Story by Rita Chisum
She remembers specifically the “paint bynumbers” art kits. These were, for Gayle Williams McIntyre at nine years of age, her most favored gifts. Her childhood was spent in a modest home in south Houston, Texas with her father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. Through the years, she continued to enjoy spending time on art work while witnessing her mother’s enjoyment and skill at tackling any new craft project which came along. Little could she imagine what her passion for these little art kits and the crafting example set by her mother would fuel.
Married in 1972, Gayle and Jerry were blessed with two daughters, Tammy and Jeri Lynn. While working outside of their Pasadena home to supplement the family income, Gayle used her artistic talents to make a warm and inviting abode for her family. Crafting was in her blood and was a unique (and money saving) tool with which she could personalize her home: sewing, flower arranging, crafting wreaths, printed and counted cross-stitch, embroidery, cake decorating — she enjoyed it all.
She pursued this new learning experience with a passion and attended classes and workshops often. Her talent grew, along with special friendships with artist friends, and she soon found that she had a market for selling her wood pieces.
A financial need in 1982 required Gayle to return to work outside of the family home. She was hired by a local bank in the role of Mrs. Santa Claus (which she loved) and soon after offered a full-time position which she gratefully accepted. Still working but desiring to spend more time at home with her daughters, 1988 brought lay-offs at the bank; a lay-off for which she volunteered. It was this opportunity that gave her the courage to begin her own business which she christened “Santa’s Wonderland Creature’s.”
“I paint on everything!” she said, laughing. Custom, made-to-order pieces were always a big part of her business; she was especially busy in August and September. There were many local neighborhoods that, yearly, chose a specific decorating theme.
Pasadena, with a population of slightly more than 150,000 residents, easily supported merchants in the local Pasadena Town Square Mall. With the Christmas Season fast approaching Gayle was asked to enhance the shopping experience for mall shoppers. She began the demanding, yet exciting challenge, of creating a winter wonderland, complete with a place of honor for Santa along with his mailbox where young shoppers could deposit their Christmas letters as they awaited an “in person” visit with the jolly man himself.
Upon seeing the trans-formation that Gayle performed on Pasadena’s mall, it wasn’t long before Town and Country Mall in Houston, even after already having hired a different decorator, came requesting her artistic services. Although it meant a belated Thanksgiving feast with her family and double duty to prepare the mall for “Black Friday”, Gayle accepted this second monumental challenge.
Hiring help — including her two daughters and two future sons-in-law — to set her hard work and the big transformation in place, shoppers to the three floors of Town and Country Mall
were greeted the day after Thanksgiving by Christmas in all its winter glory; a decorative feast for the eyes, enlivening the Christmas Spirit.
She feels blessed to call Georgia Feazle, Pasadena girl “done good,” one of her closest friends and mentors. With several craft publications to her credit, Georgia is of use her talents to her fullest potential. Beginning with her next door neighbor, to the host of wonderful teachers, friends and customers who have recognized and cheered her on, Gayle considers all of these the “wind beneath her wings”.
The McIntyres made their move to Dardanelle after 35 years of living in Pasadena, indirectly following Tom McElmurry, pastor of Dardanelle Missionary Baptist Church. McElmurry had made frequent visits to their home church in Texas over the years and had accompanied the McIntyres and other Texas friends on a trip to the Holy Land. The friends later retired and moved to Arkansas, becoming members of Pastor McElmurry’s church.
Jerry and Gayle made occasional trips to Arkansas to visit the pastor and their Texas friends when their daughters were younger. They loved the beauty and wide-opened spaces, eventually falling in love with The Natural State. With the family firmly planted in Pasadena and no plans for Jerry to take early retirement, visits were all they could imagine. As they continued to pray, trusting God for His guidance, they began by putting a “For Sale by Owner” sign in front of their home. Their first indication of God’s intentions came when the very first “lookers” became “buyers”.
Their transplanted Texas friends found land for the McIntyres and oversaw the building of their new home. A year and a half into making the anticipated adjustments and learning to love their new community, Gayle and Jerry are feeling more and more at home.
The couple’s daughter Jeri Lynn and husband Jason, with their children, Caden, 4, and McKenzly 11-months, and their oldest daughter Tammy, her husband Jon and son Hayden, 4, have recently become residents of the State of Arkansas.
As Gayle tells it, “People have been so good to us here in Arkansas. Everyone is so willing to help us out with whatever we need. We feel like we already have a big family here.”