Hock and Lucille Knoche Butcher Endowed Scholarship
Lucille Ruby Knoche Circa 1932.
Lucille "Lucy" Ruby Knoche was born on a farm near Bixby, Oklahoma on the banks of Snake Creek. She remembered fondly the good times she spent swimming with her brothers in that creek, and in later years as her mind was failing, memories of Snake Creek were some of the last memories she lost in her battle against Alzheimer’s Disease. Interestingly, the friends she played with in the creek were the children of a neighboring black family, and the Knoche children often visited their house where Lucy remembered making a snack out of homemade bread dipped in gravy.
As a youngster, Lucy walked a mile each way to attend Lone Star School (known locally as Yellow Dog School), a one-room school housing grades 1-4. She then attended Liberty High School, graduating after the 11th grade with classmates who were mostly Cherokee and Choctaw Indians. Times were very hard during the depression and many youngsters dropped out after elementary school in order to help their families by taking a job or working on the family farm. All of the Knoche children completed high school with the exception of Arthur (who became a self-made multimillionaire by buying farm land in what eventually became the Tulsa suburb, Broken Arrow). Lucy described herself growing up as a tomboy, loving the outdoors and going everywhere with her brothers. She had the nickname "Squaw", because she looked as dark as an Indian after a summer in the sun.
The Knoche farm was purchased from Indians, and Lucy told stories of intoxicated Indians in search of their family burial ground (located on the north side of the house) coming into their house and falling asleep on a bed. The Knoches would leave them alone in order not to aggravate a touchy relationship and eventually they would sober up, apologize, and leave.
Lucille’s sister, Lorene, remembers Lucy carrying a 22 rifle when they went for a walk down the road to the Snake Creek Bridge. On the bridge the sisters encountered a rabid dog, and Lucy positioned her baby sister behind her and kept the rifle aimed at the dog, which walked past without incident. The photo of Lucy with her rifle takes on added significance in the light of this story.
Life was difficult on the farm, and as soon as she graduated from high school (during the Great Depression) Lucy went to Houston, where her older sister Pearl was living. Houston, in the midst of its oil boom, was much less affected by the depression than other places, and jobs were available there. Lucy worked as a nanny, and then as cashier and elevator operator at the Rice Hotel, walking to and from the apartment she shared with Pearl in a very rough part of Houston. Lucy attended West End Baptist Church where she played on the ladies basketball team. The coach of the team, Hock Butcher, couldn't help but notice his talented fast forward was also a beautiful young lady and their relationship blossomed. The couple married on May 5, 1939, living first in a small rented duplex at 313 Illinois Street in Old Baytown, then moving to Lynchburg in 1946 where they raised their family of one boy, Frank, and three girls, Madalyn, Marlene, and Laura.
They first bought an acre of land in Lynchburg ($500) next to an existing house and intended to build on that site. They planted fruit trees and blackberry bushes on this acre, but a brush fire burned everything. When the adjacent house was offered for sale, Lucy and Hock purchased it for $6650 and made $35 monthly payments to the Cedar Bayou Brick Company. The house was one block away from Four Corners on the road to the historic Lynchburg Ferry. In Lynchburg, Lucy managed a house and a "mini-farm" where at one time or another she had chickens, sheep, goats, a milk cow, and a horse.
Lucy was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and possessed a vivacious personality and sharp mind. Her mother "Lena Knoche" remembered in a video interview "when Lucille came into a room, heads turned" because she was so pretty. Her daughter, Marlene, remembers that Lucy could recite from memory many selections of poetry, and read every one of the Books of Knowledge (an encyclopedia set) from cover to cover. Her husband remembered however, that Lucille was not good at mathematics, especially fractions, and as a result had difficulty with her job as a cashier at the Rice Hotel. Her sisters, Lorene and Pearl, both acknowledged that Lucille "was the best of the whole bunch", referring to the Knoche children. Pearl described Lucy as "a lovely person", and Lorene said she was "the sweet one - more sensitive than the rest of us." But Lucille was not without spunk. Madalyn remembered that for Christmas one year, her mother saved and sacrificed to buy her husband a nice self-winding watch, which Hock, with characteristic stubbornness and for unknown reasons, refused to wear. Payback for Hock’s insensitivity came on his next birthday, when Lucy presented him with the birdbath that she had long wanted for the back yard. Hock continued to be the beneficiary of similar gift selections on subsequent occasions, until finally he relented and wore the watch. In another situation, Frank remembered the shock of seeing his normally easy-going mother angrily shredding the pictures of his high school sweetheart who had displayed the audacity of dumping her son for another guy.
