LAURA BLANCHE GILL
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the 153rd of a series of articles marking Kerr County’s 2006 sesquicentennial.

By Irene Van Winkle

West Kerr Current

Marium Hood Schmerbeck was a Baylor beauty who taught history, language arts and drama in Kerrville for years. By her marriage to Garrett Schmerbeck (1910-1999), she became connected with both area families whose names dot the local landscape.

Bob Schmerbeck, III, also known to some as Bobby, is a native son and Marium’s nephew, and has many business and civic interests here, including Garrett Insurance, a locally-owned company now approaching its 100th year.

Many ancestors on each side did their part at home, and gave their share, and more, in war. As to their early roots, the Schmerbecks had carried the German title of “von,” indicating nobility, preceding it. 

The Garrett origins are a bit more convoluted. According to Edward R. Garrett, who tackled family research going back 1,000 years, “At the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, it is known that men of the Garrett family followed William the Conqueror. The name at the time was spelled Gerrard or Gerard. They were cloth merchants and weavers of cloth.”

During the reign of feudal Norman kings, Garretts kept signal fires lit to warn of possible attack, and their name meant torch-bearer; “Semper Fidelis” was emblazoned on their coat of arms. They were honored by reference to the upper rooms of all houses as a “garrett,” since the signal came from the top-most room.

Other derivatives were Gerald and Fitzgerald. Sir William Garrard was Lord Mayor of London in 1551, but his son, John, changed the surname to Garrett. Some were English Quakers, while others went to Ireland with Cromwell. There were several versions in Italy and Portugal. 

In 1882, William Gray Garrett (1851-1935), Sr., a law-school graduate of the University of Alabama in 1878, arrived in Kerrville after four years of practice in Talladega. In 1884, he wed Laura Blanche Gill (1859-1952) at the home of her sister and brother-in-law, Capt. Winfield Scott. They eventually lived in a stately home on Main Street by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church — now a Cailloux Theater parking lot.

Laura was born near Bosqueville, Texas on a plantation but when her father, Alexander, died, Laura, her mother and sisters went to Tehuacana. The girls attended Trinity University there, before it was in San Antonio.

After her mother died, Laura moved in with the Scotts. She helped procure funds for building a Union Church, and after the First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1888, she and other family members served on the board. One of them was her niece, Myrta Scott Schreiner.

W.G., Sr. became Captain Charles A. Schreiner’s lifetime legal representative, and served in many elected posts: Kerr County judge, county attorney, Kerrville mayor, and in the Texas Legislature. He was active on the school board, legal advisor for the local draft board during World War I, and an original trustee on the Schreiner Institute board.

Between 1885-1902, W.G., Sr. and Laura had seven children: Aimee Zoe (1885-1982), Harriett “Hat,” W.G., Jr. “Bill,” Harrison Rice “Hal,” Leroy Denman “Dede”, Victor “Earl” (1894-1918) and Laura Ruth. All four of sons served in WWI, but Earl is the most memorialized of them in town.

After attending school and several jobs in the county and district clerk’s office, Earl was a sophomore at the University of Texas when the U.S. began sparring with Mexico in 1916. He served in the National Guard on the border for several months, and was discharged home. Soon, though, he was at Camp Stanley First Officers’ training facility in Leon Springs when war broke out with Germany.

In May, 1917, Earl was one of 90 men picked for training in France, and was the first Kerr County soldier to go there. He was assigned to a machine gun company, attached to General Pershing’s 1st Division, 28th Regiment. As a 2nd Lieutenant, he fought in the battles at Chateau-Thierry and St. Mihiel. 

Sadly, Earl was killed at the Battle of the Argonne near Exermont in October, 1918, remaining with his men after refusing to be evacuated for a foot injury received in a prior battle. He and five of his men were beset by the enemy, and Earl died in the attack. 

