When Lamar Hunt approached his friend Edward “Buzz” Kemble in 1959 with the idea of starting a football league, Hunt knew — far ahead of his time — what kind of business professional football would become.
The 28-year-old was born into Texas oil wealth, but he had a passion for sports and entertainment. When the NFL wouldn’t let Hunt start an expansion team in Dallas, he decided to establish his own league instead. It was a concept Kemble couldn’t wrap his head around at the time.
“I went, ‘Whaaaa? But we’ve already got one,’ ” Kemble said. “That’s just how far away, so above everybody, he was in his thinking. It was unbelievable. Next thing I know, he’s starting the Dallas Texans.”
In 1959, the NFL was becoming more prominent, with football trailing closely behind baseball as America’s favorite sport. There were 12 teams competing annually for the championship.
Hunt’s brain child, the eight-team American Football League, was born that year. It would prove to be the most significant competition the NFL had seen since its founding in 1920. Because the idea was so outlandish at the time, the group of AFL founders came to be known as the “Foolish Club,” but Hunt never let doubt get in the way of his goals.
The NFL chose largely to ignore and dismiss Hunt in the beginning. But before the Texans could play their first game in 1960, the NFL was quick to expand to Dallas with its own franchise, the Cowboys.
“The National Football League decided, ‘We need to bust this Lamar Hunt,’ ” said Kemble, a lawyer who begrudged the NFL’s move as an antitrust violation. “So there was a lot of bad feelings about that.”
The Texans were constantly competing with the Cowboys for audience and attendance, which led Hunt to search for a new home for his team. Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was “Chief,” made Hunt an offer; thus the Kansas City Chiefs were born in 1963.
“All that was secretive, and it came pocket to pocket,” Kemble said. “But he loved it, because he got something out of it, because he didn’t have to fight the Cowboys all the time.”
Hunt’s friends and family still swear fierce loyalty to the Chiefs, though most of them live in Dallas, Kemble said.
Lamar’s son Clark, who now owns the Chiefs, recalls his and his siblings’ games being more important in his father’s life than the professionals’. Lamar’s children grew up like other kids but with special access to the fields and team.
“I was a fan just like everybody else,” Clark said. “When they lost, it was painful. And when they won, it was a big celebration.”
Cutthroat competition between the leagues led to fierce standoffs for talent. Lamar, clever and calculating, would recruit players already on NFL teams, Kemble said.
“One would draft one guy, and the other would turn around and draft the same guy,” he said. “They were really fighting for it.”
In 1966, a deal was struck between Lamar and Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm in a secretive parking-garage meeting at Love Field. A merger of the NFL and AFL would end the nasty draft battles between the two leagues and culminate in a single title game each year.
“I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon,” Lamar wrote in a 1966 letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Lamar, who died in 2006, attributed the name to his kids, but Clark gives his father all the credit. Lamar got the idea from a toy Clark and his siblings were playing with at the time — a super ball. That, and Lamar’s regular attendance at college games such as the Cotton Bowl.
“He blended the two together in his mind, and that’s how ‘Super Bowl’ came to be,” Clark said.
Rozelle favored the name “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” but “Super Bowl” stuck, and by Super Bowl III, it was official.
The AFL was absorbed in 1970 by the NFL, which is now one of the most profitable organizations in the country. Among Hunt’s other sporting achievements are bringing professional soccer and tennis to America. He helped established Major League Soccer’s Dallas Burn, which is now FC Dallas.
“Most other businessmen would have abandoned efforts that he was involved in, the challenges he took on, because they were just so difficult and they took so long,” Clark said “But his patience and his persistence always saw him through.”
The green, red, orange, and white 7-Eleven signs seen along highways in every state have become synonymous with late-night pit stops, Slurpees, and hot dogs, but there was a time when the convenience store was the first of its kind, operated as a small, family business in rural areas of Dallas.
In 1927, families could face long commutes “to town” to stock up on basic necessities. “Uncle Johnny” Jefferson Green — an employee of Southland Ice Company, which had eight ice plants and 21 “docks” that sold the ice — had an idea. Why not stock those stores, which were open later and on more days than grocery stores, with staples such as milk and eggs, which kept well when stored alongside blocks of ice? (Before modern refrigerators were a common convenience, ice was sold in large blocks — rather than small cubes — to keep groceries cold.)
