‘What’s there not to love?’
NORTH LAKE BROWNWOOD — On the shores of North Lake Brownwood recently, businesswoman and lakefront property developer Fran McDuff introduced a visitor to another woman — someone McDuff had just met a day earlier.
The two had already become friends.
Or rather, McDuff asked her friend to introduce herself.
“Introduce yourself, because I like to say people’s name right, and I haven’t got it down,” McDuff said.
“Sure,” the 41-year-old Indian-born woman replied, speaking with a barely-detectable accent that some people mistake as British. “My name is Riti. R-i-t-i.” Her last name — which she also spelled — is Chikkerur.
Chikkerur has just bought waterfront property from McDuff, and she plans to build a home on it and live there with her three young sons. Chikkerur is divorced and has been living in Austin, where she once ran a petroleum distribution business and unsuccessfully ran as an independent candidate for state office.
Seated at a picnic table near the peaceful water, the women took turns telling their stories. It would be hard to say who had the most interesting story: MCDuff, who previously owned the property known as Sandy Beach Park before selling some of it, moving away with her husband, Joe, and moving back in November after Joe died — or Chikkerur, who has been in the United States since 2:35 p.m. on July 3, 2002, and Chikkerur tells it, has represented her country in pageants and once worked as a commodity trader.
While their relationship began as the result of a business deal, the two women are friends now, and they’re going to be neighbors. “We just hit it off,” McDuff said.
McDuff, who is from the small town of Mertzon in Irion County (Mertzon High School, Class of ’68), wants to let people know that she’s back at North Lake Brownwood, she’s developing property through her development, Sandy Beach Villa Resort, and she has property to sell or lease. Anyone who buys or leases from her will have access to the waterfront.
“I’m back and I’m open for business, and I’ll rent permanent sites for two to three hundred a month, depending on which site they pick, how big the trees … but starting at $200 a month … but if they want to buy, I have lots that I can sell and owner finance,” McDuff said.
She said she has 27 acres that she plans on developing into about 250 upscale RV lots. “Like a pocket community, and it will be a gated pocket community,” McDuff said. “Then I’ll have a rec hall where they can get together and have washers and dryers and a game room and all that sort of stuff. And that’s in my future plans.”
McDuff said she also has half-acre, quarter-acre and 50-by-70-foot lots for sale. “All of my lots have access to two waterfront park areas, known as Rex’s Park — that was my son that got killed in ’88, and Kitten’s Park,’ McDuff said. “That was his sister. So if you buy out here you’ve got an annual maintenance fee and that gives you access to the two waterfront park areas. All these people that buy, it gives them access to fish, swim, pull their boat up, all of that sort of stuff.”
Chikkerur briefly interrupted. “Like me,” Chikkerur said. ”I have three little children.”
McDuff is also planning to have a 6-acre campground and a small store open by July 4. The store will sell firewood, ice, Yumi ice cream, cold drinks, bait and limited picnic supplies.
McDuff also pointed out her development and campground are family oriented and kid-friendly, and there are animals including a longhorn, a horse, rabbits and chickens for children to enjoy watching.
She also offered kudos to the couple who are helping manage the property — Irma and Anthony Wood, who started out as buyers, then became friends.
Involvement with Sandy Beach
McDuff explained her involvement with the Sandy Beach property.
“In 1982, I bought 58 acres from the Weeden family,” McDuff said. She was referring to Joe Dan and Bett Weedon.
“It had 118 mobile home sites and then they had an RV park,” McDuff said. “That was Sandy Beach.” McDuff went on to take out options on an additional 51 acres.
“Then in 1996, I bought water from Brookesmith water,” McDuff said. “I did a pipeline underneath the lake, a 1-mile pipeline, 3-inch. From the south side to my shores, to the north side. I was the first one to have city water on this side of the lake.
“Once I got the city water over here, then I started developing it because I had water to develop with. I went to my people who were renters first and I gave them first option to buy. So a lot of them bought and I started developing. I did one, two, three and four phases. I’ve got four phases and I’ve probably sold over 200 lots.”
New Mexico calling
McDuff said she sold the RV park known as Sandy Beach Park in 2011. The buyer bought the store and 13 acres, which had 40 RV hookups, McDuff said.
McDuff and her husband moved to Ruidoso, N.M. and bought property.
McDuff said her husband was also a developer. Joe McDuff was also Army veteran who served in Vietnam, and had ongoing health issues from exposure to Agent Orange.
While living in Ruidoso, the two still found adventure. They hunted elk and bear, panned for gold, gambled, metal-detected, saw musical acts and traveled about. They ended up settling in the South Padre Island area, where Joe McDuff became increasingly ill and died in November 2019.
McDuff decided to return to Lake Brownwood and begin developing the property which she still owned.
“I hope I haven’t confused you,” McDuff told her visitor. “There’s a lot of history here. And my heart’s been in it.”
Big-city girl no more
Chikkerur began to tell her story.
After enduring the restrictions of COVID in Austin, Chikkerur decided she’d had enough of big-city living.
“I’m going to build a home here,” Chikkerur said. “I’m done with city life. I’m done. I was born and raised on farms. My father is a retired police chief in India. We’ve been going to the jungles of India … I don’t really want to do the mask and stand in line for 45 minutes for tomatoes.”
“I just made a life changing decision like that,” Chikkerus said. “Here I am, stuck in an apartment, and I can’t go out without an apartment … I’m standing there in line at HEB, Howard E. Butt Grocery, with stressed out people, for 45 minutes for a bag of tomatoes. I (said), ‘I’m done.’”
’Fell in love with this area’
Chikkerur wanted to live near a lake, and she found McDuff. The two quickly made a deal.
“I came here and I fell in love with this area,” Chikkerur said. “I mean, what’s there not to love? This is going to be my home now. This is a healing place. This is unadulterated healing, and this lady is one of the main reasons I’m here. She makes people feel welcome and comfortable. She’s a one-woman operation. She does it in such a positive spirit and it’s a blessing to the community.”
In the meantime, Chikkerur still has ties to Austin, where she works part-time for the city in social work and does volunteer work.
“We’re just pretty country out here,” McDuff said. “Our lake’s full. It’s beautiful. The fishing is great. They’re catching yellow cat and blue cat right out here off the beach, a hundred feet off the beach. And a guy caught on a jug line a 53-pound yellow cat. On a jug line.”
“Here there is a sense of community and a sense of purpose,” Chikkerur said.