Lucy was an accomplished seamstress, and used this talent to make dresses and shirts for her children. Her sister-in law, Myrtle Kalbitz, recalled that Lucy would look at the window displays of children’s clothing at Baytown's 'Bo Peep Shop', then go home and make the dress to look even prettier than the display. Myrtle said Lucy did not know how to cook as a young bride, because growing up she preferred swimming in Snake Creek to working in the kitchen with her mom. Lucy learned this skill from Myrtle and became a good cook. Her roast ketchup gravy was especially good, and its recipe is included at the end of this article. Lucy always had a project going. Her daughter, Marlene, recalled that at one time or another, Lucy refinished every piece of furniture in the house. Lucy contracted chronic bronchitis (asthma) in middle age, which she attributed to exposure to paint remover fumes. More likely, Lucille had a predisposition to asthma that was a genetic gift from her grandmother, Anna Elizabeth Bieri. Lucy was also an exceptional gardener, maintaining beautiful flowerbeds of azaleas, camellias, and roses. She loved flowers and enjoyed being outdoors, preferring that to housework - perhaps explaining why the house was usually in a state of clutter. Commenting on Lucille's natural beauty as well as her housekeeping deficiencies, her sister, Lorene, confessed amazement that Lucille could come out of such a messy house looking like "she just stepped out of a hat box."
It is not clear as to why Lucy and Hock came to place such a value on education, but they were convinced that the path to a better life was through education, and the couple sacrificed greatly to send all four of the children to college. When the financial pinch became especially severe, Lucy took part-time jobs at the local feed and hardware store and at fabric shops in Baytown. Thanks to their self-sacrifice and encouragement, all of the children not only graduated from college, but went on to receive advanced degrees. Lucille encouraged them to try new things, and leave the nest to go wherever opportunities beckoned.
Lucy and Hock were active members of the First Baptist Church in Highlands where all of their children were baptized. They were not especially vocal about their Christian faith, but their lifestyle and faithful church attendance made a convincing statement about their Christian commitment. While their actions left no doubt that they loved each other and their children, the couple rarely showed this affection publicly and kisses and hugs were not commonplace in the family.
At about the age of 65, Lucy began to loose her mental faculties. Her short-term memory went first, and progressively she became unable to perform common tasks. She fell at the age of 79 and broke a hip, but because of her inability to communicate, it went undiagnosed for several weeks. Decreased mobility made Lucy susceptible to pneumonia and she died in a local hospital one day short of her 56th wedding anniversary and two months short of her 80th birthday.
Lucy was 5', 6" tall and weighed about 115 pounds. She had large brown eyes and medium brown hair. Daughter-in-law, Linda Butcher, remembered her beautiful skin and coloring that made makeup almost unnecessary. Lucy also had a crooked toe (next to her big toe), a genetic trait that has been seen in at least one of her descendants (grandson Brad Butcher).
LUCY’S ROAST AND KETCHUP GRAVY
This most excellent meal was one of only two Sunday lunch possibilities at the Butcher house, alternating with fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Lucy would put the roast on to cook just before leaving for Sunday School, and it would be ready to eat when the family got home from church. Using a small amount of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet, brown the sides of a chuck roast and salt and pepper it. Cover the roast with onion slices and a generous amount of ketchup. Fill the skillet with water to a depth of about half the height of the roast, cover, and cook in the oven for approximately 3 hours at 350 degrees.
To make the gravy, mix one tablespoon of cornstarch in a large glass of cold water. Remove the roast from the skillet, put the skillet over a low flame, and slowly add the cornstarch and water to the roast/ketchup drippings with constant stirring until the right consistency is obtained. Salt and pepper to taste. When done properly this is a thin gravy. Rice topped with this ketchup gravy is absolutely delicious.
Lucy always made a large volume of ketchup gravy because Monday’s dinner inevitably featured the leftover roast and gravy in the form of ‘hash.' She cut potatoes into small cubes, added diced onion and cooked them for about ten minutes with a small amount of oil. Then the roast chunks were added and flavored with the remaining ketchup gravy and water, and cooked until done. Hash was always served with cornbread and green peas.
