As a teenager in the 1960’s, one of my favorite places was Hazel Bazemore Park in Calallen. It was a perfect place to hang out with friends and take a swim in the Nueces River that ran through it. Most of us had Honda motorbikes that we rode on the challenging dirt hills of the park.
But, in all my trips out to Hazel Bazemore, I never once thought about the name of the park. Just who was this Hazel Bazemore person? When I discovered the answer to that question, I was inspired by the dedication of the young woman for whom the park is named.
Miss Hazel Marie Bazemore was a young lady who was born in Oklahoma and was a graduate of Oklahoma A&M College. She came to Robstown in 1950 at age 21 and was hired as an assistant county "home demonstration" agent. This is a person who travels the rural areas of the county, explaining and demonstrating the latest trends in agriculture and home economics. She was also the sponsor of the Nueces County 4-H Club, conducting numerous workshops and field trips for Nueces County youths.
As a member of the Epsilon Sigma Alpha Sorority, she was also involved in many service projects that improved the lives of those in her community. By all accounts, this young lady was loved by everyone whose life she touched. But.....her own life would tragically be cut short.
In the early morning hours of April 4, 1954 there was a violent head-on collision of two cars on Highway 44 near Violet. The force of the crash was so horrific that the engine of one car was found more than 150 feet from the point of impact. Miss Bazemore was a passenger in the car of Wesley Hammonds, the owner of Hammonds Lumber and Supply on Hwy. 44 and a trustee on the board of West Oso ISD. It took rescuers almost an hour to free Hammonds from the mangled car. He was in critical condition with two broken legs and multiple injuries. Twenty-five year old Hazel Bazemore was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the other car, and 3 other men in the car with him, were critically injured, but all survived the crash. The driver was later placed under arrest for "Negligent Homicide". For whatever reason, his car was traveling on the wrong side of the road, causing the collision. In March of 1955, he was convicted and fined $500.00.
In 1947, the Rotary Clubs of Robstown and Corpus Christi had donated 77 acres of land, one mile west of Calallen off Hwy. 624, to Nueces County for use as a county park. For a number of years, it was the least known, least used, and most neglected of the county's parks.
In April, 1955, County Commissioner William McKinzie proposed that the park be named in honor of Miss Hazel Bazemore. The Commissioner's Court unanimously agreed. McKinzie quickly erected a sign at the park's entrance, declaring it Hazel Bazemore Memorial Park.
By the time that I first visited the park in 1965 it was still a very rugged, primitive place....and still relatively unknown to most people. On most days, there just weren't many, if any, people visiting the park. But that was all about to change.
In 1967, the law began to make frequent runs through the park, enforcing the 15 mph speed limits and the ban on off-road driving of any kind. For me and my friends, the good old days of challenging the canyon walls on a motorcycle were over. Picnic tables were being installed, hiking trails created, and weeds and brush were being cleared. But, despite the improvements, general neglect continued.
More years would pass before the true value of the park would reveal itself. Since the beginning, the bird watching community had known that there was something special about the park. It was a bird watcher's paradise. More than 300 species of birds had been identified within the boundaries of Hazel Bazemore. Birders had also long known that the park seemed to attract a large number of migrating raptors (hawks, kites, vultures, falcons, eagles, etc.). They knew that the numbers were high, and unofficial counts done in the late 80's seemed to confirm it.
Finally, in 1997, HawkWatch International conducted an official counting. The 841,000 raptors counted was the highest number EVER recorded at any site in North America! That number increased to over 992,000 the following year, and exceeded 1,000,000 in 2004. The count included over 24 species of raptors, also one of the highest numbers ever recorded at one site in the U.S.. It was conclusive proof that Hazel Bazemore was a world class bird watching site.
In 2008, the county constructed a 1,700 square foot hawk watch platform, attracting bird watching enthusiasts from all over the world. A massive clean-up of the park in 2010 and 2011 has made it a nice place to picnic, swim, and walk the nature trails. After more than 70 years in existence, Hazel Bazemore Park has finally reached its potential as a first class tribute to a young woman who deserves to be remembered.
Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.