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Extraordinary Texans: Mary Kemp

The individuals who help make Texas special
Written by Randy Mallory. Photographs by Wil van Overbeek.

Mary Kemp

At age 86, Mary Kemp takes the long view about bluebonnets and history. For more than 30 years she has cultivated both on 220 acres in Mt. Nebo Valley south of Weatherford. Amid 20 acres of bluebonnets, she and her late husband, V. Kemp Jr., created a frontier village featuring a dozen replica structures anchored by the 1856 Thomas J. Shaw log cabin. Since 1980, period-dressed volunteers have welcomed thousands of visitors each spring to the Shaw-Kemp Open House.

Growing up in the Mt. Nebo community, Mary Kemp soaked up stories of the old West and living off the land. “Miss Mary,” as she’s known, remains a keeper of the flame for Parker County history.  She served on the county historical commission for decades, obtaining 17 state historical markers and helping to get the courthouse restored. In 2001, she and lifelong friend Leon Tanner formed Nebo Valley Press to chronicle county history.  They’ve published five books, plus two reprints. Proceeds support local charities, especially the Abandoned Cemetery Association of Parker County, which the Kemps started in 1986.

A few years earlier, V. Kemp had come across an abandoned cemetery.  He and Mary restored the site, then sought out and restored the burial site of Thomas J. Shaw, one of the founders of Parker County and a lifelong family friend. Thanks to legions of volunteers, the Abandoned Cemetery Association has restored and maintained 65 once-forgotten burial grounds.

Drought stifled bluebonnets at this year’s Shaw-Kemp Open House. 
Not to worry, Mary reminds, “They’ll come back.” (She ought to know; she won the statewide Keep Texas Beautiful individual leadership award in 1996.) And what about her legacy in county history? More than anything, Mary instills a love of heritage in the next generation.

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