Hiram "Hock" Butcher was the tenth of eleven children born to George and Lura Butcher, who lived in Houston’s West End District at 5306 Inker Street. His actual given name was Hiram Wood Butcher, the middle name being that of the doctor who delivered him. For some reason Hock disliked the idea of being named after the doctor, and started using William as his middle name at an early age.
Hock was a standout baseball player, and played on the Reagan High School team that won a regional championship. At the time, the third baseman for the Houston Buff minor league team was Eddie Hock, and since Hiram briefly played that position for Reagan, he picked up the nickname ‘Hock’ from his high school teammates. He played softball for the state champion Texas Storage Company team, and semipro baseball for the Humble Oilers. In 1934 Hock was chosen as one of the top amateur softball players in Houston, and was given a tryout with the Houston Buffalos, a St. Louis Cardinal farm team. The Cincinnati Reds offered Hock a professional contract that included a $500 bonus. He held out for more money because a teammate, Arnie Moser, received a $1,000 bonus and Hock thought he was the better player. However, the Reds never increased their offer so Hock, with characteristic stubbornness, passed up a shot at the big time. (Moser made the Reds major league roster in 1937, but played for just one year as a pinch hitter.)
Ever the ladies man, Hock coached the West End Baptist Church ladies basketball team in 1937 and the star forward on that team was the beautiful Lucille Knoche, who had come to Houston after finishing high school in Oklahoma. Hock recalled being more than a little distracted by Lucy twirling his hair as he huddled with the team during timeouts. Their 56-year marriage began on May 5, 1939 after a one-year engagement.
After graduating from Reagan as the only Butcher sibling to graduate from high school, Hock worked as a clerk in the circulation department of the Houston Post. For about a year Hock attended Smalley Business College at night to study accounting, but gave that up because of headaches that he attributed to the reading required. In 1937 Hock managed to land a $80/month job with the Humble Oil & Refining Company, mostly because of his baseball playing ability. At that time, with no major league teams in Houston, company semi-pro teams were a source of great pride, and the Humble Oil Company supported its team by hiring outstanding baseball talent. Hock remembered going in for his initial interview and hearing the supervisor mumble “not another ballplayer." At first Hock worked in the laboratory in Houston, analyzing oil well samples, but transferred to the Baytown refinery in April of 1939 in order to make enough money to marry Lucy.
At the Baytown refinery, Hock first worked on the labor gang where the idea was to work the new help to exhaustion to see if they had the right stuff. Hock passed that test and was transferred to the Compound where refined oil was put into barrels and cans, working as a carpenter in that department. Later he was transferred to the Instrument Department where he spent most of his career. Hock worked at Humble/Exxon for 40 years, retiring as a supervisor in the mechanical department. After retirement Exxon called him back as a consultant, and Hock made “the best money of his life” -- $65,000 a year for two years. While still working at Exxon, Hock educated himself by correspondence courses in the field of electronics, and converted a part of his garage into a TV repair shop. TV repair was more of a hobby than a part time job, as he charged friends and acquaintances only a fraction of the price they would regularly pay.
Hock and Lucy lived first in a rented duplex on Illinois Street in Old Baytown, and then moved to Lynchburg in 1946 where they raised their family. Hock was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Deer Park school board, and played an important role in persuading the Deer Park school district to construct Lynchburg Elementary School. This kept Lynchburg children from having to endure hour-long bus rides across the Houston Ship Channel to Deer Park until they were ready to enter middle school. Hock was also one of the organizing forces that introduced Little League baseball to Baytown, and was the coach of the Thad Felton Giants in the second year of league play.
Hock and Lucy had four children and sacrificed greatly to send all of them to college. Thanks to their determination and encouragement, all of the children not only graduated from college, but went on to receive advanced degrees. Frank and Madalyn attended The University of Texas, but Hock fell in love with Baylor University when Marlene chose that destination, and became a diehard Bear fan. In 2002, Baylor recognized Hock as an “Alumnus by Choice," in tribute to his support of that university. One of his favorite pastimes was to closely track the college football recruiting wars to see what prospects were choosing UT and his beloved Bears. Baylor and his children honored Hock in 2006 by establishing the Hiram and Lucille Knoche Butcher Endowed Scholarship Fund, and a scholarship was endowed at The University of Texas in 2008.
