At 84, skeet shooting, cattle breeding, and skydiving are just some of the ways Laura Berry is staying active.
HOME ON THE RANCH
On a warm day in October, Mrs. Berry adjusts her ear plugs before locking her 12-gauge tightly into her chest. She fires a thundering shot across the beautiful lake at Lonesome Dove Ranch in San Patricio. Its the heart of dove season in South Texas, and a single morning dove is startled across the lake. She lets off a quick round a rare miss. Dove season might be Mrs. Berrys favorite time of year. Not only is she an avid dove hunter, she enjoys opening the gates of Lonesome Dove Ranch to the community for fundraising shoots. Just a few days earlier the Corpus Christi Police Department held a dove shoot at the ranch that raised $130,000.
Lonesome Dove Ranch still operates as a working ranch today. A long-time cattle woman, Mrs. Berry breeds some of the finest beef master cattle in the Coastal Bend. For a while, the Lonesome Dove Ranch operated as a hub for local cattle breeding. After her sons helped build the ranch with their own two hands, she put them to work breeding cattle during the summers. Over the years, Mrs. Berry has attended and hosted many clinics on the ranch in association with Texas A&M Corpus Christi. However, after the recent draught, she had to sell off around 800 head because there was not enough hay to go around.
Like any self described outdoors girl, Mrs. Berry is always looking for a new adventure; a new a new frontier; a new purpose. When she is not at the office, she spends a lot of time out on the ranch cruising around on her off-road, sport utility vehicle checking in on her cattle and shooting skeet. These days, however, her mind is set on a new goal. She is looking beyond the horizon, hoping to offer greener pastures for those brave soldiers wounded in battle. And it all started the day she jumped out of an airplane.
On September 26th, Mrs. Berry crossed skydiving off of her bucket list at the 2015 Remington Great Americans Shoot (RGAS), a charity event put on by the Special Forces Charitable Trust. It was all in the sake of giving back to our wounded American heroes. She picks up her iPhone and flips through the photos and videos from the dive, proudly showing off her front flip straight out the plane and flawless landing while the crowd cheers in the background. This shock and awe approach completely worked! She described the jump as a spiritual experience, as she plunged down toward Gods green earth.
A BORN NATURAL
As proven, Mrs. Berry knows how to peer down the barrel of her gun and cock it with unmatched confidence. Shes as steady as she was in 1948. That was a life-changing year. It was the year she met her late husband, and also the year she picked up a gun for the first time, not knowing all that good that would eventually come from her pure talent.
Ive never practiced, not once, says Mrs. Berry.
After leaving her hometown of Center, Texas, she moved to Baytown, where Mrs. Berry met her husband, Marvin Berry. He was working for his fathers contracting company. On their first date, Marvin brought Laura to the then Pleasure Pier, in Galveston. At the time, Pleasure Pier consisted of one very large building on the water. That night, Frederick Royals orchestra was playing. Royal is the father to Billy Gibbons of rock band ZZ Top.
Years later, Marvin bought the building they had their first date in and turned it into a fabrication shop. Today, it remains their No. 1 fabrication shop as part of their business, Bay Ltd., a Berry Company. In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Berry, moved to Corpus Christ so Marvin could work for his brothers construction company. How many women can say their husbands bought them the building they had their first date in? Mrs. Berry gushes.
Over the next 10 years, the Berrys birthed four boys and their own company. Raising and growing both kept the two quite busy. Bay Ltd., a Berry Company, one of the leading multi-discipline construction, fabrication and maintenance contractors in the nation, is now the largest privately-owned company in Corpus Christi. Mr. Berry founded the company to be committed to producing quality construction services that supported the growth and future of South Texas.
In 1974, they bought their ranch, Lonesome Dove Ranch in San Patricio County, where Mrs. Berry still resides. That was also the same year that that they found Robert Ferretes at age 24.
"We found him in a deer blind, nearly frozen to death and took him in," says Mrs. Berry. Ferretes became like a fifth son to the Berrys. He lived there at their ranch and helped out alongside the other boys. Once he got his green card, went to school, and became a voting United States Citizen, he started managing the ranch. Now, at 64 years old, hes an asset that the Lonesome Dove Ranch simply cannot live without.
All four sons grew up raising cattle, and this is how they all put themselves through college. The Berrys raised their boys to be self-sufficient, ranch-raised men who know the meaning of hard work.
A DECORATED LADY
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It wasnt until Mrs. Berry met Mr. Berry that she even held a gun. On one of our first dates, [late husband] Marvin took me shooting. I was a natural! Mrs. Berry delights. It was a pistol. Then she graduated to shotguns, beginning with a 22-gauge, then a 20, and now to the 12-gauge shes used for years. Mrs. Berry has also used a 30 rifle for deer, and a 300 weatherby. With a 12-gauge in her arms, shes right at home, even outfitting herself with earrings and bracelets made from shotgun shells.
For many years now, shes been shooting her 12-guage, and darn proud of it! She and Mr. Berry used to hunt and shoot for fun on their ranch and through lots of international travel. Sadly, Marvin Berry passed on November 23, 1997 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) after a lengthy battle with the disease; however, his passion for the community lives on through Mrs. Berrys work in the company and through charity.
