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South Texas Living

Reminiscing: Fingers in many varied pies

Reminiscing: Fingers in many varied pies
Otto Henke dances with his granddaughter, Brook, while Viola dances with grandson Ryan.

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May 2, 2012
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Viola Guenther Henke’s parents were peanut farmers in the 1940s in the Camp Ranch community of Floresville. She knew what hard work was when she was still in grammar school. She was introduced to hoeing peanuts and driving a tractor at an early age. Like all kids in those days, she did it with no pay. My brothers and sisters did too. It was hard work. But everyone worked hard. In those days, especially in Wilson County, all children worked hard.

Viola Henke is the daughter of Walter and Edna Guenther of Camp Ranch. Besides working in the fields, when she was in fifth grade, she worked for her lunch in the school cafeteria in Floresville. She would clean the lunch tables under the guidance of Mrs. Marsh, the supervisor.

When she was 12 years old, she worked for Raul Trevino, who had the Floresville Bakery and Coffee Shop. The bakery was right across from the courthouse. Merrill Connally, the Wilson County Judge, and others would walk across the street for their coffee break. Viola recalls receiving a quarter from Mr. Connally for serving a 5-cent cup of coffee! She never forgot that!

Viola was a responsible youngster, so Mr. Trevino gave her the job to open and close the bakery when he and his wife made a trip to Mexico. He told her to close up as soon as the donuts were gone. One day they weren’t selling so fast, so she and her cousin Jeanette decided to do something to make them sell. They went to Merchants Grocery Store and bought powdered sugar and cocoa. They made some icing and iced the donuts. The donuts sold quickly then, so they closed the bakery for the day. What an entrepreneur she was at such a young age! Imagine letting a 12-year-old girl run a bakery when you went out of the country! These days someone would call Child Protective Services.

Also she worked during the Christmas holidays at the C&C Variety Store, which was on Third Street in Floresville. Janie Zook, who was my aunt, was the owner. Viola’s job was Christmas gift-wrapping. Sounds like a fun job to me.

When Viola was 14 years old, Robert Spruce, the manager of Floresville Light & Power System (FELPS) called Maida Cooper, the Floresville High School bookkeeping teacher, for a recommendation for a part-time employee. Viola was the one Lillian Chamberlain, office manager of FELPS, chose for the job. Viola worked there with on-the-job training and became manager of financial services.

So this high school girl, 14 years old, began working at FELPS, with on-the-job training and worked there for 51 years. She still works for them part time, being a trustee of the FELPS Pension Trust. FELPS knew a good employee and appreciated her. She must have been a hard worker.

But Viola didn’t stop working when she retired. After retiring in 2006, she and her husband, Otto Henke, started a business named Henke Creations. Viola started picking up rocks. But Viola doesn’t just collect rocks. She purchased lapidary equipment, and has turned those rocks into polished slabs, design angels, and things like wooden crosses. You can find them at Finders Keepers, the antique outlet store at the old Baumann’s Grocery on C Street.

Not only keeping busy with her Henke Creations, Viola also has been a volunteer at the Regency Manor, where her parents were for four years before they passed away. She is still a part-time employee, assisting in the activity department. Those residents are so blessed to have Viola there these days!

Despite being a woman in her 70s, with all these jobs, she is also a vibrant member of the Wilson County Historical Society, and has taken on the job of directing and producing the Floresville Opry, a benefit for the organization, which is held every three months in the Floresville Event Center. The first two Oprys were a huge success, and I am looking forward to the one on May 3.

Despite being a working woman, Viola Henke has always been a devoted wife and mother. I can vouch for the fact she is an awesome cook and baker. She makes wonderful kolaches, which she is teaching her grandchildren how to make.

Viola and Otto’s three sons, Kevin, Douglas, and Clifton, began working at early ages by mowing lawns, being helpers to carpenters and electrical and plumbing contractors. They learned to do a day’s work plus! The good work ethic has been passed down through both Viola and Otto’s families for generations.

Otto and Viola have been married for 52 years. They stay busy with their business, part-time jobs, volunteer work, and many activities. They have fun visiting Lakehills, where they built a cabin on Medina Lake many years ago. The whole family, including grandchildren, enjoys swimming, fishing, and waterskiing. They go to Fashing, where they have a ranch, to go deer hunting. They also love to go to Rockport, where they have a time-share condo, to enjoy the beach, the Gulf breezes, and fishing with the family.

Viola is a good example of the Texas women I love to write about. I call these stories “Strong Texas Women,” who have worked hard all their life, but then they take time for family, fun, and relaxation.

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office.

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