Saddlesore

How Fort Worth's rhinestone socialites bushwacked the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame

Hollis Klett, whose cattle-feed business stretches to Australia and Brazil, says of the Fort Worth board, "They were pretty cagey about how they did things."

Before a critical meeting in June 1995, for instance, the Fort Worth contingent offered one Hereford-leaning board member, Shelly Burmeister, an honoree from Weatherford, a well-paid position in marketing for the hall. But the offer required her to leave her voting seat on the board, and she was given a deadline just before the meeting.

"I begged her not to take it," Klett recalls. She did, though. As a divorced, single parent, she said, she needed the work. The balance of power shifted even further to the Fort Worth group when another Hereford member suddenly resigned.

Minutes of the particularly contentious board meeting on June 21, 1995, at the posh City Club in Fort Worth show how divided things had become. Klett told the group that the Hereford contingent was very concerned about closing the hall in Hereford during the transition. They wanted to keep it open until six months before a new facility was to open its doors in Fort Worth.

"We didn't want the stuff all boxed up. Maybe it would just sit somewhere--kind of like what's happening now," says Klett, talking from his ranch near Tucumcari, New Mexico.

But Moncrief and Carol Beech resisted that idea, saying instead they would make "a good-faith effort" to keep the museum open. To that end, Denise Spitler, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram vice president and treasurer on the hall's board, moved that the board "continue to be firmly committed to relocating the hall of fame facility" and that the decision of when to move would be made by the board's design team.

Klett voted "no" for himself and nine proxy votes, but lost to the unified Fort Worth bloc.

"Nobody seemed interested in us after we signed off on going to Fort Worth," says Charmayne Klett, Hollis' ex-wife and a board member then. "We were just two different factions of people. We didn't meld."

Adds Formby, "They were awfully cliquish."
Klett says he consulted a lawyer in Philadelphia during the summer of 1995 about pulling the hall out of Fort Worth, but support in Hereford was only lukewarm.

At the same time, Formby was talking with Moncrief about working in a paid capacity for the hall, as everyone had expected she would. Moncrief is noted in the June minutes as saying that "discussions will proceed about this possibility in the near future."

Formby sent her written proposal--asking to manage the organization's magazine, SideSaddle, work with the honorees, and help put together several books at a salary of $4,500 a month--in late June.

Moncrief's reply outlined a pared-down position in which Formby was to report to a managing editor and others at $1,200 a month for a four-month contract.

"I was ready to give them every benefit of the doubt," Formby says. "But this was so distasteful--questioning whether I knew how to do these things."

The salary offer was a blow, too. Says Moncrief: "We didn't have that much money to pay her. We were on a budget."

There were more obvious chances to take offense in the coming months.
In September, 1995, Klett and Formby flew in Hollis' plane to Fort Worth for a meeting with the Star-Telegram's Denise Spitler, as well as Bill Boecker and several accountants. The subject: an audit that was being done as the accounting work shifted from Hereford to Fort Worth.

"I did not realize what was going to happen," Formby recalls. "But then we're in it, and one of the accountants pointedly said we'd have to pay back some money because the books didn't balance out.

"I said that after 20 years of giving this my life blood, turning over a gold mine to you, and then saying I owe $3,000--or something like that--it was insulting."

It was also just not true. The money was simply misplaced in other accounts, Boecker admits. "We needed answers and got good answers," he says, adding that the way the questions were asked might have set off a few "negative vibrations."

You can put a rope around that one, podner.
Klett stormed out of the meeting. Formby was reduced to tears. That was the last time the Hereford residents had anything to do with Fort Worth, and they don't have any plans to go back.

"We don't have anything but admiration for her, and we're sorry," says Kit Moncrief about the break with Formby. "Maybe she'll be happier with us when we get something built."

The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame exists today in a fur vault under Sundance Square, and in some smartly decorated third-floor offices around the corner. There are the hardwood floors, the indirect lighting, and the original Western art looking very Santa Fe. Visitors can buy T-shirts, or check out a hanging display of nine rodeo buckles and a fancy brown riding outfit that once belonged to Dale Evans.

The organization had moved its office briefly to the Stockyards, but decamped at the beginning of this year, citing many of the concerns the Hereford people had brought up earlier.

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