Oak Tree Under the Live Oak Tree
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Chapter Eleven: Twentieth Century - Recreation and Festivities

The Texas Theater

     According to One Hundred Years - The Guadalupe County Fair, published by the Seguin Conservation Society, "On November 23, 1911, the Guadalupe County Fair opened at the Fair Grounds and it is believed that for several years the term 'fairgrounds' referred to the Hollamon Bottom, or Glen Cove, as it is known today, and that it remained there until it moved to its present site. A 1914 map of Seguin shows the horse racing track in the Hollamon Bottom."

     The1916 Fair was held in September, but World War I precluded the holding of a fair in 1917. After the one-year hiatus, the Fair began again and continued from 1918 to 1931. A consistent Fair, showing growth and organization is a reflection of economic prosperity, good community spirit, and a larger sense of social commitment.

     However, the Great Depression bankrupted the Fair Association, and it would not be until 1949 that the Fair would be officially reorganized and begin anew. The period of Fair history, 1918 to 1949, gives the reader an insight into how a community reacts in time of prosperity, and during times of fiscal restraint.

     First, the period of prosperity and the Fairgrounds. According to One Hundred Years, "Prior to 1927, the County Fair Association owned the fairgrounds south of Seguin and north of Max Starcke Park. Ownership of land is expensive, thus through land ownership the Fair Association reflected the prosperity of the times by moving from the Hollamon Bottom to their present home, the County Fairgrounds.

     During this time of prosperity "the number of events grew in number." There was horse racing, livestock, and bands, and rural school displays, boys' and girls' displays and pecan displays at the Fairs. Nineteen twenty-seven was a banner year for the Fair Association. The Association stated to the Seguin Enterprise that "the Fair owes its very existence to the ladies." No doubt this was a long overdue compliment and was appreciated at the time. Also in 1927 there was a "huge pageant" that lasted two nights. All the talent was local. Fireworks were added in 1927. The parade saw garlanded automobiles conveying lovely ladies bedecked in their long flowing dresses and wearing the practical sun hats whose brims were an extension of their personalities. These were the good years, just like the 1850s and 1880s. The times were right again for Seguin.

     In 1929 there were automobile races and an auto display. "In 1930, a boys' and girls' doll and pet parade were viewed at the Fairgrounds. It was reported that the applications for the racehorse owners ranged from Canada to Mexico. Due to the increased interest of our Mexican-American Citizens, the Fair was extended for one day and Saturday, October 4, 1930, was designated "Mexican Fair Day." The Mexican Consul in San Antonio came to Seguin to make a special address to the group. The Blacks of the county "continued to display their special pavilion at the fair. Local merchants displayed flags daily during the fair and closed their doors to business at noon."

     But disaster soon struck with the Great Depression. "The plans for the 1931 Fair never materialized." The bank note on the Fairgrounds, purchased between 1920 and 1926, was due. Facing a possible loss, the Fair Association "entrusted the land to Mr. R. A. Weinert." The city also began to take an interest in the land which was composed of thirty-seven acres. "By joint actions between Mr. Weinert, the Chamber of Commerce and the city council, the present thirty-seven acres of fairgrounds were purchased by the city for $10,000. Had this action not taken place, the city not shown its concern for a permanent place for the Fair, its days would be ended.

Although the 'Official' Association for the Fair did not function, the spirit still held. Through county and city community effort the spirit of the Fairs continued. Concerned adults and young organizations pooled their efforts to perpetuate this annual event. Predominant were the 4-H Clubs, churches, and ethnic communities. Many of today's citizens remember their families packing into the Model-A's, Buicks, and Studebakers and driving down to the Fairgrounds for a day of fun and, when needed, pitching in and helping. Of all the organizations that helped keep the basics of the Fair going from 1981-1949, one would have to give a mighty big thanks to the 4-H Clubs of the county.

     By the late 1940s the city and surrounding communities began pooling their efforts. In 1949 organization was reestablished for the Fair. "The depression was over, her sons and daughters had returned from the war to take up where they had left off." And so it has been ever since, uninterrupted.

     In 1949 the spirit of the Fair and community was rekindled. The Fair Association's Board of Officers were Howard Altenhoff, General Chairman; Reno Germann, Co-Chairman; Elmer Purtle, Secretary, Walter Fey, Treasurer; Roy Tisdale, Finance. The Advisory Committee was led by Frank "Doc" Schmidt who was assisted by R. E. Hoffman, beef cattle; Paul Willmann, dairy cattle; Roland Willmann, swine; T. L. Steffens, poultry; and R. A. Saunders, Chairman of the Colored Division. Garfield Kiel was in charge of publicity and he was assisted by Frank McDaniel, Jr., Ward Burns, Wayne Livingston, and Elizabeth Sheridan.

     Since 1949, the rodeo has been a part of the Fair, and other events have been added to the delight of the patrons and participants. "Today there is a little something for everyone. If you like to run, there is a 10,000 meter run; if you like plain old fiddlin' there's the fiddlin' contest; dances abound each night; children can flock to the 4-H Clubs' baby-barnyard; and if you think you are a pretty good dresser you can participate in the best western dressed contest."

