Family, Photography, and Community
How fitting that Stanley Depwes parents were watching boats on the Sabine Lake when he was born, naming him after the first one they saw that day, the schooner Stanley M. Seaman. After all, to this very day Stanleys favorite place to sit is at a picnic table overlooking his beloved West Lake Beach and Lake Austin. It was an auspicious start to a full life that included his family-oriented childhood in Orange, a successful Austin photography business, and a long and rewarding family life deeply intertwined with the family business in Austins West Lake Hills.
Stanley was born January 2, 1916, in Orange, Texas, the older of two sons of Jake <Silas M. Depwe, Jr. and Mattie Dupont Depwe.> His father served two terms as the mayor of Orange in the 1930s, with his outgoing nature enjoying the society life of parties and dances connected with his office and generally doing well despite being hard of hearing. The office had its risks, however. Once some locals were talking at night in a courtyard, and someone approached to say, Jake, this man is carrying a pistol. The incident frightened Jake out of running for office again. Jakes other careers included serving as Secretary and Treasurer at Colburn Grain Company, Incorporated, a feed store on Front Street near the Sabine River. Hed drive a car into nearby Louisiana, visiting small towns to take orders for feed and food for subsequent delivery by other employees. The Colburn building still stands, restored in more recent years as a grain company, according to Orange physician and historian Dr. Howard C. Williams.
Mattie was very much a homemaker. She was quiet and perhaps a little plump, a church-going woman. This may be why she was irritated over Jakes home brew activity thermometer bobbing in the barn behind the house, where the family stored wood for cooking and heating. According to Stanley, she threatened to leave Jake if he didnt shut it down.
Stanley had other family in Orange. His fathers father, Silas M. Depwe, Sr., was a jack-of-all-trades. As a local rock mason, his work graced the steps at one of Stanleys schools. To sharpen knives for his work, he used a large cement cutter a circular tool with a hole in it that he ran with its foot pedal and crank. He was also a shell digger, and sometimes Jake helped him dig oyster shells from the bottom of the Sabine Lake, with the water pump they used occasionally and loudly clogging up and perhaps contributing to Jakes hearing loss. According to Dr. Williams, the versatile Silas, Sr. also owned a candy shop on Sixth Street at one time.
Stanleys other family further enlivened his childhood. Willard was what Stanley calls a good mixer to his own slightly loner personality. Although Willard had his own friends to play with, the two of them enjoyed attending his parents dances in the second-story Chamber of Commerce room in Orange, sitting in big chairs and quietly and politely watching the dancers. In fact, this may be how Stanley learned to dance.
Orange was also full of Stanleys cousins; as he says, Thats part of me knowing those people. It wasnt perfect, however. Stanley once got into a short-lived fight with a cousin. The incident scared him but left both unhurt. Stanley also had an old crank of a cousin named Walter, possibly from Orange as well, who once slipped from the second floor of a building he was working on, knocking out all of his teeth.
Cow Creek was the setting for more of Stanleys childhood adventures. On one occasion Stanley went to the creek with some other boys, who began calling him names; in his anger and much to his shame, he threw sand at them, forcing his Aunt Mamie to call an end to the outing. Stanley also once encountered a poisonous snake in the sand; he froze while it slithered across his feet. The creek was the site of the Depwe family cemetery, beautified by wisteria his grandfather had planted. There Stanley kept a wooden rowboat, unlocked, on a short creek next to a bat house; one day when he went to check on it, he discovered that someone had sunk it with rocks.
Stanleys time at Orange High was the prelude to his leaving for college and the hilly skies of Austin. The high school was nice, the kind of community where a wealthy local once bought raincoats for all of the cheerleaders.
Chapter 2: The Early Years in Austin
Stanley left Orange for Austin in the late 1930s or early 1940s, followed shortly by his parents and brother so that both sons could attend UT under the watchful eyes of their parents. While his father worked for the real estate firm Harrison-Wilson-Pearson, his mother cooked for the family and students who rented part of their home on 38th ½ Street. Life with the boarders, up to three at a time, was colorful; one fellow spoke very little English, and another named Jack cut his toenails in the dining room! At some point Stanley lived elsewhere during college, perhaps on campus or in the boarding house of the Alonzo Craft family. College itself combined study and the beginnings of Stanleys career. He majored in geology, and the experience left him with some fond memories, such as his professor friend and his wife who were especially nice and gave him some interesting rocks. Friendship notwithstanding, Stanley didnt care for geology; his passion lay elsewhere, which he discovered while taking drama classes, working on UT productions, and shooting pictures in the early years of what became his lifelong vocation.
