Remembering Our Beloved Sheriff Marge ...
A Real Texas Folk Hero
November 13, 1934~July 25, 2004
A True Texas Folk Hero
The smaller a place is the greater the big things in it are missed. We were mad when the souvenir vultures stole the old signs and antique fire truck. We smarted when the blacksmith shop washed down creek. We felt an even bigger shock when the 2002 Flood took the cotton gin. Even the voices and faces of Hondo, Tex and Sam have faded into the moonlight. But the loudest scream heard will be the silence of one unique voice: the voice that accompanied the even stronger presence of our dynamic and dear Sheriff Marge.
Marge was truly Luckenbach’s first citizen. Marge’s presence in Luckenbach began in 1886 when her great-great grandfather August Engel had the first post-office in the rock house of Elizabeth and Benno Engel. August’s sister, Minna Engel, married Albert Luckenbach and named the store after him. Marge’s great-great Uncle Adolph Engel was the first bartender. In 1970 it was her great Uncle Benno Engel who put an ad in the paper, “town for sale,” when he had emphysema. Marge’s mother, Mrs. Brehmer, was also an Engel.
So how did Marge become Sheriff?
In 1971 after Hondo and Guich bought Luckenbach from Uncle Benno, they got to know the regular customers who’d been coming there for years. Oliver Ottmers (Marge’s first husband) was one of the ones who sat around there a lot. Marge would come down to get Oliver. But she never “sat around,” she had to be active and do things. One time she reprimanded another customer, “We don’t need that kind of language here! Get on outa here!” The guy actually left. So Hondo, who gave titles to everyone said, “Marge, I’d like for you to be my Sheriff.” Hondo was self proclaimed Mayor, Guich was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ray Petsch was named Minister of Agriculture since he took the eggs to Austin to sell. For the next 33 years Marge truly made everyone feel like they were indeed “Somebody in Luckenbach.”
Marge was never seen without her long braids and long rattlesnake earrings. Even her husband James grew a long braid to match hers. She often wore short shorts with panty hose during the Seventies. But more visible than her image was her voice.
With the projection of that voice she could’ve been an actress in the pre-electronic days. Guich recently recalled when Marge came to work saying, “Oh I’m so embarrassed. I was calling those kids to come home and all the neighbors’ cows came up!” Just a few months ago when talking to 90-year-old Mrs. Engel, who lives in the rock house, she asked if Marge was still working at Luckenbach, because she couldn’t hear her yelling anymore (2 blocks away). We explained, yes Marge is still here.
In 1983 Marge married James. Both worked in the mill at Stein’s Lumber Company, where Marge was also known for taking over and giving orders. James said he was first attracted to Marge because of her yellow ’78 Plymouth Arrow. He stood her up 3 times on the first date attempts but then finally they had their first official date at the 87 Drive-In. James’ brothers told us not to pry for any romantic story here. They said it was a matter not of falling in love, but that love eventually fell in. Marge and James worked together at Luckenbach for many years, Marge behind the bar, and Deputy James on “roads, grounds and dance hall”.
Don’t underestimate Marge as a simple country girl bartender with a loud mouth. She was a true Texas woman: smart, strong and remarkable, who had a soft side and a loyal spirit. Her mind could quickly calculate how much ice or cases of beer we’d need for 1,000’s of people. On our first World’s Fair in 1973 she worked her fingers to frost bit condition for 22 hours serving beer out of ice tubs, returning only after 2 hours sleep to pick up acres of beer cans, “so the Sunday gospel singers wouldn’t have to step on them,” she said. When my Cris Graham added wine to the bar menu, Marge had trouble using the corkscrew. So, she ingeniously invented her own Luckenbach corkscrew: a screw glued to a Phillips screwdriver, twisted with a pair of pliers.
She became a cult figure because of her popularity. Her face was printed on T-shirts and koozies. People came to the bar to see her, hear her rough German accent, listen to details of history, and hear her speak German to the German visitors. She was a genuine authentic piece of Texana who became endeared to everyone.
Marge was such a good Sheriff because she had eyes in the back of her head. You can’t bring your own beer to Luckenbach. If you got out of your car with one in your hand she already had someone over to tell you about it before you took 2 steps more. Some people at Willie’s Picnic had beer tickets left over when they announced “last call” from the stage. They were complaining profusely about it. Marge, in her best “Sheriff Marge Voice,” told them, “Too bad you had so many left over. You shouldna been so greedy!!”
Reporting crime and keeping the law in peaceful downtown Luckenbach took some detective work. Marge thought someone went too far when they stole the handles off the two faucets in the ladies restroom. “They didn’t even have ‘Luckenbach’ written on them anywhere! Why would someone steal faucet handles for souvenirs?!” Marge said. The only clue she had figured out is that the thief was probably a female since the scene of the crime took place in the ladies restroom.
The most tragic crime in Luckenbach was when Ethel, the 6 year old guinea hen mascot was killed by a dog. Ethel had managed to outrun countless kids, dogs, critters, tourists and 15,000 of Willie’s fans. She had become the Moon’s symbol and one of Marge’s bar pets. Who could forget the time Ethel stowed a way on the Coors Light beer truck? What a surprise to Bubba the beer man when he opened the truck door and discovered her happily setting on a stack of beer boxes. Marge had the idea to stuff or “mount” Ethel and perch her as a permanent monument over the bar by Hondo’s eagle. “I’ll call the same guy who stuffed my snake!” she announced.
We will miss Marge behind the bar and cash registers. It’s hard to imagine that during the 2002 Flood there was mud and water up over the bar. Marge admitted to laundering the money from the safe and cash registers. She took it home and dried it in her new dryer.
Above all, Marge was our Ambassadoress to the world. Proving that you never have to leave Luckenbach to be an effective peacemaker. She said, “Working at Luckenbach is like taking a trip around the world without the hassles of traveling. I have bonded with the world. It’s a total communication system without leaving home. Isn’t that wonderful?” Lastly, Marge added, “Luckenbach is a place where you can come and be yourself. It’s a place where people come together. We need one in every state!”
The mystique of Luckenbach is a sum of legendary people whose uniqueness has shaped and colored its history. However fragile the physical place, the spirit of these people will never die here. Marge leaves behind her husband James, her four kids – Dolores, Roberta, George and Carl, her brother Lanne – 7 grandkids, 7 great grandkids, and thousands of endeared customers to whom she had handed a beer, a smile or a word. She treated everyone as family. Her children say Luckenbach was Marge’s life. In return she gave life back to Luckenbach. Just the other day her grandson Michael said, “She finally got to see her Century plant bloom,” knowing that when they bloom they die, leaving many new baby plants around it.
She will live forever in our hearts and minds.
by Becky Crouch Patterson