Time has proven her skills, and just this year in May she brought home the bronze medal for the United States at the World Columbaire Shoot. However, her most memorable award is at home. Her favorite hunting spot is in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she was the first lady shooter for a pigeon shooting competition. It was there in Guadalajara where Mrs. Berry won first place, her most prized award. Shes never felt so proud when she stood on that podium and the Star Spangled Banner played just for her.
COMPASSION FOR VETERANS
David Guernsey, Executive Director of the Special Forces Charitable Trust, says that "Before this year's shoot she was insistent on jumping out of the plane...she was determined. However, I wouldn't allow her to jump without doctor's permission. Laura promised she had permission, but, I never did see a letter! Her unwavering support of the RGAS has been nothing short of spectacular, and we're deeply appreciative."
Guernsey brags about Mrs. Berry's involvement in the Gold Star Teen Adventures that supports children who have lost their father in combat. "Her generosity, outlook on life, and demeanor is infectious and outstanding," Guernsey says.
Kenneth Wasley, CEO of Special Forces Parachute Team explained how they partnered with the Charitable Trust and RGAS this year for the jumps. Wasley says "Mrs. Laura Berry was made an honorary member of the Team, and she truly took a leap of faith at the RGAS." Originally established as the Green Beret Parachute Club in 1961, the organization is now known as the Special Forces Parachute Team. They are a nonprofit 501(c)(19) that provides parachute demonstrations that supports communities, corporations, events and other nonprofits. They honor our military men and women that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. For 54 years they have performed skydiving parachute demonstrations in front of millions of spectators. As part of their program they provide horse camp retreat programs for Children of Fallen Heroes. This enables healing, develops character and teamwork skills that create lifelong relationships through a life changing adventure.
Founder and Shoot Chair, Mike Reynolds, explains that this charity brings in the most money ever raised with guns. Reynolds helped put the partnered event together, and his wife, Mrs. DK Reynolds also jumped that day and was made an honorary member of the Team alongside Mrs. Berry.
BJ Finnell, with Special Forces Charitable Trust says that the 2015 RGAS was a record-breaking year. The charity sporting clay shoot held in September at Providence Plantation in Rosharon, TX, benefits the Charitable Trust and other military nonprofits that provide support to active duty service members and veterans. The Charitable Trust supports our Great Americans, the men and women who have served and are serving in U.S. Military Special Operations. The RGAS is one of many fundraising events for the trust, where this past year, Mrs. Berry and her team (named Lady Laura and the Shooting Stars) helped raise $1.4 million, shattering last years fundraising record by a quarter of a million dollars.
Then there's the Military Warriors Support Foundation, where homes are built for veterans, mortgage free. Mark DeLeon is a purple heart awarded, wounded veteran who receive a home on August 9, 2015. The key turnover ceremony was held at the ranch, but the home is in El Paso.
DeLeon explains that "My family and I were lucky enough to meet Mrs. Laura Berry. She hosted a key presentation ceremony along with Lt. General Leroy Sisco, founder of Military Warrior Support Foundation at her lodge in South Texas. She is one of the most wholehearted, outgoing, and loving people I have ever met. She sponsored our home through Military Warrior Support Foundation and due to Mrs. Berry's love for helping others, my family and I now have a stable home to go to at the end of every day. My family and I could not show enough gratitude to Mrs. Berry and Military Warrior Support Foundation as well as Bank of America for the blessing they have bestowed upon us. We keep in close contact with Mrs. Berry, as she is truly an individual who cares for others and loves fundraising to help others like myself."
DeLeon's admiration is multi-faced. "She not only provided a home for my family but also showed my children that helping others is one of the most rewarding things in this world."
At the ceremony, Mrs. Berry says DeLeon told her, Mrs. Berry, I didnt think that anybody cared. Tears flowed unapologetically. Once you meet all these heroes, you have a different outlook on life. Here are people who have truly given an arm, a leg, and other body parts, and the least I can do is support them, Berry shares.
THE BERRY LEGACY
The Berry Family believes in giving back to the communities in which Bay Ltd., A Berry Company, operates. The company believes in People caring about other people, which goes beyond the workplace and into the significant community support Mrs. Berry involves herself with.
She has nothing to prove, and everything to share. Over several decades she has given much to her community donating her resources and time to more charities than most people even know exist. After her husbands passing, Mrs. Berry organized a support group for ALS patients and their families from Corpus Christi and surrounding areas and also started a loan bank for ALS patients.
Through Mrs. Berrys passion and skill for shooting, shes been able to use her talents and fabulous social status to give millions of dollars to our Coastal Bend. She has opened the doors of Lonesome Dove Ranch to many local charities, hosting dove shoots and other fundraising events. A few of the many agencies and organizations the company supports with both monetary donations and employee involvement are the Ronald McDonald House, YWCA, United Way, Blood Bank, Habitat for Humanity, CCPAL, Halo Flight, American Cancer Society, Spohn Development Program, and Metro Ministries.
Today, the Berry legacy continues on with nine granddaughters, four grandsons and four great granddaughters. Three of the four Berry sons are a part of the business, and will inherit the ranch for the unforeseeable future. However, at 84 years young, Mrs. Berry says my hyperactive spirit has kept me going, and with her wicked sense of humor and record-breaking ambitions, she has no intentions of slowing down or hanging up the guns. The only question left to ask is: What could possibly be left on Laura Berry's bucket list?