Merle Horwedel was the first principal at Western High School when the former Buda and Sheffield school districts merged in 1960.
He served for 33 years, shaping many young lives along the way with stern, but fair discipline, mentoring his staff along the way.
Horwedel, who passed away Nov. 18 at the age of 88, is being remembered for being a caring educator and a friend to those he worked with and mentored.
Vince Gelsomino of Princeton taught music at Western from 1966-78. He said Horwedel was one of the reasons he decided to accept the position at Western.
“Merle treated teachers and students fairly all the time. He believed in discipline and was respected for that trait,” Gelsomino said. “He was a mentor to me and he backed my music program. He was my administrator, but also a lifelong friend. He served the Buda and Sheffield community brilliantly and will be forever remembered.”
Horwedel was the first principal for many a Western teachers, including Dale Donner, Charlie Yelm and Terry Gutshall.
Donner came to Western to teach math in December of 1984 and said Horwedel really helped him early in his career.
“I loved that guy,” Donner said. “He was always fair and good to talk walk with. He was always very supportive and had a great sense of humor.”
Donner coached track and Horwedel, who had an affection for track, was the starter for many years.
Donner, who retired from teaching at Bureau Valley in 2018, said he always enjoyed running into Horwedel at the Casey’s in Buda and “catching up.”
Yelm came to Western in 1974, teaching driver’s ed, health and some PE, and taught under Horwedel for 17-18 years.
“I was young and didn’t know anything and he was always patient with us. Kind of let us grow and would steer us in the right direction. He was a good leader for us,” Yelm said. “We had a good group of people there and he made it that way. Worked very hard at that.
“He did things socially with us that not all administrators did and I think it got us to know each better and we were closer as a group because of that.”
Yelm said Horwedel convinced him he would make a good track coach and later a girls basketball coach. He also filled in for Horwedel as golf coaching during regionals because the principal was tied up in homecoming events, which led to a 30-year tenure for Yelm capped at Bureau Valley.
Gutshall grew up just four houses away from the Horwedels in Buda. He went full circle with the Western principal, first as a student at Western (Class of ’76) to becoming a teacher there, “much to the amazement of some of the teachers there,” he joked.
Gutshall went on to become the last principal at Western and first principal at Bureau Valley.
“He was a good mentor. I started going into administration under his tutelage. I am forever indebted to Merle,” Gutshall said. “He was there always to support. He was a loyal Western Ram, but he became just a strong Bureau Valley Storm supporter.”
Horwedel, Gutshall said, “was just a fine gentlemen and a good principal. He liked the kids, liked education.”
Gutshall said Horwedel was very sympathetic when he missed a day of school as a student to go deer hunting, because the Western principal was a hunter himself, but still had to take disciplinary actions.
“I remember he came in and said, ‘Well Terry, I’m going to have to give you a week of detention for missing last Friday,’” Gutshall said. “I looked at him and smiled, ‘Well, you better put me down for two weeks, because I’m going second season, too.’”
Vicki Litherland, a Buda girl from the Class of ’76, was another one of Horwedel’s former students who went into education.
She describes “Mr. Horwedel” as kind, hardworking and fair with a love of people, the community, his church, his horses and golf.
“He was just a great person. He just left a footprint with every one,” she said.
Litherland remembers Horwedel for his tireless efforts in taking part in Memorial Day services with Buda American Legion every year. He was also a charter member of the Buda Rescue Unit and Buda Jaycees, and served on the fire department.
Yelm remembers Horwedel would often run out of the building, if he could, to answer the calls for the Buda Rescue Unit and Fire Department.
“He was involved in so many things it was unbelievable,” Yelm said.
An avid golfer, Horwedel once got a hole in one years ago, even though he admitted that he never saw it because of his poor sight. Yelm routinely golfed with Horwedel up until about five years ago and said they would help steer Horwedel to his ball after he hit it. Horwedel used yellow golf balls to help follow the ball better.
“Any time I found (a yellow ball), I gave it to him. After a few years, he returned the favor and gave me a dozen white ones back, because he said, ‘You’ve probably given me two or three dozen yellow ones,’” Yelm said.
Yelm also said that while Horwedel may not have been able to hit the ball far after two shoulder injuries, he was always hit them straight as an arrow.
“He’d take a nice gentle swing and hit it straight down the fairway, and would do it the next time and the next time and would end up having a pretty good score,” Yelm said.
The next time Yelm finds a yellow golf ball, he will pick it up and smile, thinking of his dear friend.