San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 25th, 2009
New LBJ exhibit is bittersweet parting

DietelNorman Dietel at work on the Fredericksburg Radio Post.

By HAP MANSFIELD
Scene Editor

A very special exhibit opening is planned for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos. It is somewhat of a bittersweet occasion as the remarkable photos of Norman Dietels signal the end of museum director Scott Jordan’s tenure.

Jordan took a special interest in the new exhibit, “LBJ Country: Through the Camera Lens of Norman Dietel,” making it a parting gift to the area. The opening is an opportunity to both say goodbye to Jordan and thank him for this extraordinary exhibit of photos taken by the  long-time Fredericksburg newspaperman and crony of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Jordan will be off to Sonora to work with the Heritage Trails Program. Sonora is the regional headquarters for the Pecos Trail Region, the legendary area that hosted the world’s first documented rodeo. The Heritage Trails program is the successful combination of historic preservation and tourism administered by Texas Historical Commission.

Jordan was hired as the LBJ Museum of San Marcos in 2007 to be the museum’s first director shortly after the museum opened its doors on Dec. 6, 2006. His last day to work at the museum will be at the opening on Nov. 28.

The exhibit is a collection of photos taken by Norman Dietel, editor and son of the founder of the Fredericksburg Radio Post.  The prints on display are from  a collection of some 1,200 photographs and negatives donated to the LBJ Museum of San Marcos by one of Dietel’s daughters, Rosemarie “Pixie” Dietel Hageman of San Marcos.

Norman Dietel’s father, William, was an educator who traveled from school to school, mostly in the Hill Coutry. He graduated from Texas State Normal School at 16 and went on to the University of Texas in Austin to get his master’s degree when he was 26. William Dietel’s wife, when pregnant with her fifth child, understandably refused any more traveling around, so he went to work for the local newspaper, the Fredericksburg Standard.

After he got a taste of the newspaper business, he hungered to create one of his own and started the Radio Post in 1922. Norman was born in New Braunfels in 1912 and inherited the journalism bug. In fact, the whole family was incorporated into the business with Aunt Erna Lee writing the society pages and Uncle Freddie doing the typesetting. Norman’s siblings helped out, as well as his mother, who ran the front office and proof read copy.  She worked well into her 80s and would walk the two miles from her home to the newspaper office if nobody picked her up.

The days when Norman Dietel was a newspaper editor were not the days of the one trick “journo” or “gonzo journalist” who can write about one thing and gets an expense account to do it. Dietel was photographer, writer, editor and a friend of the community. Said his daughter, Rosemarie, “He never met a stranger.”  In addition to his newspaper work, he also ran the local Western Union office for 27 years and was the local national weather observer for close to 50 years.

It was during Dietel’s jack-of-all-trades journalism career that he became friends with LBJ while meticulously covering Hill Country politics when Johnson was a senator. Norman married Louise Mae Henke in 1939. The couple had three children, Kathleen Dietel, William Randolph “Randy” Dietel and Rosemarie Hageman, the donor of the photos and youngest.  Henke was a relative of a famous Fredericksburg native, the late Admiral Chester Nimitz. Years later, Dietel would be instrumental in setting up the Nimitz Museum.

“My dad was a very interesting man, and he was a big supporter of LBJ,” Rosemarie Hageman said in an interview conducted for the Texas State-LBJ Museum collaborative oral history project. “He believed that the only way the people in office could know the needs of the people in their community was if they communicated with him. And so he just wrote on his little typewriter, clicking away – I can still hear him – many interesting letters about the weather and anything else that he felt a senator needed to know about his community.”

The photos in the exhibition show the plethora of interests of the journalist, as well as his influence and friendship with LBJ. Dietel was instrumental in getting the first chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer to visit the German-founded town of Fredericksburg. His exhibited photos reflect a range of LBJ-related subject matter from the President’s entertainment at the Texas Whitehouse to guests like Konrad Adenauer and world renowned pianist Van Cliburn. They also reveal  his affection for his community with pictures of Fredericksburg churches and scenes in Stonewall.

To call Dietel only a journalist, though, is not exactly accurate. While he did write editorials and a weekly range and field column and take daily photographs and institute a long-running summer vacation guide, he did so much more. He was instrumental in helping with many civic endeavors, including the establishment of Enchanted Rock State Park and designating RR 1 as the President’s Ranch Trail. He would eventually be secretary of the President’s Ranch Trail organization and was involved with the Historical Society of Fredericksburg.

He was also a two-term director of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce and founder and chairman of the Eastern Hill Country Resource Conservation and Development Agency.

“My father was a visionary,” said Rosemarie Hageman,  adding that he took his role of community service quite seriously.  She commented that her brother Randy said their dad used to say, “I’ve kept six honest men serving in my newspaper career.  They were ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’.”

To get a little flavor of what it was like to talk to Dietel, go to  http://millercenter.org/scripps/archive/oralhistories/detail/2705. There you will read a transcript of an interview Dietel did with Otto Lindig of Stonewall about Lyndon Johnson. Lindig was 26 when LBJ was born and saw the future president when he was four hours old. Dietel and Lindig’s conversational exchanges are both educational and amusing.

The massive photo collection has been converted to digital format, thanks to the Portals of Texas History program at the University of North Texas. Funded by the Summerlee Foundation, the program helps small museums and entities like the LBJ Museum of San Marcos preserve archival materials. The photographs and negatives were scanned and put on disc for the museum.

The LBJ Museum of San Marcos fills a special niche in the Johnson legacy by celebrating not only the President’s days in San Marcos while attending what is now Texas State University, but also his days as a public school teacher in Cotulla. It has a unique perspective to share with the public about the man known as “The Education President.”  Texas State is the only university in Texas – public or private – to have graduated a U.S. President.

With the exception of a few holidays, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Special tours can be arranged on other days by contacting the museum at (512) 353-3300.

Jordan and roseScott Jordan and Rosmarie Hageman chat about her father, the late Norman Dietel.

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