San Angelo mourned the loss of several notable people in 2018, including a banker, a community advocate, former members of the Texas House of Representatives and a lady everyone saw, but few really knew.
Wauneva Irene Benson
The woman with short white hair and a long tan coat spent a great deal of time roaming downtown San Angelo and was more than people assumed from a passing glance.
Her name was Wauneva Irene Benson. She died Oct. 18, 2018 – nine days shy of her 76th birthday — at the apartment she shared with a roommate. Police records report her death was from natural causes.
An acquaintance, Dirk Murray, reached out on Facebook after Wauneva’s death, wondering if anyone cared. He wanted to make sure her death did not go unnoticed. That she would not just disappear.
The response to his inquiry was swift, gathering nearly 75 comments within hours of his Facebook post, which started with simply “looking for information. …”
People who had seen her, stopped to speak with her once or twice, or who called themselves friends commented on his post.
“She was the sweetest lady. She would come into our law office and I would talk to her … Just a sweet lady. I will miss her,” noted one commenter.
Raymond E. Carver, longtime Angelo State University theater director, died Jan. 16 in Austin, a few days after his 86th birthday.
A man of many talents, Carver was a playwright, college professor, arts administrator and patron of the arts.
“He was a playwright at heart and a fabulous mentor toward a lot of students, and I think that’s where he made the biggest difference,” said his daughter, Libba Skarmulis. “He loved writing and he loved directing, but he found his real calling when he was working one-on-one with students or really finding the best that a student had; finding things in a student that they didn’t even know.”
Carver retired as director of ASU theater in 1994 after 28 years, leaving a hefty legacy.
The Rev. Floyd Crider
On Jan. 15 news of the Rev. Floyd Crider’s passing was received with sadness as the community leader died in San Antonio after a lengthy illness. He was 68 years old.
Crider was a tireless community organizer who served as a board member for the Adult Basic Education Advisory Committee, American Legion Post 572, Boys and Girls Clubs of San Angelo, Christian Women’s Job Corps, Concerned Citizens of San Angelo, The Faith in Action committee of the Area Agency on Aging, Habitat For Humanity, the Ministerial Alliance, NAACP Unit 6219, Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, Race Relations Task Force, Right Choices for Youth, San Angelo ISD Facility Task Force, San Angelo Living Together, San Angelo Public Housing Authority, Shannon Health and Wellness Advisory Board, COOP48, Success By 6, The United Way and The West Texas Organizing Strategy.
Crider was a native of Chicago and a graduate of Northwestern University.
He retired from the U.S. Army as a senior non-commissioned officer in 1992 and moved to San Angelo, where he continued his education at Angelo State University, earning a second baccalaureate and a Master of Education degree in counseling.
Crider served for a decade as pastor of Galilee Baptist Church and co-pastor of the Goodfellow Air Force Base Gospel Service, in addition to working in the San Angelo school district as a teacher, counselor and at-risk coordinator until his retirement in 2011. He ran for school board in 2013, seeking to represent Single Member District 4.
Crider was also well known as the founder of the Galilee Community Development Corp., an organization committed to helping residents obtain affordable housing.
Dr. Gus Eckhardt
On Oct. 21, longtime San Angelo resident and local physician Dr. Gus Eckhardt died at the age of 105.
Eckhardt started at Shannon Medical Center in 1947, about 15 years after the hospital opened.
“Dr. Gus Eckhardt was a part of our Shannon Family for more than 60 years. He made a lasting impression on the lives of so many patients along with generations of physicians and healthcare providers,” said Shane Plymell, president and CEO of Shannon.
Shannon annually hosts the Gus Eckhardt Trauma Symposium, which was named after the retired physician and is now in its 18th year. It began around the time Shannon’s trauma facility was established.
“Through the Gus Eckhardt Lectureship Series, Dr. Eckhardt leaves a respected legacy that will endure and continue to promote education and healing for many more generations,” Plymell said. “We are going to miss Dr. Eckhardt, but we celebrate the life of an amazing man.”
The namesake symposium provides continuing education for physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, EMTs and paramedics to enhance their skills caring for and managing trauma patients.
Howard Rodney “Doc” Edwards
Howard Rodney “Doc” Edwards, who spent 57 years in professional baseball — including nine seasons with the San Angelo Colts — died Aug. 20, at age 81.
Edwards, whose remarkable career began when he was signed as an amateur free agent in 1958 by the Cleveland Indians, continued until his final season in San Angelo in 2014.
Edwards earned the nickname “Doc” after serving as a Navy medic.
He made his Major League debut April 12, 1962, at Yankee Stadium, and he drew a walk against the legendary Whitey Ford in his first plate appearance.
He went on to hit .273 in his rookie year, and he also played for the Kansas City Athletics, the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.