Southland was run by one of its founders, Joe C. Thompson Jr. of Highland Park, who recognized the potential of Green’s idea and made such goods available at many of the company’s locations; the ice docks that carried a few extra items acquired the name “Tote’m Stores,” which alluded to the way customers “toted” their goods away by car.
Thompson soon noticed how many of his customers drove cars and predicted their growing popularity, so the Tote’m Stores started selling gasoline and offering curb service. They also expanded their grocery selections to include such goods as watermelon and canned food.
The Southland Ice Company’s side venture spread like wildfire across Texas, where small stores provided a niche for folks who didn’t want to make the long drive into town just to pick up the basics. However, the Great Depression affected the business as it did most others in America. Though the company was bankrupt by 1931, Thompson managed to keep the stores open.
Luck turned for the family when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Liquor and beer sales sparked rapid growth for the stores, and by 1937, there were 60 Tote’m stores in Texas. Though they were all built in different styles, and some operated under different names, most of the stores were identified by the real Alaskan totem poles erected in front of each one.
In 1946, the stores’ name was changed to 7-Eleven, which reflected their late-night hours of operation — 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Less than 25 years after Southland Ice Company pioneered the first convenience store, 100 were operating across Texas in Dallas, Austin, and Houston.
In 1954, the business began to breach the Texas border. Under the supervision of Thompson’s eldest son, John, five stores opened their doors in Florida.
Joe Thompson Jr. died in 1961, just short of seeing his small country store explode into an international corporation. By the mid-1960s, John Thompson, who took over after his father’s death, oversaw the expansion of 7-Eleven’s hours, operating 24 hours a day, and the growth of the chain to more than 1,000 stores. John and his brothers, Jere and Jodie, all graduated from Highland Park High School and all worked for the company.
Today, there are more than 50,900 7-Eleven stores around the world. A new store opens every two hours across the planet, and the neon signs that act as midnight beacons to families’ favorite, road-trip pit stops are reminiscent of the totem poles that once marked the first locations.
Margaux Anbouba contributed to this report.
Highland Park is not the only Park Cities entity that’s marking a 100th birthday. SMU is in the midst of a five-year celebration that commemorates the centennial of its founding in 2011 as well as the anniversary of the university’s opening in 2015. And Highland Park ISD will mark its own centennial in 2014.
All of those back-to-back-to-back celebrations got Deanna Charles thinking. What if there was a fun way to tie together the history of multiple Park Cities institutions?
Hence, Parkcities-Opoly, a board game that Charles and her daughter, Natalie, dreamed up in conjunction with two mother-son teams: Susan and Ian Clarkson, and Santina and Steven Kornajcik.
“We embarked on this so we could make this an all-centennial celebration,” Charles said. “Families who grew up here can play it, because these businesses on the board have been here for generations. The roots of the Park Cities run so deep.”
The game includes questions a la Trivial Pursuit, but its primary inspiration is Monopoly. Where Monopoly says “Go to jail,” Parkcities-Opoly says, “Jump in Turtle Creek.” Instead of “Pass Go,” you “Enter the Bubble.” And Monopoly’s four railroads have been replaced by the four Highland Park ISD elementary schools.
The majority of the other squares on the board are occupied by businesses — including Sevy’s, Javier’s, and Park Cities People — that paid to be featured.
“It’s going to be fun, and I thought it was a good way of keeping our name out in the public venue for longer than a normal ad would run,” said Suzanne Roberts, who bought a square for Suzanne Roberts Gifts. “There’s a Monopoly on just about everything — I know there’s a Dallas one — and this just kind of seemed like a natural progression to have our own Park Cities Monopoly.”
The Parkcities-Opoly board was designed by Highland Park graduate Callie Clayton, who just enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design. Adding to the history angle, she’s a descendant of Marion Fooshee, the architect of Highland Park Village.
