Born on October 9, 1909, in Stamford, TX, Hubert Van Treese, my daddy, was just 72 when he passed away of heart failure. He had been suffering from heart disease for just a short time; so, his passing was unexpected, as we believed he was invincible. I recently read a statement in reference to Father’s Day asking to recall what lesson one’s father had taught. This made me reflect on my father’s life.
My daddy spent his childhood years on a farm in Karnes County, attending school in his elementary years at Choate County School. This school was located in a former township of Choate, which was situated between Karnes City and Kenedy. When the family moved to San Antonio, where Grandmother Van Treese ran a boarding house on Guenther St., Hubert’s older sister attended Brackenridge High School, and, eventually, so did his two younger brothers. But, a lot of happenings occurred to Hubert between those elementary years and his senior year at Brackenridge.
As a young lad, Hubert slung a rock onto the side of a barn, and it ricocheted back, permanently blinding him in his left eye. As best I know, that was the first of a series of injuries he experienced. A couple of years later, Hubert and another boy were playing outdoors when the other boy asked Hubert to “look down this pipe.” Hubert did, and the boy shot a piece of iron down the pipe, striking Hubert in his good eye. Blinded from the injury and blood, Hubert climbed onto his loyal horse, which carried him home. As a result from this second injury, Hubert was rendered completely blind.
For the next few years, Hubert’s sister Vida, older by two years, became Hubert’s eyes. She read all his work to him, and he continued to succeed in school. But, when Vida moved on to high school, Hubert was left without his helper. (This is generations before 504 accommodations!) So, Hubert’s parents decided to enroll him into The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, located in Austin, TX. While there, Hubert learned the art of Braille reading and thrived academically.
When some sight returned in his right eye, but still deemed legally blind, Hubert was able to leave the blind institute to join his family in San Antonio and attend Brackenridge High School where he participated in the ROTC and the band. He was 19 at this time. Then, a short time after leaving the institute, Hubert experienced another injury which broke both of his arms. (The details of this injury were never made clear, but likely it was during an acrobatic performance.) But, Hubert recovered and continued to persevere.
Then, on December 12, 1929, as a senior in high school at age 20, Hubert was returning home with two friends from a local skating rink when the car in which he was riding collided head on with another car at the intersection of Guenther St. and South Alamo. Hubert, the only one injured, as he was thrown from the vehicle and dragged beneath, was taken to the hospital with such a loss of blood that a severe fracture in his left leg could not be immediately set. In that near fatal accident, Hubert actually suffered 79 broken bones, internal injuries, and a gash to his head. At the time the story was printed in The San Antonio Light, the doctors said Hubert had “an even chance” for survival.
But he did survive. When asked how he was doing, Hubert’s reply was always, “I am fine.” That attitude continued to serve him well throughout his life. His injuries had left him paralyzed from the waist down, and he remained in a ward in the Robert B. Green hospital for many months. Eventually, Hubert recovered enough to be discharged, and some time later, the feelings returned to his legs. He could walk again!
During the next few years, throughout the mid 30’s – the Depression Era – Hubert played in a western band. Music had always been a passion of Hubert’s, and he had taught himself to play the piano a little and the mandolin very well. It was at a western dance that he met Estelle Canion, whom he would marry in 1939.
With a wife to support and a son (James Travis) born the next year, Hubert needed to find better work. His already limited vision, however, had regressed – another set-back – as a result of contracting the measles, which had settled in his eyes. So, because he was legally blind, he was able to find work with the Lighthouse for the Blind where he made cane-bottom chairs, among other things. Meanwhile, his wife, Estelle, worked there as well, completing sewing tasks that the blind employees had begun but that a sighted person needed to finish.
Then, in 1945, through the Texas Commission for the Blind, the state legislature established the Vocational Rehabilitation Division, which insured federal funds for vocational guidance, training, and placement in paid employment for the visually impaired. One of these programs was a nine-month course of study in poultry husbandry at Texas A&M. Hubert, along with a host of other visually impaired men, attended this course of study. He and his family, which then consisted of two children, (Baby Kathleene had been born), lived in housing provided by the college. Upon completion of their courses, the men were placed on various “chicken farms” throughout the state. Hubert’s first job was on a chicken farm in Cuero.
Eventually, Hubert was able to establish his own chicken farm on land the family had purchased in the Blackjacks some five miles south of Somerset. He built four chicken houses, complete with yards for runs, and housed around 150-200 chickens per house. He maintained this operation for several years; then, in the early 50s, the “bottom fell out of the chicken market,” (as I often heard it stated). Hubert decided to leave the chicken industry in search of a more stable job in order to provide for his family.
Hubert’s search yielded him an opportunity to purchase a “Merchant’s Patrol Service” for the downtown businesses of San Antonio. Hiring first one and then several people to work for him, Hubert became a “Deputy Sheriff” for Bexar County and built a lucrative business. This service was a precursor to today’s electronic surveillance technology. When he sold his business in 1968, it was to an electronic security service.
Meanwhile, as Hubert grew older, the injuries he had suffered were taking their toll on his body. As the years wore on, the terrible break to his left thigh from the auto accident necessitated his walking with a cane. Eventually, the break in the injured leg began to leak poison into his bloodstream, a life-threatening condition. To remedy this, he had to spend an extended time in the hospital to have the leg opened and iodine-washed daily. Fortunately, this treatment saved his life.
But, although Hubert came from a family of longevity – not withstanding two brothers who died untimely in separate plane crashes – his mother lived to be 98 and ultimately his sister did as well – the injuries to his body weakened his stamina. Thus, he was diagnosed with heart failure in January of 1982. He made several trips to the hospital during the next couple of months for medicine adjustment, etc. Upon his last trip, I visited him in the hospital before going on a weekend ski trip, expecting him to be released before I got home. Rather, he quickly declined. I cut my trip short and flew home, repeating the prayer a thousand times, “God, don’t let him die before I get home.” God answered that prayer. Upon reaching the hospital late that night, I was able to tell my daddy “Goodbye.” My mother then sent me home to rest for a few hours with plans that I would relieve her a short time later. But, once home, I prayed, “God, take him Home and make him whole again.” The moment I spoke that prayer, the phone rang. Mother said, “He’s gone.”
Hubert Matthew Van Treese went to be with the Lord on March 16, 1982. Throughout his lifetime, and despite all his many injuries and set-backs, my daddy persevered and never, ever complained. Even when I spoke to him hours before he passed, he tried to sound strong.
Daddy was quick to laugh at himself for mistakes a well-sighted person wouldn’t make. He had a fun sense of humor, loved to tell jokes and laugh, avidly read westerns – mainly Zane Grey, holding the book inches before his right eye – enjoyed playing 42 – again, holding his dominoes right up to his face – loved to bowl, taking a step and a hop and lofting the ball, and was capable of doing so many handyman things despite his blindness. And, incidentally, many of my parents’ friends were blind folks, most of whom were quite successful business people. Thus, I have a great respect for the blind and deeply appreciate the gift of sight.
What did my daddy teach me? He taught me the value of a positive attitude and a cheerful spirit.