by PAT MURDOCK
The exhibit entitled “LBJ Country: Through the Camera Lens of Norman Dietel” has been extended until early April at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos.
The Dietel exhibit contains five panels of mounted photographs taken by the late Norman J. Dietel, son of the founder and himself the long-time editor and publisher of the Fredericksburg Radio Post newspaper. An old time newspaperman and photographer, Dietel became friends with Lyndon Johnson in the course of his meticulous coverage of the Texas Hill Country while Johnson was a senator.
The prints on display are from a collection of some 1,200 photographs and negatives donated to the LBJ Museum of San Marcos by Dietel’s daughter, Rosemarie “Pixie” Dietel Hageman of San Marcos. The exhibit reflects a wide range of LBJ related subject matter – from the President’s entertainment at the Texas Whitehouse of such distinguished guests as Conrad Adenauer and Van Cleburne to scenes in Stonewall and Fredericksburg churches.
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.
Norman Dietel’s father, William Dietel, was an educator who traveled from school to school around the Hill Country (with one diversion to the South Texas town of Mercedes) during the course of his career as a teacher and school administrator. Graduating from Southwest Texas State Normal School at the age of 16, he obtained his master’s degree from UT-Austin in 1913 at the age of 26.
Rosemarie Hageman said when her grandmother was pregnant with her fifth child, she said “no more” to further travel, so her grandfather decided to work for the local newspaper, the Fredericksburg Standard. Because of his desire to own his own paper, William Dietel started the Radio Post in 1922. The Standard and the Radio Post were merged into today’s Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post after the Dietel family sold the Radio Post in 1984.
Norman Dietel, born in New Braunfels in 1912, inherited his father’s love for the newspaper business. He and his siblings were all incorporated into the family business. The collection reflects Norman Dietel’s love for photography. His daughter says he took pictures of everything from lightening to fires on a daily basis. And she says, “He never met a stranger.”
In her interview for the Texas State University-San Marcos LBJ Museum of San Marcos’s collaborative oral history project, Hageman said of her father, “My dad was a very interesting man, and he was a big supporter of LBJ. 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 LBJ Museum of San Marcos, located at 131 N. Guadalupe Street on the court house square in downtown San Marcos, represents a major effort to preserve and share the important artifacts and documents of the man known as “the Education President.” The museum opened on Dec. 6, 2006, after more than nine years of fundraising and facility renovation.
The museum’s focus is on the time that President Johnson spent as a student at what is now Texas State University-San Marcos and his one year of teaching in the South Texas town of Cotulla.
It was here that he developed his philosophical and political skills, as well as his understanding of the importance of education. Today, Texas State remains the only higher education institution in Texas to have graduated a U.S. President.
The museum’s permanent and rotating exhibits, educational tours and special events have brought a unique cultural experience to San Marcos, welcoming a number of visiting university classes, local private schools and public school groups from the area and even as far away as Houston. Collaborations and partnerships with Texas State, the Texas Historical Commission and various civic and cultural organizations have helped to foster an increased interest in local tourism development, historic preservation and the legacy of Lyndon Johnson.
Museum operating hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information about the LBJ Museum of San Marcos, the current exhibit or to arrange a special tour, contact Museum Manger Bill Cunningham at 512-353-3300 or Museum Board President Pat Murdock at 512-353-1943.