Gertrude Kathlena Koenning’s story begins August 17, 1913 in the little town of Shiner, Texas, located in Lavaca County. Both of her parents, Adolph Henry and Marie “Mary” Kram Koenning, were of German ancestry. Gertrude or “Gertie” was their second child, born about one year after her brother Victor. After the little burg of Shiner got its start in 1887, it soon became the home of many German and Czech immigrants with farming and ranching the primary industries. Of course, today it is well known for Shiner Bock Beer produced by the K. Spoetzl Brewery.
The Koenning family stayed in Shiner for about 7 more years. During that time they had their third child, Melvin, on September 30, 1915. As a boy, Adolph helped on his father’s farm, but evidently he did not continue in farming. On his World War I Draft Registration Card, he gives his occupation as “Merchant.” This is only a supposition, but perhaps he felt he could not provide for his wife and three small children by working as a farm laborer.
When the 1920 United States Federal Census was taken, the Koenning family lived in the town of Taylor in Williamson County. They resided in a rental home and Adolph recorded his occupation “Auto agent.” History tells us that the years following World War I were difficult for many people in America. We do not know why Adolph and Mary chose to move to this area, but more than likely, it was because that is where he found work.
As an adult Gertie shared memories of her youth with her children, L.K. and Cynthia, and many of these memories were about the dire circumstances in which her family lived during the 1920’s. She spoke of how her family “picked up stakes” and moved to California. We know from family data that Gertie’s maternal grandparents, Joe and Margaretha Kram, and eight of their children, moved there before 1920. It is likely that having family out west drew them in that direction. More than anything else, I think it was the hope for better employment opportunities.
Unfortunately, life did not get much better in California for the Koenning family. It became even more difficult and sad with the death of Gertie’s mother Mary on April 30, 1929 in Modesto, Stanislaus County, California. This had a terrible impact on Adolph, Vick, Gertie, and Mel. Here are some of Gertie’s recollections of that time and shared by her daughter, Cynthia.
Mom’s mom (Mary) died of uterine cancer when Mother was only 15. Little granddad (Adolph) was a carpenter who hauled the 3 kids from California to Texas and back to California again several times. Mother did all the cooking and house work. Once she was old enough, she canned spinach in a California factory. She would never eat canned spinach after that!
By 1930 Adolph (46), Gertie (17), and Mel (14) were living in New Braunfels, Comal County, Texas. According to the 1930 United States Federal Census they resided in a rental house on East San Antonio Street. Adolph’s occupation was given as “salesman” in retail industry, general merchandise.
Evidently they did not live in New Braunfels for any length of time. Gertrude enrolled in Thomas Jefferson High School in May 1930. This high school is located in San Antonio, Texas. Her high school transcript shows they received her records from schools in both Modesto, California and New Braunfels, Texas. The transcript also gave her address as 1924 Magnolia Street, San Antonio and her father’s occupation as “coffee salesman.” Gertie graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School on June 1, 1933. Gertie’s daughter, Cynthia, shared this anecdote about her mother during this time.
During the depression, when she was a student at Jefferson, she was elected cheerleader but had to bow out because they couldn’t afford the uniform. She was a real looker – nick-named “Venus” by one of her boyfriends.
Speaking of boyfriends – it was at Thomas Jefferson High School that she met a very special boy named Lloyd Croft. They began dating, and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.” During the next few years the relationship gradually grew more serious. A year after “Gertie” graduated from Jefferson High School, they married. The ceremony took place on February 9, 1934 at the Austin Street Methodist Church in Seguin, Texas with the Reverend L.J. Rode officiating.
Both Lloyd and Gertie grew up in quite modest homes, so having to eke out a living those first few years of married life was not new to either of them. Gertie’s brother, Mel Koenning, was a photographer with the San Antonio Light newspaper and helped Lloyd get a paper route. For several years he delivered newspapers to residential customers. Gertie worked as a clerk at Woolworth’s. Those were meager times, indeed.
Nevertheless, Lloyd and Gertie had many joy-filled times, too. One very happy occasion was the birth of their son, Lloyd Koenning, on February 12, 1935. They decided to call him by his initials – “L.K.” One time Lloyd told L.K. that his birth was their first wedding anniversary gift!
In 1937 Lloyd embarked on a new venture, and though he did not know it at the time, his life and fortune were about to change. He and his parents, O.C. and Ethel Croft, founded the Croft Trailer Company at 1423 North Flores Street in San Antonio. Through the next years, the company became quite successful and eased the family’s financial stress.
Just as the San Antonio business developed and expanded, Lloyd and Gertie’s family life also blossomed and changed. To their delight Lloyd and Gertie’s became parents again when their daughter Cynthia Elaine was born on October 17, 1940.
During the next years much of Lloyd’s time and energies were consumed by his business while Gertie tended to their home and the needs and interests of L.K. and Cynthia. Normally as children grow and mature, there is an increased involvement in school, church, and community activities, and that was certainly true for the Crofts. Both Lloyd and Gertie did their part in assuring that L.K. and Cynthia lived a full life in a healthy and wholesome home environment.
In her autobiography Lucy Ann Nance Croft wrote about her mother-in-law and the impact she made on her life.
I have known few people who had as captivating a smile as Mother. Of all her endearing qualities, her smile revealed her scintillating personality and inner-loveliness. She was a loving and lovable woman.
