Looking back at Refugio County: May 1985

Bruce Giessel, new administrator for the Refugio County Memorial Hospital, was greeted by local youths Melissa Fancher, Danielle Piwitz ands Erin Freeman during his introduction in Refugio. (File photo)

The hit movie “Back to the Future” starring Michael J. Fox began in the next year to be featured in our Looking Back section — 1985.

Fortunately for Marty McFly, the lead character, his time machine in “Back to the Future II” traveled to 2015 and not to 2020, where he would have encountered the surreal world of COVID-19.

This week, we will look back at what was happening in Refugio County in May 1985.

New hospital director

Bruce Giessell of Houston was selected as the new administrator for the Refugio County Memorial Hospital.

He told the County Press that he and his wife Virginia had always wanted to move to a small town.

He said he focused on a career in hospital administration in order to help meet that goal because “there are only so many ways to earn a living in a small town — you can be a farmer, rancher, car dealer — and a hospital administrator.”

Giessell and his wife had two children, Tiffany, age 5, and Bart, age 14. He said he and his family would be looking for a house in either Refugio or Woodsboro. He had previously worked as assistant administrator for the Pasadena General Hospital in the Houston area.

Austwell recognized

The Austwell community won an award through the South Texas Improvement program, an endeavor they had been involved with for 17 years.

The purpose of the program is to encourage and support individual family and community efforts to improve the quality of life in rural communities through the completion of community improvement activities.

Active leaders in the Austwell program were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Al Covey, Mrs. Madalena Gomez, Mrs. Julia Leister, Lester Tippins, Mrs. Ann Beaty, Mrs. Violet Glover, Marty Martinez, and Mrs. Benny Martinez.

Austwell was recognized for sponsoring community events such as a Valentines party for senior citizens, Easter sunrise service, Fourth of July street dance, fall carnival and a Christmas party.

The community also helped to improve the community’s ball field and raised more than $850 to help a local family in need.

The Johnson family sponsored a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands, Wim Twisk, while Austwell student Leroy Bernal was an exchange student in Australia.

Refugio business boom

Several new businesses were coming to town, while older businesses were remodeling or expanded in Refugio in the spring of 1985.

Among the new businesses was Crossroads Oil Field Supply, looking to serve those in the oilfield business throughout the region and beyond, and recognized during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Refugio County Judge Ginger Fagan.

Slasher’s Barbecue was a new restaurant in town opening on Alamo Street next to Dairy Queen and owned by David Murray of Woodsboro and offering an array of beef, pork and chicken with a choice of side dishes. The restaurant offered drive-through or dine-in service with seating for up to 40 people.

A car wash owned by Ben Jones and located across from Refugio Motor Company on Alamo Street was slated to open at the end of June with three car wash bays — two offering a place for people to hand wash their vehicles and a third with an automatic drive-through format.

Jim and Nancy Wren of Woodsboro were looking to make life a little sweeter for local residents with their Sweet Shop & Bakery in Refugio opening across from the H-E-B store. Items made on site included doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, cookies, cupcakes, decorated cakes and fresh coffee to go with the baked goods.

Gerald Hessaltine planned to relocate his State Farm insurance agency to a new building next to his temporary location on Commerce Street.

“I hope that the new brick building will add to the looks of downtown Refugio,” Hessaltine told the County Press.

Action Automotive, owned by Charlie Stone, was also adding a new office area to its location in La Rosa Plaza, remodeling an area that previously housed the historic La Rosa Cafe.

D&G Athletic Wear was on the move, relocating from its previous spot in La Rosa Plaza to the former site of Bill’s Dollar Store on Commerce Street.

Another oil field service company, Industrial Semco, was remodeling the old Cardinal Cafe on Alamo Street for move-in by the end of the summer, according to manager Kenneth Kendall.

Super D sale

Super D Foods in Refugio advertised top sirloin steak for $2.19 a pound, T-bone steak for $2.99 per pound, a six-pack of 32-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola, Sprite or Diet Coke for $2.99 (plus a refundable deposit for the glass bottles the soda was in) T.V. paper towels, 49 cents for a jumbo roll a pint of strawberries for 59 cents.

Woodsboro VFD

The Woodsboro Volunteer Fire Department, led by Chief Lee Riemenschneider, was awarded a certificate of appreciation from Texas Gov. Mark White. The award was presented by Doyle Elliot of the state fire Marshall’s office for the Woodsboro VFD’s outstanding performance during recent house fires in the community. Also attended the ceremony was Woodsboro Mayor Marguerite Copeland.

Business owner retires

Mack Murray, owner of the La Rosa Texaco Service Station in Refugio for 38 years, announced his retirement at age 72.

Murray and his wife Eula Mae had moved to Victoria in 1982 where four of their children lived, but Muarry continued to commute to Refugio.

Murray had bought the station from Clarence Turman in 1947, and that entire time, John Henry Miller had worked for him at the station. Miller planned to continue working there under new owner Ross Norman.

