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Saturday, July 29, 2000

Girl takes Miss Justice into her own hands

Fund-raiser is seeking to collect the $20,000 to $30,000 needed to repair the Beeville statue

By Michael Hines
Caller-Times

Caller-Times file
A fund-raiser is under way to repair Miss Justice at the Beeville County Courthouse. The repairs will cost from $20,000 to $30,000
The Miss Justice statue standing atop the Bee County Courthouse has come to mean more than belief in the justice system for Lauron Fischer. It means believing in herself.
   H&S Construction of Corpus Christi will pluck the statue from its nearly century-old post today, part of a plan to restore the 10-foot tall copper statue. Sixth-grader Fischer has spearheaded the effort since she was in the second grade.
   "I just wanted to prove to a lot of people that I could make a difference," the 11-year-old said. "A lot of people don't feel that way, that one person can make a difference."
   The statue's arm holding the "torch of knowledge" has begun to warp at the shoulder.
   "The arm originally looked like the Statue of Liberty," said Laura Fischer, Lauron's mother. "Now the arm is almost parallel with the ground."
   Susan Stasny, Precinct 2 commissioner, said the statue is also missing a star on its crown.
   To repair the statue, it will be set on a 14-foot truck and studied by Jamie Wise, an architect from the Texas Historical Commission, and Beth Walker, an architect with Ray Bailey and Associates in Houston. They will help organizers understand what needs to be done and to which of two proposed foundries - one in St. Louis, the other in Austin - the statue should be taken.
   The 11-year-old said helping the 10-foot statue has brought her a feeling of accomplishment.
   Finding out that the work she's started is actually now getting done has been the best part, she said. "(It's) finding out that you succeeded."
   The Jefferson Intermediate sixth-grader's effort began in 1997, when she wanted to lend a helping hand to lift the statue's drooping arm.
   William Charles Stephenson, an architect of the 1912 Bee County Courthouse, sculpted Miss Justice in the likeness of his wife, Bridget Anastatia Joyce Stephenson.
   Her copper veneer is just a coating for a metal frame inside. "It's like a tree inside there," Laura Fischer said.
   Years of wear and tear appear to have deteriorated the metal frame inside the statue, she said. Lauron's family usually passed the statue on the way to the grocery store. One day Lauron asked how she could correct the problem. Laura Fischer suggested talking to the county commissioners.
   A community project
   A year later, Lauron convinced members in her Sew and Show 4-H Club to take on the restoration as a community project. Then the group went before the Bee County Commissioners Court, presenting a plan to raise money for the statue's restoration. Commissioners jumped on board, pledging to seek additional courthouse restoration funds.
   Late last year, Lauron and her 50-member club joined with the Kiwanis Club of Beeville to sell Lady Justice Christmas ornaments for $6 apiece, splitting the profits. The fund-raiser earned Lauron's club $1,500.
   Along with profits from a car wash and a Liberty gold coin raffle, plus generous community donations, the club has raised a little more than $6,000, which will cover costs of the cranes and transportation.
   Bringing it all together has created some interesting experiences, Lauron said.
   It may also help commissioners learn a thing or two about the statue itself, such as what it is made of, Stasny said.
   "Everything we say is cushioned with 'We think,' " she said, explaining that the facts about the statue, including what it's made of, are based on newspaper articles from the time it was constructed. "We're really counting on the accuracy of the reporter."
   Repairing the statue itself will cost from $20,000 to $30,000, Laura Fischer said. Raising that money could mean raffles or the like every day for the next five years. She's hoping it doesn't come to that.
   "I think I'm going to learn how to write for grants for that one," Laura Fischer said. "But we'll figure out some way to raise the money."
   Dedication at its best
   The effort has meant some long nights and shortened time with friends, Lauron said. Coordinating the car wash or raffle has meant staying up sometimes as late as 10 p.m., which Lauron said is way past her bedtime. Also, concentrating on getting the statue fixed has meant breaking ties with some friends. "I can't see other friends because I have to do this," she said.
   Still, Lauron's tenacity has been impressive, said Jon Fischer, her father.
   "She's like any other 11-year-old," he said. "Sometimes they're slow starters, but once they get focused, they see a project through."
  
  




Staff writer Michael Hines can be reached at 886-3758 or by e-mail at hinesm@caller.com

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