Her Own Private Oasis
Sep 25, 2015 04:38PM ● Published by Dia
The iron gates to Zena Rucker’s home are rather unassuming. At least, they do a good job of concealing a large and awe-inspiring secret. Located south of La Paloma Road off Carroll Avenue, the entrance is probably one most people have passed by numerous times without paying any mind to what lies beyond it. But through those gates and at the end of a long paved lane is a piece of Southlake history that’s fast becoming as rare in this town as free-roaming longhorns.
It’s called open land, and Rucker’s Mediterranean- style home sits on roughly 75 acres of it, part wooded and part agricultural. From her back porch, it’s easy to forget that there are subdivisions on either side (Timarron to the west and Winding Creek to the east), let alone the bustling retail scene along nearby Southlake Boulevard. Rucker can think of fewer things more enjoyable than sitting on this back patio watching airplanes fly in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and reflecting on a life that’s been so shaped by the airline industry.
Rucker and her late husband, Bill, a pilot for American Airlines, bought their property in 1960, in part due to their love of flying and because they heard that a large airport [what is now DFW] was going to be built in the area.
“Bill said, ‘Let’s find a place in the country, make a landing strip and get an airplane,’” recalls Rucker. At first they used the land as a getaway, but five years later they moved to the area full time, raising their three children here, and yes, flying small planes in and out from their grass runway.
Though the original house on the land was built just after the Civil War, the Ruckers realized the small structure would not suit their family. Their current home has evolved through the years from the home they first built. Additions including his-and-hers garages flank both sides of the home. On Bill’s side is a truck he bought a few years before he passed away nine years ago, as well as a 1929 Model A Ford that’s been kept in pristine condition. (Rucker uses the truck as needed, but finds it just as easy to zip through the tall grasses on her property in her Prius or her Yamaha four-wheeler.)
Her home now is filled with memories and keepsakes, including statuary in the kitchen representing different civilizations throughout Mexican history. Rucker was born in Mexico—her father was an Irish-American from Tennessee and her mother was an Irish-Mexican—and came to the U.S. when she was nine.
“I really love Mexican history,” Rucker admits. “It was my major in college.” She and Bill dubbed their home “La Hacienda,” meaning the ranch house, and created a replica of a gazebo from the village of El Fuerte, Mexico, near where she lived as a young child.
Her and her late husband’s love of aviation is well represented inside as well. Items the former flight attendant and her husband collected from the faraway places they had the opportunity to visit are displayed throughout the house.
“Because my husband and I were with the airlines and both of my sons [Mike and Dooley] are pilots, I have always felt loyal to American Airlines and the airline industry... It’s done so much to enhance my life,” says Rucker. “I’ve traveled, learned foreign languages and learned about other cultures.”
Rucker had a short stint as a flight attendant for American Airlines and then became a teacher. She later became the first woman to run a Z-Yamaha motorcycle dealership in Grapevine. Rucker then obtained her pilot’s license and opened a flight school in North Texas at a time when even seeing a female in the cockpit was a rarity.
On the coffee table, next to books about the history of this area (including Unforgettable Grapevine Characters, in which she and her husband are included) is a copy of Feminists Who Changed America, dog-eared to the page featuring Rucker. “I pride myself on being a political activist and a feminist,” she says. Rucker has served on the board of the National Organization of Women and still supports numerous democratic causes. She recalls getting up early on many occasions to catch a morning flight to Washington D.C. so that she could march in demonstrations in the morning, visit her congressmen in the afternoon, then catch a night flight back home.
And now, at an age when most people are slowing down, the octogenarian has become a real estate developer, somewhat of a reaction to the never-ending offers she gets from developers hoping she will sell her land. (Something she is not interested in doing, by the way.) She and her granddaughter and partner Jacqueline Craft have already developed one medical office complex on land she owns along Southlake Boulevard and have started construction on a second. They named their real estate development company Zelda LLC in memory of Bill, who used to tease Rucker by calling her a name hers was often confused with.
“I love building and remodeling,” she says. “I like the smell of sawdust; it does something for my soul. It’s like I am creating something new and better.”
Rucker still finds time to participate in hobbies, though, including gardening and cooking, often sharing recipes or dishes she has made with the friends and neighbors who frequently stop by to say hello.
Despite grievous losses in her life, Rucker remains an optimist. She says, “I find myself in a very happy period in my life. I love my house, my family, my land, and I love what I am doing with the building and development.”