Bernie Arnold almost got the town she wanted on August 5, 1961 – almost. It was the day that put into the motion the events that would start the biggest war that Bernie had fought since WWII. With the building of Tropic Isles (the Ft. Lauderdale of the Texas Coast), the City of Corpus Christi was suddenly very interested in Flour Bluff and added it to the list of areas to be annexed. They called an election for the same day as the election for incorporation of Flour Bluff. The votes were cast, and the race was on to the courthouse. The poll judges had to deliver the boxes of votes by hand.
A man named Mr. Wise was charged with delivering the incorporation election votes. All he had to do was get there before the votes for annexation were delivered, but he didn’t make it in time. As a result, the votes to incorporate weren’t even canvassed. According to many of the old-timers, Wise claimed to have had a flat tire along the way. Many people just didn’t believe him, including Bernie and Jim. The story of what happened next was one that is still told today and one that leaves some still scratching their heads.
With the battle cry of “No taxation without representation” from 1963 to 1966, Bernie and all those property owners filing suit against the city went to war at every turn as they challenged annexation in the courts. During this time, they refused to pay their taxes saying that the annexation could not legally go into effect until the courts decided on the matter. According to Bernie’s attorney, this meant the city couldn’t legally appraise the property. Most Flour Bluff residents of the time were of the thinking that the City had no jurisdiction on the Encinal Peninsula, even when it came to city building inspectors and city law enforcement. No court would even acknowledge the lawsuit stating that there was nothing to decide since Flour Bluff was annexed legally. Bernie continued to fight until she just didn’t have any fight left in her, which wasn’t much longer.
Meanwhile back at the ranch (in this case the property off Yorktown Boulevard where Bernie’s son lived), Sam Coffman, Bernie’s first husband had come to live with his son in Flour Bluff. In 1967, Sam told his life story – which rivals Bernie’s – to a Caller-Times reporter, detailing the early days of flight and the barnstorming life that he and Bernie led. In 1969, Sam Coffman, the inventor of the Coffman Monoplane, was hit and killed when walking across Waldron Road. Bernie and Jim laid him to rest in Bowie, Texas, alongside Sam, Jr., which is in the same cemetery where Bernie’s second husband, Ross Arnold, is buried.
In 1970, Bernie called it quits on Flour Bluff and moved to Padre Island. “I’m tired. I think it’s time I quit and enjoy a few things,” she told a Caller-Times reporter. “I’ve spent long hours at that place [A&H], and I enjoyed it. I’m just too old now.”
Bernie left her beloved Flour Bluff, but that didn’t keep her from continuing her work. Bernie was still active with the volunteer fire department and later at the Ethel Eyerly Community Center where Jim and Inez took her regularly. She was also an active member of the AARP.
“I’ve been everywhere and done everything. If I lay down and died right now, I could say I had lived my life,” Bernie told Marie Speer of the Flour Bluff Sun.
Bernie Lee Coffman Arnold died April 4, 1989, just a few months shy of turning 90. She, like all her family, was laid to rest in her hometown of Bowie. She is still remembered by many in Flour Bluff. Some remember the birds or the monkey she kept in the store to entertain the customers. Others remember working with her. Joe Dees, lifetime resident of Flour Bluff and member of the FB Volunteer Fire Department, had this to say about her: “Oh, what a woman! I knew her in her older years as the owner of A&H Sporting Goods and as a commissioner for the Fire Department. She was a no-frills kind of lady. I had to fight with her to get every dollar for the volunteers, and she made sure we raised as much money as possible before she turned loose of one dollar that was tax money.”
Eddie Savoy, a man who has called Flour Bluff home for over 80 years, recalls this about Bernie: “She always smoked cigars and had animals in the store. She told me, ‘Eddie, if you tell everybody your business, you won’t have any business.’”
Perhaps the best quote about Bernie comes from an essay by her grandson, David W. Michael. “My grandmother has more warmth, character, and wisdom than anyone else I know. I am fascinated at her depth, charisma, and down-to-earth view of life. I love to see her smile; it’s so sincere, and when you look deep into her eyes, you can’t help but notice them gleam, and that gleam comes from deep within her heart. I am 22 years old, and I have never met anyone else with a smile as devastating as hers. It destroys all my defenses and makes me feel warm and vulnerable.”
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Flour Bluff, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer a glimpse into the past and present of the little community of Flour Bluff. She wrote for The Flour Bluff Messenger, wrote and edited for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper that existed from December 2017 to April 2020, served as copy editor on three books, and continues to tutor students of all ages in the lively art of writing.