The organizers ordered only 1,000 copies of the game, which will be available in mid-October. Charles envisions Parkcities-Opoly as a great Christmas present, as well as an ideal graduation gift for members of the Highland Park High School Class of 2014, a.k.a. the centennial class.
But the primary goal of the game is not to make profits. The organizers, who got financial assistance from Legacy Texas Bank for their up-front costs, are allowing any Park Cities nonprofit to sell copies as a fundraiser.
“We’re giving this away first,” Charles said. “If we can just recover our costs and make a little bit of money, we’ll be happy.”
Charles tried to downplay her role in spearheading the project, calling it more of a group effort, but Clarkson and Kornajcik would have none of it, calling Parkcities-Opoly her brainchild.
“What I thought was great,” Kornajcik said, “was that Deanna took these kids and really worked with them on developing this whole concept, to not only learn about how to put together a project, but also to give back to the community.”
Sarah Bennett contributed to this report.
W.B. Carrell began to think about becoming an orthopedic surgeon while serving on the battlefield during the first World War. With the introduction of modern warfare and weapons of mass destruction came an onslaught of previously unseen afflictions.
“The injuries that he observed inspired him,” said Carrell’s granddaughter, Helen Mann. “Warfare in World War I was completely different, and he saw all kinds of shattered bones from bullets, dismembered arms and legs, and physical deformities.”
At around the same time, the polio epidemic was becoming more widespread, and Carrell, a kind-hearted physician with an interest in children with orthopedic deformities, wanted to help.
There was just one problem.
In the early 1900s, orthopedics — the branch of medicine that focuses on injuries or disorders of the skeletal system — didn’t exactly exist.
“For a long time, there wasn’t any surgery for scoliosis or skeletal deformities,” said orthopedic surgeon Dan Cooper, a Carrell Clinic partner who happens to be the Dallas Cowboys’ team doctor. “There was a big need.”
In fact, much of the development of modern orthopedics is a direct result of WWI surgeons’ experiences.
Never one to be daunted, Carrell — who was widely considered to be “Dallas’ first orthopedic surgeon” — and partner Percy M. Girard established a clinic on Maple Avenue.
Carrell wanted to do more, however, so when a group of Texas Masons approached him about providing free care for children with polio, he quickly became the driving force behind the campaign.
What is known today as Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children was chartered in 1921, with Carrell initially treating patients from near and far in his clinic. But just one year later, the hospital had treated 500 patients with 1,000 more on a waiting list.
With word continuing to spread, a larger facility was imperative, and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children was built adjacent to Carrell’s original clinic.
“People came from far and wide to get to the clinic,” Cooper said. “It was the first orthopedic surgery group established west of the Mississippi River.”
Carrell, who served as Scottish Rite’s first chief of staff, treated children at the hospital and his clinic until his death in 1944.
“He became partially ill, so he just moved into an apartment above the clinic so that he could still see his patients,” Mann said.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Carrell’s son, Brandon, became Scottish Rite’s second chief of staff. It was truly a family affair, with father and son spending countless hours working side-by-side at both the clinic and the hospital.
“They practiced togeth-er, and, at the time, the physicians at the Carrell Clinic all volunteered at Scottish Rite,” Mann said. “It was a very close association in those days.”
Almost a century after the hospital’s founding, Carrell’s legacy lives on.
“Carrell was a real lead-er in the community,” said J.C. Montgomery Jr., Scottish Rite Hospital’s president emeritus. “He was the only orthopedic surgeon in Dallas, and a real visionary.”
While Montgomery never knew W.B., he said that he imagines that he was like his son, who also continued to serve the hospital in an active role until his death, in 1981.
“Dr. Brandon Carrell was one of the most unassuming men I’ve ever met,” Montgomery said. “He absolutely loved working with kids, and they loved him.”
Mann said her father and grandfather had similar personalities and were both known for their tender, thorough care and devotion to their patients.
“Although my grandfather had his private practice, his main love was treating the orthopedic deformities of the children at Scottish Rite,” Mann said. “I’m very proud that his reputation as a very gentle, compassionate physician has continued for all these years.”
Robert “Bob” Cullum and his brother Charles didn’t sell success at the flagship Tom Thumb store that opened on Lomo Alto Drive in 1948. But they certainly stocked the supermarket with the ingredients it took to create it.
