“You learn so much from your older brothers and sisters, then you pass it on to the younger ones, and you carry those lessons with you all your life,” says Louis Ehlinger, Sr., born in 1927 to Willie and Theresa Ehlinger as the seventh of eight children. The family lived on a farm just south of Devine, and this is where Louis lives today. The boys did much of the work in those years while their father worked for Adam’s Company, and the girls helped their mama.
The Ehlingers were faithful members of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Devine, where Louis and his brothers served regularly as altar boys, and his mama played the organ and sang in the choir. The church and their faith were central parts of their lives, which Louis continued with his own family. He adds, “I was lucky to have such a good family,” and to this day, Louis speaks with much love, respect, and admiration for his parents and siblings.
The Ehlinger children all attended the Devine Public School, where their father was on the school board. Louis was on the football and basketball teams, with all-district honors, and was in the senior play. He was a captain of the 1944 Warhorse football team, who had the most successful winning season in Devine, up to that time. They were the 37-A District Champions, with a record of 9-1, of which eight were shut-outs, and outscored their opponents 274-27!
After graduating in 1945, Louis enlisted in the US Navy with WWII still in full swing. On his 18th birthday in July, he left for the Naval Boot Camp in Oakland, California. He was surprised that his bunk mate was a 39-year-old drafted father with three kids, and there were others like him, not just all younger men. But, luckily, on September 2, 1945 the war ended while he was still in boot camp, and Louis’ mission changed to naval supply.
During those post-war months before he got out, Louis had the chance to try out for a newly forming Naval Base baseball team. Now, he had never played much baseball besides sandlot ball in Devine as a kid, using old used tattered gloves and baseballs, and he did not even know how to really play. But, as luck had it, he and two other local Texas boys made the team and got to play with new uniforms and equipment! The base teams were important for military morale, as well as entertainment to a nation that was coming out of a very difficult time. Louis played for 6-7 months in the Navy before being discharged in Shoemaker, CA, in September of 1946. Louis and some Navy buddies hitch-hiked from there to Arizona before catching a train to San Antonio. Along the way home, they were offered jobs, but he was ready to head home! He returned to Devine and worked at Schott’s Red & White where luck struck again!
A cousin-in-law of Louis’ came to the store one day with a baseball contract from a minor league baseball team in Marlin, Texas.The baseball minor league teams had been decimated during WWII and were just starting to rebuild, with try-outs going on all over the nation. As baseball was really big back then, the major league teams were holding schools and try-outs across the country for men coming out of the service. So, Louis went to a training camp in Sabinal, TX, for the Cincinnati Reds and to one for the San Antonio Missions, which was a minor league team for the St. Louis Browns. He got a message that the Browns were going to send him a contract, but he did not want to go up to St. Louis, so he signed with the Vernon Dusters in Marlin. This all sounded like good luck to Louis who had been making $78 a month in the Navy and could now play baseball for $150 a month!
The Vernon Dusters played exhibition games against teams like A&M and professional teams in East Texas, before their games in their Longhorn League with teams like the Wichita Sputters, Oklahoma City, and other teams in West Texas and New Mexico. Louis recalls, “We played 140 days in a row – every day – and double-headers on holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day and after rain-outs. We prayed for rain so that we could rest!”
Meanwhile, Louis worked for a meat company in Vernon on non-baseball days, which fit well with his baseball schedule. During his five years in Vernon, Louis was drafted into the East Texas League in Henderson, TX, and he also played for a semi-pro team in Wellington, TX, but he was happy to return to Vernon after that! During his baseball career, Louis made the All-Star roster several times.
Playing baseball was not the only luck Louis found in Vernon, Texas. There he met and married the love of his life, Miss Betty Alley! “I was so lucky to meet Betty. She was the best thing about Vernon!” He adds, “Betty was a hard worker and had to quit school at 16 when her dad had a bad stroke. She and her sister took care of her parents, the farm, and her brother who was blind.” “She was so sweet, and everyone loved her!” The couple married after only three months because, he admits, smilingly, and adds, “I wanted to marry her before someone else got her! She was mine, and I was lucky to have her!”