He was cited with a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross for heroism, awarded to his father, which described Earl’s heroic actions. These included maintaining his men while they were being heavily shelled and caring for the wounded, “with utter disregard of his own safety” both there, and at Sissons and near Berzy-le Sec. 

“His dauntless courage and excellent example enabled his men to take the Germans as prisoners,” the citation read. Earl was buried in the Argonne Cemetery at Meuse. Kerrville’s Mountain Street now bears his name.

Hal died three years later from spinal meningitis at the age of 31, while engaged to Etheldra Fraley. Bill and Dede, however, lived to old age, raising families with their spouses, Mary Johnston and Jesmyr Fordtran, respectively.

After graduating from Tivy High School, Aimee Zoe and Hat both graduated as teachers from Southwest Texas State Normal School. Aimee Zoe took a job at a private school in Monterrey, Mexico, staying with family friends, which is where she met her future husband, Robert Louis “Rob” Schmerbeck.

Rob was the son of Robert Louis Peter and Emma C. Von Schmerbeck, and was born in Brenham, Texas. The family came to Kerrville when he was 15, and lived on Tchoupitoulas Street, but after his father died in 1901, the family moved to San Antonio. 

Rob attended Main Avenue High School and joined a quasi-military organization called the Zouaves, where he became captain. By then, the Spanish-American War had started, and his unit enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 20 years old. He proudly raised the flag at Morro Castle when it was taken, and later presented it to the Witte Museum. The family, however, kept his sword.

After his discharge, Rob eventually went to work in Monterrey, Mexico at American Smelting and Refining, where he met Aimee Zoe. Robert and Aimee lived for a while in Kerrville, where their first child, Robert Louis, Jr., “Bob,” was born in 1909. Upon their return to Mexico, their other children — Garrett Gill and Aimee Louise — were born. When they returned to Kerrville in 1919, Rob got a franchise as a Buick and Chevrolet dealer, which he ran until the Depression.

At Tivy High School, son Bob was captain of the football team, and graduated as salutatorian in 1927. After two years at Schreiner Institute, he attended UT law school. The depression hit so Bob came home without finishing to help support the family. He was a teller at the First State Bank (now Wells Fargo), but when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a “bank holiday,” Bob lost the job. In 1933, he went to work for his uncles, W.G. Garrett, Jr. and Dede, at Garrett Insurance, which they had founded in 1918.

Bobby said that his father was a talented clarinetist who had a Dixieland band, which was once named the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Foot-warmers.”

Bob married Edith Hazel Hauser of San Antonio in 1940, and two years later, he went off to war.

“I found it pretty amazing,” said Bobby, “that he was 32 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but he enlisted anyway.”

He became an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps but didn’t go overseas, and was discharged as a captain in 1956. He and Edith had two children: Robert Louis, III “Bobby,” and Elizabeth. 

Marium’s own story goes back to the earlier days of Dallas, where her grandparents, George William and Adeline Frances Hood, moved from Gilmer, Texas, and owned several enterprises.

“My grandparents raised me after my mother, Rubie Mai (Brodnax), died when I was 21 months old,” Marium said. “She got influenza in 1919, and in those days, they didn’t have antibiotics. My father, Marcus Moore Hood, was a traveling salesman for the wholesaler, Standard Razor Company, and so they took me in.”

George Hood was an optometrist and a jeweler, but after his vision worsened, he and his wife took in boarders at their 14-room home on Junius St. in East Dallas.

Rubie Mae’s father, William, ran a grocery store, a drug store and lots of shops in the warehouse district in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas.

“He just changed the spelling of his last name from Broadnax after someone painted a wagon he had had made and left off the ‘a’,” she added.

When Marium was nine years old, Marcus married Nona Rogers, but Marium still lived with her grandparents.

“My grandmother didn’t really like her, and since my father was on the road so much, they thought it was better for me to live with them,” she said.

Nona consulted at Nieman-Marcus for her expertise on antiques, silver and jewelry, and had “a talent for making something out of nothing.”

