At East Ward Elementary School, the history of Texas is literally etched into the walls.

Each day, students pass through the school’s front doors and are greeted by a massive mural in the hallway. It’s a colorful landscape depicting the state’s equally colorful history from 1836 to 1986.

“It’s something our students get to see every day,” Principal Hilda Arnold said. “Our bus students actually sit in that hall every day as they wait to be picked up.”

The mural was painted by Demser Owens, an Ohio native who worked as a custodian at the school in the 1980s. It took Owens and his wife, Ramona, three months to complete the project in 1986.

The mural includes scenes, people and landmarks representing Texas’ rich history, including Spanish ships and missions, the Alamo, cattle ranching and the Johnson Space Center. The mural also references popular Texas sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the San Antonio Spurs.

“The children all love it,” Arnold said.

Owens, who moved from Killeen to Dallas, died Sept. 29. For those who knew him, the mural represents a connection to Owens.

“I was so happy and surprised when I found out he had painted (the mural),” said Cathrine Hicks, a close family friend. “He was also a brilliant musician. ... He had so many gifts, and he loved to share with other people.”

Hicks said Owens’ personality was as bright and vibrant as the mural itself.

“He was always in good spirits, and always wanted to make other people feel the same way,” said Hicks, who now lives in Memphis, Tenn. “His passing was sad, but I’m happy that (the mural) is still there.”

After his death, Owens’ family donated a plaque to East Ward, which the school plans to install next to the mural. Arnold said she was able to meet Owens about two years ago when he stopped by the school to see if the mural was still there. Then, he expressed the desire to come back and touch up the mural. His wife and family now want to do it for him.

“It’s something that we hope to coordinate,” Arnold said.

Owens died at age 57. He was buried Oct. 14 at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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