(Seguin) – Much of what Seguinites remember today can be traced in large part to the historical record-keeping and preservation efforts of Virginia King Bergfeld Woods. Woods, whose name has for years been synonymous with Seguin, died on Saturday just six weeks before he turned 108. Woods, who descends from a founding family in Seguin, is known today for the legacy she leaves behind.
Among those lucky enough to have known her most of their lives is Marty Keil. Keil, a former educator and member of the Seguin Conservation Society, says Woods was a second-grade teacher who taught for 35 years at ISD Seguin. She says not only was she one of his professional mentors, but that she — more importantly — helped inspire her own love for Texas history.
“I met Virginia Woods when I started my teaching career here in Seguin in 1978 and she was starting her last year of teaching when I was starting my first year of teaching and she was a mentor to me because she assured me every day, affirmed me every day, supported me in the decisions I had to make and shared with me all her documents, more specifically on Texas, and so social studies was a big part sophomore program and especially in the spring you learned all about Texas starting with the fall of the Alamo and celebrating the wildflowers and all things Texas I was a born Texan and I grew up, but I was from a big city, so moving to Seguin was phenomenal for me because I really immersed myself in Texas history. It was kind of the birthplace of it all. So, it that’s when my story with Virginia started, then b Of course like I said she retired and asked me to go through all her paperwork to pick and choose to continue my career which I did and then that started a friendship that just lasted,” Keil said.
This love for history is exactly why Keil says this community now has the Seguin Conservation Society.
“She was the founder of the conservation society. It would have been in 1952 and it was about saving the Los Nogales structure which is there on the corner of South River and East Crockett Street which she knew the importance of that structure but that structure had been incorporated into that block and when the real estate that was actually on the Washington Street side of that block was going to be demolished, she stepped in and said ‘wait, wait, wait, you can’t tear this building down because it’s been there all along. ‘ It was built by a German immigrant in 1849, there is too much importance for this structure, we cannot demolish it and her husband who was under construction, he was the one who then
somehow saved the building. Virginia got together a group of people who were in favor of saving it, they pulled out money and resources, saved that structure and that was really the start of the Seguin Conservation Society,” Keil said.
This friendship and passion continued to grow as Keil also worked to preserve what Woods recognized as important so many decades ago.
“From there, she knew the significance of many structures in Seguin that other people had overlooked or no one was paying attention to. Another was the first church. When it was going to be erected and stood on Camp St, it was empty and in very poor condition, but she knew it was Seguin’s first church. Again, built in the mid 1800’s it was able to keep the city from leveling it and if the conservation society would agree to pay to move it we might have it. So then it was moved to Crockett and Live Oak again in our Heritage Village, but you know, that wouldn’t have happened if Virginia hadn’t stepped in and said ‘wait, wait, wait, this building contains a lot of importance to us here,” Keil said.
His family line and connection to Seguin is perhaps the most remembered aspect behind his ability to preserve important moments in history.
Through her recollection of things from her own life, Keil says Woods was credited with providing the oral history behind the bestselling book “True Women,” written by Woods’ daughter, Janice Woods Windle. True Women tells the story of two family lines in Texas – the Kings and the Woods. Keil says this book ultimately inspired the 1997 CBS miniseries by name. The series has drawn well-known actors to Seguin and parts of central Texas for a first-hand look at the history of it all. The list of stars of True Women included famous actors, like Angelina Jolie, Dana Delany and Rachel Leigh Cook.
“Of course her daughter Janice Windle’s writing of the series connected me with Janice and Virginia for many meetups and talks and talks about the Tour Women Tours that started in Seguin and then of course the movie – it’s big to do on his property there on Court Street when we brought in the stars and the tents were up and there were big receptions it was just a great opportunity to share all the good things from this area,” Keil said.
Woods’ recollection of events was also noted in his daughter’s other novel, “Will’s War”. The book was later turned into a theatrical script and production of Will’s War by Woods’ great-grandson, William Wayne Windle. The play is based on Woods’ experiences as a child “recounting the tribulations and trial of Will Bergfeld (his father) in pre-World War I America, as the first-generation son of immigrants Germans in Central Texas”.
Not only is she remembered for preserving history, but she is also remembered for helping to create history for generations to come.
Community member and volunteer Denise Crettenden says it didn’t take long for her to realize the impact and importance of Virginia Woods.
“When I came back to Seguin after living elsewhere, the more I got involved in things, the more Virginia Woods’ name came up in all facets of the town and I was so amazed at everything she started in our community or helped uplift our community, it’s truly an incredible legacy,” said Crettenden.
Crettenden, known locally for her deep-rooted involvement with Girl Scouts, says she was also not surprised to learn that Woods was also steeped in that local history.
“She was the first headmistress of the Girl Scout House in 1947 and really helped get it started and was the house administrator for years. We are very unique in that this house is run for the benefit of the local Girl Scouts in Trust for the youth of this community and she really helped make this happen in the 40’s after the land was donated and the money was donated by Mrs. HH Weinert. She was also a Girl Scout leader who took her daughters from starting Girl Scouts through to graduation, and we had a reunion for them at the Girl Scout 100th anniversary a few years ago and it was so interesting to see where these ladies had gone and done things and they had such fond memories of her as the Girl Scout leader,” Crettenden said.
Crettenden says Woods’ passing is a great loss to the community. She says she has undoubtedly helped establish this love of history, community and family in Seguin.
“Of course, she sat on the Seguin ISD school board. She’s volunteered for so many things around town. You will always find his name. When I do research her name comes up in the paper all the time because she did so many things and then I feel like we also have a special connection with her when the play ‘Will’s War’ was played here, my daughter played little Virginie who was Virginie when she was little and so we were able to see her again and talk to her about her memories of her father’s trial and everything. It’s just an amazing experience and she’s an amazing woman to know over the years and I think Seguin, as a community, owes her a great debt,” Crettenden said.
Woods was married to Wilton George Woods. Together they had two children, Janice Woods Windle and Wilton Woods. Locally, they are survived by a grandson, Wayne Windle and his wife, Mary Jane Windle; and their three sons.
A celebration of Virginia Woods’ life is planned for October.