stanzel museum

How many times have you driven by a local museum and never stopped? I have it on good authority from three docents of the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum in Schulenburg, Texas, that you don’t know what you’re missing. Here’s why.

You’ll receive a Texas-size welcome

Enter the professionally curated museum honoring the amazing lives and times of 20th-century model airplane visionaries Victor and Joe Stanzel, and a docent like retired teacher Jannette S. (pictured) will stand and greet you. You’re important. She’s been looking forward to your visit.

Even though she has been on the job for a decade, Jannette says it never gets old because she never knows who will walk through the door. They may be neighbors, Texas tourists or visitors from a foreign country speaking an unfamiliar language.

“We have a world map on the wall behind the desk dotted with magnetic pins. Guests will notice it and, if no one has placed a pin on their country, they’ll place a magnet there.” 

Visitors short on time often decline a guided tour. They’re content to walk through the museum and leave. That doesn’t hurt the docents’ feelings because they are attuned to each guest’s preferences.

“Sometimes we get people who just walk around and listen when we are talking. They have very little to say. Others want to talk.”

You’ll have a chance to share YOUR story

In her eighth year as a docent, retired hospital operating room nurse Shirley S. (pictured) may be just as curious about you as you are about the Stanzel Museum.

“Some of our visitors are highly educated. I find this out by asking a lot of questions. I like to hear who they are, where they’re from and what they do (or did) for a living. Some have traveled all over the world and it’s fun to hear about the experiences of a photographer from the Smithsonian or a Notre Dame professor or a food photographer, to name a few.

“One couple came in at 10:15 a.m. recently and left about one o’clock. They were polka dancers from Ennis, Texas, who showed me a lot of pictures on their cell phones and talked about the great times they have had. That was OK with me because I’m interested in what visitors have to say. Besides, I’m going to be here until 4 anyway!” Shirley adds.

Some visitors are interested in the general guided tour. Others want to focus on a specific area like the factory where the Stanzel brothers’ manufactured their products. For many women, the big draw is a tour of the ancestral home. It is reconfigured to look like it did when Victor and Joe Stanzel’s grandparents lived there. Antiques on display in the white frame farmhouse regularly draw questions and observations.

You’ll learn something new and interesting

Jeanette T., who recently celebrated her 13 years as a docent, says the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum docents’ information book is a just baseline of knowledge for tour guides. Their education is ongoing.  

“Many of us have learned well beyond what’s in the book. We listen when family members like Ted Stanzel are being interviewed, for example. Manager Lucy Stanzel occasionally shares tidbits about the family, too. 

“Some of the visitors played with Stanzel toys when they were young boys. One man told us a lot more than we knew about the operation of a Stanzel toy called a Scoot.

“Guests sometimes know someone who used to work with injection mold machines that made the model airplane components. We often get a reaction when we point out the wringer washing machine utilized to shape the wings of model airplanes. Some guests remember that their grandmother had one just like it,” Jeanette explains.

One youngster was amazed to discover that after clothes a century ago were washed in Schulenburg, Texas, and elsewhere, they were hung on an outdoor clothesline to dry. The little boy’s big takeaway from his museum visit was that once upon a time people didn’t have clothes dryers.

The most common question is whether the factory is still open. Guests also ask whether the docents are family members. They are also curious about whether family members are involved in the operation of the museum.

Answers: The factory closed in 2002. Currently, none of the six active museum docents are Stanzels. However, manager Lucy Stanzel, who is planning to retire, is married to Victor and Joe’s nephew, Bob. Stanzel family members are very involved on the board of the charitable foundation. It operates the museum and an important local community outreach program called Parents as Teachers.

Admission is free

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is a proud member of Museums for All. That’s an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Its aim is to ensure that every family and child has access to a high-quality museum. Since its launch in 2014, 415 museums in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have joined the group. Together, they report more than 1.9 million visits by individuals meeting the entrance requirements of the program.

The Schulenburg museum happily accepts donations, however.

From the inside looking out

Self-described extroverts and lifetime learners, Shirley, Jeanette and Jannette are each over the age of 80. They still happily report for work six-plus hours each week because they love what they do.

“When we create a relationship with a guest, even if it’s a brief one, they seem to enjoy it. We do, too. Before guests leave, they often tell us they had a good time. They also say how nice the museum is, what clean restrooms we have, and so forth,” Shirley says.

A recent Google review described the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum as, ‘Superb. Absolutely worth a visit. Our guide was very well informed and personable.’

“The nicest compliment I’ve had was from a young fellow I was taking on a tour. He said he thought Jeanette was a pretty name,” Jeanette says.

“We tell guests to be sure and tell their friends about our museum,” Jannette adds.

These ladies and other staff members hope you’ll be their guest someday soon. If you can’t make it to Schulenburg, perhaps you can visit a small museum near your home and report.   

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I’ve written about Victor and Joe Stanzel before. Here’s that post:

Victor & Joe Stanzel: Farm Boys Turned Model Airplane Pioneers

And here are stories about other fascinating women:

Elaine Thomas
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