A Reputation is Born

As South Padre Island became better known, and more tourists were being drawn to it, Joe Kilgore and his committee came to Texas to study the feasibility of establishing National Seashore Park on the island.

They flew, via helicopter, from Corpus Christi, and landed on the south side of the cut at Port Mansfield.  Four-wheel drive vehicles were sent to meet them and to escort them down the thirty-two mile stretch of beach to the southern tip of the island.  This required a dozen vehicles, and Ila, with her dependable Scout, was asked to join them.

The caravan was to be escorted by two Army officers in military jeeps. When the officers saw Ila, they threw their arms up in exasperation that a woman would be one of their drivers. At that time, the beach was in less-than-favorable conditions, due to high tide and soft sand. These officers loudly voiced their concerns as to whether they should allow her to be a part of the convoy in such adverse conditions.

True to her nature, Ila was not concerned at all.  She trusted that her Scout, “Little Red,” would not let her down. In the end, because of the big fuss the officers had made, only one person was willing to ride with her, and fittingly, it was a member of the press, Bill Watts.

On the way to the cut one vehicle after another became mired in the soft sand.  Only one vehicle would maneuver in position to pull them out, and that was “Little Red.”  Every ten miles, the convoy would have to stop to allow the officers and their Jeeps cool off.

When they finally brought Joe Kilgore, his committee, and accompanying brass safely back to the Sea Island Motel, the army officers sheepishly apologized to Ila and asked when she would give them four-wheel driving lessons. 

Ila never told them that she really believed the supremacy was in the vehicle, and not the driver.

The journalist, Bill Watts, wasted no time in spreading the story of her amazing driving feat and she was soon accused of being the best driver on the island with the accompanying nickname of “Beach Buggy.” 

Since she had both the vehicle and the free time, the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce and Cameron County officials would call upon Ila to take the visiting press and feature writers on jaunts up and down the beach.

The passengers she remembered well were Paul Rosenfield of the Dallas Times Herald, Louis Hofferbert of the Houston Post, Tom Call of the Corpus Christi Caller Times, Ed Sayers, a syndicated columnist, and Junetta Davis, a free-lance writer and instructor in journalism at the University of Texas.

In 1964, Texas Governor Connally asked a press group to be his guests on a tour of Texas.  When they visited South Padre Island, the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce arranged for Ila to organize a caravan up the beach for them.  Ila led thirty-four four-wheel drive vehicles in her new red amphi-car.  Johnny Jones of the Columbus Dispatch swallowed his false teeth when Ila took her amphi-car into the surf, much to the shock of her passenger, a sweet girl from the Des Moines Register.

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