The “Laity” vision began through one family who made a move to Texas at the turn of the 20th century. Florence Butt moved her ill husband, Charles, and three small sons, Charles Jr., Eugene, and Howard, from Memphis, Tennessee, to Kerrville, Texas, in 1905.
In those early years, the family struggled in poverty. Yet that close-knit community and the amazing geography of the Hill Country worked wonders for Howard, the youngest son, who loved the outdoors. Some of his favorite memories included experiences at a friend’s ranch. Those fortuitous early years sparked what would later be transferred to hundreds of thousands of people.
Howard pursued a natural bent for the grocery business. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he established H-E-B, one of the largest privately held grocery companies in the country. In 1924, Howard married the gifted Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth who possessed a selfless regard for the well-being of others. They were blessed with three children, Howard Jr., Eleanor, and Charles. The family prospered as the children were reared within a heritage of Christian values implemented in the grocery business.
Together, in 1933, Howard and Mary established one of Texas’ earliest foundations for their charitable, educational, and philanthropic purposes. In those early years, Mary, who served as the Foundation’s first President, focused on literacy through public school programs and libraries. Care for the health and well-being of those less fortunate was a major focus for the Butts. They helped fund a number of recreational and child care facilities as well as tuberculosis treatment to help curtail the epidemic that had taken so many lives. Mary was also a tireless leader in a movement to improve conditions for those suffering from mental illness and mental retardation. In the mid-1950s, she was appointed the first woman to the governing board of the Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools. That role lasted nearly two decades and spanned the terms of a number of Texas governors.
Then, in 1954, Howard’s boyhood dream came to life when he and Mary purchased a 1900-acre ranch near Leakey, Texas, and immediately contributed the land to their Foundation. Mary’s diary records their hope to provide a free camping experience for “maybe 100 boys and girls at one time.” Never could they have imagined how their dream would multiply from that day to the present.
In 1961, Howard, Jr. was given Laity Lodge, the adult retreat center, as a tool on the property to pursue his personal ministry. Five years later, Laity Lodge Youth Camp was established. In 1982, Howard, Jr. became President of the Foundation and developed significant national outreach for leaders over the next decades. In 2013, the Foundation constructed Headwaters, a state-of-the-art family camping facility on the property, that now serves families year round through Laity Lodge Family Camp and the Foundation Camp program.
Today, the Foundation is led by members of the fourth generation of the family, Deborah and David Rogers. New programs continue to emerge, including Outdoor Education for Texas schools as well as continued focus on leaders. More than 25,000 boys and girls, families, and adults each year are benefiting from this early vision … and tens of thousands more are being served through the online resources.