Founder's Story

by July Moreno

 
In San Marcos, Texas, the life force of the river cannot be denied and neither can its beloved resident, the Mermaid. It is everlastingly marked in our history.
— July Moreno, Founder and Executive Director, Mermaid Society of Texas
 
 
 

A proud “BISM” (born in San Marcos), I was raised in a town I still consider myself lucky to call “home, sweet home.”  Almost as soon as I began to walk, my father introduced me to the river. My father was a keen swimmer. My mother was afraid of the water; which is why she insisted both my younger brother and I take swimming lessons.  Before San Marcos had a city pool most kids took lessons in the river at City Park.  Looking back, it was a great place to learn to swim since you had to be a good swimmer to hold yourself against the strong current.  Lessons started at 7:30 a.m. and with the water at a constant 72 degrees it made for a chilly start to my day as a child. Each summer morning, I dreaded the ritual of putting on my half-dried bathing suit that I used the day before to repeat the torture of jumping into the cold water yet again.  To tell you the truth, after about 10 min.  there was nothing you could say or do to convince me to get out of the water.  I loved it so much! Once I became a teen, being able to walk or ride my bike to the river from my home was absolutely priceless.  By noon, there was a string of inner tubes flowing down the river. My skin glistening under the summer sun, the sound of laughter and having fun splashing was amplified in the river.  You didn’t need much but a tire tube from Firestone that was just around the corner to keep yourself entertained all summer long. On the weekends my parents would set up right by the river with Nehi sodas and chili dogs from the chili dog stand and watch us kids play until sundown.  We made so many wonderful memories in that beautiful river!

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Back then, besides the river, San Marcos did not have much when it came to entertainment, but it did have Aquarena Springs, and that was everything and then some.  Such a magical place to be no matter what age.  I never tired of visiting Aquarena as a child or young adult.  It goes without saying, that the Aquamaids doing their “Mermaid Shows” were my absolute favorite.  Each and every time I got to see the underwater show, it was like watching it for the very first time.  I can still remember sitting there mesmerized wondering how in the world did the “mermaids” drink from their Coca-Cola bottles underwater?  All this pondering went on while eating my cherry licorice purchased from the candy store across Spring Lake. I could hardly wait to say, “five yards, please!”  The licorice was measured out by a yard stick and at .10 cents a yard, it was just the amount of money I had with me.   I loved getting across the lake on the glass bottom boat; a magical ride indeed, since you could see underwater.  I can still remember the sound of the water fountains as the water shot across the translucent green, crystal-clear lake.

Time passed, I moved away from San Marcos for several years and then, fast forward to 2011, when I returned to my hometown.  I made the decision to come home after receiving news from my sister she was ill and needed my help.  I had not realized the gravity of my sister’s illness until I began to understand the effects of chronic diabetes.  It would have been impossible for my sister to advocate and manage her healthcare needs alone. I decided to quit work in order to provide the daily care she needed.   My sister, affectionately known as the “mermaid” of the family, truly loved being in the water.  From the time we were small to the last trip we made together to the beach, she loved nothing more than being in the water. Life works in curious and beautiful ways. Growing up, my sister Joanne, was my keeper; over the next year and a half, I became my sister’s keeper.

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So, it was, that between waiting rooms and extended hospital stays, I had a lot of time for reflection. During my sister’s illness I put some of my plans on the back burner; but all along I had unwittingly been drafting a new way of living. Perhaps there would be a time to revisit these plans, or maybe not.  I’d often share those ideas with my sister. I expected she would say, “you’re crazy”; but instead she’d say, “you should do it; I know you can do it!” Joanne was always my most enthusiastic cheerleader. She believed in me, no matter what.  In March of 2013, I lost my best friend, my playmate, my sweet and loving, big sister. After her death, I firmly resolved to live life more purposefully. My life took a whole new meaning; in some way I became more “motivated” about life!