When I joined the Croft family, I immediately felt Mother’s warmth and charm. As a new daughter-in-law, I found it comforting to be so well accepted. For the most part this was because of Mother. Also, I knew that L.K. and his mother had an unusually close mother-son relationship, and for many this might have presented problems. I can honestly say that this was never a threat to me.
Another astounding aspect of Mother’s personality was her openness and honesty. I had come from a reserved family, and sharing feelings was (and still is) difficult for me, so to be around a woman who was comfortable doing that was a new experience. In fact, if I ever envied anything it was her ability to “bear her soul” with such ease.
Like Father, Mother was very outgoing and friendly. With that contagious smile and her sparkling dark eyes, she found that people gravitated to her. I am sure, however, that it was more than her amicable manner that attracted those around her. It had to be her warmth and sensitivity that made everyone feel comfortable, accepted, and safe. She was never intimidating in any way. Family and close friends were most important to her, and she was forever doing considerate things for them. She was particularly thoughtful of other people’s birthdays and anniversaries and loved sending a card or a personal note. I think that there is an art to writing a good letter, and Mother had mastered it. When you received a letter from her, you felt as if she was right there talking to you. Little did she know she was practicing what has almost become a lost art—particularly in this age of e-mail and cell phones.
Looking good was important to Trudy Croft. She was not a vain person, but she worked on maintaining both good health and appearance. Her lovely smile and dark eyes, a slim figure, and her gracefulness contributed to her beauty. But she liked to “help nature out” with her great sense of style and flair in her choice of clothes, the way she wore her hair and applied makeup, and how she carried herself. There was an air of youthfulness and energy about her. A habit she maintained throughout her life was an afternoon nap. Undoubtedly, that daily routine revived her and helped preserve her natural loveliness.
I suppose we all think that our own mother’s cooking was the best. But when L.K. brags about his mother’s culinary skills, it is definitely the truth. I came to marriage knowing my way around the kitchen, but I learned so much from Mother. Perhaps it was because I knew L.K. had certain favorites and I wanted to learn her little “tricks,” but nevertheless I really enjoyed her sharing ideas and recipes. Her Germanic heritage probably inspired her love of baking. L.K. recalls that two of his favorites were Boston cream pie and her chocolate sheet cake, which is, as they say, “to die for.” Of course, she made all her family’s favorites, but she also enjoyed trying new recipes and always seemed to have one to share. One thing I admired was the way she organized her meals by cooking ahead and freezing certain dishes. She was able to enjoy the fun of a dinner or celebration without a lot of hassle.
Since I have become a grandparent, it has made me think back to the time when our children were born and how much it meant to have the support and love of our parents. During those years, we were not living close to either of our families, so we had to travel to see each other. I realize now how difficult it must have been for them to visit their grandchildren so infrequently. Because of this, Mother gave us a movie camera (this was before the days of video cameras) and encouraged us to document all the children’s ages and stages.
Our daughter, Leslie, was Mother and Father’s first grandchild, and how they adored her. Mother was not the hovering type, nor was she one to give a lot of advice unless asked. In her gentle, quiet manner, she bonded with Leslie, and then later with Lyle and Lloyd. When we would visit, she would have little gifts or treats for each of them. One thing Leslie loved was sitting on the vanity stool beside Grandmother to play “makeup.” Mother gave her a little bottle or would let her powder her face or put on some lipstick. Leslie loved it—and Mother did, too. You would hear them giggling and having a wonderful time.
Mother was born on August 17, 1913, in Shiner, Texas, and was of German heritage. I remember how proud she was of that. There had been only a limited amount of research into her family’s genealogy, but she liked to remind us that one of her ancestors was a German baron. She got a kick out of that. Roots were important to her.
Mother’s early life had been a struggle. She was only fifteen years old when her mother died. As it turned out, she became a surrogate mother for her two brothers, Vic and Mel. It all happened during the Depression of the 1920s, so times were very hard for her family. This impacted her life in many ways. In fact, as a consequence she developed insecurities and emotional problems that she had to deal with her entire life. On the other hand, she also had a great strength of character that was demonstrated in her life as a wife, mother, and friend.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
It seems to me that how one lives their religion is a real measure of their spirituality. This was made real to me as I shared in Mother’s life. How she treated people and responded to their needs with sincerity and sensitivity, and how she grappled with life and its overwhelming obstacles was unmistakable evidence of a deep faith. Her kind, gentle, unselfish ways made an indelible impression on me. I cherish my memories of this loving, lovable woman. Mother died by her own hand on January 5, 1977. (Croft, 40-42)
Note: Gertrude Koenning Croft was buried in the mausoleum at Mission Park North, San Antonio, Texas.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database online], Provo UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Ancestry.com. Social Security Death Index [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.
Gertrude Kathlina Koenning, birth certificate no. 9235, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Gertrude Kathlina Croft, death certificate no. 00250, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.
Gertrude Koenning, student transcription, Jefferson High School, San Antonio Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas.
Guadalupe County, marriage record, Guadalupe County Clerk’s Office, Seguin, Texas.
Mary Koenning, death certificate no. 29-024325, State of California, Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California.
“Shiner, Lavaca County, Texas” http://www.txgenweb2.org/txlavaca/shiner.htm
Wood, Cynthia Croft, “Personal Recollections of Croft Family,” email@example.com
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011