These early days in Austin saw other major events in Stanleys life, including his stint in the Army Air Corps. A group of them were encouraged to enlist in the Air Corps with promises of staying in Texas, a promise subsequently broken when Stanley was sent to San Diego for training. The training was exciting and challenging, though. Under the supervision of leader J.Y. Jumper, Stanley learned the flying skills to perform figure eights around a couple of nearby beehives and to make a solo flight. Difficulties of the job included flying too high or too low; Stanley recalls when another trainee flew too low in a test flight (like himself, Stanley adds) and became entangled in some wires before his rescue. And although he never received a uniform due to its not fitting properly, he made friends and felt protected and like a soldier during his Air Corps time.
After his honorable discharge, Stanley remained for a time in San Diego, though he wasnt idle for long. As soon as they found out [he] was loose, [the government] picked him up, putting him to work measuring different sizes of screws. He next returned to his life in Texas, unfortunately without having gotten much opportunity to see San Diego beyond his training and work sites.
That time in Stanleys life also saw one of its most heartbreaking events, the death of Willard. Already married, perhaps to a high school sweetheart, hed gone fishing with a friend off a little island in the Gulf of Mexico when a storm arose. With the two heading for the safety of the island in their metal boat, Willard hoisted the boats rope over his shoulder to pull it along. When lightning struck the boat, it traveled up the rope and electrocuted him. The family was in Austin when they got the devastating news, whereupon they headed immediately for Galveston. Says Stanley, I havent gotten over it yet, recalling the grave on a roadside of the cemetery where Willard is buried.
Chapter 3: The Photography Business
Stanleys interest in professional photography was sparked during those early college experiences with his discovery that photography appealed to him from an artistic standpoint. Beginning with taking pictures for fun to give or sell to people, he segued into photography as a multi-faceted career. This ranged from working at several nearby camera shops during college, such as Jacks Party Pictures and Stutman Photos, to becoming an in-demand party photographer for fraternities, sororities, and other UT events.
The fraternity and sorority parties were a highlight. After all, these were the places where people with money were rootin and tootin, and although he himself never saw the games everyone else was celebrating, Stanley enjoyed being asked, Stanley, take my picture. He and another photographer also had a system photographing separate parties and helping process each others film for their mutual use.
One sorority party in particular was especially fortuitous, for Stanley met the love of his life, Dorothy, when as a UT student she organized a party for the service sorority Beta Sigma Phi. When the photographer shed hired failed to show, she called Stanley as a backup. As he tells it, she called him up, and finally she married him. Dorothy was delicate and a good mixer with the other sorority girls, and Stanley liked her instantly. They must have been a handsome couple; on one of their dates, they went to a place with statues of people and overgrown grass, walking around and hearing the other girls whispering about them in their envy. To Stanley it also seemed like a long time passed before their 1954 marriage, proof perhaps that the good things in life really do take a long time.
From these early days doing photography at UT, Stanley moved naturally into taking baby and wedding pictures, ultimately working as a professional wedding photographer in Austin from the 1950s into the early 1980s. The Stanley Depwe studio was located close to one of the Drags theaters, near the corner clothing business of a Jewish family who spoke to each other in Yiddish.
Dorothy was an important part of the business from the start. Whether supplementing Stanleys job contacts by looking up wedding announcements in the Austin American-Statesman, or assisting at wedding shoots, she was Stanleys kingpin. This included becoming adept at using assorted photography equipment, including the slave unit, an extra light she held to illuminate and enhance the shadows. She and Stanley often entered the church in the dark before a wedding to assemble and test their equipment. In later years when Dorothy no longer held the slave unit for Stanley, son David took over the role, enjoying the time after wedding shoots when he and Stanley mailed the film to Dallas from the post office before stopping for pancakes on the way home.