“I cannot define it precisely,” Charles was quoted as saying in Tom Thumb: The Little Giant. “But some of the ingredients were faith, mutual trust, sharing, high aspirations, a pinch of creativity, and, of course, the old reliable, hard work.”
And, perhaps, just a dash of good luck.
“When [Bob and Charles] started the company, they competed with the three largest grocery chains in America, which were A&P, Safeway, and Kroger,” said Brooks Cullum, who began his own grocery career working for his father, Bob, as a package boy. “They thought that if you gave better service, took better care of the customers and employees, that you could compete with these giants. And they competed very successfully, until they became the largest [chain] in Dallas.”
On the road to creating a booming business out of a small neighborhood grocery store, however, the Cullum brothers and partner J.R. Bost were often confronted by a bit of the bizarre. Consider the chain’s cinematic beginnings, when the owner of Toro supermarkets — the biggest customer at the A.W. Cullum & Co. grocery supply firm — skipped out on his bill, not to mention the United States.
“The man that ran Toro ran off to South America and left [A.W. Cullum & Co.] holding the bag,” recalled Brooks’ sister, Sally Cullum Holmes. “They were owed so much money by [Toro] that they ended up buying the [six] original supermarkets and renaming them Tom Thumb.”
A butcher strike at Safeway would go on to introduce a new wave of unexpected customers. And then there was that surprisingly fortuitous accident on Lomo Alto.
“A car came along and, instead of putting it in reverse, [the driver] accidentally put it in drive and smashed into the front of the store,” Holmes said.
What could have been a nightmare turned into a dream thanks to a bit of ingenuity.
“My father was a very creative guy,” Brooks said. “He took a picture of it and ran an ad in the paper immediately after that. It said, ‘We know you love Tom Thumb, but please don’t go this far.’ ”
Customers loved Tom Thumb so much, in fact, that by the 1950s the chain had expanded to 20 stores.
“The openings were a great festival,” said Lee Cullum, Charles’ daughter. “Often, people would line up in the morning to get in the door because the specials would be terrific.”
For Lee’s father, success was most often measured by the sale of a very specific product: bread.
“I’m sure Bob would have had other measures, but for my dad, it was a matter of checking the loaves of bread,” Lee said. “If the bread shelves were pretty well empty, that was a good sign that business had been good that day.”
Through the years, the Cullum brothers went on to shelve as many accolades as they did apples, thanks to their deeply held personal and professional commitment to civic leadership and philanthropy.
“The legacy, of course, is a standard of excellence in the business they did, not only in the service and products they provided, but also their business practices … and also enormous involvement in the community,” Lee said. “They were of a generation that believed that if Dallas grew, their company would grow.”
In 1992, the company merged with Houston-based Randalls. The original Tom Thumb stores have all since closed, and that neighborly feeling is harder to come by when shopping at one of today’s expansive versions of the supermarket. Which is precisely what makes the Tom Thumb in Highland Park Village so special.
“That’s where I shop, and that’s where my pharmacy is,” Holmes said. “It’s small, but it’s a friendly place where you see everybody you know. So it still has that kind of hometown feeling.”
Just a week after William Perry Clements Jr. graduated from Highland Park High School in 1934, as the president of his class and an all-state football star headed for SMU, he got a call from his father. The family had run out of money.
“So he got on a bus to the South Texas oil fields within a month after graduating from high school and started roughnecking at age 17,” grandson George Seay said.
He learned how to live on just half of his $200 paycheck, sending the other half back home to his family, daughter Nancy Clements Seay said.
The gruff, intelligent man, who was honed by his early struggles, went on to found Southeastern Drilling Co., serve as the deputy secretary of defense, and become Texas’ first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
George Bayoud worked with Clements for many years, initially as an advance man for his first gubernatorial campaign, later as his secretary of state from 1989 to 1991, and lastly as his business partner.
“I’m awfully proud that I had the opportunity to work for him,” Bayoud said. “The governor was a tough business person, but he had a lot of young people who worked for him, and he gave us plenty of room to either succeed or fail, and I appreciated that very much. … He had a wonderful heart.”