After retiring in 1970, Edwards worked his way up as an assistant coach and became the manager of the Indians in 1987.
He compiled a record of 173-207 during three seasons in Cleveland.
J. Willis Johnson III
Johnson, a San Angelo philanthropist and banker from a pioneering ranching family was featured in many news stories through the years.
His grandfather, the original J. Willis Johnson, was sheriff and tax collector for Tom Green County 1884-92 and built a fortune in ranching, amassing more than 90,000 acres, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. He helped found the bank that became Central National Bank, where J. Willis Johnson III later worked.
Johnson was the only son of J. Willis Johnson Jr. and Clair Louise Thorp. He had no children himself.
Johnson had recently donated land at Twohig Avenue and Oakes Street to the San Angelo Area Foundation to become a “heritage park” celebrating San Angelo’s history. He also donated $150,000 to help pay for a life-size bronze sculpture of a rancher with his horse.
Organizers broke ground on the park in late 2017.
Tom Massey, longtime San Angelo attorney, former member of the Texas House of Representatives and Tom Green County Judge died after a brief illness Jan. 31. He was 86.
Massey was a graduate of San Angelo College who served in the Army in Korea before continuing his education at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas and the University of Texas School of Law. He was licensed to practice law in 1960.
After beginning his law practice in Graham, Massey moved his family to San Angelo in 1964 and was elected to represent the 60th Congressional District in the Texas House of Representatives in 1973, a post he held until 1981.
Massey chaired the House Education Committee and the Calendars Committee, focusing his efforts on improving education.
According to news reports, Massey also served as chairman of the Education Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, was a member of the Southern Regional Education Board, the Southern Legislative Conference of State Governments, and was a Commissioner on the Education Commission of the States.
After retiring from state government, Massey returned to his practice for several years before serving as Tom Green County judge from 1987-88.
Marilyn Johnston Mertz
A longtime member of San Angelo’s art community, Marilyn Johnston Mertz, 93, died July 2.
Marilyn was married to fellow artist Joe Mertz and had three daughters, Katie M. Johnson, Margaret M. Iott and Joan M. Mertz.
“My mom loved to hammer and nail, and she could fix anything,” said Joan Mertz. “She loved to go to the hardware store and buy something not for what it’s made for, but to come home and use it for something completely different. She transformed it; she was a creative maker.”
Coming from a nurturing home with an artistic mother and a handyman father, Marilyn was a multi-discipline artist who ran Yellow Bird Art Gallery with close friend Charlotte Fisher 1971-82. There she sold paintings, the majority of them watercolor, her daughter said.
Marilyn graduated in 1944 from art school at the University of Colorado and passed on her passion for art to Joan Mertz, who is also an artist and owns the Mertzwerks Gallery on Washington Drive.
Friend Howard Taylor, director of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, remembers fondly the woman he describes as a “movie star Texan.”
“For me, coming here from the East Coast, she was like almost the description of the best qualities of a native Texan,” he said. “She was tall and elegant. She had beautiful manners; she was a very pleasant person. Warm and very, very hospitable.”
Richard Earl Richards
Richard Earl Richards, a lifetime San Angelo resident and Vietnam War hero, died of throat cancer July 22, at age 73.
Richards was born in San Angelo on June 17, 1945, to Joe and Helen Gwendolyn (Fesperman) Richards. Before enlisting, he worked at Smith Grocery store, where he met his wife Rita. They quickly became sweethearts, married and had three girls — Rhonda, Roma, and Amy. The couple was married for 20 years, but remained friends until Richards died.
“My dad was always concerned about others. He had the biggest heart,” said Amy Cavins, Richards’ youngest daughter. “He was our biggest fan and fiercest protector. We are all so blessed to have called him dad, brother, son and friend.”
Richards joined the Army at 16 and earned numerous honors, including the Purple Heart. He was also inducted into the Veterans National Hall of Fame.
After retiring as a sergeant major in 1991, he never stopped serving his community and veterans. He was a member of the Blackhorse Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Cancer Society. Cavins said he played a major role in the completion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at San Angelo Regional Airport.
Richards participated yearly in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Tom Green County and worked at the Regional Cancer Center for 15 years.
Carline Tucker, who served more than 13 years on the San Angelo City Commission and City Council, died Sept. 3, at age 82.
Tucker was born in San Angelo, graduated from Central High School in 1954 and later graduated from Angelo State University, according to Standard-Times archives.
Tucker was elected to the seat in April 1981 and was subsequently re-elected six times, serving through 1994.
She was known as a champion of small business and for attracting industry to the area, and she had a strong reputation as a representative who listened to her constituents.
Tucker said for her, the job was a full-time occupation, and several editorials published during her tenure applauded her broad knowledge of local zoning rules and city ordinances.
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