In the early days, Stanley displayed the photos what he calls ordinary pictures in his studio window for people to select. Occasionally this had unpredictable results, like the time a young girl asked him to remove her picture, made to look as if there were a barrel around her, because she was afraid her father back in Orange would see it. After he began doing weddings on a regular basis, he started assembling albums for his clients, taking them to their homes so they could select the photos they wanted.
The years saw many highlights, but by far the most rewarding was how much Stanley enjoyed his clients; as he says, I liked being a wedding photographer, and I met an awful lot of nice people. He also enjoyed running into customers around town, whod say, Mr. Depwe, you took our wedding picture. With such a long run in the business, he eventually served two generations of customers, taking pictures of people whose parents hed photographed years earlier.
Other aspects of the business were equally rewarding. One of Stanleys special shots was a double exposure, the making of two exposures on the same film or plate, which he took from balconies or through metal or wood. People who saw the resulting photos would ask, Howd you get that picture? Stanley also enjoyed taking baby pictures, although the mother of the baby did most of the work, cooing so the baby would smile. Funny memories include the time a little boy ran his finger across the icing of the wedding cake, licking it afterwards. David and Robert didnt have to resort to this; they sometimes got the leftover frosting after the cake was served, and caterer Jean Dickerson once invited them to her business for a snack.
Naturally there were occasional snafus. On one occasion Stanley was squatting in the aisle of a church, at the ready for the bride and her father to walk down the aisle, when he discovered that his flash didnt work. Similar to this was the time he discovered that neither of his two flashes had batteries. Embarrassed, he rushed to Stutman Photo Supply to buy some. One of the most memorable moments occurred when the presiding preacher told the crowd assembled on the front porch of the church, including Stanley, that the bride and groom would be out shortly; instead, he helped them sneak out the back.
Stanley not only liked his customers and considered them his friends; he appreciated their differences of religion and defended them against criticism. In fact, he frequently joined their celebrations, such as the time he and Dorothy raised their hands in the air along with the Pentecostal congregants at a photo shoot. A Jewish wedding he attended was so holy, with the canopy and the groom stomping on a glass. He also did a number of Catholic weddings, including some large ones at St. Ignatius on Oltorf and Congress. (However, one Catholic wedding he attended was a little rigid, with the priest asking him to stay behind a barricade while he shot the pictures.) There was also a church where things were a family affair, with a son acting as the director of music and the mother similarly involved.
Stanley used several local businesses for his equipment needs. He may have bought his cameras at Stutman or a camera shop at Twin Oaks, and a man named Bob Bacon handled his repairs. Stanley also had a connection with a man and wife team with ties to UTs camera repairman, but there was a secret, interesting thing about this business that he never understood. The UT camera repairman, who traveled the area photographing scenery, became a friend.
Chapter 4: Life in West Lake Hills
Stanleys family life in West Lake Hills paralleled the establishment of his photography career. Dorothy had purchased property across from West Lake Beach from her mother, property originally bought by Dorothys father. According to her brother Howard McRae, there was originally a 100 lot; it was split in half, and Dorothy and her first husband, Harry Darby, bought the upper half. Harry was killed in Korea and is buried in a cemetery nearby. It was on that property that she began building a hillside home before she met Stanley. Once she and Stanley were together, they enjoyed this middle part of the 1950s, checking on the homes progress, watering the rocks to give them a more weathered look, and no doubt planning their future.
That future included many good memories of their home and neighbors such as Mrs. McBryar. The house had an outdoor grill where the family enjoyed meals together, keeping an eye out for their fox terrier Tippy, who once stole the meat from the grill. The family also shared meals with Howard and Nell on their nearby property, enjoying Howards chicken and Nells bean and tomato salad. Summers saw family reunions nearly every Sunday.
Howard did other things with the kids. As he notes, his two sons, his brother Dan McRaes daughters, and Stanley and Dorothys sons David and Robert were close in age. (Evas son and daughter were slightly older.) As the only one of the bunch who swam very much, Howard taught his two sons and David and Robert to swim. He also remembers that all four boys had dirt bikes that they rode in the hills near West Lake Beach.