One of her most vivid childhood memories was a long tour she took with her grandparents to Canada and across to the east coast, and down to Virginia, her grandmother’s birth place. She wrote about it in a college paper, along with brochures and photos.

Marium attended SMU for two years on a scholarship, then transferred to Baylor University, where she began a lifelong love of poetry, due to one memorable professor.

“A.J. Armstrong was the world authority on Robert Browning,” she said. “He dedicated his life to Browning’s life and works, and that made it a jewel. But he was much more than that. What he stressed was not in books. He was teaching life.”

Armstrong also spurred the university to create its Browning Library, which Marium said had beautiful stained-glass windows depicting many of Browning’s poems. This experience later enhanced her admiration for Hat Garrett, who taught history at Tivy High School for 40 years, and became a prolific and recognized poet, who published several books of poetry, including “Tears and Glory” and “Far Horizon.” 

“She would sit at her desk that had a map behind her, and while she talked to the students, she would take her pointer, and point to the exact spot on the map without ever looking back at it. She memorized everything,” Marium said. 

On her uncle’s advice, she came to Kerrville after obtaining her teachers’ certificate, living at Mrs. Beddingfield’s in a big white house still on Earl Garrett St.

“I was at Tivy Jr. and Sr. High School, and taught language arts, speech, history and directed plays,” she said. “Sometimes I’d have to work from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., and when I told the principal, he just said, ‘Well, that’s what we hired you for!”

Marium met Garrett on what, for her, was a blind date through her friend, although he recalled seeing her when she came into Schreiner’s Store where he worked. Garrett had graduated from Schreiner Institute, and then took advanced accountancy from LaSalle Extension University.

Laura Garrett, also known as Dom Mama, Marium said was a “dyed in the wool” Presbyterian. Marium joined her church after hearing the Baptist preacher “butcher” the English language. 

“I couldn’t get the message because I was tangled up in the vehicle. He couldn’t help it,” she said. “Back then, many preachers who got their calling informally were just not schooled as well.”

She and Garrett wed in 1939, and had four children: Marilyn, Francie, and twins, Mark and Philip. During WWII, after Garrett was sent overseas, she worked for the ration board in Kerr County. 

Garrett became an officer and served overseas in the artillery, and was in Morocco and Italy.

Afterward, Garrett went back to Schreiner’s, and Marium taught for several years at Schreiner Institute.

Later, as their children grew, Philip was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which she said she recognized when he began exhibiting signs.

“The twins were in a study by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist,” she said, “The doctors studied and measured everything.”

Marium continues living in Kerrville, enjoying visits with her children and grandchildren, who have moved on.

“Bobby” Schmerbeck was born in San Antonio while his father was still serving during the war and Edith stayed with her mother. He returned to Kerrville with his parents, and also attended the same schools as his father.

In 1966, Bobby joined Garrett Insurance, and in 1974, he and his father bought out W.G., Jr. and Dede’s share. He married Shirley Gann in 1975, and their children were Robert Louis IV, Stephen and Nancy.

When his father passed away of cancer in 1988, Bobby took over the business, which he and Stephen run. 

“This is now the fourth generation of our family to be with the company,” he added, “and we are in our 91st year.”

He said he remembered being very close to his grandmother, Aimee Zoe, and admired her greatly.

“She was a saint in everything she did,” Bobby said. “She was involved in the church, like her mother, Laura. I really am amazed that she actually went to Chile to be a school teacher, and how bold that was in those days. I’m not sure how she convinced her parents to let her go there.”

He said that she never learned to drive a car, though.

“She had wanted to learn to drive a car,” he said. “The first time my grandfather took her out, she missed a turn and then ran it through a fence. That concluded her driving career.”
William Gray Garrett, Sr., came to Kerr County from Alabama in 1882, married Laura Blanche Gill, and the couple made a large impact on various legal, civic and religious aspects of the community. All four of their sons fought in WWI, and one died a hero. Their lives were intertwined with many area families, including the Schmerbecks.