Published on November 2, 2021

We turned 250 words, community effort into picnic tables

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Recently, Friends of the River San Bernard held their annual fundraiser, which made me think about how they got their picnic tables.

Most people don’t know how those five tables came into being, but I do - and the river does.

I’d like to share the story of how those community tables came about. F.O.R. was in its infancy with the major goal of opening the mouth of the river. I did the public relations for the group. My goal was to create awareness of the river’s plight.

Since the governor of the state at the time did not even know there was a San Bernard River in Texas, my work was cut out for me. Roy, my husband, and I did a lot of research. He made speeches about the river while I wrote. My goal was to get the San Bernard’s plight in the Smithsonian magazine.

Then, an ad appeared in the special Innovators Edition of the October (2007) Smithsonian magazine. It was about a contest with a cash award for a community catalyst that created an initiative that fundamentally changed lives. Well, opening the mouth of the river qualified.

To enter, I had to write a 250-word essay telling the story. What was the chance that the initiative on our little river would stand out among all the others submitted from all over the nation?

Probably not much, I thought, but maybe, just maybe before the editors chunked the application in the trash, someone would see the river’s plight and write a story about it. I wrote the essay – but with little hope of success.

I entered on the last day of the contest. I was on dial-up Internet and waited until 8 p.m. to submit my essay. I tried once, and the transmission timed out before completion. Then it timed out again.

So, I waited a bit before I tried again. The deadline was midnight. Time was of the essence. I tried again. It appeared to go through, but the prompt said to wait for confirmation. I did not get it, so I tried one last time.

It looked like the essay went through, but again I got no confirmation. It was midnight. It either went, or it didn’t. I tried.

Below is the essay I submitted:

The San Bernard River nicknamed the Singing River, in southern Brazoria County, Texas wasn’t singing – its mouth was clogged with sand. The community living along this 125-mile-long river was dying along with the river. That’s where Roy and Jan Edwards came in. We moved to River’s End at the end of the San Bernard to retire. Knowing this river was home to history (some of Stephen F. Austin’s original 300 settled here), legends, generous amounts of wildlife and outdoor activities – we knew its legacy MUST be saved.

We researched why the river had closed and put that research together. We connected that research to an article about beaches in Sargent needing sand and wrote a letter to the Texas General Land office with an idea - to use the sand clogging the San Bernard to rebuild area eroding beaches.

We started a petition (which garnered about 1,750 signatures from along 2 miles of an unincorporated river community in less than two weeks) requesting our local government re-open the mouth of the river. During that petition drive, we met more of the community at a river clean up. Through this initial contact, the community rallied and formed the non-profit organization, Friends Of the River San Bernard, in less than 9 months with a website (averaging 12,343 visits per month). We raise awareness through speaking (Roy) and writing letters and contributions to the press (Jan). Now, we have Resolutions or letters of support to re-open the mouth of the river from every incorporated city and most political entities in Brazoria County and we just learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to let the bids to open the river by June of 2008.

The phone call came from the Smithsonian that our application won the $1,000 cash award. There was no question what we wanted to do with the money, and while we were still on the phone, we asked that the check be written out to F.O.R. for items needed at the new Community Center.
After all, we never expected to win, and the money came from the river and needed to go back to the river – and the community.

Once the news of the award got to the F.O.R. President and Community Center Chair, Pat Webb, we worked out the budget for the picnic tables. With $1,000, we could purchase two, maybe three park-quality picnic tables and benches, or the community could get together and build five tables.
Pat ordered the materials, and he and Roy and Ken Wright started to work. They bent aluminum pipe to the right size and cut the wood to size. Brazos Fasteners donated the bolts and nuts and screws for the tables, and many hands made light work of the tables. And, suddenly, there were five new picnic tables.

The Community Catalyst Award is still working to create more community interaction, which continues to “fundamentally change lives” along the river.

Never doubt what our river community can do with just a little catalyst – for where there is great love, there will always be miracles.

The Dow Community Catalyst award announcement was published in the April 2008 Smithsonian magazine.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)