     Leading the one hundred four year old 1987 Fair Association were Tuddy Dietz, President; Faye Talley, First Vice-President; Steve Koehler, Second Vice-President; Jenny Siltmann, Secretary; and Vi Engelhardt, Treasurer. Those honored for their many years of service and who served as Honorary Directors were Bob Lowmann, Avis Forshage, and Willie Johnston.

     Perhaps the best known recreation facility in Seguin has been Max Starcke Park. It was first dedicated and opened to the public during Seguin's Centennial Year of 1938. The park, located in the original timber lot area of early Seguin was a prime bottom land next to the Guadalupe River. Nestled among the mature pecan trees, river cypress, elm and oak, it is an idyllic location for a park.

     Originally, there was a nine-hole golf course. As of 1980, there were eighteen holes offering a challenge to the serious golfer and a delight to the novice. It has rolling hills, good water holes, inviting sand traps, and one interesting green that is shaped in the outline of Texas.

     According to the summer, 1982 "Guadalupe Guide" published by the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, "Max Starcke Park is known as one of the finest parks in the South Texas area."

     Offered to the public, in addition to the golf course, are "lighted tennis courts, a swimming pool, volleyball and ping pong facilities, an outdoor basketball court, a miniature golf course, playground equipment, baseball and softball fields, a jogging trail, picnic benches and cook-out sites, and fishing spots on the Guadalupe River."

     In golf there are a number of tournaments held each year. These golf tournaments "include the July Fourth Firecracker Open, the Central Texas Golf Fest, the Junior and Senior City Championships, the Pan American events, and the State Left Handed Golf Association Tournament." The many contributions Lefty Stackhouse made to golf are still recognized. 

     Tennis has gone through its boom cycle but remains a favorite. Frank Wood, a tennis coach at the High School, conducts classes at the tennis courts on an individual and group basis. "In the summer he conducts clinics for the very young on through the teenagers as part of the Parks and Recreation Summer Program.

     No doubt the most popular attraction is the swimming pool, located between the tennis courts and the golf shop of Biff Alexander, resident professional. Swimming lessons are offered each summer and "youngsters" can stay cool from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days.

     One of the most popular sports in Seguin, besides football, is volleyball. "Each summer approximately sixty women's teams and twenty men's teams square off for two months of volleyball action. There are church teams, organizational teams, and neighborhood teams participating, and the competition is indeed spirited."

     Rounding out the recreation activities at Max Starcke Park are the baseball and softball diamonds, of which there are many. "Seguin has peewee, minor, junior, Babe Ruth, senior Babe Ruth, and semi-pro baseball." The SMI Steelers are one of the continuously most successful and exciting baseball teams to watch locally and at the state level. Many of the players have played at the high school and college level with some becoming professional baseball players.

     Max Starcke Park is the scene of year round activity. Its scenic winding river drive and riverside benches offer moments for solitary reflection to the visitor. The park is located on Business 123 South, and is next to the Fairgrounds.

     But recreation is not confined to Starcke Park. Sportswest, a modern, privately owned, sports complex, offers a large bowling center operation, racquetball and handball courts, weightlifting and aerobics for young, old, and in between. In addition it offers a dining room and bar. It is conveniently located on Highway 46, just south of Court Street.

     In addition to the park and indoor sports opportunities, Seguin is known for its offerings to the outdoor sportsman. For the angler it is a paradise with the Guadalupe River, nearby Lake Placid, Lake McQueeney, and Meadowlake. Bass fishing and cat fishing are the two biggest drawing cards. Public boat ramps are located along the river between 123 By-Pass South to Interstate Highway 10, to Lakes McQueeney and Dunlap. Bass boats are a common site.

     With water also comes the lure of water skiing and pleasure boating. The river, since Canyon Dam was built above New Braunfels, maintains a fairly constant depth for water skiing. Lake McQueeney is the home of the nationally known "Ski Bees" whose members have often gone to the National Championships.

     For the hunter, skeet shooter, and gun enthusiast there is an outdoor shooting range east of Seguin on the Old Seguin-Luling Road. It is owned and operated by Jim Hillin. It has covered pads with at twenty-five meter range, a long distance range, a shooters' supply shop, and bar-b-que facilities. Many hunters take advantage of this facility to sight their guns and retrain their trigger fingers for the dove, duck, geese, turkey, and deer hunting seasons.

     There is even a "buck fever night" each October at the County Coliseum which has prizes for the best game trophies from the previous year's outings. Hunters and enthusiasts come from throughout the community to share their experiences and newly acquired knowledge.

     In Seguin there are eight neighborhood parks covering a total of 200 acres. These are well maintained and are used for sand lot games, pick-up football games, swings for children and are convenient for family outings. Seguin is indeed a small town but it is big when it comes to recreation.

     Also serving the youth and senior citizens of Seguin is the Activities Center which offers a myriad of programs for Seguin's citizens from a skating rink to arts and crafts.

