HALLETTSVILLE - Judy Werner carefully stepped into a shrine to the Virgin Mary off alternate U.S. Highway 90.
She pointed at and lightly touched photos and other items in the intimate setting her father built after experiencing a vision of the Virgin Mother.
That was Sept. 18, 1986.
Almost immediately, Daniel Jares, Werner's father, marked the spot and soon built a site to commemorate the existential moment in his life. After his death in 2004, his widow, Viola Jares, would tell the story of how her husband was in the field spreading fertilizer four miles outside the town when the crowned Mother of God appeared before him in an illuminating white, flowing gown. She told him to get on his tractor and return home, Viola Jares has repeated the story. The Virgin Mary later told him to build a shrine near the roadway for others to stop and pray.
Now Viola is gone, too, along with their son, Sylvester Frank Jares. The couple's surviving children, Werner and Lonny Jares, repeat the story and welcome visitors and others who help maintain the small site, which is on about 4 acres.
Visitors, many of whom Werner doesn't know, just walk past her to go to the shrine.
"They don't say anything," she said. "It just brings tears to your eyes - daddy built this in 1986. It's so wonderful, seeing people still wanting to keep it going."
Because they were raised as Christians, building a shrine didn't seem out of the ordinary, Werner said.
"Daddy building the shrine was something we didn't think too much about," she said. "It didn't seem outrageous."
But there were those with ill intentions such as vandals who damaged the shrine twice in its existence. Werner said she didn't understand why someone would do it. Everyone should be allowed to express their faith, she said.
"Everybody should believe what they believe," Werner said.
Each time, supporters and believers helped rebuild. A pristine spot surrounded by pecan trees and lots of shade, the shrine, a nearby restroom and a room where a caretaker sometimes stays, are freshly painted outside. Candles, photos and fliers are organized, and the statue of the Virgin Mother stands with open arms.
"I think that it's amazing that people give," Lonny Jares said, adding forgiveness is important.
The shrine's location also is familiar territory for the siblings, who grew up there and skated inside the rink their father built in 1948. It continues to stand next to the shrine, its relatively new neighbor.
Almost 30 years since the vision, the shrine continues to go strong with visitors from throughout the nation and a rosary is recited annually at 3 p.m. on the second Sunday in September.
If Daniel Jares' wishes continue to be respected, the shrine will remain a public site.
Continuing to see visitors is an enjoyable experience, said Lonny Jares, who lives near the shrine.
"To see them show their faith, it's so wonderful," he said.