Cover – Kristy Watson – Jan/Feb 2019

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KKristy Watson sits on the back patio of her home in Bergheim and sips her coffee while looking at her horses lazily eating, and her dogs chasing each other in the fields. To her left is a small barn full of her inventory of the patented plastic horseshoes she invented and sells to worldwide customers. Behind her sits an easel with a half-finished painting she has been working on to be displayed and sold in a local gallery. Inside the house is her small office – with stacks of papers and a high-powered computer – where she operates her own graphic design business. Scattered across her coffee table are notes and planning materials for the AgriCultural Center of which she is now the Director…and myriads of other non-profits that she prioritizes.The only thing missing from this scene is Kristy’s husband and partner, Todd, whom she lost 4 years ago. But to say Kristy is busy is a complete understatement.

Watson begins, “I was born in Freemont, Michigan, which is on the western side of the state, right near Grand Rapids. I was the youngest of 6 kids, grew up on a farm and, as you can tell by my place now, I loved animals then and still do. I’ve always had horses since I was very little, and I started riding when I was 3. At the time it was perfectly normal that my sister would put me up on the “big” horse, and if I fell off, she’d put me up on the pony.  At three!  I remember days when I would get up on my own, climb up on my pony, head to a nearby friend’s place, and not be back until right before dark.  Such a free way to grow up.”

Watson learned early on about hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit. “Dad was an Ag teacher and an FFA appraiser, and my mom was a farmwife. If you wonder about the difference between a housewife and a farm wife, well, if pigs got out, a farmwife wrestles them back into the pen! In the ‘80s we were big into vegetable farming, and that also fell to my mom for the most part. We’d all do our turn at selling vegetables in front of the house. For us kids, we learned how to make a buck, about customer service, and my dad always instilled in us that you always want to make the customer happy. If they were coming for a melon, it wasn’t just about the melon.”

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As she left for college, she found herself on a fortuitous skiing trip. “It was 5 busloads of us kids going skiing, and I had told my parents that I thought I might meet the man of my dreams on this trip. Sure enough, it turned out that I did. My friend Nancy introduced me to Todd, and it took us a few days, but we ultimately hit it off.”  They married soon after, just as she had predicted to her folks.

Todd took a job in Houston, and Kristy went to Comfort for an interview with a map-maker there. “When I got to town I said that I didn’t care if I got the job…I’m moving out here regardless. But I DID get that job, so Todd and I bounced back and forth with the visits between Houston and Comfort for a while, but that wore us out.  He  eventually went to work in San Antonio for the Gambrinus Compay (liquor distributor) — which he thought was about the coolest job ever! We were living in a little apartment in Boerne, and soon after, we began on the construction for this house in Bergheim.”

She loved the job in Comfort and her new life with Todd, but a change quickly occurred. “We had just moved in when my company was bought out by Rand McNally and everybody was fired and the business was immediately shuttered. It was a total shock and we had 15 minutes to get our stuff!  At that very moment, the phone rang and it was a woman from a book publisher in San Antonio.  I was literally standing in my office grabbing my stuff! She said “Kristy, I just saw that your job was shut down, when can you start?” A week later I was with the publisher and did that for a year doing magazine layouts — which taught me a lot.”

The entrepreneurial bug bit Watson, and a new era was ushered in.   “I decided I wanted to start my own business, a graphic design one. I got a little office in San Antonio in 1996, and got some equipment and started doing design – catalogs, brochures, and websites were just coming online so I learned about those. Todd saw that I was having so much fun that he said that he was going to quit his job and join me. And he did!  He was the business end: the marketing, the client meetings, that sort of work. He would find some of our clients, and we were a great team.  Those were great times. It was, and still is, Polonyx Graphic Design, which was named after our two dogs – Polar and Onyx.”

Always an avid horsewoman, the next venture for her came from a simple afternoon of playing with her horse in the front pasture.  “ I was playing with my horse, Hickory, in the pasture and he hit his front leg, cut his tendon and became very lame. He couldn’t walk. It required a lot of rehab and he kept limping. I began to think about his metal shoes, and I looked around and found that there were other kinds of horseshoes out there that would help make it easier for him to walk, but even after trying everything I could find, none of them were as good as I thought they should be. So I used that Illustrator program and I sat down and designed my own shoes. Talking to my brother John, a plastics engineer, about my invention brought a true “AHA” moment!  He told me that I would need to make a mold to design a prototype, and a partner of his may want to help out – and I was underway!  I knew that it was needed and went to work to create it. I realized that I was always marketing things for other people and their ideas, so maybe I could do this for myself. I could do the brochures, the sites, and when I could get the manufacturing figured out, I would be in business.”

She continues, “Todd was on board with the idea, and we got it patented. We went to our first convention and those trail riders just went crazy for it. This was in 1999. We had several prototypes, and played with the colors. The clear one is so you can see where you are nailing. Once FaceBook got going, then people started really taking notice.”

And they definitely took notice. Watson found a local company here in Boerne that could handle the manufacturing, “We built a small facility on our property for inventory storage, and put our graphic design and marketing skills to work. Back then, an online presence was important, but there was no e-commerce – people would just call in their orders. I put ads in horse magazines and I target-marketed where the horse owners were, not just the farriers. It quickly became a big part of my life, probably at least half of my professional work. I was still involved with the Carriage House Gallery with my artwork, Polonyx Graphic Design, and the horseshoe business. At its peak, we were selling over 800 horseshoes per month, which was quite a success from my perspective.”

