Eight community projects were highlighted at the Blanco Woman’s Club-sponsored Town Hall Meeting April 17 at the Old Blanco County Courthouse. Woman’s Club president Nell Krueger took the opportunity to review the club’s 71- year history, dating from its formation in 1937, when it was established “to bring culture and education to a very rural community.” However, she defined the meeting as a way “to look forward to things ahead.”
Shirley Beck, chair of the Civics Department, gave credit to the members of her department—Nell Krueger, Pat Ryan, Sue McFarlin, Judy Gaines, and Candy Cargill—for their assistance in putting the evening’s program together. At the conclusion of the meeting, she thanked all who provided door prizes—The Blanco Settlement, Brieger Pottery, 4th Street Market, The Sweet Shop, Two Friends Boutique, Klepac Greenhouse, Rockin’ R Steakhouse, and Arnosky’s Flower Farm.
Don Gaines, president of the Blanco Library South District, and Gwen Risinger, president of Blanco Library, Inc. updated the community on the library’s growth since 2000, when the present 6300 square-foot building was dedicated. In 2001 the library served 1635 patrons and housed a collection of 2000 books. By 2003, the number of books had risen to 21, 583 and four computers had been added. By 2007, over 4000 patrons were regular users of the 22, 477 books and 20 internet computers. Because of the library’s limited shelf space, Gaines explained that the collection changes, with books being removed from the shelves and sold to make room for new volumes. In 2003, planning began for an expanded library, with the decision made to sell the present building and buy property near Blanco High School. In 2007 the study was complete and the San Antonio firm Lake Flato selected. Gaines explained the choice based on that firm’s history of building libraries and its commitment to sustainable green building.
Gwen Risinger explained that sustainable architecture means “a building that will last, be inexpensive to operate, and will use durable materials,” using a metal roof as an example. She estimated that the cost of the new building will be $4,200,000, with the goal of beginning construction by 2010. Currently Nell Krueger and Shirley Beck chair the fund-raising committee; Gaines and Risinger, the building committee. It is hoped that students can walk from Blanco schools to the library. She solicited community support for the library, which is a vital part of the community, not only our youth but people of all ages.
Mary Ann Weaver reviewed the history of Gem of the Hills Community Center, which began in 1984 as a combined effort of the Blanco ISD and AARP as a 2400 square-foot pavilion on a 25-acre site. In 1994, work began on the current building, with a walking trail designed in cooperation with Blanco’s Wheels and Feet Task Force. She continued with an exhaustive list of services provided by the center, including CARTS program, Meals on Wheels, numerous exercise programs, and a number of senior services. It currently has over 450 members, aged 17-90.
The proposed Aquatic Therapy and Fitness Center will be housed in an annex of the current center and will consist of a therapy pool, and exercise pool, and indoor and outdoor exercise facilities. A survey conducted by Gem of the Hills approximately two years ago netted 100% response on community support for a pool. The goal of the facility is to meet health needs of residents, who would not have to travel to Fredricksburg for aquatic therapy, as the facility would house offices for professionals who would travel here as part of their practice. Edythe Knox chairs the committee with the help of Gem director Julianne Compere. Work has already begun on grant applications. Weaver asked for the support of residents in upcoming fundraising events such as the recent Sweetheart Dance.
Newly-hired interpretive ranger Mary Alice Partain informed the group of upcoming programs planned at Blanco State Park. “I’m excited about all that goes on in this town,” she exclaimed, citing the park’s unique character as part of the Blanco community. The park’s charge, she emphasized, is “to connect residents with natural and historic resources—but I can’t do all this on my own—I need volunteers.” Upcoming projects include the construction of a hummingbird garden with native plantings, and the expansion of the nature trail, which is plagued by an invasion of non-native wax-leaf lagustrum. Two Boy Scouts are working on the trail, as part of their Eagle Scout project. According to Partain, the trail will be expanded to include some historic ice house buildings and will be moved up a little from the river bank, due to concerns with erosion. Another program explained by Partain is the Outdoor Families project, which aims to re-acquaint families with such basic outdoor activites as tent-camping and fishing, providing the supplies they need to learn skills applicable at any other parks. Volunteer opportunities include partnering with youth in teaching them to fish; in fact, the park will sponsor several fishing days this summer. In addition, residents could give Sunset Talks about local birds or history, tell stories of the night sky, or help behind the scenes with plantings or maintenance. “Blanco State Park need people like all of you—thank you for being the engaged citizens you are,” she concluded.
