Carolyn Bender, 63, was Carolyn Roberts then, a sophomore.
“My history teacher decided I needed something to do besides sitting in study hall,” she remembers.
“He wanted a vase for his mantelpiece, so he took me to the art room. They were working with clay. When it was finished, he asked me if he could enter it into a national scholastic art contest. He even paid the 50-cent entry fee.”
Bender, who is responsible for many of Beeville’s sidewalk decorations, won first place.
Next school year, she enrolled in Art 1 class; as a senior, Art 2, 3 and 4.
“And, I often skipped shorthand class to go to the art room,” she says.
The secretarial world’s loss was the art world’s gain — particularly on Beeville’s holiday streets.
“The funny thing is, I didn’t know I had any talent. As children (Bender is the eldest of two brothers, two sisters) we made our own paper dolls and clothes. We just thought everybody did those kinds of things.”
So did she, and still does: laying tile, putting down wood flooring, along with artwork.
Her multi-talents served her well. When she moved here in 1978, she owned and operated two restaurants, was an in-school assistant at Moreno Middle School and was a correctional officer at Garza West.
But art will out.
While working at the middle school, she would write with calligraphy the names of students.
“Some of the kids still have them,” she says.
She also decorated bulletin boards, created baseball posters and painted scenery for the ball games.
When she moved to Garza West, she decorated the walls of some of the offices with murals.
“I don’t like small artworks,” she says. “When I started a mural at Garza, the warden thought it would take three weeks to finish. I did it in four days.”
One late, autumn evening in 1980, Bender’s next-door neighbor lamented that, years before, the whole neighborhood used to decorate their yards.
So, Bender made two kneeling angels and candle holders.
By chance, then Chamber of Commerce president Doug Curry saw Bender’s decorations.
“Would you do some figures for the county courthouse?” he asked.
“Sure,” Bender said. “What do you want?”
“Oh, just give me $500 worth.”
“That was the start,” Bender says, “and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
One year, when workmen were unpacking two-dimensional Christmas trees, Bender said, “I can make those look like real trees.”
She constructed a few of them; the next year, the Chamber asked her to make 39.
That three-dimensional concept expanded to include sidewalk decorations for Independence Day and Western Week.
Although Bender retired last December, you couldn’t tell it from this year’s holiday decorations.
She has painted decorations on three buildings, including the public library.
“I had to do some research. I’d never painted windows before, so I had to go online and find out what paint to use so it isn’t permanent.”
All because, almost five decades ago, a history teacher thought a student was bored in study hall and had an idea.
The rest is history.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.