Ken Pridgeon Sr. served our country from 1953 to 1963. When he left the Air Force, his passion for painting led him to the job: Billboard Artist.
"Always wanted to paint pretty girls up on the billboards but I didn't realize they were 50 foot up in the air," Pridgeon joked.
So feeling there had to be a better gig out there, Pridgeon opened up his own sign business. Fast forward to about six years ago, families of fallen troops started asking Pridgeon to paint portraits of their loved ones.
"I said 'man I don't even know if I'm a portrait artist or not. I just did this out of a favor for somebody,'" he said.
But Pridgeon kept painting. He started the non-profit "Portrait of a Warrior." Each family gets a smaller print of the final painting to take home.
"They can actually have Jim to talk to, Cody to talk to or whatever. That's a little better I think than having a wall with some names on it," he said.
Pridgeon says Lance Corporal Shane Martin was a painter like him.
"Shane's last request was 'Mom please send my paints and my easels and everything to Afghanistan. It's a beautiful place, I'd like to paint it.' And then 2 days later he hit an IED," Pridgeon said.
In a ceremony on the ground floor rotunda of the Capitol on Monday, led by State Rep Gilbert Pena, the families of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice were given mock-ups of what Pridgeon's final product will look like.
Pridgeon is working on painting Petty Officer Second Class Jorge Luis Velasquez from Houston. His sisters Laura and Mayra were there to see what their brother's portrait will look like.
"If you knew my brother, he was always about serving and just being there for the community and for his friends," Laura said.
"It just brings us closer together, gives us a little more closure. We're happy that we're invited to these types of events," Mayra said.
After the portrait ceremony, Austin Mayor Steve Adler delivered a Memorial Day proclamation address on the first floor rotunda, followed by music from the Pasadena High School Choir. Adler urged everyone to go down a floor to see Pridgeon's paintings.
"The paintings downstairs are an emotional reminder of why it is today we stop," Adler said.
"Every day is Memorial Day in my gallery. We celebrate every day," Pridgeon said.
For more information on Portrait of a Warrior and how you can donate, visit portraitofawarrior.org