Larry Franklin, founder of the non-denominational Second Mile Youth Center, explained that he and his wife Charlotte “have a heart for children” and want to help others because of the blessings they have received. “The second mile,” comes from the biblical passage from Matthew referring to going beyond what is required. Programs at the youth center include a Young Life Club on Monday afternoons, a relationship-based program led by Chris Shipman. The goal, in his words, is “to introduce young people to Jesus,” who “met people where they were and loved them for what they could become.” A coffee bar, named Common Grounds is open at the center, formerly the Old Mohair Warehouse, two afternoons a week and is staffed by middle school and high school students. “In Blanco we see terrific opportunities to influence kids,” said Franklin—“There are a lot of good things going on.” The facility, which houses basketball courts and a skateboard park, has already hosted a Christmas party for children 0-3 years and two middle-school events—a Banana Split party, at which the price of admission was a banana; and a Blanco Goes Country dance. The senior prom and the eighth grade dance will also be held at the center. Franklin concluded, "Pray for the youth of Blanco.”
Connie Granberg reported on the progress of the original Blanco Mission-Style school renovation, which was still in operation as a school when she attended it from 1961-67. Joking about a recent visit there with Roy Finch, she said they both agreed, “It seemed bigger then.” As longtime residents know, a series of schools existed on the same site beginning as early as the 1870’s, although the current “old yellow” building was completed in 1923, using some parts of earlier buildings in its construction. Giving a little history of the school, Granberg recounted the story of how a vote for the school’s mascot was a dead heat between lions or panthers back in 1947. If anyone knows how the panthers were selected, please let this reporter know. It was my “homework” to find out. The current renovation is being undertaken with the intent to preserve original features and use the facility to replace the current administrative offices in the learning center, converting it back to use as part of the elementary school. Granberg, Shirley Beck, and Lula Corley head the renovation effort, which will include various fund-raisers in which the community will be asked to participate.
Dr. Barney Cline, head of the Blanco Oral History Project, confided that his efforts to preserve Blanco's history through interviews with older local residents dates back to the stories he was told by a favorite uncle who lived to be 101 and served under General George Patton, both in his pursuit of Pancho Villa in Texas and again in World War II, when he served as a Navy doctor. The Oral History Project was begun under the leadership of Dr. Shirley Beck and continues with videotaped interviews of such repositories of Blanco history as the Coffees of Payton Colony; the Lindeman sisters, Lara Caza and Charlene Singleton; Roy Byars, and Roy Finch—those who, in Cline’s words, “Make Blanco Blanco.” Tommy Koch, Bonnie Holmes, and Bobbie Abbott also serve on the committee, which has upwards of 50 additional residents in the pipeline to interview so that their stories will be easily accessible to library patrons. Cline also invited those in attendance to attend the One Book, One Community event at the BISD Learning Center on June 5, where the book Listening Is an Act of Love will be discussed. The book also deals with oral histories.
Rebecca Howerton, dressed in period costume, regaled the audience with humorous anecdotes as part of her role as a member of the Blanco Historic Preservation Commission and advocate for the Friends of the Blanco Historical Cemetery. Speaking regretfully of the fact that she never got to teach history, she said she has always enjoyed reading about history and especially in this sesquicentennial year of Blanco’s history. Among the significant dates she called to memory were 1850, when real estate entrepreneurs began selling land in what would become Blanco County; 1853, when the founding families arrived; 1858, when Blanco was named, and 1938, when it was incorporated. In 2006 a centennial celebration was held for the Blanco Cemetery, which gained its status as a historical cemetery. The medallion ceremony was held recently at the cemetery. Howerton also reviewed a list of upcoming sesquicentennial activities throughout 2008, including the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society Gala on the courthouse grounds on April 29.
Finally, John Stults updated the audience on the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, which currently has 144 members. He contrasted the small-town atmosphere of Blanco with other communities where people simply eat and sleep, while living their lives elsewhere. The upcoming Lavender Festival June 13 and 14 is expected to draw upwards of 12,000 people, according to Stults; and these people, he says, come back throughout the year and spend money. “The more money that comes into this town, the better it is for all of us,” he asserted. He also pointed out that the chamber is partnering with other organizations such as Yett Park the Sesquicentennial Committee, and the OBCCPS to bring more visitors to the areas during their special events. He also encouraged everyone to join the chamber, which is not just for local business people, but for “civilians” as well.
After the presentations, those in attendance could visit booths set up by these and other organizations such as the OBCCPS and the Safe Routes to School project.