Joycelyn Ovalle–On Saturday morning we met up with SHSU alum Will Phillips, a former Junior Fellow and POLS graduate, and headed to Johnson City, the home of former president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Our first stop was his humble, yet peculiar, “Boyhood Home”. We were guided through the home by a National Park Ranger, who offered insightful tales of LBJ as a boy. When the future President was in middle school, for example, he was referred to as “First Base Johnson” for his baseball skills, but he didn’t really enjoy baseball.
He played to make contacts, a political player more than a sports fan. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a local politician. The two of them would often go to the Texas Capitol together and, by the age of 11, LBJ was claiming he would one day be President. He was correct.
As President, Johnson often referred to himself as the son of a “poor dirt tenant farmer,” but his childhood home suggests otherwise. The family owned a telephone and a gas stove, items that weren’t in many early twentieth century homes. As we continued to explore the works of President LBJ, we moved away from his “Boyhood Home” and transferred into the home of the president – “The Texas White House”. We made a stop at the Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park and we spent our afternoon enjoying the weather, admiring his ranch, and learning about his works as a president and his last days as a Texan. The Johnson’s residence was filled with historical artifacts and well preserved personal items.
From his flamboyant convertibles to his shoes and shorts, there is no doubt that “The Texas White House” truly resembled President LBJ.
It was extensive and distinguishable from the outside, but welcoming and refined from the inside. Another note worthy artifact was a framed letter hanging in the Johnson’s living room. As Bearkats, everyone wanted to see it, particularly because it was sent from our hero, Sam Houston and was written from Huntsville, Texas in 1838.
After building up hunger from the walk around the LBJ Ranch, we stopped at a popular Johnson City restaurant in the heart of town called the East Main Grill. It is an exquisite southern restaurant providing delicious arrays of soup, salads, and sandwiches. While all of the food items sound fantastic, there was definitely one that stood out from the rest. The Ultimate Grill Cheese sandwich consisted of fresh apples, tomatoes, swiss, cheddar, and gorgonzola cheese. Only a few students were smart enough to try it, and they were not disappointed.
Following lunch, we made our way down to the Benini Studio and Sculpture Ranch, which is owned by the Italian artist Benini. Driving through the Hill Country of Texas, you could not help but appreciate the natural brush terrain it’s known for. Sculptures are placed throughout the property, and they become more elaborate as you approach his studio. While the sculptures were impressive, Benini is best known for his painting. His ability to blend colors to create depth and shades without the use of an airbrush is what sets him apart from his contemporaries, and it was a pleasure (and an adventure) to meet and explore the mind of Benini.
He talked about his childhood growing up in Italy during a time of turmoil. With political unrest, war, and problems with his father, Benini began to copy things, and this turned into his art. He spoke freely about his life experiences and gave us a tour of his studio, the place where he imagines and creates his pieces of art.
It was a rare experience, and we were all appreciative of the opportunity and the ability to not only see his art, but to learn more about it and the processes he used to create it.
But the art did not end at his gallery; his whole ranch was filled with trails leading to different sculptures, a hand cropping out of the hillside; a massive drum set (with drums!) beside a pond; a glass figure looking over the beautiful hill country. It was an intriguing and educational afternoon.
Our evening events concluded with a night out under the Austin sky. The Leap Students ventured on a haunted Segway tour in downtown Austin. We had the opportunity to ride around the Texas State Capital, through the streets of downtown Austin and various city attractions. Our group had to quickly learn how to master the Segway, learn how to go up and down hills and most importantly how to brake! Throughout the tour the guide told 3 ghost stories based off of local downtown buildings. The first was told at The Driskill, which the guide said is “the fifth most haunted building in America”. The second story was told near the Speak Easy, and was a tale of two young girls who died in an elevator. The last story was told at the west wing of the Texas State Capital, where it is said a former governor shot his wife and her ghost haunts the apartment in the capital. The Segway Tour was both fun and educational as well as a neat way to view Austin.
The final stop of our night was at Kerbey Lane Café. We met up with Sam Houston State Alumni Blake Roach, who is living in Austin and works for Attorney General Gregg Abbot. The Leap Students had the opportunity to both pick his brain about his successes while enjoying a wonderful meal.