by Stephanie Nestlerode
Like many others, I felt called to move here. Others born here, feel called to stay. Hearing the call and understanding what the call means are two quite different things. At 7th Generation Labs, we’ve finally landed on what our calling means to us. We believe that the Wimberley Valley has a unique contribution to make to the world.
After the Memorial Day flood in 2015, FEMA noted that Wimberley is the most resilient community they’ve ever encountered. Why? What creates our ability to bounce back from tragedy? What makes Wimberley so special to our visitors and to each and every one of us?
We’re taking a page out of the Louise and Parks Johnson playbook. Prior to becoming movers and shakers in Wimberley, Parks Johnson worked for a Houston radio station. In 1932 he took a microphone to the street to question the passers-by. His program, "Vox Pop," the first radio quiz show, was born.
His wife, Louise Johnson, selected and gave gifts to participants, becoming known as Mrs. Santa Claus. In spite of interviewing politicians and celebrities, the Johnson's kept the spotlight on the average person - the voice of the people.
M.F. Johnson, their daughter-in-law, follows in their tradition. She says that she got inoculated with the joy of community through Louise.
In her words, “it isn’t who you were when you came to Wimberley that counts; it’s who you become now that you do live in Wimberley.”
We’re bringing VoxPop to the Wimberley Valley. Let’s DISCOVER together what makes Wimberley so special. Let’s AMPLIFY what makes us strong. And let’s SHARE what we learn with other communities. Let’s preserve Wimberley's heritage even as we adapt to changing circumstances. Let’s weave all our voices into a tapestry worthy of those who’ve gone before and will come after us.
Our deepest gratitude to Martha Knies - our tour guide for learning about Wimberley's pioneering spirit.
Original Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash.What do you think makes Wimberley so Special?
by LaDonna Coy
Imagine. It’s the early 1830’s. Not 1930 but 1830. You have no electricity, no radio or television, no running water, no telephone. Your nearest neighbor is likely to be more than a mile away. When you are in town, most likely going to church, or the Mill, you sit down with your neighbors for conversation. Over pie and coffee the conversation turns to complaints about the government as it so often does .. only in this area in the 1830’s, the government being complained about was .. the Mexican government!
Photo: UrbanHoustonian Creative Commons 2.0
Jump forward a few years. Imagine. It's 1838. You’re living in places like Tennessee or Kentucky or maybe Alabama or Georgia. Texas has become a Republic and you get word that there’s land available, free for the taking. You can get this free land under this thing called the homestead act -- the first of its kind in America. You wonder if there could be a different, better, less encumbered life waiting for you in the Republic of Texas?
So, you pack your family and belongings into the covered wagon, tie on a horse or two and head West. Linda Allen, in her book, Wimberley, A Way of Life1, captures what it must have looked like to those early settlers as they got their first look into the Valley.
“When they crested the edge of the valley we call Wimberley, they must have thought they had come home. Below them was a wealth of green -- grass, oak groves, cypress leaning over water so clear and cold it took the breath from a man, and, in the distance, more grass hemmed in by hills. Buffalo, deer, turkeys, foxes, mountain lions, panthers, and bears roamed the hills and valleys, and eagles soared overhead. The first white settlers must have thought they had stumbled on a small piece of heaven.”
According to Linda, the people who came here were ordinary, hard-working, people with big dreams and pioneer spirits. They were willing to work as hard as they needed to in order to see those dreams come true. Homesteads, to them, offered a start on the life they yearned for.
The Winter’s family came to the Valley in the early 1850’s. William Winters, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto2, shared the dream with others living in the Valley -- like the Blackwell’s, the Leath’s, the Adare’s and the Eggers’.
You see, Winters was rewarded with a land grant for serving in the war. That grant enabled him to put down roots, build a house and plant crops. More important to the Valley, he established a mill (where Ozona Bank now sits3) and before long the old community of Glendale became better known as Winter’s Mill. It was the first time the community changed its name but it wouldn’t be the last.
Times were hard as people lived between 'not enough' and 'too much' water. If the people here weren’t struggling to keep their crops alive on rocky hill country soil they were rebuilding from devastating floods. Homes and businesses were washed away many times but the people bounced back, stayed and rebuilt. They loved this place. They knew how special it was. Thankfully, some things don’t change.
Today we have our own version of hardships and trials. While much in our lives is different than the lives of our ancestors, some things remain the same 180 years later. They learned to make a life, to find a way to survive and even thrive. They were fiercely independent and yet each helped another when there was a need. Their spirit lives on in this Valley.
Join in a Valley-wide gathering titled, Unsticking Conversations on Sunday, November 18th from 2:00-5:00 pm at the Wimberley Community Center. The Gathering is rooted in Fun, Food and Fellowship (and full-tilt participation).
Tickets are available HERE.
1 Allen, Linda Williams. (1986) Wimberley, A Way of Life, Village Library and Cultural Center
2 The Battle of San Jacinto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Jacinto
3 Johnson, Bill. Stories of Wimberley's First 100 Years, 1840's-1940's
The Memorial Day flood of 2015 is etched into the hearts and minds of every person in the Wimberley Valley. The longstanding spirit of generosity that pervades the Valley is equally memorable.
So, much so that FEMA recognized its unusual nature. They widely shared their view that this community, is the single most resilient place they’ve ever seen in their collective years of responding to disasters.
