By Joyce Whitis
On a slow, warm afternoon, somewhere to the left of center on a map of Texas, there is a place called Hannibal and just a little farther down the winding highway is a school building made mostly of native red rock; rock dug up and shaped by local men in a work-project known nationwide as the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, or simply as the WPA. They took a lot of teasing, those broke farmers gouging out a dollar a day, but the hard earned dollars kept the mostly overall-clad men earning enough to keep them from selling apples on street corners.
Back in the 1870s, a wagon train of mostly veterans of the Civil War and their wives and children had camped on the banks of the little stream that ran through that part of Erath County. They brought the few items they had left after the war and began a trip west in covered wagons without a destination. When they reached the part of Texas where streams of water kept the grass tall and the land was fertile, they stopped and claimed land to homestead. They built houses and businesses and churches and when a post office was chartered, they named it Huckabay.
One sunny afternoon almost 150 years later, a red Thunderbird convertible came down the highway, passed by Huckabay School and the Hannibal Store where members of the Hannibal Lodge meet, and turned left at a rusty wire gate. There was a big “For Sale” sign hanging on that gate, the name, Sharon Owen (a local realtor) and a phone number. That gate opened into a long, grass-covered lane ending in a field of native grass stretched out at the foot of an impressive rocky hill. A tall, sandy haired man stepped out, his boots making shallow prints as he walked to the passenger side opening the car door for his passenger. His pretty companion stepped out. Immediately her mouth opened in a wide smile as her eyes took in the mesquite, live and post oak trees, the lush green grass and the sparkling little lake at the foot of a tall rocky hill. She stretched from sitting so long in the passenger seat, walked around the T-Bird and said to her husband, “What do you think?”
From the look on Kent Perkins’ face, he was deep in thought; a thought that brought a smile to his face tanned by a California sun. He might be tanned in California, but by the way he moved and the hardly noticeable accent in his voice, he was ALL Texan, and he looked at home here on this land that was a part of the “Stewart land.” This land and most of the surrounding acres had “always” belonged to a Stewart that had handed it down to another Stewart and so on, but this Stewart was about to sell a piece of his inherited ranch to a native Texan. That man was Kent Perkins and the lady on his arm was Ruth Buzzi, his wife since December 10, 1979.
Both husband and wife had histories of show business, television, movies, and public appearances. Ruth Buzzi may be best remembered for her role as Gladys Ormphby on the popular television show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. It was this piece of weekly comedy where “Ruthie” hit her stride; where she became a nationwide sensation and was best remembered for swinging her purse by the handles and hitting offending individuals in the head! For this role she wore an old style hairnet with the seam knotted and placed in the middle of her forehead. Ruthie won a Golden Globe for her part on Laugh-In in 1972 and kept her audiences laughing through the ’70s. While Ruthie was making people forget their troubles and enjoying her great comedy, Kent was seeking his fortune performing in movies (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzi, Across the 8th Dimension, Any Which Way You Can). Both Kent and Ruth appeared in Up Your Alley in 1989.
Kent, who had enjoyed some time as an investigator for a major company, decided that he wanted to pursue that field and founded his own successful company. Today the couple maintains interests in various businesses and one mall in particular, but essentially they are “retired” – well as retired as they care to be. Now it was time to bring that dream of Kent’s that he had had in his head since he was a little boy in a Texas schoolroom, to life.
“I knew I wanted eventually to live on a ranch somewhere in Texas. I wanted to build a big house with a wraparound porch and lots of places to sit and drink coffee and visit with friends. I wanted room for this passion I have for collecting cars and the art that Ruthie turns out for charity. I wanted room to put things that I love and places on that ranch to explore and oh yes, I wanted to live in a community where folks are friendly and trust their neighbors and don’t care how much money they have or what their religion is. They like you for just being you. When I met Spur Stewart and his dad, Cowboy and the other folks around here, I knew without a doubt that I had found the place to build my dream house, the one I had pictured in my daydreams when I was just a kid.”
And so the deal was signed for this piece of ranch land, architect employed, construction crew hired, and well driller brought in so that the special place on a rocky hill began to look like a house with a blue lake in front. The house looks like it could have been right at home on a plantation in the old South. The white columns begin at ground level based on a gleaming concrete porch and extend upward past another porch and ending at the roof. There is plenty of room for the round tables and comfortable chairs where Kent’s parents, who live in Southlake, can have morning coffee when they come to visit. Kent and Ruthie entertain their guests there on pleasant days as they view the countryside or just watch swans and ducks swimming in the blue lake below.
The house was laid out according to what Ruthie thought, according to Kent. She likes to practice a real talent that she has with painting and has a studio nestled on the second floor. Kent also has his office elsewhere in the house. The house has several “special” rooms including a game room and a mounted trophy room. (Kent does not hunt. All the mounts in this room were gifts from trophy hunters and have originated from all over the world.) Another room is a safe room with concrete block walls, the blocks filled with cement and rebar. This room is stocked with food and drinks that would last for days. “This room would withstand the most powerful tornado ever recorded,” Kent said.
Ruthie is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and therefore is sent a copy of every movie released. She will be voting for the winners in the upcoming Academy Awards Ceremony soon. The movie room in the house is stocked with leather recliners and drink holders where Kent, Ruthie, and guests can watch the latest flicks.
Kent is interested in history and is making an effort to learn more about the land that they bought and any stories of the Indians who lived here before the “white men” drove them out. Recently, while doing a little exploring, he discovered a half-cabin/half dugout on his place. Currently he is doing research in an effort to find out more about it. So far it seems that a family was “burned out” by the Indians so they built a home partly underground.
Another convenience in the beautiful majestic house that could be a page from “Gone With the Wind” is an elevator. Stairs curve upward three floors for those that need the exercise. The last part of the stairway is a circular climb to the roof where the visitor catches her breath as she takes in a view usually seen from a low flying plane. It is magnificent as you seem to be sitting on top of the world, watching little animals and people walk around below.
“This is just the place I have been looking for all my life, a ranch in Texas.” Kent bent to bring his arm around Ruthie. Her smile was one of contentment.
“We had a beautiful place in California but we sold it and came here looking. This is exactly what we were looking for, living here in Erath County with real people.”
Photos taken by Riley Studio and provided by Kent Perkins and Ruthi Buzzi