KERENS, TX — Visitors to last October’s Kerens Cotton Harvest Festival enjoyed events in a venue, which holds both wonderful memories and yet boasts of a beauty and a spirit of community that has been reignited in this former railroad town. With a location in the heart of Kerens, the Garden Park is an inviting place for gatherings, thanks to the efforts of the Kerens Beautification Committee, which is comprised of both native and recently arrived city and area residents. The members combined their individual talents and resources for the common good of the community. “You have to hope when you start on something, others will join in,” said Jeffrey Saunders, committee ex officio member and Kerens mayor.
Members are appointed to the Kerens Beautification Committee which was created by a city ordinance in the mid-’90s. Originally, the committee’s role was code enforcement, but the city has hired an officer for that duty, so the committee took on new goals.
“We want to make the city look good to attract more business,” said Ann Fessenden, another dual committee and city council member. “Our focus is the downtown first — then the highways,”
Jeffrey said. “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” Jeffrey, who grew up in Kerens, remembered when the park once served as the parking lot for the hardware store’s tractor inventory. In 1984, the Kerens Garden Club created the Garden Park on the site, and it quickly became the gathering place for Kerens kids and families. A Kerens Garden Club Welcomes You! sign stands as a reminder that this garden is a place of hometown hospitality. “The garden club ladies who had the initial vision would be so pleased,” Ann remarked. Visitors agree with Ann. The park’s perimeter is defined by gardens with walkways and a handicapped ramp entering from both streets for which the park is the corner hub. Large pecan and other trees, planted by the ladies and bearing dedication memory plaques, spread their canopies over picnic tables and benches. Flanked by decorative plantings, a new bandstand is a venue for entertainment. Beyond the bandstand, metal art forms a bridge spanning a created dry creek. Once across, visitors arrive at the bricked patio and seating area. Overlooking this tranquil area is The Lady of the Garden statue. The trees sparkle with decorative lighting while the stage is wired for musical groups’ special needs.
Decorative metal fencing defines the various outdoor rooms of the park.
History is not forgotten in this park. The Kerens High School vocational/ agriculture department created a welded miniature likeness of the ill-fated space shuttle, Columbia. The accompanying plaque is dated February 1, 2003 with the inscription, “In honor of the hundreds of local citizens who worked so selflessly to help NASA and other agencies in the recovery process.”
Many area citizens have caught the committee’s current vision as defined by Pamela Carroll, committee vice president and a professional landscaper. Posters were displayed in the bank. “If you can see it, you can build it,” she related. “It’s amazing the talent that is in this town.”
For the most part, the population in town is older and lives on fixed incomes. As residents saw the progress of the park project that began in February 2012, many came bringing sandwiches or drinks to volunteers as they worked. With a limited budget of about $300 a month collected from the $.50 monthly fee on every Kerens water bill, most of the supplies and work have been donated. “People just started volunteering. It’s really hard to define who hasn’t worked on the park,” Jeffrey said.
The bridge design and welding was performed by Diane Billingsley, a more recent transplant to the city. She is the owner of a local Kerens welding business, as well as a committee member. Darlene Holloway, committee secretary, writes grants that will fund future projects. Roy Ivey, president of the committee and a Kerens police sergeant, coordinates work and is the go-to man for many of the supplies. Committee meetings are held at the city offices the last Thursday of each month. They are typically brainstorming sessions. Someone usually knows someone else who can do whatever the group needs done to create the next phase of the vision. Ann knew a photographer who could help with posters. Roy knew where to get pavers and mulch. City crews have worked the project along with members from the Kerens Garden Club, the Kerens Lions Club and Navarro County prison inmates. Navarro County businesses have helped with reduced prices or donations. Lambert Landscape Company in Dallas donated shrubs. “We take everything,” Pam said.
Obstacles have occurred all along the way, especially from Texas’ weather. “The Lady of the Garden rode around in my truck for two days because it was too wet to lay her concrete foundation,” Pam remembered. As with all construction, money and time have been challenges. One of Darlene’s grants was just awarded through the Navarro Community Foundation, which will fund the next phase the group is now ready to tackle: decorative, but functional downtown street lights.
The group has already started moving toward that project by arranging for the downtown utilities to be buried. They still have more plans for the park. The Kerens Ex-Students Association has committed to adding a Veterans’ War Memorial. Pam envisions the park expanding to a complete arboretum someday. “I always ask for forgiveness, not permission,” she explained laughingly.
“The secret to the success of all of this is finding the right people,” Jeffrey revealed. “We’ve got our focal point. Now we are ready to move out into the rest of the city,” he added. Just as several of the committee members are relatively new to the area, the committee wants to continue attracting new residents and businesses to Kerens. Members want to create a city where Kerens High School graduates will return to live and rear their families. “I like for people to be proud of where they live,” Ann said.
This committee and the residents of the city, whether natives, transplants or nearby “lakers” at Lake Richland Chambers, can be proud of the progress made and future plans to beautify Kerens. Everyone has worked together and accomplished a common goal with their many collective talents, and the joy is sweet. “We have the first piece of the puzzle completed,” Jeffrey said. The groundwork is laid to grow a beautiful city that will live into the future.
Written by Virginia Riddle.