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Last local namesake descendant of city founder
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, October 22, at the Cotulla Cemetery for William “Bill” Cotulla, who died Monday at the age of 84 and was the last local direct namesake descendant of city founder Joseph Cotulla.
Bill Cotulla was a former mayor of the city that bears his name, owner of the Cotulla Ranch on the western edge of the county seat, and is being recognized for his service to the community.
Cotulla was born May 30, 1936, the son of Paul and Elizabeth Cotulla, and was raised in the city his family had founded. He graduated from Cotulla High School, earned a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin and provided legal services during the years he spent in the US Army. Upon returning to civilian life, Cotulla owned and operated the Cotulla Ranch and the Model Market in downtown Cotulla with his father and uncle Roy Cotulla. The family also owned and operated the KOA Campground on the banks of the Nueces River, adjoining the ranch.
In public life, he served as a city councilor before serving as mayor of Cotulla from 1985 to 1987. He was later honored for his service to the community by being named grand marshal of the annual Wild Hog Cook-Off Parade.
In failing health for a number of years, Cotulla had been living in the San Antonio area while undergoing therapy for Parkinson’s disease, first at The Forum in Lincoln Heights and latterly at Franklin Park in Boerne.
Among those celebrating his years of service to the city is Patsy Leigh, manager of the Cotulla Main Street Program, who said this week that it was upon Bill Cotulla’s insistence that much of the city’s history is promoted and displayed for present and future generations.
An active member of the Cotulla – La Salle County Chamber of Commerce, Cotulla was an avid promoter of local enterprise and economic development, and it was his support of the historic preservation and revitalization program that helped in the push for many of the newly installed displays in the city.
Cotulla was in the spotlight when Texas First Lady Anita Perry visited the city in February 2007 to mark the inauguration of the Cotulla Main Street Program, and helped unveil the historic plaque that now stands at the corner of Center and Front streets downtown. It was again Cotulla’s continued promotion of historic preservation efforts that helped garner the city’s support for the design and placement of the Joseph Cotulla bronze statue and artesian water well feature that now attracts visitors to Veterans Park downtown. Cotulla was joined by his surviving cousin, Betty Child of San Antonio, for the unveiling of their ancestor’s statue.
Similarly, it was Cotulla’s support of the community’s ongoing heritage awareness efforts that helped spotlight the service to the city of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a teacher at the Welhausen School on the east side of Cotulla at the end of the 1920s and who returned to the city in 1966 as President of the United States. Johnson revisited his onetime campus as part of his promotion of the Education Bill he had signed the previous year. A bronze of the former teacher and 36th President was unveiled in front of the Welhausen School last year.
“Bill was a serious advocate for our history and our heritage,” Leigh said this week. “He knew the history of his town and he believed that others should know it, too. It was his way of teaching us that we have a connection to history and that we each have a place in the story of our home town.
“Bill knew all the old stories of Cotulla, and he knew the connections between the past and the present,” Leigh added. “I believe it was important to him that those stories be passed on to a new generation that would occupy some of our historic buildings.”
At the Chamber of Commerce this week, Manager Melinda Rheinfeldt said she believes Cotulla will be mourned by many who benefited from what she described as his tireless efforts at promoting economic growth in his home town.
“Bill was a kind and gentle man, and he treated everyone with dignity and respect,” Rheinfeldt said. “He was a past president of the Chamber, but he never stopped pushing for new businesses and economic growth. He was the one who encouraged us, and he helped us connect the past with the present and future by advertising local businesses with stories and pictures of Cotulla and La Salle County history.”
“Bill often referred to his years in the army as an opportunity to travel and to look up former Cotulla natives,” long-time family friend Dorothy Kinsel said. “He always had stories to tell about the people he met, and their connections to the town of Cotulla or to La Salle County.
“I admired Bill very much,” Kinsel added. “He was a Bible scholar. He really knew his Bible. When we decided to start a Sunday School class for young adults, it was Bill who really communicated with people. That was his great skill.”