George Seay got to know his grandfather well when he served as his travel aide during his 1986 campaign for re-election. He said “he was not the avuncular grey-bearded” type of grandfather. Clements was tough on his family members, especially when they were not doing their best.
While he was “no-nonsense,” George Seay said, he was also “very loyal to family under all circumstances, and always available.”
Despite founding and running SEDCO when his kids were young, he’d set aside time to lead his son’s Boy Scout troop, and he dedicated at least a month each summer for a family road trip, Nancy Seay said.
On the family’s tours of state capitals, Clements passed on his passion for history — a passion that would one day lead him to found the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU, which includes one of the world’s largest libraries of books on Texas history.
Although Clements was not a natural politician, George Seay said, he liked being in a position of leadership and doing good things for his state and his country.
“He always said that he was a Texan, an American, a patriot, before he was anything else, including a Republican,” George Seay said. “He told me that in 1964 — this was his quote — he held his nose and voted for Lyndon Johnson ‘because it was good for Texas.’ ”
Clements never did get used to working the room, his family recalled. He didn’t schmooze well, George Seay said, instead preferring to let his actions do the talking.
When Clements retired in 1991 — as the longest-serving governor of the state, until Rick Perry came along — he never really looked back to politics, George Seay said.
“I don’t think people today understand just how dynamic, powerful, and effective he was, because he didn’t talk about himself, and he didn’t try to write a legacy for himself,” George Seay said.
Clements continued to work hard, dedicating his time to friends, family, and philanthropy. Clements would go into the office once or twice a week, and Bayoud often had the chance to have lunch or coffee with him. Clements was never too busy to talk.
“He was still my mentor, and although we were no longer business partners, I would seek his advice and counsel in some of the things I was doing,” Bayoud said. “He was like a father to me.”
When Nancy Seay became the executor of his estate after he died in 2011, she said she found personal notes filed away, evidence of who he was: a person who really cared about people.
“He could be brusque with people,” she said, “but he could also be a real softy.”
Beneath every headstone and behind every memorial there are tales to be told, such as at Simons Point on Lakeside Drive where Gillon Avenue dead-ends. A modest stone memorial stands dedicated by the Town of Highland Park to A. Pollard Simons. The Simons Point plaque reads:
Named in memory of
A. Pollard Simons
for his generosity to the
Town of Highland Park
I wonder how many times I have passed by Simons Point with little thought given to Pollard and the occasions our trails crossed so many years ago. Maybe now that my howling, arthritic back requires I sit in one of those wooden benches nearby, I will take the time to remember the time his life and mine intersected in a golf tournament in the early 1950s.
As I gaze across Turtle Creek at the elegant residence of John Muse, where Pollard and Sharon Rubush Simons’ house once stood, I recall the golf match at the Dallas Country Club in about 1951 or ’52, when I was playing Mr. Simons in a Texas State Amateur Tournament. Mr. Simons (age 41) and I (age 23) had a great match, which I would win one-up on 18.
My dad, who had known Pollard from the mid-1940s, and Charlie Pierce greeted us when we finished on 18 and congratulated us both for a good match. Dad had helped Pollard get a start building houses in Dallas as World War II ended by extending him credit from our family building supply company, Macatee Inc.
About 20 years later, in 1971, Mr. Simons surprised me with a phone call, inviting me to have breakfast with him at his home. He had become a highly successful international businessman, with a buoyant Midas touch extending beyond real estate, and had moved into the elegant Preston Road home later to be sold to Gov. Bill and Rita Clements. He said he wanted to talk to me about Macatee Capital’s large real estate development in Far North Dallas. A front-page article in the Dec. 22, 1970, edition of The Dallas Morning News described our development glowingly as “larger than the Town of Highland Park.”
I, of course, accepted. When I arrived in suit and tie, apparently normal for Dallas business customs in the 1970s, I was greeted by a butler, formally attired, who asked me to accompany him to a sunlit breakfast room, where he said, “Mr. Simons will be joining you shortly.” He arrived in a lounging robe with satin lapels and a pair of patent -leather slippers, the same smiling charmer he was at 41, and convinced me to call him “Pollard.”