On October 25, 2014, Kristy’s entire world would be shaken to its core. “Todd had been playing basketball for 20 years with the same guys twice a week. It was just a normal morning, and one of the guys called and said ‘You better get over here  – Todd slipped.’ I got there and they were still working on him.  They didn’t want me going in the gym, and I quickly learned it was a heart attack. Then they said that they were taking him to the hospital, when the ambulance driver came out and said ‘Do you have his driver’s license? How old was your husband?’ I instantly recognized that he was talking in the past tense.  I knew then that this was way more serious than a basketball injury.  We all went to the hospital, and they finally brought me into the room and I watched as they unplugged everything.”

Kristy continues, “I have a lot of friends that are widows also, and I learned that it seems like the first year you’re simply in shock. You’re hit with not only the emotional shock, but also a financial shock, as your two incomes just became one. And then the next year you kind of go through realizing that you’re a single woman for the first time in 25 years. Every time you come to that anniversary, whether of his passing, a wedding anniversary, a birthday…you’re confronted with the loss again.  But you also remind yourself that you have made it another year.  To me, each anniversary is hard but I’m encouraged when I see that I’m still making it. One of the biggest changes is that I realize now that we really don’t know just how long we have to live.  I’ve begun traveling a lot, and my focus is now on experiences. I am constantly mapping out the next adventure.”

As for adventure, Kristy is focusing more time on her art, which has been shown and sold locally at a variety of galleries.  She also is teaching kids the skill of art at their schools. “Since I was a teenager, I’ve painted. You know how the art teacher selects someone from the school to showcase their art? She chose me. The same night, I had won a science challenge project.  Mostly I just remember that I had to choose whether to go to the art showcase or to the science fair, and I chose the art showcase.  I’m so glad I did, looking back from today’s perspective.  My art is what led me to become the president of the Boerne Area Artists’ Association, which is now the Boerne Professional Arts. I’d also display my art at Carriage House Gallery, as well as many other galleries. The Dodging Duck carries all my art now, and it works because 1) it looks great in the restaurant and 2) it sells quite well! I also teach art twice a week at 3 different after school programs for Ellison, Johnson Ranch, and Kinder Ranch Schools. I find it so, so rewarding to watch the kids grow and expand their skills – it keeps me energized.”

As if all this wasn’t enough, Kristy also volunteers extensively in Kendall County. She explains, “I used to be really involved with the Agriculture Heritage Museum. When I first got into it in 2002, when I was President of the Boerne Area Artist’s Association, I realized the group wasn’t reaching out into the local community little, if at all.  I suggested that we start to teach painting and we did — we began in the Pioneer House. I was over there a bunch and I saw that they needed so much help. I subsequently became a Director of the Museum, and for several years after that, we put on the Chuck Wagon Cookoff, and it was super popular. We made some money for the Museum, and began doing events like vintage baseball games. I was doing probably 20 hours per week volunteering and I realized I had to back away from it a little. Then, this year I heard that the City wasn’t going to renew their lease to the Museum…and so I started thinking about it again. I had this feeling that I needed to do something — so I called all the City Council folks, the new Museum Director, and other business leaders.  We had a sit down meeting where I learned that the City wasn’t going renew the lease because the Museum was overgrown, dusty, and neglected.  I could really see why the City wasn’t renewing things. But, by the end of that meeting, they gave me the keys and I took over. The following week, I started adding people to help and we have really been coming up with ideas!  FaceBook has been one great resource because I’ve been able to send out posts asking folks to help out with specific things — and people have always come through!  Now, it has been rebranded it as the Agri-Cultural Museum, we are pulling in the Hill Country Council for the Arts people, and we recently held the ‘AgriCultural Tractor Ball’.”

The Tractor Ball, the first of its kind for the Museum, was a well-received success and should work toward saving the Museum for years to come. “I feel the Tractor Ball at the AgriCultural Museum was a success — it brought awareness of the Museum as a great place to hold a cultural event by showcasing the buildings and grounds. It also brought together a partnership between the Hill Country Council for the Arts and the board of the AgriCultural Museum to work together to raise funds to save the Museum. We have plans now to work together for future events.  Two that are already on the calendar are a Bierfest on April 6 and a Power & Paint show on June 1 with vintage trucks, vintage motorcycles and outdoor painters.”

Kristy’s fun side comes out in a couple of ways she didn’t mention during our conversation.  Maybe she thought she’d avoid them coming up, but no such luck.  They are too much fun to be left out of this piece!  She is a part of the crazy group that thought up the Boerne .05 Km race…and is a regular attendee at any kilt night festive activity, and entertains FaceBook friends with crazy photos of what it is like to have llamas.  There are so many fun adventures Kristy shares with us all that I can’t list them all here.  But know that if there is fun to be had in Boerne, you can trust Kristy is somewhere in the mix!

Kristy has carved out quite the life from the back porch of her picturesque acreage in Bergheim. The horses lazily wander the pasture, the dogs bark and play, and Kristy sips her coffee while watching the sun climb higher in the sky. From the ranchlands of Michigan to Kendall County, Kristy has chased her dreams and worked tirelessly for this community she calls home.  She finishes, “I love it here and always have. Yes, the town is getting busier and traffic can be frustrating, but it’s still home to me. I love this land I live on, and try to help in any way that I feel I can add something. It can be a bit lonely at times, but I also am involved in a monthly drumming circle for women. We drum and I play the flute and we’ll talk about things going on and some of our pains, so that’s my church. Ever since Todd died, there are good days and bad days, but I remain very spiritual. I know that there is definitely life after death, and I take wonderful peace in knowing that I will see him again soon.”

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Thank you, Kristy Watson, for the woman you are, and the way you’ve brought such amazing changes to little Boerne, Texas, over the years.  You are a best example of a Kendall County Woman, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings for you and your chosen hometown.

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