     Along with recreation are celebrations, and there are several which have become institutions in this region. The Firemen's annual May parade is no longer held but the spirit they generated in the early years of Seguin's history continues. The biggest celebration, besides the three-day County Fair, is the three-day Freedom Fiesta held over the Fourth of July holiday. There are golf tournaments and a parade that gets bigger each year.

     Until 1987 the tradition of craftsmen and civic organizations marketing their goods in the city park was upheld. However, because the activities have drawn so many visitors over the years, the park could no longer accommodate the buyers and sellers. Thus, in 1987, the booths of community organizations and craftsmen were relocated to the County Fairgrounds.

     Two Hispanic celebrations that have increasingly become popular in Seguin are the Diez y Seis Celebration and the Cinco de Mayo Celebration. The Diez y Seis Celebration is in honor of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's shout for Mexican Independence from Spain, given at the Mexican village of Dolores on September 16, 1811. Although Mexico would not gain independence from Spain until 1821, his spirit was enough to rally the Mexicans through those years. Father Hidalgo was eventually executed by the authorities and his cause has since been celebrated each year in Mexico. Although the Cinco de Mayo (independence from France and Emperor Maxmillian) celebrations are not as big as the Diez y Seis, they are still very popular. Over the years, as the Hispanic communities have continued to develop in the south and central Texas area, the celebrations have become more and more popular.

     Other celebrations are the annual Mayfest at the fairgrounds, where artists, jewelists, lapidarists, and many other craftsmen display their handcrafts. It is a great time for the talent of Seguin to be shown to the public and it has become quite a meeting place to renew old friendships and acquaintances.

     The Pecan Festival is relatively new to Seguin although its predecessor, the annual Pecan Show and contest has been ongoing for many years. The festival is held each fall, generally during the pecan harvesting season in November. As Seguin-Guadalupe County is one of the larger pecan producing areas in the state and region, the Pecan Festival is one of the longer running activities in Seguin.

     Another event that is relatively new to Seguin is the annual Harvest Happenings, which is a money raiser for the Chamber of Commerce during the Halloween period. Due to space limitations the evening of fun is held to 300 tickets. In 1987 the theme was a night in Paris and the grand prize was a trip for two to Paris, France. The tickets for the last several years have cost $100.00.

     One event that reaches out and touches the entire community at a very special time is the lighting of the Christmas tree in city square. If the founders of Seguin could attend they would be proud to know that the block they had reserved for the citizens use was still being honored 150 years later. Sponsored by the Jaycees beginning in 1982, it has become an event that other organizations such as the Seguin High School Key Club and the High School's state renowned choir now help put together.

     There are many other activities, both sponsored and not sponsored, by the Parks and Recreation Board.

     Those activities sponsored as of 1987 were Seguin Tennis Camp; the men's and youth basketball program begun by high school Coach Harry Miller and TLC Coach Newton Grimes in 1982; the corporate challenge; Rainbow's Journey Summer Daycamp; Brown Bag Days and pre-school brown bag; Big Wheel Day; children's miniature golf tournament; learn-to-swim; March of Dimes 10 mile walk; Santa calling; and the American Cancer Association Swim-A-Thon.

     Events not sponsored by the city but by local organizations are men's city softball, men's and women's church softball, volleyball, Texas Lutheran College baseball, Seguin High School baseball, Seguin Babe Ruth League, Seguin Little League Association, Seguin Youth Soccer Association, American Heart Association 10-K run, Seguin Jaycees 5-K run, Seguin Invitational High School Cross Country Meet, 35 and over men's softball, Seguin Youth Activity Center, Boy Scouts and Activity Center Bike-o-rama, Fiestas Patrias, Noon Lion's Carnival, Freedom Fiesta, Spring Fling, and the County Fair.

      A brief history of the Parks and Recreation Department reflects that the department was established by the city council in 1982. John Connor was its first Director and the first five board members were Malcolm Tigett, Henry Lehnhoff, Irma Lewis, Henry Suarez, and Clarence Little. E. G. McMillian replaced Malcom Tigett and Sonia Garza replaced Henry Suarez when they resigned in late 1982. When the board grew to seven, Henry Hill and Jack Taylor were appointed by the city council. Since then, a Seguin Baseball Commission was reorganized, Benbo Park property was acquired by the city, a Coliseum was built, and the Ball swimming pool was deeded to the Seguin Independent School District.

     Today the Parks and Recreation Department is directed by Reggie Williams. He is assisted by twenty-two part-time and eighteen full-time employees. On the board are E. G. McMillan, Chairman; Bill Ermel, Vice-Chairman; Clarence Little, Henry Hill, Irma Lewis, Gilbert Moreno, and Delois Garrett.

     Their plans for 1988 are not only to continue their efforts on a new swimming pool, but to expand several activities such as the Seguin Youth Soccer Association, men's winter softball league, expand volleyball by having a church co-ed league and have several major league baseball try-out camps, and create a "Central Texas Invitational or Classics" cross country track meet. The Parks and Recreation Department is active and has its eye toward the future.

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© 2000 E. John Gesick, Jr. All rights reserved.