I’m sure we talked about Dad, who had died in 1956, and Pollard’s new Tryall Golf Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which my wife, Shirley, and I had recently visited with friends Peggy and Bill Braecklein and Lynn and Jimmy Moroney. I never knew — until researching this story within the past few months — that two of Pollard’s partners in Tryall were former Texas Gov. John Connally and U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen Jr.
A fabulous breakfast served on silver trays, with abundant selections of fresh fruit, led Pollard to begin talking about our large North Dallas development. He had been following the zoning case and felt that waiting on Loop 9, a state highway designed to come through our property, could substantially delay us due to the entanglements of Texas state politics. He strongly suggested that everyone would benefit if we extended and widened Campbell Road through our tract to take the place of Loop 9.
The City of Dallas staff agreed, as did our engineers Carter and Burgess of Fort Worth. What had been designated as Loop 9 became Highway 190 many years later, portions of which were relocated and later named George Bush Turnpike.
We struck our agreement with the Dallas Thoroughfare Department to make Campbell Road our west-east corridor and proceeded to move dirt. Pollard’s information enabled us to accelerate our development schedule and increased our earnings by several million dollars.
From information provided by Ronnie Brown at the Town of Highland Park and Sharon Simons, Pollard’s widow, when the Simonses sold their home to the Clementses in the mid-1970s, a substantial portion of the proceeds was donated to the township, where it was used to build a retaining wall along the east side of Turtle Creek from Beverly Drive to the dam on Exall Lake. The remainder endowed scholarships at Southern Methodist University.
Ultimate editor Kay Barnes styles one more silk purse out of one more sow’s ear for Buddy Macatee, a lifelong resident of the Park Cities.
Continuing a decades-old tradition, Ed Bernet and his band, the Levee Singers, were scheduled to perform in this year’s Park Cities Fourth of July Parade. His love of music dates to his days as a student at Highland Park High School.
While playing football and basketball, running track, and swimming for the Scots, Bernet also played in a country band called the Hilltop Ramblers with his brother Dick, and a few buddies. After Bernet enrolled at SMU in 1951, the Hilltop Ramblers transitioned to the Cell Block Seven, a Dixieland band that wore striped pajamas as its uniform.
“I had never played Dixieland before,” he said. “It was just a fun kind of New Orleans-style music, and there wasn’t anything like it in Dallas, so it really caught on.”
By 1960, Bernet’s football career — which included seasons playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Texans on either side of a stint in the Air Force — was over. So he got together some of the players from the Cell Block Seven and formed the Dixieland Seven.
“Jack Ruby, by that time, had a place downtown, and we played there several times,” Bernet said. “He wanted to have us play for a year, but he was reluctant to sign a contract. I didn’t want to do that.”
Instead, Bernet took over the lease of a small jazz club on Mockingbird Lane where the band had played several times. The renamed Levee opened in March 1961, after being remodeled and redecorated.
The Dixieland Seven played sold out shows on Friday and Saturday nights, but didn’t know what to do on weeknights. Bernet had heard about a banjo sing-along bar in California, and thought that was a good idea. So he formed a side project, the Levee Banjo Band.
That band soon became the Levee Singers, who garnered the attention of an agent in California. He booked them for a show at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and on all the important musical TV shows of the time.
“We might have gone in that direction, but we all decided we had our families and the Levee, and we didn’t want to risk it on making it big,” he said.
Bernet eventually sold the Levee to focus on his recording studio and entertainment-booking business, not to mention his family. He and his wife, Susie, had three kids, Brant, Blake and Jenny.
The band has gone through a few member changes over a half-century and is now comprised of Bernet, his brother Dick, Ralph Sanford, and Ralph Lindsey. They perform the last Tuesday of every other month at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre.
“I feel like God has led me in everything I do,” Bernet said. “I don’t think I ever really decided, ‘OK, I’m going to make my life music.’ ”
Shannon Dickinson, one of the owners of the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, said most Levee Singers shows are sold out to crowds dominated by fans who used to watch them right down the street at the Levee.
