Sunday, November 29, 2009


Institution – A significant practice, relationship or organization in a society or culture. That’s Webster’s dictionary definition, but I’ve always thought that to be an institution it had to have been around for a long time and perhaps be identified by a building, such as a university or bank, or even a long established restaurant. When I built Hes’ Country Store in 1980, I never thought it would play a role in “Building an Institution.” Photograph taken by J. David.

The “store” has nothing to sell. It’s a gathering place here on the ranch, used more for teaching children about conservation of their families’ history and culture. It houses all of my inheritance, that’s the material things from an era long past. It’s become a “gathering place” for groups that come here for workshops and tours. It’s a rest stop that truly contributes to your experience here. I never dreamed of it becoming so much a part of our lives as it has. Photograph taken by J. David.

The definition also states a “significant practice in a society or culture.” What follows began 55 years ago by my brother, Tom, and me . . . an Annual Poker Game held on the second Saturday after hunting season opens. We were young with families and not much money, so we played for nickels and dimes and quarters. Over the years, it grew to bigger and sometimes serious money.

The poker players assemble early in the day to tell stories of games past, drink a few beers and catch up with one another. For most, they see one another only once a year – they may have met at this game in years past. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Fred Meandro on the left is one of the original players from 1954. That’s me on the right. We’re both 81 years old and are able to play quite a few hands, but not endure the all night game. My son, David, in between us is listening to the same old stories. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

The game gets started around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. There are so many eager players that a second table is sometimes set up. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Seven players at a table. The younger players come into our “world” with a bunch of new fangled games with odd names and wild cards. Us older players soon cuss them out enough that we soon settle on real poker using only a joker as wild. I believe Texas Hold ‘Em is the only “new” game we have accepted. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

There are some fairly respectable pots. It’s a $5.00, three raise limit game and by the following morning a thousand or more has changed hands. In our halcyon days, I’ve seen many thousands won and lost. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

There’s more: The definition of an institution also says a “significant relationship or organization in a society or culture” and for 29 years in conjunction with the Poker Game we put on the Deer Hunters’ Barbecue. It’s a tradition that our lease hunters and some friends look forward to. On the right, my son-in-law Ernie Sessums and a long time friend Jim Sims along with my dog Cory enjoy the affair. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Colleen Gardner and Joanna Rees chatting it up a bit. Yes, “girls” are included. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Left to right – Jack, David my oldest son, me and Joanna Rees. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Scott Grote, Ranch Operation Manager seated, handles the barbecue and food preparations. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

I always enjoy visiting with the hunters. These men have been with us over 20 years. Their hunting camp is an old time hunting camp - a big tent that they have outfitted with gas stove for cooking, a wood stove for heat and a shower! They also have an outside campfire pit and an outdoor privy! Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

There’s always plenty to eat. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

This is the Savarino group that leases the Recycle Cabin along with 900 acres. They have been with us as hunters and friends for many years. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

We have had only one bad weather day since we began the Hunters’ Barbecue and Poker Game. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

Anxious to get the game started, the “players” help Scott clean up. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

During the game, someone has to keep dishes, coffee cups and silverware clean. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

In the past ten months of writing this blog, you have seen the many education programs we do for kids and adults. I couldn’t possibly win enough in the annual poker game to cover our expenses, so won’t you please help support our programs with a yearend tax deductible contribution? We are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.

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