John and I had many parallels in our lives. We both arrived in Marble Falls the same year, in the 8th grade.
We both graduated five years later, in May of 1970, as did each of our future wives. All four of us were merely 19 years old when we married; both couples have been married every since.
John went to college and I went straight on to work after high school. Very soon we each were in business. Therefore, neither of us really worked for anyone after just a short time, spending our whole lives in business for ourselves. We were always our own boss. That worked best for each of us.
When in high school we neither one were in sports. We were more interested in Building Trades and Distributive Education where we learned to work. We each had jobs we went to for the afternoons, rather than sitting in a classroom, for those last couple of years. That suited each of us.
While John and I were friends, we weren’t so much running buddies. John was much more likely to be in the company of Ritchie C. or Birney M. and later on Dale K. Those four were more likely to be out on the lake or doing more regular teenage boy things when away from school. John, being the son of a strict military man, was under a more watchful eye.
On the other hand I had running buddies and we tended to not be watched so closely, so our nights usually lasted much later and were wilder. But that shouldn’t be taken that John and the others didn’t have their own brand of fun and moments of mischief. Some of their stories are legendary.
Our first venture:
John bought a Corvette, probably in our junior year, that needed some body work and a paint job. I had developed those skills, so John asked me to take the lead. A large group of us teens got together for several nights and some how in an old shop building on 2nd Street that John had made arrangements to use, we stripped that car down, put it back together and made it look very presentable. It became a source of pride for John and me both.
Once we were grown:
John and I didn’t have much contact for most of the 70s. We were each operating businesses and starting families. By the early 1980s John had bought the Blue Bonnet Cafe and was also planning to develop what would become a travel trailer park at the south end of the river bridge. There would need to be city water and wastewater lines run across the river to service it. John worked a deal with the city where he could run those lines across with large enough capacity to service much more area for future growth.
Knowing I was in that business, he contacted me to see if I could help him to get an Engineer to design it, which I did. With me being involved throughout the design process, I was familiar with project so when the job was put out for bid, my company got the low bid. In fact, I think we were the only bidder. There weren’t very many contractors eager to take on a project that went underneath Lake Marble Falls.
Finally the job got underway and everything went like clockwork. Everyone was happy, and John got his travel trailer park built.
Now with there being adequate utility service to the south side of Lake Marble Falls and the combination of the 96 acre front portion of the Michel Ranch being up for sale, John and others puts things in motion to develop what is now Gateway Park. John called me to invite me to become a partner in that venture. I found myself in a position to join them. Soon a group of a dozen or so of us were off and running with the planning and evidential building of that project.
The day we finally secured the money for the development, John and I decided we would take our wives to Las Vegas to celebrate what had been a long and arduous time of getting Gateway off the ground. While that trip was fun and will always live on in my mind, it served the much more financially conservative John pretty well. It ended up being my most disastrous gambling trip in memory. But I survived.
A few months later there was a large group of us that made plans to go to Lake Tahoe on a skiing vacation. John and Belinda were experienced skiers. I had never strapped on a pair of skis and neither had the rest of our group. As the rest of our group headed off to ski school, Belinda, John and I headed to the top of the mountain. John told me I’d probably be fine skipping ski school. I never did know if he really thought that or it was just him pranking me.
Everything about being on skis for the first time felt awkward, but soon the three of us were on the lift headed to the top of the world.
Within seconds of arriving, was the last time I saw the Kemper’s that morning. Approximately two hours later I made my way off that mountain, walking, tumbling and rolling with skis across my shoulder. My feet hurt so bad from those ski boots that were obviously 2 sizes too small. I considered pulling them off and going down in my sock feet but the thought of frost bite kept me “booted up”.
By the time I reach the bottom, the rest of the group was just finishing up with ski school. All of them went on to enjoy several days of fun and adventure at their newly found sport. That was 35 years ago and to this day I’ve never had another pair of skis on. But I did have a lot of fun in the casinos for the rest of that trip.
Now for the rest of the Gateway story.
While every bit of good planning and best of intentions were poured into that development, nothing could have prepared us for what was ahead. The collapse of the real estate market, which caused the Savings and Loan crisis in the late 80s, made it impossible for all of us to continue on with the project. But by that time the project was fully built with no buyers in sight. The feeling I had coming off that mountain in Lake Tahoe is the crash and burn that we all felt about that project. It just lasted much longer.
John and I decided then that our real estate developing days were probably over. However John went on with several other ventures of various kinds that served him well, but none better than the restaurant business. John will live on as a legend in that business. I was happy to just be doing construction, digging ditches and covering them up.
Back to being friends:
John and I were friends. I would even say we were best of friends. But the funny thing is, I bet I could point to a dozen men in and around town that would say John was their best friend. He had that effect on people.
The three school friends that I mentioned above that were his constant companions would feel that way, that they were each his best friend.
But strangely, one by one, they were taken during the past decade and a half. Now the forth one went to be with them.
Richie was the first. When disease was taking a toll on him, John and my one “best friend” Tommy H. met me in Austin one day and we drove to Houston to see Richie. We met up with Birney down in Columbus. He had made his home in San Antonio, so that was the most likely place for us to meet up. Once we were all 5 there in that room at the rehab in Houston together, it was as if we were all back preparing that Corvette to be painted. We joked and we talked seriously about where we had all been and where we were headed.
We were probably allowed to over stay our visit for what was practical with a man in Richie’s condition. But we didn’t know if that would be the last time we would have on this earth together. None of us wanted to part that day and it was apparent that Richie wanted us to stay longer.
Surprisingly, John and Birney organized a party a short time later at Richie’s sisters home, the home Richie had grown up in. He had improved enough to come back home. It was a grand celebration with many classmates and people from Marble Falls coming and going all evening. That truly was the last time many of us would visit Richie. His funeral was a short time later in November of 2004.
John called to tell me Birney’s situation wasn’t good. A horrible disease was consuming him. I continued to get reports from John. By September of 2009, Birney died.
As we all gathered at John and Belinda’s party barn in 2010 for our 40 year class reunion, the stories and remembrances of Richie and Birney were many. Dale, the other one from John’s circle of friends was there too, even though he had graduated a year after us. It was the first time I had seen Dale since high school. It was great to catch up. Sadly John called me just 2 years later to tell me that Dale too had passed away. That was in 2012.
Now the forth one of that group is gone as we plan for our 50th class reunion. While this current pandemic has cast uncertainty over that celebration, nothing will put a shadow over it like the passing of John. But I’m sure we will go on with it at an appropriate time.
While a man can’t love two women at one time successfully, he can have a dozen “Best Friends“. John was proof of that.