I knew I had reached a major crossroad in my life. My boundaries had stretched considerably over the last several months, and now I was completely open to many of the ideas I had been drafting while sitting with my sister in her hospital room, in the wee hours of the morning.  When I would ask myself “What IF?”  My creative energy flowed, causing me to dream out loud and it felt good…really good, compelling and powerful! So, I committed to redesigning my life to be free to do work that fueled me. I wrote out my intentions, expressing what I would do with my life if money was not the driving force. I knew whatever path I decided to take would fundamentally change the trajectory of my life. I still had not determined whether or not this new path would keep me in San Marcos. So, I decided to get involved in the community and volunteer my time with a few creative endeavors. It was crucial to find out if what I was sensing was real or just a spontaneous burst of energy that would fade with time.

Several months after Joanne’s passing I pulled out my doodles of mermaids and scribbles of plans for a mermaid statue, like the one Aquarena once had, and began drafting the idea of a mermaid festival.  The idea felt so far-fetched, it was hard for me to see the possibility of putting my plans into action. My what IF’s became negatives... What IF no one supported the idea of the return of the mermaid? I let the questions linger in the background while I threw myself into creative work, painting and upcycling furniture. I was selling my pieces consistently and loving every minute of it.  I loved how the process of making art provided meditative isolation and allowed my thoughts to come in currents. In this flowing solitude, my ideas became clearer, more tangible. I became stronger in my beliefs. And the “return of the mermaid to San Marcos” became more exciting as my ideas started to take shape. My What IF’s, turned into Why NOT’s? I found myself sharing my vision with anyone and everyone that had the patience to listen to me. And so, it began.

In 2016 I took a “dive” of faith; and with every bit of energy I had, I dove into my dream!   I remember drafting the email invite for Mermaid Society’s public launch, I had over 100 people that I was inviting to come learn about the plans. I remember staring at the SEND button on my keyboard, getting up and pacing the floor, I could feel my heart racing... I closed my eyes and hit the button. Now, I was in…ALL in!  It was like when I was 8 years old and my swimming teacher was instructing me to dive.  I was terrified. I remember trembling just knowing how cold it would be and how strong the current was.  “Just dive…you can do it. 1…2…3!”, Ms. Johnson said. And just like that I closed my eyes and with all the strength my little body had, I pushed off and dove into the cold river.

There are many whom I credit for helping me to take the dive of faith.  First and foremost, my heavenly Father who makes everything possible. I give thanks to my supportive family, to my sister-friends, my beloved Roy, and to St. Therese; but that is a story for another time. Most of all I am thankful to my sister, Joanne, for the precious time I got to share with her. I may have never begun this journey without her. Joanne, was and still is my biggest inspiration to take chances in life. 

I am so proud of Mermaid Society, now in its 3rd year.   Mermaid Society is evolving, and like the river there is a natural ebb and flow in its organic development. Our vision for its future goes far and wide. I am proud that as a BISM like many others who join me, are ripples in the creation of something that celebrates my hometown, our culture, our values and ultimately will help to protect our beautiful river and springs for generations to come.

 

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July Moreno’s career spans several years working in the nonprofit sector from raising awareness for heart disease, building support for an after-school education program for children, cultivating sponsors to help restore a national shrine for St. Therese, and established a community garden to help inspire neighborhood engagement.

Moreno worked as the Corporate Director of the American Heart Association – San Antonio Division, Vice President of Development for American Sunrise – A Nonprofit Cisneros Communities Venture and Executive Director of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.

Moreno currently serves as a Board Member for the San Marcos Downtown Association, Texas State Friends of Fine Arts and Communication, and the San Marcos Economic Development Board. Moreno is also a member of the San Marcos Arts Advocates, San Marcos Cultural Arts District Committee and The Discovery Center Arts Committee.  She is a former Board member of the San Marcos Art League, Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center and the San Marcos Arts Commission. Moreno also played a leadership role in the development of the Arts Squared Art Market and served on the San Marcos Arts Commission Ad hoc committee for the Mermaid Statue Public Art Project.