In a rural community, befriending neighbors and cultivating strong relationships keeps the small town spirit alive. Bernice Niemietz shows what it means to be true to yourself and to devote time and energy to those around you.
“Once I make a friend, we’ll be lifelong friends,” said Bernice, who has almost always lived in the La Vernia area.
When Bernice was 8 years old, her parents, George and Margaret Kotzur, loaded her, Ferdinand, her brother and little sister Martha, and took them to a dry farm on the Bexar-Wilson County border in the 1940s. .
Upon their arrival, the Kotzurs joined the Catholic Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Sainte-Hedwig. Bernice’s family is deeply rooted in the church and in Sainte-Hedwig. Margaret’s grandfather, Thomas Kosub, helped establish and build the church. Four years after moving to the farm, God blessed the family with their fourth child, Anthony.
Bernice’s education began at Hilltop School in Adkins, a one-room school where each row of desks corresponded to a grade level.
It was the era of school consolidation, which caused many schools to disperse their students elsewhere and close their doors.
When Hilltop closed, Bernice briefly attended Adkins Elementary before it closed as well. Then she attended Sayers Elementary School until East Central High School opened.
“I was one of the first female students to attend and graduate from East Central High School,” Bernice said.
“The building was huge,” she recalls. All the students had lockers. They went to different rooms for the lessons.
“And there were hot lunches served in the cafeteria,” she marveled.
Bernice graduated at the age of 16 and continued to work on the family farm as she has done all her life. The maintenance of the house and the property was a family affair.
“Being the oldest of four children, I was Daddy’s first farmer,” Bernice said. “Everyone was helping on the farm. I weeded peanuts and plucked corn and cotton… Children, we were at the ideal height to load a cotton bag.
Bernice remembers her mother’s large garden which grew over the years, feeding the Kotzurs and everyone who joined them at the table.
After turning 17, Bernice transferred her work from the fields and the farm to the office. Her first job was as an insurance clerk at USAA in San Antonio in 1956, where she worked for seven years.
In June 1958, Bernice married Edward Kosub. The two had a daughter, Michelle, in 1963. Bernice enjoyed her time working for USAA, but left to become a full-time mom.
“Back then, companies let women go when they got pregnant,” Bernice said. “I left on my own terms and wanted to be home with Michelle.”
The marriage did not work out. For several years, life was difficult for Bernice.
But, in 1968, Bernice married Jim Niemietz. Together, they raised three children: Michelle, Roslyn and Jeff. Throughout their parenthood, Bernice and Jim each held multiple jobs and relied on their good friend and local babysitter, Jo Jenschke, to look after the children.
All three children graduated from La Vernia High School and blessed Bernice and Jim with seven grandchildren. The Niemietz children are at the center of Bernice’s life.
“What am I most proud of?” she thought. “My three children. The son of God, Jesus, was a teacher and my three children are in the field of education.
Bernice admires how much her children serve others, mirroring their mother’s actions.
“I like retirement because I do a lot of volunteering,” said Bernice.
For decades, Bernice has been involved in church-related and volunteering activities, as a way to give back to her community and to express her appreciation and love for her Lord and Savior.
“I have always believed in God and he has helped me so much,” Bernice said, with a catch in his voice. “God has blessed my family tremendously. “
The best 20 years of her life, she said, were when she attended the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RICA) program at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in La Vernia.
“It was fulfilling in a spiritual way,” explained Bernice. “I learned to know God better and to help people enter into the Catholic faith. “
While Bernice was on the teaching staff of the RCIA, she obtained a certificate of pastoral training from the Oblate School of Theology.
“If I was to guide people on a spiritual journey, I had to know our faith,” Bernice said.
Tiny daily tasks and projects, such as sewing and yard work, are steeped in spirituality for Bernice. She and friends create a king-size quilt as a wedding present for her granddaughter – which was heartwarming and created new memories.
“I’m doing something love and it brings back memories of my mom while I’m doing it,” Bernice said.
One of Bernice’s greatest accomplishments is to trace part of the journey of her Polish ancestors to the United States in the 19th century. She has visited Poland three times.
“I went to church where my ancestors did,” she says. “I was standing on the platform of the station from where my ancestors made the first leg of their journey to America.”
Bernice is 100% Polish and is proud of her ancestors from the Silesian region of Poland. She hopes to visit her family’s homeland again one day.
Friends mean the world to Bernice, including some she met while working as an election secretary, which she did for eight years.
Next time you see Bernice Niemietz feeding the church cats, standing in line at HEB, or grabbing take-out at La Vernia Chinese Cuisine – her favorite restaurant – wave her a neighborly hello. You will make a friend for life.