“It was the joy<br>of generosity”


Hidden just minutes from downtown Austin is an expansive family ranch along the headwaters of the beloved Barton Creek. Established in 1938, the 6,800-acre Shield Ranch has in recent decades been operated by their daughter, Patricia Shield Ayres, her late husband, Robert (Bob) Moss Ayres Jr., and their children Robert A. Ayres and Vera Ayres Bowen. The family is known for their visionary commitment to land stewardship on their ranch, where they run a retreat center and a popular youth camping program called El Ranchito.

Sound familiar? The Ayres and Butt family missions have overlap because the families go way back. Pat and Bob Ayres were longtime friends of the Howard Butt family, early members of the H. E. Butt Foundation’s Resource Development Council, and frequent guests at the Lodge over the years.

When Bob passed away last year, Pat and her children began a search for a fitting tribute. They found the fit in funding the construction of a new cabin at Echo Valley as part of the EV 2020 project. The cabin will be a lasting memorial benefitting thousands of campers in the years to come at Laity Lodge Youth Camp, H. E. Butt Foundation Camps, and the Outdoor School.

“Dad loved Laity and loved all the relationships here, and so it seemed like a great way to honor him,” says daughter Vera Ayres Bowen, president of El Ranchito.

“Dad loved Laity and loved all the relationships here, and so it seemed like a great way to honor him.”

Vera Ayres Bowen

Vera’s daughter-in-law, Madison Sachanowicz Bowen, met her future husband Marshall when they worked at Laity Lodge Youth Camp, “LLYC … was the first place that I really became comfortable in my own skin and just felt really accepted and loved for who I was. I could be weird and quirky and fun-loving, and people would still love and accept me out there.

“It’s so cool that there’s a cabin that’s in Papa’s memory because he also just loved people so unconditionally and accepted everyone exactly how they were. It’s just so fitting.”

“Back in the ’70s, I can remember my parents coming back from retreats with speakers like Henri Nouwen. Those years were formative for the ministry my dad was going to have the rest of his life ….”

Robert A. Ayres

Robert A. Ayres, who also goes by Bob, says the history of his father’s spiritual development was also part of their inspiration for the Echo Valley 2020 memorial gift.

“Laity Lodge was such an important part of my mom’s and dad’s spiritual formation,” he recalls. “Back in the ’70s, I can remember my parents coming back from retreats with speakers like Henri Nouwen. Those years were formative for the ministry my dad was going to have the rest of his life ….”

In 1988, the Ayres family did some long-range planning about their own philanthropic efforts, and they drew on the lessons they’d learned from the Butt family and the Frio River Canyon. Bob says that while his family knew a number of families in South Texas who were engaged philanthropically, they paid special attention to a family “already using a Hill Country ranch for some purpose that was really value- and mission-driven—set up to really be of service to other people.

“At [the Foundation Camps], we were able to see the opportunities being afforded to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Out of those experiences, two things emerged for us … we wanted to do some kind of programming for kids who might not otherwise get on a Hill Country ranch, and we pursued the idea of building a retreat center.”

Later, Bob says, when they launched the El Ranchito program, they rang up “David Rogers to find out exactly what an operating foundation was and how it worked. So the advice has gone everywhere from the visionary and the inspirational to the practical and pragmatic.”

Pat says that influence extends to the way her family privileges land stewardship. “It was very moving to read the words of [Mary Holdsworth Butt] and to feel in the family a sense of stewardship to the whole land—that was something developing in our spirits as well.

“So it served as a sort of example for us, not necessarily to do the same thing, but to come to understand the land as something to be stewarded, to benefit ourselves as well to benefit others. So that influence runs very, very deep through the years.”

Pat also says she was mentored by handwritten letters from Mary Holdsworth Butt, which she received as she began her own volunteer work.

“In the ’70s, I went on the board of the Texas Youth Commission; I was the first woman to be on it. And Mrs. Butt Sr. would send notes through her daughter Eleanor Crook to give to me, to cheer me on and to say hang in there—kind of a, ‘You go, girl!’ She had such an experience and was such a trailblazer when she served on the state board of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. She was my cheering section and my encourager—through Eleanor—so that just always meant so much to me.”

“My dad always said, ‘I have learned from giving what true joy is.'”

Vera Ayres Bowen

Vera Ayres Bowen hopes that this circle of giving—this shared influence and generosity between two families—grows wider and inspires more giving.

“My dad always said, ‘I have learned from giving what true joy is,’” Vera recalls. “When he went to ask people for money, he always felt like he was empowering generosity in that person. That would be the reason that he would encourage someone to give in any context, but specifically to his beloved Laity, for their own spiritual formation and for the experience that they would have of generosity and joy in participating, giving back to their community.”

You can help make Echo Valley 2020 a reality, too!

Click below to learn more about our ongoing goals for Echo Valley.
If you are able to help, call Bonnie Finley, our executive director of development, at 830-315-9266.

Learn More
Article by Paul Soupiset. PSoupiset@hebfdn.org

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