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Laughing with a La Vernia legend Elsie Ferry smiles through life

Laughing with a La Vernia legend Elsie Ferry smiles through life
Elsie (Witte) Ferry celebrates her 89th birthday, behind the counter at Witte’s Bar-B-Q in La Vernia, where she helps her nephew, Jeffrey, run the restaurant started by her brother, Sonny.

She has a smile on her face all the time.

“They called me Gigglepuss in school when I was little. Everything was funny!”

Elsie Witte Ferry was born Jan. 24, 1925, in La Vernia and recently celebrated her 89th birthday. She has always lived less than a mile from where she was born on Chihuahua Street, back when it was a dirt road; that part of the road is now known as C.R. 342.

No doctor attended her birth; her aunt helped with the home delivery. Elsie was the fifth of 11 children.

“I was the middle child,” she said. “Five older and five younger.”

They lived across from the Zion Baptist Church. Their family always went to the “é Colored church for everything they had,” Elsie recalled. “Our neighbors were black folks. We ate at their table and they ate at ours.”

Her daddy was a farmer and her mother helped him in the fields. He grew watermelon and peanuts. Two of her brothers died in World War I of influenza. Her older sister, Dora Wyatt, still lives in La Vernia.

Elsie recalled her school days.

“Everybody walked to school in those days,” she said. “We graduated out of the 11th grade. There was no kindergarten and the 12th grade did not exist. I played baseball and volleyball. I pole vaulted, too, and played a little football. There were 13 kids in my graduating class.”

Her scariest experience as a child was being run over by a car.

“A group of us were walking home from school and the road was full of ruts,” she said. “A boy who wanted to ask my sister, Dora, out on a date was driving his car and it jumped out of the ruts and ran over me.”

She suffered a broken ankle, broken leg, broken collarbone, and a concussion.

“They took me home and I never went to the hospital,” she said. “The doctor stayed there at our house. I don’t know how many months I was unconscious, but the accident happened on Jan. 12, and I did not go back to school until April.”

Elsie is very proud of the fact that she studied hard at home to catch up with the other kids at school, despite not being able to be in the classroom.

She graduated the seventh grade as salutatorian. Milton Hild, the valedictorian, beat her by the slimmest of margins. She still remembers the names of her teachers: Miss Hermine Frueh, first grade; Miss Peavy, second and third grades; Mrs. Burris, fourth and fifth grades; and Miss Hermine Frueh again for sixth and seventh grades.

Elsie’s first job was picking cotton in Karnes City during the summers when she was 13 and 14 years old. During the summer of her junior year, she went to work with her sister at the Milam cafeteria in downtown San Antonio. She distributed circulars of the cafeteria’s daily menu to offices in the downtown buildings.

She remembers taking the train that used to run through La Vernia. It ran through the field next to their family home. A depot was located where the empty parking lot next to the old Baumann’s building is now. Her family would take the train to Sutherland Springs and swim in the pool on the Fourth of July.

“If you had a nickel, you could swim in the pool,” she said. It was open to anybody.”

Elsie worked at the three stores that were in La Vernia Schraub’s; the Red and White, owned by the Vorpahl family; and Linne’s Mercantile. She wrapped packages at Schraub’s for folks who were sending packages to the troops. When her brothers were in World War II, she sent letters to the soldiers who were from here.

She also tested peanuts for the government and helped the government establish ceiling prices on items like canned goods, working in La Vernia and traveling to Kosciusko, Sutherland Springs, and Stockdale.

She and her husband started the Little League in La Vernia. Elsie learned how to keep score and did it for every game that was played, all the men’s and kids’ games for seven years. After the Zenner family moved to La Vernia, she taught the girls how to keep score and let them take it over from there.

She taught Sunday school for 60 years at the Lutheran church, and was president and secretary of the Lutheran Women’s organization.

And along the way, she also was a Cub Scout leader, Webelos mom, summer Bible school teacher, American Cancer Society member, and secretary of the chamber of commerce. She also belongs to the sewing group at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

It seems Elsie has been working all her life and she hasn’t stopped yet. She works at Witte’s Bar-B-Q, helping her nephew, Jeffrey, run the restaurant started by her brother Elton, known as “Sonny.”

When Sonny, a pig farmer, lost his herd to a disease, he started the restaurant. He was a cook in the U.S. Army, so cooking for crowds came naturally to him.

Elsie works at Witte’s from 8-11 a.m., peeling and cutting potatoes, vegetables, and onions, and grinding ingredients for the potato salad. She returns at 4:45 p.m. to work the cash register and answer the phone until closing.

“Whatever has to be done, I do it,” she said. “I even wash dishes.”

She was married for 46 years to Robert Roy Ferry Jr. He passed away in 1998.

Her favorite experience was the birth of her only child, Robert, when she was 38 years old. She also has three grandchildren.

Elsie smiled when I showed her my Facebook page, and how her photo got more than 80 “Likes,” along with lots of birthday wishes from La Vernia folks who know her from Witte’s.

Next time you see her, give her a big smile and tell her “Hello!”

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