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Museum announces inductees for Hall of Honor

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  • Museum announces inductees for Hall of Honor
    Medina native Frances Kaiser became the first woman to be elected sheriff in Kerr County. Courtesy Photo
  • Museum announces inductees for Hall of Honor
    Leon Coffee was a rodeo clown and bull fighter for over 40 years. Courtesy Photo
  • Museum announces inductees for Hall of Honor
    Mary McGroarty was instrumental in establishing he Bandera County Historical Commission. Courtesy Photo

The Frontier Times Museum kicks off Bandera’s National Day of the American Cowboy celebration by inducting three great Texans into their Texas Heroes Hall of Honor. This year’s class of 2022 will induct legendary rodeo clown and bull fighter, Leon Coffee and Frances Kaiser who was the first woman to be elected as sheriff in Kerr County. The museum will also posthumously induct beloved Bandera business owner, Mary McGroarty.

Established in 2009, the Texas Heroes Hall of Honor honors Texans who have exemplified what it means to be a great Texan and to embody the spirit of Texas. This year’s induction ceremony and reception will be held Friday evening, July 22nd, 7:00 pm, at the museum’s outdoor Texas Trail Driver Theatre on the museum grounds. Russell Hevenor of Hevenor Lumber and Hardware will serve as the Masters of Ceremony and musical entertainment will be provided by Lew Pewterbaugh.

Rodeo legend Leon Coffee knows how to entertain a crowd. For more than 40 years, the bullfighting clown has painted his face to enter rodeo arenas around the country to not only get big laughs from the crowds but also to help keep the bull riders safe. Coffee competed as a junior rodeo contestant in bull riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, and calf roping. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, he was encouraged by his friend and bullfighter Michael Moore, to fight bulls as a rodeo clown instead of riding them. His signature act of dancing in front of an angry bull earned him the nicknames “Disco Bullfighter” and “Boogie Man.”

But being a rodeo clown is no funny business. It is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. In an earlier interview for Houston’s ABC 13 television station, Coffee exclaimed, “I don’t fear those bulls. I have a healthy respect for their ability to hurt me. But I also have a very healthy respect for my ability to get around them. You’re looking at that bull and you’re going, okay, it’s a big game of tag, let’s see who’s going to get there first. You know, those bulls run 40 miles an hour and the fastest man in the world can only run 30. And I ain’t him!”

The next Texas Hero is a woman who broke the proverbial glass ceiling numerous times in her law enforcement career, most notably as the first woman to be elected to serve as the Kerr County sheriff. Frances Hubble Kaiser is a Bandera County native, having been raised in Medina as the oldest of 10 children. Her career in law enforcement became nationally known after fellow Texas Hero inductee, Kinky Friedman, had written a profile on Sheriff Kaiser for the December 1996 issue of Texas Monthly magazine, “Kaiser on a Roll.” The article described an incident in which a Kerrville man had threatened suicide and threatened to kill anyone who tried to stop him. In Kaiser’s determined but empathetic approach, she was able to disarm the man by carefully sliding her arm around his shoulder, saying softly, “What you need right now is a hug.” This one act exemplified her approach to law enforcement - brave, strong, and compassionate.

Soon, Sheriff Kaiser’s unique way of enforcing the law was featured on national television shows such as Fox TV’s America Most Wanted and NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. Among her many accomplishments was her appointment by Governor George W. Bush to lead the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and receiving the American Business Women Association Boss of the Year Award and the Law Enforcement Medal Award by the Hill Country Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. Her most treasured recognition though was her invitation to Washington DC to the Women and Power Millennium Dinner in 1998. She attended the dinner as an honoree alongside other powerful and accomplished women such as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Canada’s first woman prime minister, Kim Campbell. Her storied career will now be a book as Kaiser is completing an autobiography entitled, The Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of a Female Sheriff in Texas. She found encouragement from her late husband of 49 years, Richard, when she discovered, after his passing, three diaries he kept of her career. An initial reading of the book would lead one to believe there may soon be a Hollywood movie, perhaps with Sandra Bullock playing the lead.

Beloved Irish immigrant, Mary McGroarty, will be inducted posthumously with her son, James, accepting her honors. As a young girl in Ireland, she had an infinity for researching her family’s history. This love of history followed her to Texas where she came to marry her Irish beau, Patrick McGroarty at St. Stanislaus in 1951. Patrick had come to Bandera to work for his family, the Boyles, in their mercantile store. Business success followed the couple as they worked and co-owned M. Boyle Mercantile General Store and later the fame O.S.T. restaurant which Mary ran for 38 years. Mary’s devotion to St. Stanislaus was deep as she prepared the alter with Mary Stein for several decades and through her work in the church’s food pantry. Her love of history came through in her work to help establish the Bandera County Historical Commission with Margie Langford. Mary was instrumental in installing the county’s first historical marker at the old First State Bank on 11th Street in Bandera, a building Mary and Patrick once lived in with their sons, James and Patrick. To highlight Bandera’s other historical buildings, Mary worked with the historical commission to create a city historical marker, choosing which buildings should receive the designation. Always proud of her Irish heritage, Mary was equally as proud of her adopted home and being a true Texan.

A reception will follow the ceremony with a viewing of each inductee’s displays, showcasing artifacts and memorabilia from their lives and careers. The displays will be in the museum’s Hall of Heroes exhibit until July 2023. The museum is located at 510 13th Street and the event is free and open to the public. The National Day of American Cowboy celebration will be held the next day on Saturday, July 24th on the Bandera County Courthouse lawn.