It was Murray’s brother, Slim, who owned Murray’s Fine Furniture in Woodsboro, to move to Refugio after World War II. During the war, Murray had served as an artilleryman.

Simmons tops state

Melissa Simmons, a senior at Austwell-Tivoli High School, won the state championship in Lincoln-Douglas Debate completion at the state University Interscholastic League contest in Austin.

IA state champs

The Refugio High School Industrial Arts students took part in a state competition in Waco, winning the state title for the 10th straight year.

The RHS Industrial Arts Club also received a special award at the event for raising the most money among all similar clubs statewide for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty (celebrating its 100th anniversary in New York Harbor in 1986).

RHS students earned 278 points to take first place, followed by second place Sweeny with 71 points and Dimmit with 49 points.

Irish celebration

The Refugio Irish Festival was celebrated May 26 featuring an Irish stew cookout, Irish children’s games and soccer matches and a traditional Irish dance performance. The festival celebrated the arrival of Irish colonists in Refugio in May 1834.

National Merit Scholars

Refugio High School seniors Mark Barber, son of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Barber, and Jim Hayes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Hayes, were recognized as winners of National Merit scholarships.

Barber planned to study electrical engineering at the University of Texas and Hayes planned to study engineering at Texas A&M.

“For a small school like Refugio High to produce two National Merit scholarship winners in one year is indeed a rare thing,” said RHS Principal Charles Jones. “We are very, very proud regarding this high honor, and we recognize the fact that the two recipients definitely deserved the honor. It is also a compliment to our entire staff and school, and we rejoice in it.”

Woodsboro track

The Woodsboro Eagles won their fourth regional track championship in five years in Victoria, scoring 68 points to hold off second place Three Rivers.

Shane Burgin won first place in the shot put. The 400 meter relay team of Kevin Many, Royce Avery, Robert Avery won first place. Royce Avery won the 400 meter dash. The 1600 meter relay team of Robert Avery, Ricky Lewis, Matt Zabel and Royce Avery also took top prize. The team later tied for third place in the state.

Lady Cats win state

The Refugio Lady Cats won the state track championship in Austin, earning 58 points to 46 points for Marlin and 42 for Frisco.

Arthur Mae Whitmere, Ginger Dickerson, Teresa Lewis and Sfronia Henderson, Amy DeWeese, Tracy Crayton and Mary Ann Whitmere were top medalists for RHS.

Top grads

Refugio County’s three high schools announced their valedictorian and salutatorians for the Class of 1985.

Mark Barber and Crystal Forbis were named valedictorian and salutatorian at Refugio High School. Barber, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Barber and Forbes, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Forbis. Barber planned to attend the University of Texas while Forbes planned to attend GMI Engineering and Management Institute.

Rose Puentes and Chad Abney were named valedictorian and salutatorian of Woodsboro High School. Puentes, the daughter of Nora Puentes and planned to major in genetic engineering at the University of Texas. Abney, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Abney and planned to major in chemical engineering at Texas A&M University.

Norma Rathkamp and Melissa Simmons earned valedictorian and salutatorian honors for Austwell-Tivoli High School. Rathkamp, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Rathkamp of Tivoli and planned to major in computer science at Texas State Technical Institute in Waco. Simmons, the daughter of Lucy Simmons of Tivoli and Charles Simmons of Corpus Christi, planned to major in political science at Texas A&M University.

Hospital uncertainty

A bill allowing a county-wide election to determine if the Refugio County Memorial Hospital District should be dissolved was approved by the Texas House of Representatives and send to the governor’s office for consideration.

Glenn Harsdorff had filed a petition for dissolving the board, prompting county leaders to request input from the county’s citizens.

At a Refugio County Commissioners meeting, County Judge Ginger Fagan asked Harsdorff if he would promise to delay filing a petition to dissolve the hospital district if a county-wide referendum was ordered.

“If this is passed (an amendment requiring the referendum), do we have your word that you will not seek action until the new management has been given time to show what it can do?” Fagan asked.

“You have my word,” Harsdorff said.

Insurance rates soar

Refugio City Council members received a dose of bad news when they discovered that their insurance umbrella policy of $1 million covering the city would result in a $5,000 premium. In 1984, the city received $2 million worth of insurance coverage for $1,150. For 1985, a $2 million policy would have cost the city $13,215.

Hospital board

New officers were named to the Refugio County Memorial Hospital Board. Bill Lamson of Woodsboro was selected as board president, Albert Covey of Austwell was named Vice President and Linda Butler of Refugio was named secretary. Those officers were nominated by outgoing president Jack Hinkel.

Burglar sought

The Refugio County Sheriff’s Office announced it was seeking a thief who had stolen property, including televisions, a microwave and jewelry, from the home of Raymond Ramirez in the Wales Addition.

“We have been enjoying a crime-free month until this week (the week of May 28),” said Sheriff Jimmy Hodges. “I would ask all citizens to keep their eyes open for any unusual movement in their neighborhood. Rural burglaries are on the rise in our area, and our neighboring towns have been hit very heavy in the past weeks.”

Jeff Osborne is the editor of the Refugio County Press.