Stanley also had fun with David and Robert, who both eventually attended the Eanes schools. Friends John and Edie Musgrove add that he worried about them; his worries were unfounded, since both turned out well. He was proud of them and the things they did, and he loved it when their children were born, first Roberts two girls, and finally a little boy when his grandson was born.
Stanley and Dorothy made time to go out together as well. They didnt travel very often; as Stanley says, they didnt feel they could afford it. They did, however, go dancing at places like Lake Austin Inn or the Headliners Club (on the Caufield property), where parties were sometimes held.
Chapter 5: Dorothy
Howard says that Dorothy was a pretty great person, and everything bears this out. Ever involved in her community, she was very active in her church, Westlake Hills Presbyterian. Thats where good friend Flo Macklin met her in 1972, at the old church. She adds that Dorothy wasnt actually a member of the church because Stanleys mother was so religious about her own faith; the joke was that Stanleys mother lived for so long. Flo also remembers that Dorothy, who was into everything, was instrumental in having a plaque put on the bell at the new church, which came from the old site.
In fact, Flo and Dorothy had a meeting of the minds the moment they met because they both liked history and environmental issues, with Dorothy starting the Eanes History Center with Dona Price and Betty Ward. Flo says that Dorothy remembered so much history, such as the connections between the Eanes and Marshall families, and recalls how she and Linda Vance co-published Eanes: Portrait of a Community. Flo also remembers the year there was a childrens contest, covered in the Westlake Picayune, to find the largest tree in the Eanes Independent School District. A water elm at Rivercrest was ultimately identified.
To Flo, Dorothy was a gracious lady the kind youd like to have in your home who kept things running smoothly. The pin behind West Lake Beach, she knew all the kids names and often manned the entrance, saying things like, Hi Johnny. How many did you catch? Dorothy was also totally devoted to Stan and really took care of her family; to Dorothy, they hung the moon.
Dorothy had other endearing traits. Once
when Flo visited her in the hospital, Dorothy said,
Gosh, Flo, I feel pretty good and have all
this free time.
Joking aside, Flo says that Dorothy was unassuming and very private. She was quiet and sweet and then shed say something thatd knock your socks off. She credits Dorothy with expanding her horizons in Austin because, as a military wife, Flo had moved around quite a bit and never got to know one place. She adds, I am so glad she was part of my life. She was a special, special woman.
Echoing the view that Dorothy was interested in all aspects of the community, Edie remembers being in a garden club with her. They became even closer because their sons were the same ages and attended high school together. Edie says that once they got to know each other, the vivacious Dorothy asked her, Why dont you volunteer in the library? O.K., so I did.
Betty Ward also remembers Dorothy fondly, particularly in the context of her fast interest in history. Dorothy was dynamic, and because of her enthusiasm, others were motivated to join her projects, such as the History Center. In her opinion, there wouldnt be a History Center without Dorothy, both because of the countless hours she contributed, and because she saved the small bits of information so important to documenting history. Dorothy was the perfect person to inspire a place so special as the History Center.
Betty feels that Dorothys interest in local history was intertwined with her life, since she grew up in the area. When Betty moved to Westlake in the 1960s, everyone knew each other. This included Dorothy, who not only knew everyone but was also interested in others. West Lake Beach, a community in itself, was part of this, for it gave the wider community a place to meet. To Betty, it was unique for a family to both live and run a business on the lake, and it contributed to Dorothys knowledge of the community.
It goes without saying that Dorothy was most special to Stanley. According to the Musgroves, it was a shock way too early when Dorothy passed away in 1995. Although they tried to comfort Stanley by staying at the beach and helping out, he missed her terribly and left her things, even her clothes, as shed left them. When theyd talk to him, tears would come to his eyes, and for a long time when they tried to comfort him, hed say, Dont hug me. Ill cry. His normally serious temperament had a tender side when it came to Dorothy.
Chapter 6: West Lake Beach
Stanley and Dorothys history is naturally the history of West Lake Beach, a privately owned beach open to the public on the west bank of Lake Austin. As Stanley says, the beach was always a family affair. Dorothys father bought riverbank property in 1922, when the lack of a road meant that the site was only accessible by boat. Dorothy and Dan subsequently bought property adjacent to their familys land, partnering in the property and including Stanley and Dans wife Sadie McRae in what became West Lake Beach. According to Sadie, she and Dan bought the property in full partnership with Dorothy and Stanley from the Larson Estate.
