BY DAN OKO
FOR MANY LONGSTANDING BEC MEMBERS, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The transformation of the past 50-plus years has seen the arrival of electric cars and newcomers to San Antonio and its suburbs, but cowboys on horseback still ride down Main Street in Bandera.
The region, meanwhile, remains connected to the outside world by transmission lines that power the lights and TV as well as internet—fostered by the BEC fiber-optic network. Talking to longtime members, it’s clear how the cooperative continues to play an important role in daily life.
With Bandera being the Cowboy Capital of the World, the work of BEC has been part of life at the Mayan Dude Ranch for more than 78 years. During that time, the Hicks Family has taken a dusty out-of-the-way vacation spot, which occupies 350 acres along the Medina River, and made it popular with military patrons and families from San Antonio. The Mayan is now an internationally celebrated destination for travelers from around the world.
“In the late 1970s and '80s, my mom and dad were asked to sell the idea of Texas and our ranch to vacationers from England and Germany,” says Greg Hicks, one of 10 siblings that grew up on the Mayan.
These days, Hicks runs dining services at the ranch and also serves as president of the Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hicks notes that a lot of local mom and pop businesses in Bandera and nearby towns have been replaced by national chains over the years, but most days on the Mayan prove to be the model of a modern family business meant to last. Guests encounter the family matriarch, Judy Hicks, at the Mayan's gift shop, and Greg’s outgoing sister Kelly Orion often greets new arrivals at the front desk. With space for 130 guests, an all-inclusive stay includes modern amenities like air conditioning, a necessity in hot Texas summers; horseback riding; campfire breakfasts; trick roping demonstrations; BB gun target practice; and more. “We’re always trying to improve,” says Hicks, noting that the Mayan also hosts corporate retreats and conventions during the shoulder seasons, when kids return to school. “You just don’t want to get too far from what made you famous.”
Another longtime BEC member, Homer Stevens traces his Bandera roots back to 1868, when a small slice of Hill Country heaven was deeded to his family. Stevens inherited the 365- acre property from his parents, which they called the Farm because they considered it too small to be a ranch.
During an infamous drought in the 1950s, the Stevens family sold off all the livestock, and electricity was connected at the Farm before 1965. After that, Stevens began to envision a different sort of business. Today, he runs the Farm Country RV Park and Country Club, a facility with a 12,500-square-foot events pavilion, clubhouse, large Olympic-style swimming pool and spots for 72 recreational vehicles.
“We put in the pool in 1982,” Stevens reminisces. “That was when I started developing the Farm. As luck would have it, around that time we went to dinner one night, and I found myself seated next to a member of the Federal Reserve Bank," says Stevens. "He told me he was looking for a place to have a company picnic, so I offered to hammer some stakes in for horseshoe games, and that was the start of this private-party business.”
Adding a few RV sites, he says, was a natural attempt to capitalize on the Hill Country scenery. Around 1985, Stevens cleared the first eight shady parking spots to lease.
Just as word had spread about the pool and pavilion, people started arriving—including snowbirds on the run from cold northern winters. Over the years, he expanded the RV park, bringing the number of spaces to 72. Today, those tenants from across the country make up nearly all of Stevens’ “farm” income.
“The party business built the RV park,” says Stevens. “And I want to be clear how the co-op has supplied us and helped us keep going through it all.”
Today, with senior citizens renting spaces, Stevens says timely repairs can be critical.
He recalls returning home one Easter Sunday afternoon to discover the power was out. "I remember [BEC's] Robert Rodriguez coming out; a squirrel had crossed the wires with his tail and I'll never forget that," says Stevens. "Robert had the electricity back on for us the same day." Another time, the Farm hosted a high school graduation party of 400 students from Marshall High when a transformer blew around 2 a.m. "I remember [BEC's] Henry Schaefer and another lineman came and changed it within a few hours," says Stevens.
A cornerstone in the community, the Bandera Public Library has been a commercial member of BEC for some 67 years. While the newest library director, Mauri Fagan, has only been on the job since 2017, she points out that the historic building was built with federal funds under the Civil Works Administration in 1933, roughly 20 years before it had electricity.
A 4,500-square-foot expansion was completed in 2002, allowing for more space for newer technologies. Recent grants have allowed for the purchase of computer terminals and furniture. Like the co-op, the library is much more than a one size-fits-all operation.
In addition to books, the library offers home-schooling resources, meeting spaces and free high-speed internet powered by BEC for residents who don’t have a home connection.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the library offers online conferencing for groups ranging from English-language classes to a Pokémon league. “It’s a hub for the community,” says Fagan, “and in a small town like Bandera, our librarians know most of the people who come in by name.”
Longstanding members like the Mayan Dude Ranch, Bandera Public Library and the Farm show what it means to be deeply rooted in the community and have the versatility to remain a part of it for years to come.