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Colorful pieces of life make a vibrant quilt

 
Colorful pieces of life make a vibrant quilt
Former La Vernia homemaking teacher Hilda Kolodzie Harper displays one of the quilts she made, while reminiscing about her two-decade teaching career. During her stint in La Vernia, Hilda taught Marie Mueller, now Councilwoman Marie Gerlich.

Many students who attended La Vernia schools in the late 1950s will recall homemaking teacher Hilda Harper.

Hilda comes from educated stock. Her grandmother was a schoolteacher.

Her grandfather -- a Kolodziej -- was educated in Chicago; he attended parochial school and studied to become a priest. Before he took his vows, he came home and met a young woman with the last name Rceppa (pronounced Zheppa) -- and married her. They had six children, three boys and three girls. Somewhere along the way, he got mad at his relatives and dropped the “j” from his last name. That’s how Hilda’s last name Kolodzie differs from other Kolodziejs in our area.

Hilda’s father was a hardworking man, holding down several jobs. He was the fire chief in Karnes City for many years, as well as a bookkeeper for a cotton gin company, the manager at the central power and light company, and a rural mail carrier.

Both her parents went to college. Back then, it was called “normal school” -- an education designed to produce teachers, and considered as a college degree. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, but was in poor health with a bad heart, so they always had a maid. Her mother sewed all the clothes for her children. Hilda was born Oct. 21, 1927. Her mother taught Hilda how to cook and how to sew.

A home education

When she was 14, her mother passed away. She took home economics as an elective, but her teacher, Ms. Tarwater, told her she couldn’t teach her anything because her mother had taught her everything. She asked Hilda to be her teacher’s aide.

Giggling, Hilda recalled a particular cooking assignment. She said when their cooking class tried to make sauerkraut it smelled so bad, the superintendent of the school asked the teacher if they were trying to run him out of the school!

Further studies

Hilda graduated from Karnes City High School in 1945. She attended college at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, now Texas State University. There were more girls in college than boys, she recalled, because our country was at war. Hilda played snare drums in the college band and marched for all the sporting events.

It was there she met Wood Thomas Harper, whose mother was the college librarian. He also played snare drums and was “snared” by her beauty.

Hilda earned her bachelors’ degree in home economics with a minor in chemistry. She graduated in May 1949 and married “Woody” in August that year. They had three children.

A career with kids

“Mrs. Harper” taught homemaking in La Vernia from 1958-59.

She remembers some of her students, among them one Marie Mueller -- now Councilwoman Marie Gerlich, former La Vernia High School principal and superintendent of the school district.

“She was a very good student,” Hilda fondly recalled.

Hilda eventually got her master’s degree in education from Southwest Texas State and taught elementary school. In her 22-year career, she taught in Falfurrias, Crystal City, Premont, La Vernia, and Utopia, between raising their three children.

Because of the passing of the Gilmer-Aikin law, which dictated the salary of teachers, she earned $2,400 a year in 1951. She taught a “mixed class” of boys and girls in Crystal City. She said the boys enjoyed being in there learning to cook and sew with the girls. She also taught her sons and daughter how to cook and sew. Her husband earned a master’s degree in social studies, with a minor in chemistry; he taught social studies. At one point, he served as the principal in La Vernia. During summers off from school, Woody drove an International Harvester mechanical cotton picker from Santa Rosa in the valley all the way up to Missouri. Hilda would follow him in the family car, a beautiful blue Buick, all over the countryside with her baby.

Life in stitches

She retired from teaching in 1982. These days, Mrs. Harper enjoys quilting. She was taught to label everything she sews. Each quilt bears her name and the date she made it on the back.

Quilting is her passion. She started a quilting bee in 1983 in Converse and quilts at the Army retirement center there every week. She has won some awards for her quilts.

A member of the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild, Hilda enters her quilts in shows -- not to win, she said, “but so there are enough quilts there to have a show.”

“Not everyone can win first place,” Hilda said.

She offered a few life lessons for the younger generation, when asked.

“... you are responsible for yourself,” she said, adding “... you will only get out what you put in.”

Good lessons from a good teacher.

This is the first in an occasional series about neighbors in our community.

 
 
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