Otha Wyatt "Skeet" Birkner died May 30, 2018, at the age of 93, after many years of public service. He was predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Melba Cook Birkner, who passed away in 2006 at home under Skeet's loving care. He is respectfully remembered by his sons and their wives.
Skeet was born November 19, 1924 in Manchaca of German immigrant parents. He was reared in Bay City, where he worked on the family dairy before learning his trade of stonemasonry. He married the love of his life on June 15, 1946, and he and Melba raised their three sons in Van Vleck in an 1890 plantation home which he restored.
Representative Birkner proudly served in the 58th, 59th, and 60th legislatures of the Texas House of Representatives, representing Matagorda, Wharton and Jackson Counties. He carried out the business of the Lone Star State with distinction, often working with legendary figures such as Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, and Barbara Jordan. In 1963, he and Mrs. Birkner were driving to a meeting with President Kennedy when they received news of the assassination.
Representative Birkner served on numerous legislative committees such as Parks and Wildlife, Aeronautics, and Mental Health. He sponsored major legislation including education reform bills for teacher retirement, and funding for special education services. He was most lauded for his wildlife conservation bills, acquisition of state parkland such as Lost Maples State Natural Area, and creation of Lake Texana. He was very proud of creating Head Start, as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Mary's University for his work in attracting the 1968 World's Fair to San Antonio.
After his legislative service, Mr. Birkner continued in public service in Matagorda County for another twenty years, and also served as bank director, school board trustee, and appointee for four Texas governors.
Upon retirement, Skeet built his and melba's dream home with his own hands. Situated in Vanderpool across from Lost Maples State Natural Area, with the Sabinal River in the backyard, it was their "piece of paradise" for twenty-five years. A few years following his wife's passing, Skeet moved to a care facility in Brownwood to be near family. There he received several years of tender assistance from a caregiver .
Mr. Birkner was honored in 2007 with a legislative resolution for his lifetime of public service, and appeared with the Speaker of the House in the State Capitol. The House gave him a standing ovation, and the session was adjourned in his honor. He was again recognized by resolution in 2014 on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
In Bay City, Van Vleck, Vanderpool, Utopia, and Leakey, Skeet faithfully served first the Christian Church and then the Methodist Church in positions from elder to trustee. He also was active in later years in the Emmaus community. He was a lifetime hunter and fisherman, continuing these pursuits into his ninth decade, following the example of his mother who was still hunting at 101.
A visitation will be held Sunday, June 3 at 4PM to 6PM at the Grimes Funeral Chapel in Bandera. Funeral services will be held Monday, June 4 at 11:00 a.m. at Utopia United Methodist Church in Utopia, Texas, with graveside services to follow at the Vanderpool Tabernacle. Pallbearers will be Mr. Birkner's grandsons and great-grandsons. All arrangements are under the direction of Grimes Funeral Chapels of Kerrville and Bandera. The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Vanderpool Cemetery Association, General Delivery, Vanderpool, Texas 78885.
Melba Cook Birkner
1929–2006 (m. 1946)
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