Howard, who lives next door to West Lake Beach and decades ago sold his interest in the family property, remembers those early days well. Back then the area was roadless and the beach was just an inlet, sans boat docks, where he frequently fished. In even earlier times the Larson Estate owned much of the local property. The Larsons for their part may have purchased the property from the bank where Mrs. Larson worked. Howard adds that, even earlier, the property was known as Green Mountain, according to local cedar choppers, because it once belonged to a black man named Green. In those days, there was a still located near a mountainside canyon; in keeping with its dark purposes, it was once the site of a killing.
Those days ultimately gave way to fun, however, with the construction of Westlake Drive, the clearing of the beach area by the family, and the discovery by locals of its natural appeal. As Howard recalls, at some point before the lake was filled with water, a boat basin was dug and the resulting gravel used for Westlake Drive. Dorothy recalled clearing the beach area it was hilly and rocky and removing the many stickers. Howard remembers this too, noting that they began letting parties in when most of the grass burrs were finally killed. Despite the undeveloped nature of its shoreline, Howard says that there was always a lot of boat traffic on Lake Austin, portending an auspicious future for West Lake Beach.
According to Stanley, it was fairly simple to start West Lake Beach. The first visitors were drawn by the natural amenities, simply asking if they could picnic or tie their boats on the site. Soon, word of mouth drew other visitors, who dropped a quarter in a coffee can as they entered the property. Other improvements soon followed. According to Howard and Sadie, Dan built the first boat docks, the ones next to the road. Stanley enjoyed building the picnic tables at West Lake Beach, including the covers, which feature cedar posts that probably came from Yacht Harbor, by the Caufields house. As the Musgroves recall, Stanley would get the lumber to build or replace pieces of wood on the tables, which combine the table area and a bench. They also remember him repairing or replacing the charcoal pits that the beach provided at no cost to guests. Even the boat stalls are made from telephone poles that came from the telephone company, where Dan worked. Hed contact the engineering department at work, find out which poles were to be replaced, and carry the poles to the beach in his two-wheel trailer. For his part, Howard worked at a construction company that poured forms; the reclaimed forms, somehow related to water storage tanks, were used for making the walkways and gave them their distinctive look.
Family members joined the day-to-day operations of West Lake Beach in a variety of roles. As the Musgroves say, without taking away from the roles of the others, Dorothy pretty well ran things. This ranged from opening the booth, collecting the entry fee, selling candy to the children, or making arrangements for parties, all the while making people feel welcome. Howard also remembers Dorothys role, collecting quarters and selling candy and soda water. The Musgroves say that Dorothy was a godmother with a fun personality, in contrast to Stanleys more serious temperament. While they dont recall ever seeing her on a boat, they vividly remember her busy in the booth, taking telephone calls and saying, Yes, were open, to the constant queries from people who expected it to be open every afternoon.
Stanley and his family attended to the beach during the week, when he was off from his weekend jobs taking wedding pictures, and he thrived in the various aspects of his role. As the Musgroves say, he was a kind person but not jovial, not the type to pick up a baby and walk around with it. Calm, quiet, and very serious, Stanley nevertheless found a way to make people very welcome. For example, he enjoyed pulling the trailer on the cub cadet lawn mower, loading guests picnic supplies and anything else they had in the parking lot and driving everything down to the beach, with payment in brownies and other goodies.
The Musgroves formed a close relationship with Stanley and Dorothy over the years, a friendship that paralleled activities at West Lake Beach. In fact, they still remember the first time they met them, in approximately 1972; after putting in at Walsh Landing, the Musgroves were cruising up and down Lake Austin when they noticed the inlet. One of them said, Ooh, look over there. They cruised in, and from that day forward they felt that they were part of West Lake Beach, sharing it over time with their children and grandchildren. They add that the beach is still the same as it was then, although a water system, newer boat stalls, and a big central pavilion were added over the years.
