By Vickie Moon Merchant
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
In 1941, a 36-year-old widow arrived in Rockport to work as a journalist for The Rockport Pilot. Born Karen Harden in Cisco, in 1905, “Kay” graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1927. In 1928, she married Dr. J.T. Bynum and lived in Hamlin, until his death in 1941.
While working for the weekly Rockport Pilot, Kay Harden Bynum formed a friendship with Jack and Connie Hagar and soon Kay became an apprentice bird watcher. Even after she moved to Corpus Christi and began writing a weekly column, Bird Notes, for the Caller-Times in 1942, they remained friends.
In 1957, Kay married Robert G. McCracken, managing editor of the Caller, and left her job. Later, she taught journalism at Del Mar College, became an active member in a number of nature organizations, and wrote free-lance articles.
Because Kay realized Mrs. Hagar would not document her own life, in 1962, Kay began interviewing her for two hours, five days a week. In her book, The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher: Connie Hagar of Rockport, McCracken described Connie as having an extraordinary memory. In the interviews, Connie would recall distinct memories of growing up in Corsicana, experiences with other birders, details and even conversations that occurred.
Using these recollections, Kay wrote Connie Hagar’s biography. In this book, which is for sale by the Friends of Connie Hagar, McCracken describes not only the birds, seen on Hagar’s twice daily route, but also the stories Connie told her about the noted ornithologists, who questioned her sightings, Connie’s dedication to nature and the role she played in promoting birding to others despite her health problems. The hundreds of species of birds that visited Rockport each year brought thousands of birders, which Connie patiently hosted and assisted from the greenest beginners to the most domineering experts. It was Connie Hagar, more than any other person, who made coastal Texas, and especially Rockport, a mecca for all serious birders.
Kay continued writing Bird Notes for 30 years, a column she originated. She also regularly wrote articles for The Bird Watcher’s Digest and was widely recognized for her expertise on birds, their habitats, and habits. Her publications consist of approximately 25 linear feet of columns, scrapbooks, diaries and notes on local bird sightings, correspondence, newsletters, and publications of many varieties and can be found at the Mary and Jeff Bell Library at Texas A&MCorpus Christi.
More than 1,000 of McCracken’s columns were compiled into a book, Birding South Texas, featuring a cover photo shot by Phyllis Yochem. Recommended by McCracken for the job, Yochem has written “Bird Watch”, a weekly birding column for The Caller for the past 25 years. When asked, “Why do you do it?” Yochem replies, “It’s for the birds. That’s what Kay always used to say.”
We all owe Kay McCracken a debt of gratitude for weaving the stories she collected from Connie Hagar into a biography so that others can get a glimpse of Hagar’s personality and experiences. Kay died in 1992 at the age of 87.
The Friends of the History Center is hosting the exhibit, “Connie Hagar: First Lady of Texas Birders.” It will be on display until Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at the History Center for Aransas County, 801 E. Cedar St. The History Center is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and is a venue of Aransas Pathways.