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Find what you need down at 'the mills'

Find what you need down at 'the mills'
Photo by Pascalle Bippert Cecilia “Cecil” Zenner greets customers from her perch at the counter of La Vernia Mills, where you can find screws and plumbing supplies, garden rakes and seeds, tractor paint and antique glass door knobs.

It’s possible to miss it. La Vernia Mills sits on quiet Dry Hollow, a little off the beaten track near downtown La Vernia.

Step into the cool interior, and you’ll discover a hometown treasure not only in the business, which is a treat in itself, but in meeting Carl and Cecil Zenner, who purchased the mills about four decades ago and have operated this DIY/plumbing/hardware and more business ever since.

Cecilia “Cecil” Schueling was born in 1933 in Hondo. She played the cymbals in the Hondo High School band, back when it was just a drum and bugle corps. She also played basketball for the Hondo Owls. She graduated at 17 and went to work for Holt Machinery. That’s where she met her husband-to-be, Carl Zenner. Carl had been a meter reader for CPS, but then he started working for Holt and fell in love with Cecil. They married when she was 19.

“I didn’t have a car until I got married,” Cecil recalled. “We had a 1951 Powerglide Chevrolet.”

She also worked for WOAI TV and radio as a bookkeeper until 1962. Carl and Cecil moved their family to La Vernia in 1973.

Family legacy

The Zenners have four daughters: Elizabeth “Beth” or “Kay” Helen, Clara, and Patti. All four girls were active in band and three competed in sports.

Beth, their eldest, attended Holmes High School in San Antonio and played clarinet in band. The Zenners became band booster parents and worked the concession stand at all the high school football games. Beth graduated in 1972.

Using the experience they had gained working the Northside stadium concession stand, the Zenners started selling concessions at the La Vernia High School football games. They sold sodas and homemade sandwiches that band moms volunteered to make. Then they held fried chicken dinners with all the fixings each year for fun-raisers for the band boosters. Everything was homemade and “done from scratch,” Cecil said. “We would even feed the players from the opposing team after the game!”

All four daughters went to college. Elizabeth graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in food technology; she works for Taco Cabana in quality control. Helen graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and teaches at Legacy Junior High School in San Antonio. Clara, also a UTSA graduate, is a physical education teacher at La Vernia Junior High School and coaches freshman volleyball at La Vernia High School. Patti graduated from Texas Lutheran University in Seguin; she teaches academics and is the winning volleyball coach of the Poth Pirettes.

Feed mill to family business

Carl’s uncle, Herbert Crowell, bought La Vernia Mills in 1969. At that time, it was primarily a feed mill.

“Farmers would bring their corn, shucks and all, to us and we would grind it, add salt and molasses to it, and make feed out of it and sell it back to the farmers,” Cecil said. “People would buy from 50 pounds to 500 pounds of feed at a time.”

After a few years, she and Carl bought La Vernia Mills; they added more hardware and plumbing supplies to the business.

Customer service has always been important at La Vernia Mills. Carl and Cecil work with residents who have plumbing issues, and offer a full line of home, lawn, and garden tools, as well as bolts, nuts, screws, and nails. There is also a line of tractor and implement paint, and air-conditioning system filters, garden seeds, and more sometimes unexpected, serendipitous items.

What can shoppers expect to find at La Vernia Mills?

“Service with a smile!” Cecil said. “Along with antique items, like glass door knobs and kerosene lantern chimneys.”

Like their own business, the community they serve has seen some changes, too. And Cecil said there are one or two others she’d like to see.

“A small hotel would be nice,” she said. “There’s no place here for folks to stay if there’s a wedding or graduation. They have to travel 30 minutes to find a hotel.”

What started out to be “just another small town where we were the new kids on the block,” as Cecil recalled, has turned into their lifelong home. They’ve enjoyed meeting the wonderful people of this community and counting them as their friends.

As this article was being written, Pascalle Bippert was advised Carl Zenner recently suffered a stroke and is recuperating at Country Care Manor in La Vernia.

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