The Musgroves began renting one of the approximately forty West Lake Beach boat stalls, enjoying the use of the beach along with the service and friendship provided by Stanley and Dorothy. And Stanley and Dorothy became very important to them, given that the Musgroves had no family in Austin. Edie and their sons learned to ski, so the family would take the boat out for a spell before returning to picnic at the beach. As they say, Stanley was the man, taking care of them by doing things not earth-shaking things like parking the boat and handling the gas pump (a major convenience). He routinely watched all the boats in their stalls, notifying the owners if he noticed anything amiss such as the boat being lower in the water than it should be. He also owned a battery charger and helped people start their boats when their batteries were dead.
Stanley also performed a critical function for stall renters during the winter, when the lake was lowered for dock repairs and the eradication of harmful vegetation. With the water too low for the boats to remain in their stalls, Stanley would pull those boats whose owners hadnt removed them via trailer to the inner pond of the beach, where a dam assured that just enough water pooled to float the boats. Setting up the approximately twenty-five or thirty boats so theyd be opposed to each other, hed connect them with cables to float in the center until the lake level was raised, after which hed return them to their stalls. If a freeze were coming, hed paddle around to the boats, using a light as a guide in draining the wash so they wouldnt freeze. The Musgroves left their boat at the beach many years during the winter, knowing it was well looked after.
The Musgroves also formed an early morning routine with Stanley and Dorothy. As they recall, there may not have even been a gate on the fence back in those early days, before changing security issues came into play. Going out on their boat as early as 6:00 a.m., theyd put off getting gas until they returned to their stall. While they were out on the lake, Stanley would go down to the beach to clean tables and prepare for the day. As they say, he didnt want there to be anything on the tables that would discourage friends, and everybody was a friend. By the time they returned, Dorothy would also be at the beach, and the four would breakfast on the cinnamon rolls or breakfast tacos made by Edie and the coffee made by Stanley, with Stanley talking about his experiences as a photographer at UT sorority and fraternity parties. Others also tried to join the fun; Stanley had to warn Edie, be sure and cover [the cinnamon rolls] up so those cats dont get it. Breakfast wasnt always enough; weekends sometimes culminated in the Depwes joining the Musgroves for supper at Tres Amigos.
Stanley so enjoyed West Lake Beach that he wanted it open all the time, up through 7:00 at night for all the families and children who wanted to be there, according to the Musgroves. His myriad day-to-day duties kept him busy. In addition to welcoming guests and hauling their supplies from the parking lot, he also enjoyed helping the children fish with the fishing poles that David and Robert made from bamboo growing near their grandmothers home on Barton Springs Road and that West Lake Beach rented out for a negligible fee. As the Musgroves recall, this included ensuring that each pole had a good hook and float, readying the worms, and not minding a bit putting worms on the hooks, oftentimes for children whod never fished before and who were amazed by the task. The Musgroves add that the family also contracted with someone to furnish worms in Dixie cups for the children to buy; as David says, the contractors were he and Robert. Of course, the kids werent always prepared when they actually caught something, often pulling the pole from the water and screaming, What do we do now? Stanley would stop whatever he was doing to unhook the fish and return it to its beautiful home in Lake Austin.
Some aspects of minding West Lake Beach were more serious to Stanley, as the Musgroves recall. He was proud of the quality of what he produced at West Lake Beach and made available to people. This also meant that he was concerned with safety, and the Musgroves say that Stanley was always worried that something would go wrong. They add, [maybe] things did happen, but you never knew about them. The beach didnt have lifeguards, instead posting a sign that said, Swim at your own risk. Stanley would wander out to the water sometimes just to ensure that the children who were swimming were being watched. He also worried about the children encountering snakes, and he used a device to capture them while saying, Everybody stay back. Dont make any noise. Im going to catch a snake. As a matter of course he walked around the beach picking things up and overseeing things, solving any problems that arose.
The roles of other family members at West Lake Beach ran the gamut. When Stanley was busy taking wedding photos on weekends, Dan and Sadies family helped. As Sadie recalls, Dan helped with the concession stand. Although he loved his job at Southwestern Bell, it was stressful, and the peace and quiet of West Lake Beach provided a nice antidote. The Musgroves say Dan was a fine man, sadly, not very old when he passed away. Howard also got in on the action, helping choose a tractor that lasted for years to replace the flimsier little Sears, Roebuck tractor that Stanley had been using to mow the grass. The McRae siblings mother also worked at the beach nearly every weekend for a long period of time. And of course David and Robert ventured beyond their fishing pole and worm ventures in those early years; Howard remembers them running a soda water stand, the Musgroves recall that they and some other kids ran a little candy store, and an article in the Austin American-Statesman cites their inner tube business.
