Longtime resident of the Von Ormy area, Melfred Fey passed away on December 7, 2017. He was the oldest son of Ben Fey, also of Von Ormy. The Ben Fey family had moved into the area south of Von Ormy in November of 1945. Prior to that time, the family farmed in the settlement of Fratt, TX – an area where San Antonio’s Roosevelt High School now stands. Melfred was seventeen at the time, and he had already spent several years farming alongside his dad.
The Feys can trace their ancestry back to a small village named Michaels-Rambach, about 7.5 miles north of Fulda, Germany. The Ben Fey ancestor who migrated to America was Philip Fey, born on December 20, 1842. Philip fought in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and, weary with war, decided to move to Texas. Other Feys had already settled in the New Braunfels area, and Philip reportedly spent some time with these relatives before marrying and settling down to raise his family, supporting them by farming, hauling goods, and doing part-time work for the Church. As he grew in wealth, Philip built a house for his family which is said to still stand in today’s Live Oak community near Toepperwein Road.
Melfred was born to Ben (Bernhard) and Anita Rompel Fey on November 27, 1927. His siblings include Dorothy (d. April, 2002), Elroy, Tommy (Frederick – d. Jan, 2017), and Kathy (Kathleen). Upon settling on their small farm on Kinny Road, just south of U.S 81 (eventually IH35), Melfred continued to farm with his dad. In the meantime, he spent two years in the service (1946 – ’47). In 1950, Melfred married Mary Lee McMonagle, a young lady who lived up the road.
Melfred and Mary Lee rented land a little farther south, and Melfred went into farming on his own. Then, fortuitously, in 1952, Melfred was approached by Willie Vogel to work for him. But Melfred chose instead to go into partnership with Willie; and thus, Vogel & Fey Farms, Inc. was formed in 1953. To supplement his farming, Melfred had gone to work at Kelly Field. Then, in 1954, at the same time that his first child, Barbara, was born, he quit that steady, dependable job to devote his time and energy to the farming partnership. Folks thought he was crazy, but the decision turned out to be a quite lucrative one.
Willie and Melfred farmed together until 1961 when Milton McDonald – of Lytle, TX –got involved in the operation. Milton’s wife owned Touchstone Estate properties in San Miguel near Charlotte, and Milton was in charge of the estate. Willie and Melfred moved their operation to San Miguel, and they rented the properties from Milton. Their produce, which consisted of cucumbers, cabbage, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, and onions, was trucked into San Antonio. There, a fellow by the name of Wilson Bruton sold his company, Valiant Vegetable Co., to Willie Vogel. From then on, all produce went through Valiant Vegetable Co.
Eventually, Bill McDonald, Milton’s son, bought into the company, and the company bought a shed in Pearsall – Vogel & Fey Farms, Inc. & Valiant Vegetable Co. This was around 1967. The company grew vegetables primarily at Touchstone. They were then packed in Pearsall and shipped to San Antonio. This was quite an organized operation with the vegetables running along a belt before being waxed, boxed, and shipped. Then, to bolster the operation’s growth, in 1978 the company bought 680 acres at the intersection of Highways 140 and 57, property which came to be known as the ’57 Farm’. This move greatly increased the production, and the company continued to prosper.
Then, Wallace Vogel, Willie’s son, bought into the partnership. It now consisted of Willie Vogel, Melfred Fey, Bill McDonald, and Wallace Vogel. Each member of the partnership had a separate role: Willie managed the office in San Antonio; Wallace oversaw the shed in Pearsall; Bill farmed the property at San Miguel; Melfred farmed the ’57 Farm’, to which it was referred. On this property, cotton, maize, corn, and peanuts were also grown. The peanuts were processed in Devine at Devine Nuts. That operation ran from 1978 – 2000.
In 1995, with both men in their mid 60’s, Willie and Melfred retired, selling their interests in the partnership to Bill and Wallace. The older men continued to work for a few hours each day as consultants until 2000 when the operation closed and the land was sold.
In his retirement, Melfred raised cattle and sheep, but he no longer farmed. He did, however, trade in his Ford tractor for a Mahindra not long before he passed, ostensibly to farm, but actually to leave it to his son, David.
Melfred and Mary Lee raised their two children, Barbara and David, on acreage north of IH35 near what folks would recognize as Aldridge Nursery. They settled in that area in 1955 when they built their first home, and in 1968 they relocated to the corner of IH35 and Buck Road. Mary Lee continues to live there where she quilts, reads, visits family, and quite likely knows more about that area than any other living soul.
When Melfred passed, he left behind a legacy of frugal stewardship and wise management. One of his contributions was to the San Antonio Livestock Exposition where he served for many years on the Operations Committee that managed the arena, panels, fences, etc. Today, his son-in-law, Johnny Chessher, holds that position; and his daughter, Barbara, along with a friend, Patty Gueldner, cook for the 60-odd-member committee. Melfred also was very involved working with the priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Somerset, Father Alex Perida, and the prayer garden. Mary Lee says that Father Alex wept as he officiated Melfred’s funeral service.
Melfred leaves behind his wife of 67 ½ years, his daughter and her three sons – Sean, Todd, and Troy – and his son and his three sons – Joshua, Christopher, and Joseph; and great-grandchildren – Emily, Max, Grayson, Blake, Blaine, Brantley, and Luke. After a full, prosperous life that involved not only hard work but lots of play, including numerous trips to Las Vegas and other travels to various places in the U.S. – Hawaii, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, and others – hunting, fishing, and “sitting by the fire pit, at 90 years of age, Melfred was ready for his final journey, one which Mary Lee says the two of them often discussed and for which they had prepared themselves.