Once upon a time in Kingsland, the community had no elementary school, no community center, no Parent-Teacher Organization, no festivals, and not too many businesses. Despite that, people moved in and made changes; people like Anita and Frank Aaron and Carol and Barney Smith, who brought their young families to Kingsland in 1976 and 1978, respectively.
The Aarons moved here from California, where Anita was a teacher and Frank a surveyor and engineer working at an Air Force base on Cold War missile projects. He also built golf courses, including one in a canyon, and was in charge of installing the playing field for the Anaheim (now Los Angeles) Angels. With four young children, the couple decided to move to Kingsland, near where Frank’s parents lived in Tow.
The Smiths drove through town on their way from the Rio Grande Valley to Amarillo, where Barney was serving on a drug enforcement task force. They owned a gas station in the Valley, though they were in the process of selling it. Rumor had it that one was for sale in Kingsland.
“We stopped up on Lookout Mountain just to see the view,” Carol said. “There was something about the water, the hills. In the Valley, everything is flat.”
They decided to buy the station and packed up their 13-year-old son and belongings and moved to Kingsland.
“The people here were so friendly,” said Carol, remembering the warm welcome they received. “They brought us vegetables for the first two years we were here because we didn’t have time for a garden.”
Frank Aaron started a landscaping business, while wife Anita went to work as a substitute teacher and later the manager of the Kingsland/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce.
The Smiths opened up Barney Smith’s Exxon at 519 RR 1431 West, now the address for Absalute Diesel. They soon added a repair shop — the only one in the area at the time, Carol said. Barney worked part time as a deputy sheriff and ran for constable one year, losing by only 23 votes.
The two families quickly became involved in the community. As it grew, they saw the need for an elementary school, a Parent-Teacher Organization, and a community center, all of which became a reality with their help.
“It was always a group effort,” Anita said. “We thought we could conquer anything!”
The two women worked as election judges, using voting booths built out of cardboard boxes by the Boy Scouts under the direction of Scout Leader Frank Aaron. Anita and Carol also served on the Kingsland Municipal Utility District board, Anita as its first female president. They were active in the AquaBoom festival, which began in 1969. Frank and friends used to set off the fireworks themselves.
“They called themselves ‘Frank and the Boom Boom Boys,’” Anita chuckled.
The same group of leaders brought in a Tour de France-qualifying bicycle race for two years in the 1980s. At about the same time, they helped put together the original Bluebonnet Festival, which featured two weekends of community events and art shows across the Highland Lakes. Kingsland got out of the bluebonnet festival business in 1988 when the economy tanked, Anita recalled.
“Burnet kept on with the Bluebonnet Festival and has done great things with it,” she said.
Even when handed lemons, this group made lemonade to promote their community. A Houston reporter came through one day and wrote a story that got statewide attention for calling Kingsland “Lil’ Ugly.”
“I printed up T-shirts, and we all wore them,” Anita said. “I still have one. It says across the front: I Love Lil’ Ugly!”
The counter-offensive made statewide news, too, which the chamber used to promote the area’s vacation potential, highlighting its location on Lake LBJ and the boating, fishing, wildflowers, and friendly people.
While Anita, now 83, and Carol, 77, have slowed down their community involvement, they have not given up their love for this small lakeside kingdom.
“We loved Kingsland, we cared about Kingsland, we liked being here,” said Carol, referring to herself and husband Barney, who died in 2001. “I’m grateful to be here.”
Anita and Frank still live in the home they purchased 44 years ago, retired from work but not from caring about Kingsland.
“It’s rewarding to see the growth,” Anita said. “There was a big group of us who all worked together. We worked hard for that growth, and I think it will keep growing.”
The area still faces challenges, but as a new generation takes over, Anita and Carol are busy living happily ever after in Kingsland.