In later years, David made other improvements to West Lake Beach. According to the Musgroves, he was good with his hands, rebuilding the concession area, increasing the size of the storeroom, constructing an apartment above the concession stand, and building protective fences around the property. At times, all of this activity overlapped the construction of his own home across the street.
Friends sometimes helped at West Lake Beach as well. This included the Musgroves, who recall that it was crowded nearly every weekend. On those weekends when a lot of extra guests came, Edie would join Dorothy in the booth to sell candy and cokes and take guests money, and John would drive the red tractor not the one Stanley drove and tow the trailer to Stanleys, Do you work here?
Many of those guests became regulars over the years. Duncan Atkinson remembers his familys reunions at West Lake Beach well, noting that he came to know Stanley in a roundabout way. As he tells it, in 1981 his cousin Alfred Peschka and his wife Alvera stopped by his home in Texas City on their way back from Alfreds annual Air Force reunion. Alfred had served in the Air Force for four or five years and spent most of that time in Italy; after WWII, his colonel asked him to assist in organizing the annual September gathering of their Air Force comrades, held in a different U.S. or world location each year. Similarly, Duncan and his wife Marie had been discussing the possibility of having a Brown reunion, Brown being Duncans mothers maiden name. The four talked over the idea and decided to have an annual Brown reunion on the first full weekend in October. Alfred suggested West Lake Beach, and they contacted Stanley to reserve it. They held that first reunion in October of 1981, and theyve had one ever since, celebrating their Silver Reunion the twenty-fifth this last October.
Says Duncan, Stanley is quite a man. When the reunion guests gathered at West Lake Beach at 9:00 on Sunday morning, Stanley would be waiting with his small tractor and trailer to move all their food and other items down to the reserved spot where hed readied tables and barbecue pits. In the afternoon, when the reunion was over, Stanley helped transport everything back to their cars. That first year there were 113 Browns, including spouses and children, some from quite a distance. Over the years, the family accumulated many more picture books and letters, with Stanley always ready with his tractor to provide assistance. In later years, Stanley built the covered pavilion, and Duncans family has used it many times, knowing that it will prevent a repeat of the one time they were forced to move the reunion due to rain.
Other regulars came from all backgrounds. Cactus and Wally Pryor frequented West Lake Beach, as did Jay Hodgkins of Uncle Js Show. Charles Villasenor of Mission Funeral Home was also a customer, along with his cute daughter Becky, who rode on the front of his boat. Friend Tommy Birdwell kept a boat at West Lake Beach, a type of houseboat with a trailer.
With its natural amenities, fun activities, and large area, West Lake Beach naturally served as the gathering spot for many a school or church function. According to the Musgroves, Stanley loved the school trips, when an amazing number of school buses dropped off elementary aged kids and their chaperones for outings. Whether fifth graders or high school booster club members, everyone had fun. Churches also held numerous functions, especially the Presbyterian church, which held a fish fry once a year.
Along with their dedication to running West Lake Beach well, family members have been dedicated to enjoying it as much as their customers. The Musgroves say the family was always close, with everyone aunts, uncles, and cousins coming for celebrations or simply showing up at West Lake Beach on Saturday mornings. And while Stanleys family didnt do much boating, uncles and cousins sometimes took family members out. (The first time Stanley rode in a boat, the young driver revved it, spun, and threw water all over him; he swore hed never get in the fellows boat again.) The family also rode go-carts around the beach, and Stanley sometimes ventured onto the sand with a metal detector when the lake was lowered. Stanleys mother also enjoyed the beach, driving there in her earlier years and cooking as the master of one-skillet meals. The Musgroves remember that Stanley was good to her, bringing her to the beach in her much later years she lived to be 107 to see people.
This pure joy in being at West Lake Beach is something Stanley understood in his mother; after all, its still his favorite place to be, relaxing at a picnic table while family and friends enjoy the beauty and serenity of this most unique and timeless spot.