An especially difficult thing for Hock to do was to speak in public. Hock considered this a great weakness and encouraged his children to work hard on this skill. When Hock attempted to tell a funny story, his telling of the story was generally more comical than the story itself. He could proceed only a few words at a time into the story, pausing to laugh at himself as he reflected on the humor. The result was an excruciatingly drawn out story that only the most patient (or those who loved him) could endure. Hock also had an interesting way of pronouncing words that ended in ‘o’, using instead the ending ‘er’. Tomato became ‘to-mat’-ter”, and potato was said “pot-tat’-er”.
He and Lucy were as generous as was possible to their children, but stingy about spending money on themselves. Around the house, Hock was a jack-of-all-trades, but tended to repair and build things in a make-shift fashion, probably to save money, or possibly just out of the unbreakable habits of a frugal lifestyle.
Hock did not smoke or drink. Not smoking may account for his longevity since his father and brothers, who all smoked, died in their fifties or early sixties from heart problems or strokes. Hock recalled that he decided not to drink after seeing his father come home drunk and beat up his mother. Hock was non-confrontational to a fault. No matter what the issue, if there seemed to be a potential for confrontation or unpleasantness, Hock would avoid the situation. Hock could also be extraordinarily stubborn, which might seem incompatible with being non-confrontational, but he superimposed those two traits by refusing to discuss issues with his grown children if there appeared to be a disagreement possibility.
Even as a retiree, Hock continued to play softball until his legs finally gave out at the age of 82. In his 70’s he was recruited by a Houston seniors team that played tournaments in Sacramento, Hawaii, and Las Vegas, and won the world championship senior slow-pitch tournament in Detroit.
Lucy’s mental faculties gradually diminished with Alzheimer’s disease, but Hock continued to care for her himself for about 15 years, refusing to admit Lucy into a nursing home even when her condition became quite hopeless. In this situation he demonstrated for his children and others a profound example of love and the strength of his commitment to a marriage for better or worse.
Hock was especially fond of his grandson, Brian. He treated Brian more like a son than a grandson, coaching his Little League teams, giving him a house, and financing his education at Baylor University and his law school training at the University of Houston. In his later years, with Lucy mentally limited, Hock’s relationship with Brian was his closest family relationship.
Even into his eighties, Hock was vain about his appearance and dyed his hair to preserve a ‘youthful’ look. The problem was that Hock was too frugal and/or macho to go to a hair salon, and used cheap rinses that often produced a green or red tint that resulted in less than the desired impression on the ladies.
Hock was a faithful member of the First Baptist Church of Highlands for 60 years. For many of those years he taught a 12-year-old boys’ Sunday School class and regularly gave more than a tithe to the church.
All of his life, Hock was afflicted with a heart arrhythmia condition in which the heart beats rapidly out of control. When he was 40 years old, Hock was hospitalized with an especially severe episode, and at that time there was no effective treatment, causing great concern in the family. The introduction of the medication Inderal was like a wonder drug for Hock’s condition, and the problem was completely controlled after that. In his mid-seventies, Hock suffered a mild stroke, the effects of which were ameliorated by therapy. However, he was left with an unsteady gait that hastened the end of his softball playing days. At the age of 89 Hock experienced chest pains and an examination revealed serious blockages of arteries including 100% blockage of one. He probably had an earlier undiagnosed heart attack relating to this obstruction, but alternate pathways for blood flow developed around the blockage. In his nineties, Hock’s balance became extremely tenuous and at the age of 95, he fell and broke his hip. In preparation for surgery, Hock was taken off of blood thinning medication, an act that unfortunately precipitated the heart attack that caused his death on August 10, 2008.
At his funeral many tributes mentioned his coaching of youth baseball teams. One player wrote the following: “In 1952 or 1953 Mr. Butcher was the coach of the Felton Giants in the Baytown Little League. I played 1st Base for the Giants and had an awful temper, as the people of that time can attest. Mr. Butcher tried to help me with my temper. After the season was over, he wrote me a personal letter explaining the pitfalls of my temper and how it would cause me trouble later in life. I kept that letter for many years as a reminder of how one person can make a difference in a young boy’s life. Hock Butcher made a difference in my life.”