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NOTE: This story was published in the Austin American-Statesman in July 2004. I found out that morning and drove to Luckenbach and wrote this on deadline for the next day's newspaper.

Obituary: Beloved 'Sheriff Marge' watched over Luckenbach from behind the bar

By Dave Thomas

LUCKENBACH — "Sheriff" Marge Mueller was born not far from here and didn't like to stray far from this town that boasts "Population 3." She seldom traveled beyond Texas and spent a good chunk of her life working in a space that was no bigger than 2 feet by 12 feet.


But from that spot behind the Luckenbach bar she met the world and, in her own way, became internationally famous.


In the three decades since she started serving cold beer and keeping order in this tiny town, she met Texans of all sorts, Americans from every state and tourists from around the globe.


Marge died early Sunday morning after being admitted to the hospital in Fredericksburg on Friday night. She was 69. The cause of death was not known, but she had complained of neck pain and difficulty breathing.


Not quite as famous as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, her friend Jerry Jeff Walker or her former employer Hondo Crouch, Marge was still every bit a Texas icon and was, after Crouch died in 1976, the face of Luckenbach.


Gary P. Nunn was a member of Jerry Jeff Walker's Lost Gonzo Band when he first met Marge in 1973 during the recording of "Viva Terlingua."


"She's always been the most colorful character," he said. "There won't be any replacing her. Like Hondo, she'll be gone, but will never be forgotten."


Marge never lived more than a few miles from Luckenbach, but she didn't work there until the early 1970s, and in the years since, she occasionally spent some time away from the job that made her famous.


VelAnne Howle, manager of Luckenbach from 1993 to 2002, said that the first thing she did when she was offered the job was to go talk to Marge, who wasn't working there at the time.


"It just wasn't Luckenbach without her," Howle said. "If I was going to be manager, I needed Marge. She was a Texas legend."


On a cool July afternoon on Monday, the scene in Luckenbach was much the same as it usually is on a Monday afternoon. Tourists trickled in, had a beer, bought a T-shirt and drove on, most of them unaware of Marge's passing.


Danny Terry was behind the bar, as he was on Friday afternoon when Marge worked her last shift. Since she returned from surgery in late February, Marge was officially a Luckenbach "ambassador." Her job was to meet and greet and "just be Marge."


Instead, she was behind the bar serving beer and "being more active than usual," Terry said.


As German as her name, Marge had a work ethic to match. There's the tale of her serving beers for 22 hours straight during the 1976 "World's Fair" in Luckenbach. Even in her 60s, she worked from dawn until nearly dawn again during the five Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnics held in Luckenbach from 1995-99.


Guich Koock, who purchased Luckenbach in the late '60s with Hondo Crouch, said Monday that Marge was their second employee.


"Everybody did a little bit of everything" back then, Koock said, but her main job was to run the store.


Chris Graham, one of Crouch's daughters, said she remembered that Marge used to come to Luckenbach in a dress and wearing hose and sit outside because — at that time — women were not allowed in the bar.


"The next thing you know, she's manning the bar," Graham said.


She was officially named Luckenbach "sheriff" by Crouch in 1971 when "she found out she was so good at keeping everybody straight," Koock said.


Marge was of average height and slender build, but her face — and her voice — carried plenty of authority. Black haired pulled back tightly into two braids, she could give a stern stare backed up by a pair of earrings made from the rattles of what must've been two pretty good-size rattlesnakes.


For the young first-time visitor to Luckenbach, getting yelled at by Marge — for sins ranging from bringing your own beer to using rough language — was as much a rite of passage as getting lost on the way or asking a guitar picker to play that song about "Willie, Waylon and the boys."


Kit Patterson, grandson of Crouch and majority owner of Luckenbach, said "she had an unstoppable personality."


"Our town motto is 'Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach,' " he said. "But our second motto is 'Don't Mess with Marge.' "


But Marge wasn't all business.


"She always had a smile and had that cackle of hers," said Donnie Schrieber, who managed Luckenbach from 1980 until 1984.


Services will be Wednesday at Zion Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg at 10 a.m. with a wake to follow in the Luckenbach Dance Hall. She is survived by her husband, James Mueller, two sons and two daughters.


Marge's family said Wednesday that another memorial service will be held in Luckenbach in two to three weeks to celebrate Marge's life and accommodate her wide-ranging friends.


"Luckenbach was home," James said. "We're going to have her cremated and spread her ashes there . . . she's going home."

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