Artists from left to right: Min Johnson, Betty Potts, Karen Sophia Smith, Shiila Safer, Connie Ashley Akers
Words often seem inadequate in giving voice to the pain, suffering and destruction experienced at times of disaster. But art -- art can and often does express and convey what words cannot. Shiila Safer, local artist, helps us catch such a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the artists who put together a beautiful series of panels titled, The Blanco - Flow, Flood, Flourish. She says,
“Our original impulse in creating these river panels, was to honor the resilience and regeneration of the riverfront along the Blanco River after the Memorial Day flood, 2015. These unique fiber creations are a tribute to both the devastation of the flood, and the renewal and new growth along the river. Each artist has incorporated fabric that survived the flood. Our group intention is for continued healing for the community as a whole. May this creative expression contribute to that healing.”
She continues with her own story.
“The Memorial Day flood was very personal for me. The loss of trees was the most heart-breaking. I witnessed trees being ripped out of the ground, others breaking and falling. We had 7 feet of water in our house, and many months of being displaced after the flood. My healing is part of the river healing; part of the trees healing. We are healing each other every day. I am inspired by an old Cypress tree I call Grandmother. She is the protector and guardian of the river bank below our house. During the flood, many trees piled up against her trunk, and the long line of trees downriver were saved, and are still standing to this day. The water is clear again, and flows beautifully, bringing life to many life forms along the riverbank. The trees are green again, and life goes on. This fills me with hope and gratitude. Nature is my Teacher.”
We are deeply grateful to these artists for sharing these exquisite panels at the community gathering, Unsticking Conversations, on November 18th from 2:00-5:00 pm. Tickets are available HERE.
by Stephanie Nestlerode
Fortunately for us, the Valley’s past is well documented by folks like Bill and M. F. Johnson, Linda Allen, Martha Knies, Patti Morgan, and others. Combining their stories with my own experiences, I’ve noticed three patterns that have a strong influence on how things unfold. Seeing the patterns gives us an increased ability to positively shape the future.
Pattern #1: Struggles with infrastructure projects.
Setting the context for the Wimberley Valley
In the 1930s, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) held a vision to bring electricity to central Texas. As a child, he read by an old smoky light chimney. He helped his grandmother hand wash clothes, and he didn’t want others to have the same experiences. Yet some didn’t have the money to pay for electricity, others were unfamiliar with electricity, accustomed to living without it and mistrustful of it. Washington politicians considered the hill country too wild and too poor to finance development.
When LBJ couldn’t convince central Texans or Congress to invest in electricity, he took his case to President Roosevelt. In 1937 Roosevelt convinced Congress to fund the project. Locally, neighbors paid for neighbors who could not afford the sign up fees.
In November 1939, the lights came on in Wimberley with no warning. By 1946 PEC was the largest cooperative in the world. Upon arriving in Rolling Oaks in 2007, one of my neighbors told me, “If it weren’t for LBJ, we might not have electricity to this day.”
Managing growth in the Wimberley Valley
In 1962 the Wimberley Chamber of Commerce formed a planning committee to look at the possibilities for developing a public water system to address the lack of drinkable water. In 1963 The Hays County Wimberley Water Supply District (a utility district) was formed to develop a water supply and sewage disposal system for Wimberley. In 1964 the Chamber organized the Wimberley Water Supply Corporation to provide drinking water, with Raymond Czichos as president of the board. By 1966 the corporation was servicing 215 people. Twenty years later, the system pumped water to over 1,000 users.
In 1976 the Hays County Commissioner’s Court reactivated the Hays County Wimberley Water Supply District to work with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to develop a sewage disposal system for Wimberley. A plan was developed and government grants would have funded 70% of the project, but people living near the proposed site viewed it as a threat and the plan was defeated. Forty-two years later, the sewer remains a source of conflict.
Pattern #2: Neighbor-to-Neighbor Solutions.
The Valley attracts creative people with a broad range of gifts and talents. Think back to the flood. People jumped into action with whatever they could offer. Fixing food. Looking for survivors. Washing clothes. Repairing houses. In times of disaster or tragedy, we meet the challenge. This also happens every single day. When our car broke down at the entrance to Rolling Oaks years ago, every neighbor that passed stopped to see if they could help. When a small kitten tried to cross Highway 12 by Kings Feed, every lane of traffic came to a complete stop until he was rescued. Not a single person was honking the horn.
Pattern #3: Fun, food and fellowship.
Anyone who’s ever experienced Market Days, the Butterfly Festival, the Wimberley Pie Social, the Garden Tour, etc. etc. knows how much we enjoy each other’s company. Wimberley is an experience city. When you ask people how they landed here, many share childhood experiences at summer camp or during vacations. It’s why so many folks came to our aid after the flood. Everyone wanted to make sure the Valley continued to provide a special place for creating fond memories.
At 7th Generation Labs, we believe that if we focus on the last two patterns, we’ll naturally increase our ability to find creative solutions for basic infrastructure needs like roads and the sewer. Based on this belief, we’re hosting a gathering on Nov. 18 from 2 to 5 pm at the Wimberley Community Center.
In the interests of fun, food and fellowship, we’ll begin with a pop-up of the Rolling Oaks Music Fest with the jammers, BBQ, desserts and local coffee. To work our creative muscles for neighbor-to-neighbor solutions, we’ll host conversations on these areas (choose one or roam from area to area):
Take a moment to get your ticket(s) and plan to attend a unique and enlivening afternoon of conversation with your neighbors.
We encourage youth and adults to join the gathering.
Scholarships available for Youth.
Volunteers receive free admission.