This month the population of Kerrville includes two more residents who have attained the age of 100 years old – and more – and they are celebrating these milestones, albeit with more social distancing that their friends and families would usually agree is appropriate.
Virginia Discher will celebrate her 103rd birthday on Sept. 28; and Hazel Oehler celebrates her 100th birthday on Sept. 23.
Both ladies are longtime members of First United Methodist Church here, and many of their congratulatory messages will be coming from friends among that congregation.
Virginia Keese Discher was born in 1917 in the small east-Texas town of Lyons, near present-day Somerville.
She was the oldest daughter and had one older brother in addition to other younger siblings. Her brother Van also lived to see his 100th birthday and died last February.
Her brother Travis Keese is still a working artist.
In Lyons and Somerville, she said, her father was a rural mail carrier who used a horse and buggy and later an Model T to serve his mail route.
“After Van was born, the family moved to Weatherford and then to the Beaumont area to live for a while. Later the family moved back to Lyons. All of us kids were born in the same house,” she said.
“I guess I’ve seen more changes all these years than any other generation, from the horse and buggy to airplanes,” Discher said,
She said her father also worked for some years in a creosote plant in the Somerville area, where they treated the wooden beams used to support steel train rails with the coating that protected those beams from the outdoor weather conditions.
“At home, we had a milk cow, and chickens, and we would raise a hog each year to butcher for meat. My mother’s parents lived near us, and they had a grocery store. I worked there with them when I was young.”
She said they lived about one block from the train depot and there was a regular train that came through at 1 a.m. each morning. “We learned to block out the whistle.”
She said her dad had a relative who worked for the railroad and he could get them passes for riding the train.
“We rode it to the beach at Galveston sometimes for a picnic lunch on the beach.
“At home, our churches were white wooden Methodist and Baptist churches; and they cooperated to have an interdenominational ‘Methodist League’ for the young people on Sunday nights.”
Discher said she and her brothers joined the Methodist Church when she was eight, at the end of a local revival meeting.
She said she grew up near Moulton and Shiner, Texas on farms.
“I took business courses in Houston and met my husband Arno Discher when he was going to a different business college in Houston, too. Young people didn’t live in apartments then. We had rented rooms in two different boarding houses next to each other; and all our meals were served in his boarding house.”
She said her business school promised she would get a job, they just didn’t tell her what kind.
Virginia went to work for a monument company about at the end of the Depression.
“Basically I swept the office and other ‘front of office’ things. But one month there was no payroll. So I went back home to Somerville to help my mother.”
She said she and Arno were married in October 1939. He was drafted into military service just before Christmas 1942.
“I had to go to work at a General Electric plant. That’s when a lot of women got jobs outside home,” she said. “I shared an apartment with my sister. Dad wanted me to move back home, but I decided to follow my husband.”
Discher said that took them to an Air Base in Kansas and then she returned to GE to work when he was sent overseas in 1944. He did administrative work in offices even overseas, she said.
“On D-Day, we were on a train going to his new assignment in South Carolina.”
Discher said they moved to Kerrville in October 1980.
“Since we had no children, there are no grandchildren of ours. But we’ve always had neighborhood youngsters near us.”
She said they sometimes discussed moving to other cities where she could have more opportunity for part-time work. “But he saw how much fun I had with relatives and friends who visited us from Houston.
“My brother Travis Keese is an artist, and he’d go out and paint. Sometimes we’d pack a fried chicken lunch and go out and sit with him.”
Recent retirement years
“Now I’m learning about life without driving; and about the Alamo Regional Transit bus and Kerr Konnect.”
One lesson is, she said, to be ready to go out the door when they say they will be there to pick her up.
Discher said she “worked” sometimes at sister-in-law Betty Keese’s frame shop. And some of her other free time was given to Sunday School at FUMC, Fisherman’s Club, Red Cross blood drives, and the card-making craft group at Dietert Center.
“I used to fish a lot; and did gardening and sewing, and I pieced quilts for my grandmother when I was young. I learned to make jackets and other items.”
“I once considered moving to a retirement home, but I didn’t plan to live this long,” Discher said. “I still love to read and I don’t find time heavy on my hands.
“I have no advice. My siblings lived to 89 and 85 and 101. I’ve always been active and had fresh milk, chickens and eggs and garden vegetables, and not much red meat. During the Depression we canned things during the fall and winter. I learned about nutrition in health education.”
She said she has help at her home including a yard man and a lady who cleans some parts of the house.
“I don’t keep things like I did when I was younger, but it doesn’t worry me. I tell young people they better plan to live long – but maybe not this long.”
Hazel A. Burrier Oehler was born Sept. 23, 1920, in Fredericksburg, the youngest of five siblings, two boys and three girls.
“It was a small town, a German town, and I had one grandfather who only spoke German and my father only spoke English.”
She said when she graduated from high school there, it was the largest graduating class ever, 73 of them; and she was invited by a teacher to be one of the speakers.
She said her father worked for the railroad, and her mother was a stay-at-home mama.
“When the railroad was disbanded, the bridge for the trains was torn down, a little prematurely because my dad was still standing on part of it.”
She said she learned to drive on a Model T.
Oehler said she was a telephone operator; and her husband-to-be was, too. But there was a big glass partition between departments so arranging their first date was a little difficult.
She said she eloped to marry her first husband Frank and they were married for 19 years. She later married Carl Oehler in Kerrville. She was mother to five stepchildren then.
She has six grandchildren through that family and most still live in the Kerrville area.
“Later I quit the phone company, and my husband transferred to Kerrville. I worked at Charles Schreiner Bank for 17 years as secretary to the vice president in the Trust Department. I loved that job.”
“I was one of the phone operators working on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941; and our boards lit up like a Christmas tree, with all the people calling each other to talk about the terrible news. I also was on the operators’ board when FDR died. You could always tell if something happened.”
She said in her job as an operator, she had to memorize everyone’s phone numbers; and outside the office, they also called people by their phone numbers, not their names.
“Three of us worked at a time, one for local calls, one for rural and one for long-distance; plus one night operator.”
Oehler said she’s always loved crossword puzzles; and reading just about anything, even labels on cans.
“I was reared in the Methodist Episcopal Church North, and then that denomination ‘united’ with another to form the United Methodist Church.”
She said, “I’ve always worked at the church. When the doors were open, I was there. I think I was on every board and did about everything except sing. I can’t sing.”
She’s always lived in the Hill Country area, and Carl Oehler was a rancher
For this big birthday, under virus restrictions, there won’t be a party inside Brookdale where she has lived for seven years. “I love it here. They have a wonderful staff.”
But a family member has planned a parade to go from the Dietert Center on Guadalupe Street to pass by her residence the afternoon of Oct. 3. And Hazel will have a front row seat on a balcony to see it.