Mother's lifetime achievement award
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Pictured: Photo by Stella Tedesco
Surrounded by friends and colleagues, Mary McGroarty Smith, center, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bandera County Historical Commission. Well-wishers included, from left, Elenora Dugosh Goodley; Judge Richard Evans; Commissioners Andy Wilkerson, Bobby Harris and Doug King; and Historical Commission Chairman Roy Dugosh.
Along with her granddaughters, matriarch Mary McGroarty celebrated a previous birthday at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, owned by her son, James.
Out and about in the Bandera community Mary McGroarty, with friend Mary Stein, cheerfully hawked tickets to a St. Stanislaus fundraiser.
For over 64 years - and without a lot of fanfare - Mary McGroarty Smith has been dedicated to researching, documenting and preserving many of Bandera's historic buildings.
During the Thursday, Feb. 13, meeting of commissioners court, members of the Bandera County Historical Commission honored Smith with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award - and no one was more surprised than Mother Smith herself. "I'm speechless," she said, "and, in Bandera, that's hard to believe!"
According to Elenora Dugosh Goodley, who serves as co-chairman of the historical commission, a certain amount of subterfuge was needed to lure Smith to the courthouse without arousing her suspicions.
To secure the necessary background information, Goodley said she was doing a survey for the Texas Historical Commission. "I told Mary that she was the only person on the commission who I felt could help with the report," Goodley wrote in a Tuesday, Feb. 18 email. "She was happy to help me with the facts and information."
When Goodley reminded Smith of the historical commission "meeting" on Feb. 13, Smith asked why it was being held at the courthouse and not at the Frontier Times Museum as usual. "I explained Judge Evans wanted to be included in the meeting," Goodley responded. "This was true because the judge had asked that this award be put on the regular court agenda."
Sometimes tangled webs work out - at least in this case they did.
Born in Donegal, Ireland on June 24, 1924, Mary Ellen Breslin started her great adventure across the Atlantic Ocean in March 1951, traveling on the ocean liner, The Queen Mary. Undeterred by a little setback of being robbed of everything she owned but her passport, Smith arrived in Bandera in April 1951. She married her husband, Patrick, that same year at St. Stanisalus Catholic Church. The couple's two sons are Patrick Owen and James Michael McGroarty.
From the mid-20th century and into the 21st century, she served as historian and consultant for the historical commission and its predecessor, the Bandera County Historical Society. In 1955 and 1956, Smith provided records, documents and oral histories for buildings located on both 11th and Main streets, including a 1842 blacksmith shop, the oldest rock structure in Bandera; the 1855 Saner Building; and an 1860 bank building. Additionally, Smith donated funds for Texas State Historical Medallions placed on the blacksmith and bank buildings.
Under the auspices of a committee of the historical commission, she documented and recorded information about the Adolphe and Emil Huffmeyer Building, located on the corner of Cypress and Main streets; the James Davenport Building, now known as the OST restaurant; the Wright Building, the site of the First National Bank; the James Cox Building, formerly a saddle shop owned by Bo Chesson and now the General Store; Rugh's Texaco Service Station, currently the Cowboy Store; and the 20,000 square foot wool and mohair warehouse, which is now the Western Trail Antiques Mall. In 1921, the OST Café was owned and operated by the McGroarty family.
However, not all sailing was smooth for Mother Smith. In 1959, she and her late husband personally financed the survey and construction of a cement sidewalk on 11th Street. Later, a micro-managing town official - whose identity has been lost in the mists of time - informed the Smith that the sidewalk had extended a few inches into the city street.
"If you want to dig it all up and rebuild the sidewalk, have a go at it," Mary McGroarty Smith replied, her Irish temper rising. Needless to say, the sidewalk remains intact to this day.
"It's been a pleasure to be a part of the Bandera community," Smith said as she accepted a plaque and wristlet of yellow roses. "Being in Bandera is a story in itself." And one such story followed.
Recalling an early retail encounter, she said in her distinctive lilt, "I remember working in (Boyle's) store and someone came in and asked for a five-pound bag of Irish potatoes. I said, 'I'm sorry, lady, I didn't bring any with me'!"
Acknowledging Mother Smith's contribution to the community, County Judge Richard Evans said, "She's a very special person and we're lucky to have people like her who have adopted Bandera."