.

"The show opens with some flashy turns by the tow boats, with Eldridge driving one, and Herman Gadecke driving the other.

"Then come the flag bearers on skis. They are Mrs. Fred [Melody] Bernhard, April Clover, Mrs. Clifton Mackey, and Mary Dyer. Sue Dale Simmonds and Mrs. Alton Fairchild will take turns with the flag bearers.

"Creed Blevins wowed the first-nighters with a high dive off of the bridge. This will be a regular part of the show.

"Freddie Bernhard, who takes part in several acts, did a spectacular demonstration of slalom skiing, shoe skiing, and barefoot skiing. He is considered one of the outstanding slalom skiers .(one ski) in the nation.

"Bernhard, Simmonds, Blevins and Clifton Mackey dressed up as farmers for the clown act.

"Bobby Solomon and Johnny Page, elementary school youngsters, put on a slalom skiing demonstration to show that skiing can be done at an early age.

"Taking part in the ballerina number were Irene Fischer, Mrs. Mackey, Mrs. Eldridge, and Mrs. Richard Pachall.

"One of the more daring stunts was a back swan from the shoulders of Simmonds by Sarah Jane Johnston done while he was skiing."

Gentle Reader: I’m old enough to remember when boating was frequent in Louise Hays Park. I remember a big water-ski jump in the middle of the river just below the Arcadia Theater, and the stone bleachers built for the water-ski shows, although I don’t remember the water-ski shows.

I do remember riding in my parent's boat at that same spot; I was very little. My Mom skied slalom as my Dad drove the boat. (They were not part of the Ave-Cot show. They were just a couple of twenty-somethings who liked to water-ski. The Louise Hays Park was convenient to the print shop.)

I remember the dam getting closer and closer as Dad drove fast toward it. I remember Mom skiing behind the boat. I'm sure I closed my eyes as we made that turn just before the dam.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who last went water skiing with his father and his son, years ago, in a much larger lake -- a few counties from here. This column originally appeared in the
Kerrville Daily Times on August 15, 2020.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not inexpensive to produce. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much.


  1. I lived right on the river and occasionally they would come close to the house. I also remember there was a dog that skied also. Maybe a poodle.

  2. Wayne Curtis- Tivy '63. At 8-10 yrs old Cotton Eldridge would invite me to ride, then whipping the wheel to spin the boat out of water. Great fun As I recall he passed too soon. I fell in the lake crossing the narrow dam a couple times going to Cotton's launch.


Please remember this is a rated "family" blog. Anything worse than a "PG" rated comment will not be posted. Grandmas and their grandkids read this, so please, be considerate.



Related Posts with Thumbnails