INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
Oral History Program
INTERVIEW WITH: Jean Kaspar
INTERVIEWER: Jim Sweeney and Helen Sweeney
DATE: October 16, 1985
PLACE: Shiner, Texas
S: Jean Kaspar, you are related to the family owning the Kaspar Wire Works. Does that mean that you're from Shiner, Texas?
K: No, I was born in the neighboring town of Yoakum, Texas, which is only 10 miles from Shiner. My father and his family were all from Shiner and what I would consider a leading family of the community.
My maiden name was Welhausen. One of the city parks in Shiner is named Welhausen City Park because it was given by my father's family to the city of Shiner. My father's name was Carl Welhausen. After graduating from the Ulniversity of Texas and spending some time in New York in the banking industry, he took up a defunct small tannery in the city of Yoakum and converted it into Textan of Yoakum, which, during his lifetime employed over a thousand persons and was the largest manufacturer of saddles and riding equipment in the United States.
His father and his grandfather before him were early settlers of Shiner. This would be my great grandfather who K: founded the bank here, the First National Bank of Shiner, and also served as a member of the first Texas Legislature as a young man. My grandfather then, was one of the leading merchants - mercantile business - in Shiner through all of his life. The name of his business was C.B. Welhausen and Company. This would be my grandfather. And C.B. Welhausen and Company is still in existence. The name of the mercantile company and hardware company that he founded and ran in Shiner for many years was named C.B. Welhausen and Company.
I remember as a child that this was more like what we considered the old general store. It had a harware department and dry goods department and also a grocery department. A candy store. But it was the type of a store that you did your banking at. You could buy anything that you wanted from hardware to dry goods, like I said, to food store. There would be a clerk in there that would take your order and fill your basket for you. Would cash a check for you. Would charge. And people usually paid their bills once a year in those days. They were cotton buyers and cotton sellers. In other words, just a general merchandising store. They owned a lot of land in this area. This land is still intact in what is called Welhausen Land and Cattle Corporation. And so, the descendants of C.B. Welhausen, of which I am one, still operate the Welhausen Land and Cattle Corporation.
His descendants are still involved in the bank here and still in the mercantile business.
K: My father's grandmother, which would be the wife of the man who founded the bank, also founded the Sunday School in the Methodist Church here in town. The story goes that she would KASPAR
go around with her horse and buggy and pick up all the little children in the neighborhood and take them to Sunday School and teach them Sunday School and take them home in her buggy.
Welhausen is a German name, but he had married Eliza Amsler, which is a Swiss name. And so, here again, the Swiss and the German comes into my family. And I married a Kaspar, which is a Swiss name. So my children, then, are all of Swiss-German descent.
I feel like I'm in a very unique situation, sort of, in the fact that my father being in the manufacturing business in the neighboring town of Yoakum and my husband and his family being in the manufacturing business in the town of Shiner, that I'm sort of a link between the two families. And [I] feel very fortunate to have that kind of a heritage of the one person that's involved with the two leading manufacturing concerns in this whole county. I'm very proud of that.
I also think I am in a unique situation in that I have been entrusted to provide the leadership for the various historical endeavors in the celebrations that Shiner has had. Being named the Bicentennial Chairman for Shiner and the Centennial Chairman for Shiner. Shiner will be celebrating it's hundredth birthday in 1987 and, of course, Texas K: Sesquicentennial is in 1986. So we are combining these two events and plan to do quite a few things in the next two years to celebrate all this history and all this heritage.KASPAR
Shiner used to make its own entertainment in years past. There's a little gazebo, or I guess a better word for it would be a historic band stand, in Welhausen Park in the center of Shiner. This is where the littlel polka bands would play on Sunday and for any social event.
S: Polka bands are German bands?
S: Are they oompah bands?
K: Oompah-pah bands, which are still very popular in this area.
