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Priceless Memories of Bob Hope

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

When the directors of the Admiral Nimitz Center in Fredericksburg needed to raise money to restore the old Nimitz Hotel, the occasion called for something bigger than a bake sale or a car wash. So the directors hot-dialed Hollywood, and Bob Hope answered. On Saturday August 14, 1976 Hope staged the "Stars over the Hill Country" benefit show at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds.

Bob Hope
Bob Hope
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

Cousin Minnie Pearl, star of the Grand Ole Opry, made her way from Grinder's Switch, Tennessee to Fredericksburg to share the stage with Hope. Both entertainers had Fredericksburg connections. Hope was friends with Admiral Nimitz and President Johnson. Minnie Pearl, whose real name was Ophelia Colley, rekindled her acquaintance with Victoria Keidel, Mrs. J. Hardin Perry. They both attended school at Ward-Belmont College, a fashionable girl's school in Nashville.

Minnie Pearl
Minnie Pearl
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

The big day in Fredericksburg began at 10:30 in the morning with a parade down Main Street from Kraus Corner to the Nimitz Hotel. Minnie Pearl was the grand marshal. A flyover by T-38 jets from Randolph Field in San Antonio scared all the chickens in town.

The new fairgrounds opened that afternoon for an arts and crafts show, and there was music on the stage in front of the grandstands. The acts included Johnny Bush and the Bandoleros, George Chambers and his Country Gentlemen, Darrell McCall, Stoney Edwards, Kathy Grissom, Gary Langston - The Singing Sergeant, Inalani and her Hawaiian Dancers, Felix Pehl's Oompah Band, the singing Feller Family from Harper, the Poverty Playboys, the Wagon Aces and a singer named Jim Owen who sang just like Hank Williams. Looked like him too.

The Luckenbach Junior High Band, under the misdirection of the maestro Hondo Crouch, made a rare public appearance. For weeks prior to the big event the band gathered in the saloon behind the Luckenbach Store and Post Office, even playing their instruments every once in a while.

Bob Hope's plane landed at the LBJ Ranch at 5 that afternoon. He visited the grave of President Johnson and then came directly to the Nimitz for a press conference.

Fredericksburg and the Admiral Nimitz Center pulled out all the stops for the Hollywood legend. Hope, who could not imagine a greater honor than the Congressional Gold Medal President Kennedy gave him in 1963, received a certificate making him an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Then he bashed a wall at the hotel with a sledgehammer to symbolize the beginning of restoration work.

Despite the looming presidential election Hope smartly avoided politics. "I knew Ronald Reagan since he was a lifeguard," he said when asked if he had a preference, "and I think I played football against Gerald Ford."

Out at the fairgrounds Max Gardner of San Antonio radio station KKYX was the master of ceremonies for the afternoon entertainment, and Bruce Hathaway, the morning DJ at KTSA, stayed up past bedtime to MC the evening show.

Late in the afternoon the Fredericksburg High School Band entertained the crowd. Then at 7:30 Minnie Pearl took the stage. She scanned the audience "alookin' fer a feller." She poked fun at herself, mostly at her appearance.

"I once wore a mumu," she said. "I looked like a mama kangaroo with everybody home."

Then, the stage lights dimmed and old ski nose himself stepped comfortably into the spotlight, cracking jokes and twirling a golf club.

"I wanted to be in show business since I was a boy," Hope told the audience. "I grew up with 6 brothers. That's how I learned to dance - waiting for the bathroom."

Right in the middle of Hope's act, Luckenbach's own Hondo Crouch came on stage and traded barbs with the Hollywood legend. They say Hope held his own.

At the end of the evening Hope sang "Thanks for the Memory" and said a warm goodbye. He spent the night in Kerrville and played a round of golf at Riverhill Country Club before flying back to California.

The people in Fredericksburg still talk about the night Bob Hope came to town, but as a fundraiser "Stars over the Hill Country" fell short of expectations.

The show broke even. The publicity was priceless.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" September 1, 2021 Column

"Bob Hope Showers Memories on 8,200," Fredericksburg Standard, August 18, 1976.
"Famed Entertainer Headlines Star-Studded Show," Fredericksburg Standard, August 11, 1976
"Galaxy of Stars on August 14 Bob Hope Show," Fredericksburg Standard, August 4, 1976.
"Minnie Pearl's Not All Cornball, She's Real Lady," Fredericksburg Standard. August 18, 1976.
"Publicity Main Benefit of Bob Hope Show," Fredericksburg Standard, September 15, 1976.

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  • Bob Hope Meets Hondo Crouch by Michael Barr
  • Remembering Memory by Brewster Hudspeth

  • "Hindsights" by Michael Barr

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