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A&M's 125th Anniversary

Holick's: as Aggie as it gets

By Laura Hensley
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.

Cathi Dudley 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 and quitting.

"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

Among 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.

"I remember 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 first time.

"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 community.

"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

Cathi 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.

The bookmaking bugler

"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 interests frivolous.

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 children.

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 age 103.


Eagle file photo/Butch Ireland

One of the key components in A&M senior boots are the molds used at Holick's to measure the cadets' feet.

The new generation of bootmakers

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 the spurs.

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 him."

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 Hensley’s e-mail address is lhensley@theeagle.com

The Bryan - College Station Eagle

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