Bluebonnet, LCRA award $10,000 grant to Winchester Area Civic Association
New air conditioners, refrigerator and other upgrades will improve Zilss Memorial Hall

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and LCRA representatives present a $10,000 grant to the Winchester Area Civic Association for improvements to Zilss Memorial Hall. The grant is part of LCRA’s Community Development Partnership Program. Pictured in the front row are, from left, Ellen Brumback, association secretary; Barb Schafer, association member; Margaret D. "Meg" Voelter, LCRA board member; Byron Balke, Bluebonnet Board assistant secretary/treasurer; and Dinah Breeden, association vice chairman. Second row, from left, Margaret Atkins, association treasurer; and Michele Weth, association member. Third row, from left: Rhoda Gersch, association member; Pat Karisch, association past president; Bill Karisch, association member; Sherry Murphy, Bluebonnet Giddings-area community representative; and Liz Wallace, association member. Back row, from left, Nicolette Morrison, association president; Sherwood Gersch, association member; Kate Ramzinski, LCRA regional affairs representative; Russell Jurk, Bluebonnet Board member; Richard Schafer, association member and co-project manager of renovation; Matthew L. “Matt” Arthur, LCRA board member; and Tom Atkins, association member and co-project manager of renovation.

Zilss Memorial Hall soon will receive much-needed improvements to its nearly 100-year-old building, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

The Community Development Partnership Program grant, along with $4,238 in matching funds from the Winchester Area Civic Association, will enable renovations to a restroom to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, constructing a closet and adding attic insulation. The association also will rebuild an ADA-compliant ramp into the building and purchase two air conditioners and a refrigerator.

The hall, built in the 1930s as a schoolhouse, later became the cafeteria for the nearby high school. The building was converted to a facility for public use after the Winchester public school closed in 1949. Emil Zilss, one of the leading merchants and early residents of Winchester, donated the building to be used as a community meeting place.

“The building was used for weddings and receptions when it first became a community hall,” said Rhoda Gersch, a WACA member who has held various officer positions over the years. “We have heard stories from some community members who were married in the hall, and in at least one instance, the weather was so cold that they decided to just spend their wedding night there instead of braving the cold to go back home.”

After members of the community officially created the Winchester Area Civic Association in the 1960s, association members made upgrades such as installing air conditioners and renovating the kitchen. The upgrades made the hall a place for Fayette County gatherings for decades.

“We still have wedding receptions there, but now there are so many events and uses for it,” Gersch said. “We recently started a farmers market, and we regularly have birthdays, wedding showers, and baby showers, and the fire department has its annual meeting and Christmas party there.”

WACA continues to host community events at the site.

“We have an annual community party at Christmas with Santa, a Spring Fling with the Easter Bunny, and a Taste of Winchester where we ask people to bring their favorite cooked dish to share with others, as well as to enter in a contest,” Gersch said. “And we can’t forget our bimonthly Young at Heart get-togethers, which are so important in some people’s lives, when about a dozen people bring a little meal and play dominoes or cards for three hours.”

The hall also is home to classes and events for the Quilt Block Trail of Winchester, which was created by Gersch and fellow resident Margaret Atkins. All proceeds from the group’s classes and sales of quilt blocks benefit the WACA. The group’s main fundraiser is a popular domino tournament with a fried chicken dinner that helps pay some of the hall’s bills, but primarily goes to providing scholarships for Fayette County students.

“We are so pleased we can make these upgrades with the grant money to keep this hall in use for many more years, because Zilss Memorial Hall is a place where people come for fellowship with their neighbors, and it’s been that way for a long time,” Gersch said.

The community grant is one of five grants being awarded by Bluebonnet and LCRA through LCRA’s Community Development Partnership Program, which helps volunteer fire departments, local governments, emergency responders and nonprofit organizations fund capital improvement projects in LCRA’s wholesale electric, water and transmission service areas. The program is part of LCRA’s effort to give back to the communities it serves. Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative is one of LCRA’s wholesale electric customers and is a partner in the grant program.

Applications for the next round of grants will be accepted in January. More information is available here