I have always said that Shiner has maintained a great deal of its old world charm. Many of the brides that marry in Shiner have old-fashioned, all-day-long wedding dances. And they bring in the polka bands. And all the members of the family bring food. This wedding goes on all day and all night. There's many old-fashioned customs that you find in Shiner that were brought here from Germany and Czechoslovakia. I think Shiner could be noted for wonderful cooks. You find all of the delicacies of the German cooking and the Czechoslovakian cooking - from poppy seed cakes to the wonderful strudels to the kolaches. All of those things.
Being a small town, Shiner has kind of had to provide its own entertainment. My grandparents, C.B. Welhausen, and K: his wife, Henrietta, were married in Shiner and had their wedding reception in what we call the old Opera House here, which is the type of a building, an old Opera House, one of the buildings KASPAR
in town which was the social center of the 1890's. And during Bicentennial, we restored this old Opera House. It still has many of its origianl features. We now have a little civic theater that we call the Gaslight Theater. It's current and active. We have dinner theater, too, in this old 1890 Opera House. It is one of only about four left in Texas.
S: Do you participate in that?
K: Oh, yes. I have participated in it as an actress and as a member of the Board of Directors and in every way that I can, because I think it's a fun, wonderful thing.
It's all volunteer. No one receives any salary. We have restored it so that it looks like it did in 1890. We know that it is one of the few authentic 1890 old opera houses, like all small towns used to have, that still exist. It's in good shape, and we are very proud of that. We have people come from all around, including the cities, when we have a performance.
S: Are these out of state people?
K: No, they don't come that far to see it, but I mean we have Houston and San Antonio and Victoria and Austin, and people will come to our dinner theater when we have a production. It's an amatelur production, but it's an K: exceptionally good amateur production. We put on all kinds of plays, like "Arsenic and Old Lace", "Wait Until Dark", "My Three Angels" - some of the old famous plays. I do a lot of reading of the plays. We have found that for family entertainment, the older plays are much KASPAR
better than some of the newer plays. And, of course, it lends itself, also, to the old-timey drama, that sort of thing, because of the atmosphere.
During Bicentennial, you know, there was sort of a surge of patriotism. I think Bicentennial gave a surge of patriotism to America, and if it was ever felt anywhere, it was felt in Shiner, Texas. I think for a town the size of Shiner, we had the most wonderful participation in Bicentennial that you can imagine. In fact, we were given awards by the governor, and so forth, for some of the things that we did here and some of the improvements that we made.
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual thing that we did...I should say, one of the most interesting things that we did had to do with cannon. Before World War II, there was a very tiny cannon sitting in front of the City Hall. It was a field artillery piece from World War I. During World War II, they decided - you know, they had scrap-iron drives - that they would donate that cannon to the scrap-iron drive. That was part of the war effort. So, the Council voted to donate the little cannon that stood outside the City Hall to that scrap-iron drive.
K: So, the little place where the cannon sat was empty from the 1940's until Bicentennial in the 70's. We decided we were going to try to replace that cannon with something that would fit on that piece of cement. We thought that would be a neat thing to do for Bicentennial. So, I started writing letters KASPAR
to the military, etc., and so on. It really was impossible to find a small cannon that would go there. We were offered, instead, a twelve-inch howitzer. It's an immense thing! [laughter]
S: They are. They're big.
K: OK. This immense howitzer was offered to us, and we said, "Well, a cannon is a cannon".
S: Was it picked up and delivered?
K: We had to go get it, which was, in itself, a problem. The National Guard unit agreed to go up there - they had wild stories about the flags and everything in trying to bring it back.
But, anyway, finally the cannon arrived and, of course, it was much too big to put in front of the City Hall, and much too big to put on the original pad. So, we put it in Welhausen Park. We have a special marker on it, and we brought down a General to dedicate this. We had big doings over the dedication of this cannon.
We've always laughed about...you know how small towns have rivalry with other small towns? So we couldn't decide at which small town we were going to point the cannon. [laughter] K: Which of our adversaires we were going to point the cannon.
S: Whether north or south.
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