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10/19/2023 - SPOTLIGHT: Gwen King to be honored at 2023 Hairy Man Festival

BCMUD Community honors local luminary at 2023 Hairy Man Festival

Gwen King loved to tell stories.

Even though she was born in Philadelphia in 1951, the audiences she captivated most resided right here in the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District.

Ever since the early ’80s, when she moved to Round Rock and began working in the area, at times as a librarian, other times as an educational assistant, and still other times for the local newspaper, she was most known for her storytelling ability.

Her son, Brad King, said Gwen’s storytelling was something he always experienced growing up.

“My mother was … an elementary school storyteller. She was a librarian for many years,” Brad said. “So, her stories were very geared towards children, but also they engaged adults and got them involved. I feel like her storytelling was just as much physical as it was verbal.”

Fact or fiction, stories were Gwen’s art form, and her audiences were usually sizeable.

She helmed a weekly column called the Brushy Creek Beat in the Round Rock Leader, the area’s newspaper of record. At the schools where she worked, she focused her craft more on the fantastic adventures of her pet cats, among other topics.

Arguably, the Brushy Creek community knew her best through her animated portrayal of the legend of the Hairy Man, which she would deliver with passion and showmanship each fall at the annual Brushy Creek MUD Hairy Man Festival.

Gwen passed away on April 7, and as a tribute to her memory and the many contributions she bestowed upon the Brushy Creek community, the 2023 Hairy Man Festival will feature a storytelling nook dedicated to her honor. It will be situated among a group of trees on the south lawn of Cat Hollow Park.

“This station is supposed to encompass Gwen King and everything she brought to this community,” said Miranda Streiff, Community Events Specialist for the BCMUD. “She taught kids how to read in this community. A lot of the kids that will come to the Hairy Man Festival had her [as a teacher] in the past, and due to her passing, we just want her to be in this … festival forever.”

In Brad’s estimation, the memorial is a fitting tribute to a woman who loved the Brushy Creek community in so many ways.

“You know, Brushy Creek was my mother,” he said. “She kind of lived within that 10-square-mile area and really didn’t venture out much. But anything that was going on in the community, she just wanted to be a part of.”

Brad doesn’t remember exactly when it became a festival tradition for Gwen to read the legend of the Hairy Man each year, but he knows she participated in the festival in one way or another for almost four decades.  

“My mother being engrained in so many things about the community, it was just what we knew about her,” he said. “It was just kind of the norm for our family.”

As part of the programming to remember King at the 2023 festival, Streiff said someone will read a different children’s book each hour at the memorial station. There will also be coloring books and other reading activities available.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the reading station is a handmade, wooden backdrop created by BCMUD employees.

Brushy Creek Parks Maintenance Specialist Paul Ortega helped build the backdrop and said once he acquired all the materials, it took him and some team members about six hours to complete.

Once Ortega finished construction, Programs Assistant Claire Fleming painted the mural on the backdrop: several colorful flowers amid a soft, blue sky with a banner that says “Gwen King Reading Corner.”

“My inspiration was all Miranda’s idea,” Fleming said. “She gave me the prompt to make it really beautiful to honor such a beautiful woman and the amazing work she’s done around our community.”

It’s clear that many people in the Brushy Creek community and beyond thought highly of Gwen. Over the decades she impacted hundreds of people’s lives through her storytelling and overall involvement in the community she loved.

But perhaps Brad’s memory of his mother sums it up best.

“I remember my mom being full of life; full of energy; engaging with the public,” he said. “She was a fire commissioner. She served the public and enjoyed being with people. [She was] very much a person that got involved with everything. Full of life.”


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