Betty & Lou, as she called him, started their family there in Vernon with the births of their sons, Louis Jr. and Richard. Louis Sr. continued playing baseball and working in the meat company until 1952, when he decided to quit baseball. When asked why he quit, he said, “It was best for my family. Baseball took me away from them too much, and it was better to be able to be at home after work each day.” Those baseball days were very special, but his family was always the most important thing to him. Louis continued working in the meat market until he was tired enough of the hot summers and cold winters in north Texas, and returned to Devine in 1961.
When Louis, Betty, and the boys moved to Devine, he began working at Medina Base in San Antonio. He was part of the “Handling Crew” who moved bombs from the huge concrete igloo bunkers that were covered with dirt on top to other areas for checks, repairs, and destruction of the HE (high explosives) in the bombs. (As related by Louis’ niece, Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff, “According to an article in the San Antonio Express News from July 4, 2015, their job – then Top Secret – was to dismantle Cold War weaponry and to either burn the nonnuclear components or store the explosives in 90 igloos there that were designed to force any blasts downward.”)
Clearly, this was a dangerous job, of which Louis had no idea when he began. But, on November 14, 1963, luck was again with Louis and his two crew members who escaped an explosion in an igloo that blew up a huge blast of smoke cloud high in the sky, and a hole 30 feet deep! Louis recalled, “We heard a loud pop like a .22 shot in the igloo, and I took off running, hollering to the guy outside to ‘Run, Run, Run!’ I ran about a hundred yards to the road and looked back as the igloo rose up and went down. I dove into a culvert, where I could only fit up to my hip. I was hit on my thigh by a chunk of concrete, and I still have a knot there!” The explosion blew out windows around San Antonio and as far as Floresville. But there was no wind and no nuclear material in the area. After the explosion, the three men were to be interviewed by the Post and Life Magazines; but, then, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas eight days later and all news about the explosion stopped. Louis shares that today, all there of the crew members are still alive, Louis being the oldest at 90 years of age!
In 1966, Louis went to work in Devine for the Gayle Meat Company on Windy Knoll. After one year, Louis and first-cousin, Francis Schmidt, bought the company and renamed it the Devine Meat Company. Louis worked at the meat market and processed quality products for local and surrounding areas for 25 years! “His meat company was well known and respected in our community,” says Nancy. Long-time Devine residents and folks all around will definitely concur.
During Louis’ meat market days, Betty worked at the Medina Valley State Bank while they were raising their two active sons and supporting their school and extra-curricular activities. They were also active in Little League and as members of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Louis also served as a trustee for the Devine ISD School Board for almost five years, and he served at the Precinct 4 County Commissioner for four years. Both their sons graduated from Devine. Louis Ehlinger, Jr., lives outside of Comfort with his wife, Gail. They have two daughters, son-in-law, and three grandchildren who live in the Austin area. Louis Jr. serves as the President of Heritage Bank in Boerne. Their other son, Richard Ehlinger, has been a resident of Devine for about 29 years and has had a long career with Ciarra Pipe Company in Seguin. His daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren live in Chattanooga, TN.
After 25 years with the meat company, Louis decided it was time to “quit working and to just stay at home,” which meant working his land and raising hay and cattle!” Home for Louis and Betty was the house they built about 1987 on the family land that they purchased from his parents around 1978. The land, which has now been in the family for 103 years, was previously owned by his maternal grandparents, Joe & Katie Schmidt. Meanwhile, Betty continued to work until retirement after 35 years. She then began helping Louis on the farm. After 67 years of “loving marriage with lots of fun and happiness,” she passed in 2016.
Today, Louis still stays busy on the farm with his cattle, going to church, visiting, and checking on his younger siblings – he is now the oldest of the last six kids! The brothers, sisters, and in-laws still get together monthly to celebrate birthdays and to visit and have a good time. Plus, Louis goes to the monthly “Card Party” where he plays Pitch with his family.
Louis concludes, “I have been so lucky! I have learned that if you treat people right, they treat you right!”
( Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff, who contributed to the writing of this article says, “Yes, Uncle Louis has been lucky, but so have we to have had such a loving uncle, brother, cousin, & friend!”)