as Aggie as it gets
Eagle Staff Writer
Eagle file photo/Butch Ireland
Leo Belovsky creates the senior Corps of Cadets boots and
Caroline Matheson's husband shapes and sizes them.
hates to see things change. Peering out the window of her inherited
Holick's Boot Makers & Insignia on College Main, she can see
the results of progress staring back. A brand new dorm towers above
Northgate next to a massive brick parking garage. Neighboring shops
have been transformed into nightclubs and businesses that were once
owned by families just like hers have sold out.
"Loupot's is not owned by Loupot anymore. Sarge's isn't owned
by Sarge anymore," she said, looking at her longtime neighbors
across the street. "But we're still here."
For more than a 100 years inside the same small shop, the Holick
family has crafted the famous and coveted knee-high riding boots
for seniors in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University.
Throughout the years family members have clung to the business,
never letting the thought cross their minds about packing up shop
"It's too special," Dudley said.
Over the years, the legendary and long-lasting family business has
been the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles, TV
stories and even a recent Whataburger commercial, but when one thinks
of the service that the Holicks have provided for so many years,
it's easy to see why people are interested.
It's still a place where happiness is measured, sewn together and
fitted to the feet.
Eagle file photo Dave McDermand
cadets' most-cherished possessions are the famous senior boots.
Here, senior members of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band get
some serious use out of their boots.
one guy who came in here to get his boots," Dudley said. "He
was just smiling and he said, 'This is the happiest day of my life,
besides the day my son was born.'"
The shop offers free pictures of the first time juniors are allowed
to try on their boots. Dudley said people often bring in their families,
friends and girlfriends when they get to put them on for the very
"It's a right-of-passage when they get their boots," Dudley
said. "They go through years of hell to get them and when you
see their faces the first time they try them on, it's priceless.
When you see their reactions. It's the most important thing that
has happened to them."
When asked what it feels like to be such an integral part of people's
lives, Dudley was silent and tears began to cloud her eyes.
"It's just a lot of family pride," she said.
Dudley and her sister Caroline Matheson, who now run the shop, do
have a lot to be proud of. Being the granddaughters of A&M legend
Joseph Holick and running a business that has seen very little change
during 120 years is enough to be semi-famous within the A&M
"I'm a historical landmark," Dudley said laughing. "Growing
up with it, it didn't seem like much. But you forget how important
it is to other people."
Eagle file photo/Butch Ireland
Dudley, Caroline's sister and granddaughter of bootmaker and
A&M bugler Joseph Holick, plans on continuing her family's
legacy for as long as possible.
"Grandpa," as he was known to his 15 grandchildren and
27 great-grandchildren, was a gentle and caring man, Dudley said.
Holick had a love of music and taught some of his grandchildren
how to play the violin.
"Look at his hands," she said as she looked at a photograph
of her beloved Grandpa. "They are not the hands of a clarinet
or violin player. They are huge. He had the hands of a cobbler."
Dudley said Holick's heart made him a good Grandpa, but his actions
and involvement with A&M have made him a legend.
The Czechoslovakia-born Holick came to America in 1885 when he was
16 with dreams of becoming a cowboy. Before coming to America, he
was forced by his parents to attend cobbler school in Vienna. But
music was his first love, even though parents considered his musical
After coming to America, Holick and his brother Louis worked as
farmhands in Kansas, but the work wasn't exactly what the two had
dreamed about. Holick and his brother hopped a freight train headed
for Orange, Texas, in search of better jobs and better wages.
Twenty-two-year-old Holick fell asleep while the train stopped in
Bryan and woke up in town, stranded and penniless. Within a few
days, he acquired a part-time job as a shoemaker in Bryan. His brother
went on in search of a better job.
Holick eventually gained another opportunity as a shoemaker and
bugler working at Texas A&M College, where he made $65 a month
playing Taps and Reveille everyday. His interest and talent as a
musician attracted other musicians to his room and they performed.
After a few months, in 1893, he approached the school with the idea
of a military band that would be established and funded by the Texas
State Guard. All of its 12 members would wear the Texas Guard uniform.
in 1894, Holick became the first Aggie band master and served as
band master intermittently for many years. Names of other interim
bandmasters - North, Day and Dunn - appear as names of streets that
intersect Holick Lane in the area that was once his farm in Bryan.
Gilbert and Helena streets in Bryan are named for two of his five
Inside a small wooden shop on campus, Holick continued making and
repairing the short lace-up boots that were worn by members of the
Corps at the time.
In 1929, Holick and Sons boot shop moved to the brick building where
it is today at 106 College Main. Aggies began wearing the tall senior
boots during World War I. Holick began making the handmade boots
from French calf leather at this time. The first pairs cost $32.50.
Until 1930, cadets had had to order their boots from a bootmaker
in San Antonio. But when Holick moved his shop off campus, he had
the room to make them himself.
Off and on during the Depression all four of the Holick sons, who
worked with their father, became professional musicians. Some lived
in Dallas and performed at nightclubs. Eventually one son, Johnnie,
took over the bootmaking business. Joseph Holick died in 1971 at
Eagle file photo/Butch Ireland
of the key components in A&M senior boots are the molds used
at Holick's to measure the cadets' feet.
The new generation
These days granddaughters Cathi Dudley and Caroline Matheson run
the business. One bootmaker, Leo Belovsky, creates the boots and
Matheson's husband shapes and sizes the boots and makes most of
Fitting a pair of boots requires seven individual measurements on
each foot and Belovosky says it takes about 25 hours from start
to finish to complete a pair.
Belovsky began working at Holick's after his brother, who was in
the Corps, got him the job.
"It's a laid-back atmosphere," Belovskey said. "I
like making boots. It's a challenge to get them just right."
Holick's makes only about 125 pairs of boots each year now and orders
about 300 pair from an out-of-state supplier. Each pair of Holick's
boots now cost $875.
When a number of cadets began ordering their senior boots elsewhere,
Holick's began offering a cheaper alternatives. Now cadets can order
their boots through a Holick's-approved bootmaker in New York.
The reduction in production is a result of a smaller workspace and
fewer workers in the shop.
Johnnie Holick, 93, quit coming into the store on a daily basis
about five years ago. Now he lives a quiet life in Bryan.
Dudley returned to the business in 1981 after pursuing a degree
and working in environmental science.
"Dad was at a point when he needed some help," Dudley
said about her father. "He was tired of running the business
part and he got back to doing what he loves - making the boots.
There are still times when I have a question and I have to call
Dudley knew that she was destined to one day go back to Holick's
and run the family business.
"It wasn't something I envisioned," Dudley said. "Daddy
wanted some relief."
When she did return, she was greeted by the raw sweet smell of leather
she grew up with. Some of the same machines and tools that were
used many years ago by Dudley's father and grandfather are still
used today. She said knowing that generations of her family worked
in the same place and handled some of the same tools is comforting.
"My sister and I will work until we can't work any more,"
Dudley said. "That's what our parents did. And that is what
we will do."
Laura Hensleys e-mail address is email@example.com