Special to the Star

This is a tribute to the late Joe Lee Bourg written by his brother John. Joe grew up in Harlingen, but spent most of his adult life in the California Bay Area. He died 16 years ago, a month before his 70th birthday.


Part 1

Joe Bourg was quite a character, which should be quite obvious from this version of his ‘journey’. Joseph Lee Bourg was born in Harlingen in June 1933, 11 months after his brother Jimmy and a few months before the ‘big hurricane’. Their parents Lee and Sabrina ‘Bertie’ Bourg had moved to Harlingen a few years earlier when Lee took the job of secretary to the Trainmaster at the Missouri Pacific Railroad (the “Mopac”).

Early Years

Jimmy and Joe went to Catholic schools through the 6th grade – Sacred Heart in Harlingen and St. Joseph in Brownsville – and Travis Junior High in the 7th and 8th grades.

The Bourg boys invented their own fun because there was no TV, video games, or Internet … and not much money. They were thrilled one Christmas morning to find railroad brakeman lanterns they had asked for, but after playing ‘railroad’ a few days couldn’t find the lanterns. Their mother said, “Daddy took them back because he only borrowed them.” Such was life in Lee Bourg’s household.

A heavy rain was a special treat for Harlingen kids in the 1940s. Jimmy and Joe waded or rode inner tubes in Madison Street down to 3rd Street, the most flooded area, and made mud soldiers for days.

One of Joe’s favorite memories was the week he and Jimmy spent on their Uncle Wesley’s Brownwood ranch. They floated on inner tubes in the lake, fished, and did chores.

Joe the Boxer

Joe enrolled in Harlingen High as a freshman in 1946. While Jimmy went out for every sport, Joe’s passion was boxing. Lafayette, Louisiana native Lee bragged he had been the undefeated featherweight champion of the South, but curiously had no evidence of this.

Lee encouraged the boys to learn to box in a ratty Fair Park gym. The two of them and Baldo Zamora talked HHS Principal Pickens into starting a boxing team, which lasted only a few months, and Joe fought in two Golden Gloves as a flyweight.

Joe the Talented Artist

Joe’s mother believed he had such enormous potential as a commercial artist she signed him up for a Norman Rockwell art course by mail. As Art Director, Joe did most of the unmatched artwork in the 1949 and 1950 El Arroyos.

Never shy, Joe at age 16 talked several downtown merchants into paying him to paint colorful murals on their store windows. His mother said Joe’s murals were the talk of the town.

Joe also sacked and carried out groceries at HEB, and worked at the Harlingen Cotton Compress in the summer 12 hours a day,

6 days a week. Joe always had plenty of dating money.

Joe and his best friends Roger Datzman, Bill Andrews, Don Raumaker, and ‘Dookie Do’ Eubank spent most of their time talking about and chasing girls.

High School Dating

Joe dated ‘Most Beautiful HHS Freshman’ Pat Redford his junior year after she broke up with Jimmy. Joe and Pat went to movies at the Arcadia or Valley Drive In; Haas Drive In or HiWay In for burgers and cokes; and drove all over the Valley.

Their teenage romance was going great until Joe totaled the family’s ugly black ‘39 Ford rushing to get Pat to her Combes home before curfew. Lee was furious, and the family was without a car for months until Lee bought a used Pontiac. It was in the shop so often he called it ‘Joe’s lemon,’ though Joe wasn’t the one who bought the ‘lemon.’

Joe dated cute sophomore Mary Sue Twinn his senior year and after he graduated. Joe and Mary Sue’s dad Johnny sat in the Twinns’ backyard for hours having a few beers. Joe was the son Johnny never had, and Johnny was Joe’s good friend.

Joe was a rare Anglo who dated Latinas. He dated gorgeous Minerva Medellin of Mercedes, and Joe proudly introduced her with a Spanish accent. Minerva hinted at marriage, but Joe wasn’t ready.

In these ‘dark ages’ Hispanics were not allowed in the municipal pool or to sit downstairs at the Rialto. That was insulting … in fact insane!

HHS Activities

Joe was active at HHS through his junior year. He was in Hi-Y, Quill & Scroll, UIL one act play, Allied Youth, and El Arroyo. As the talent show master of ceremonies, Joe flashed his boutonniere repeatedly. Joe liked being noticed.

Joe skipped afternoon classes his senior year to work at Booth’s Yale Locks on Commerce between Van Buren and Harrison.

Joe was an ‘A’ student in everything but math. He passed Algebra only by sitting next to Bill Andrews, and his math grades kept him out of the National Honor Society.

English was quite another matter. Six years after he graduated, Senior English teacher Mrs. Mortensen said, “Joe was one of the best writers I ever taught, and the most charming.”

Joe also was one of the fastest HHS typists. Bertie told her four boys, “Take typing and you’ll always have a job.” Only one ignored her advice. (Guilty!) Our younger brother Freddy won an HHS typing award in about 1965.

First Job After HHS

After graduating from HHS in 1950, Joe worked a year for what he called ‘peanuts’ at Art Decker’s Kitchen Designs. Art thought Joe could become a great designer, but Joe was bored and had bigger plans.

Enrolling in SLI

While visiting his beloved Memere (informal French for grandmother) in Lafayette, Louisiana in late summer 1951, Joe dropped by the Southwestern Louisiana Institute admissions office. He was admitted that day to study architecture. Talk about chutzpah!

Joe burst into the house at midnight to tell his mother he had enrolled at SLI and would live with Memere while working part time. Joe knew his irascible grandfather Pepere wasn’t a fan of him or the arrangement, but he was determined to make it work.

Two Years at SLI

Joe finished two years at SLI that required him to pass College Algebra and Calculus. Having learned almost no high school algebra by choice, Joe worked tirelessly to pass these math courses. He was ecstatic with his ‘D’ in Calculus he needed to stay in Architecture, and rushed home to tell Memere the good news.

Joe’s bachelor uncle Earl, tipsy as usual by mid-afternoon, slurred, “Did you say you made a D in math? Why that’s terrible. I was good at arithmetic in school.” Joe stormed out cursing and never spoke to his uncle again.

To be continued next Tuesday