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Fair exhibits show skills

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

This is the Comal County Fair week. We’ve come a long way from Rat-baiting, Nine Man Morris and Quoits and Hobs (games at fairs of the Middle Ages) but basically the real purpose of a fair is the same now as it was then – to show off what’s good and to entertain.

How do people learn how to do all these skills? I’ll bet that the local organizations like Home Demonstration, FFA, and 4H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health) had a lot to do with it. Also the men and women who were active in these organizations passed these skills to the next generation. In 1978 Herb Skoog interviewed two people, Leslie Ehlers and Loreen Ludwig, who were instrumental in beginning these programs.

Leslie Ehlers, native of Fayette County, graduated from A & M College in 1930. He was the last of seven boys in his family, six of which went to A & M and only one to the University of Texas. After graduation, Ehlers went into vegetable farming with two of his brothers in Brownsville. He went to work for a fruit company where they grafted different varieties of oranges and grapefruits. He met and married his wife, Lottie Lee Ehlinger, from LaGrange.  Ehler’s wife’s cousin, George Ehlinger, was retiring as County Agent in New Braunfels, and they needed someone who could speak German to replace him.

The couple moved to NB in 1937 along with a 12 foot rain. The Herald headline ran “County Agent Brings Million Dollar Rain.” Happy words to the agricultural community!

The main duties of the County Agent was the farm program. Starting a 4H program was a big success. The first 4H Club with boys and girls consisted of Lawrence Kohlenberg, Bodo Dietert, Leroy Soechting, Norman Brehmer, Sylvia Doehne, Oscar and Roy Elbel, the Herman Ludwig children, Howard, Nelson, Cecil and Virginia. Ehlers worked with farmers and ranchers to select breeding cattle and run terrace lines which saved soil from washing away. He was County Agent from 1937 to 1944.

In 1941 there was a move on to hire a Home Demonstration Agent for Comal County to help the ladies with a program of an educational nature. Loreen Russell (later Ludwig) was hired.  The same day that she came to the courthouse to accept the job, Leslie Ehlers was passing out cigars celebrating the birth of his second daughter, Kay (Andrews), joining first daughter, Jo Ann (Robinett). It was Russell’s duty to organize home demonstration clubs. The first was at Gruene, then Mission Valley, and then Spring Branch.

She arrived in 1941, the year the US entered WWII. The mission of the Home Demonstration clubs changed drastically. It was her duty to explain rationing of certain foods and it was Ehlers’ duty to explain new laws regulating tires and gasoline. Home Demonstration’s slogan during the war was “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. The county owned canning equipment that had accumulated during the Depression in the early ‘30s. There was also a huge pressure cooker stored at NBHS where people could go to preserve food. Programs included titles like “Clothing for Victory”, “Meat for Victory,” and “Victory Gardens”. My imagination goes wild on the “Canning a Cow” program.  Freezing food was one of the last skills that she taught before she resigned.(By then Mrs. James Ludwig)

Ehlers resigned in 1944 in order to organize the Producer’s Co-op that was born out of problems arising for farmers during the war. He became the manager of this business and with his experience  and exposure to farmers and ranchers in the county, he was the right pick.

The organizations are now under the jurisdiction of Texas A & M Agrilife Extension Service. There are presently 550 4Hers in Comal County in 12 clubs. There are four Extension Agents –  (currently unfulfilled position) covering agriculture and natural resources; Martha Joyce covering family and consumer sciences; Kathleen Greer covering health education; and finally, Karla Friesenhahn covering 4H and youth development.

These young people and their leaders have always been a part of the Comal County Fair. They will have a special booth at the fair and will likely be on horses in the parade. The parade this Friday leads to the Fairgrounds because ” It’s Fair Time!”

Leslie Ehlers, early County Agent and Loreen Russell (Ludwig), first Home Demonstration Agent. Circa 1940. Photos submitted by Jo Ann Robinett and Barbara Cobb.