“They are a Dallas tradition,” Dickinson said. “Everywhere you go, if you say ‘the Pocket Sandwich Theatre,’ they say, ‘Oh, don’t the Levee Singers play there?’ They’ve become associated with us.”
But Bernet is associated with more than just music. For a decade, he has been making bronze sculptures for a client list that includes Harlan Crow. The real estate developer commissioned a piece depicting President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11, and Bernet sought guidance from Highland Park sculptor Angela De La Vega, whom he met when two of his granddaughters were Highland Belles with her daughter.
“He is just the kindest man,” De La Vega said. “He’s creative, kind, compassionate, and loving.”
All around Bernet’s house are pieces he’s crafted — his sculptures, beautiful models of churches and houses, a grandfather clock, his long blue dining table, and his kitchen island.
“The fun thing about that is that will go on in our family for 100 years,” he said. “None of my grandkids or great grandkids will want to get rid of them.”
The Levee Singers will perform at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Take a look at Tomima Edmark’s résumé and you’re likely to get intimidated just a few lines in. After graduating with an MBA from the University of Texas, the petite blonde got her start working at IBM. She logged more than eight years at the tech superpower — and started her first business while working full time.
Inventor of the ’90s cult hairstyling tool known as the Topsy Tail, Edmark used her weekends and lunch breaks to fill orders and grow her business. And her dedication paid off; it wasn’t long before her side project was bringing in an extra $3,000 a month. She eventually left IBM and made millions on her invention before selling the rights to hair-care empire Vidal Sassoon.
Her early success came as no small surprise to those around her, although they’d be loathe to admit it. Edmark, who struggled with dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder growing up, said no one had any expectations for her.
“I was kind of like the wallpaper,” Edmark said. “Nice, but I didn’t stand out.”
And despite the success of her first venture, Edmark said she still felt like she had something to prove.
“I worried about being a one-hit wonder,” Edmark admitted. “But I had all of these ideas, and I knew there was more for me.”
So she wrote 12 books and invented a couple of other products — including a machine that used low-grade electricity to enhance the kissing experience — before settling into her latest and greatest venture: online retail.
After experiencing firsthand the fickle nature of fads and trends, and after having her products knocked off, Edmark was looking for a way to create a sustainable enterprise.
“I really wanted to build a business, an ongoing annuity that couldn’t be stolen,” Edmark said.
The owner of Her Room, which Edmark confidently claims is “the top online lingerie retailer based on revenue,” she has made it her mission to transform undergarment shopping from a troublesome-but-necessary experience into an enjoyable one.
“I didn’t want to just be another retailer,” Edmark said. “Success is not just about chasing a profit. I really want women to understand their breasts and learn to love their bodies, and the proper undergarments can help them do that.”
Guys are not excluded either; Edmark launched Her Room’s male counterpart, His Room, after realizing that the lack of online options extended to both sexes.
And while His Room is “just a baby compared to Her Room,” it continues to grow, Edmark said. Between the two sites, she offers more than 800 brands as well as tools, tips, and personal-shopping assistance to make the process as streamlined and enjoyable as possible.
Following up one successful start-up with another is difficult, said Jackie Kimzey, executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas.
“Everything you touch doesn’t turn to gold,” said Kimzey, who started a wireless company and grew it to around 1,400 employees before selling it. “When you’re starting a business, you get a lot of scar tissue, and that kind of teaches you what you shouldn’t do in the future. … But just because you’re successful once doesn’t mean you’ll be successful again.”
Don’t expect Edmark to occupy a posh corner office far-removed from her staff and customers — that’s the kind of behavior she shied away from in the corporate world.
“I learned a lot of lessons at IBM,” Edmark said. “My employees see me working, and I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Staying in touch with customers is also imperative, Edmark said, and the reason why she reads 10 percent of the customer-service emails received daily and sometimes responds to them herself — under a different name, of course.
So what’s on the horizon for the serial entrepreneur? Although Edmark still gets asked what business she’ll start next, she said that she’s satisfied with her online-retail shops.
“I think this is my last hurrah,” Edmark said. “Now I know that I’m not a one-hit wonder, and I want to continue to build my company.”