RGV Memories: Raymondville in 50s

Harland Watson and Cissie Rowland grew up in Lasara and graduated from Raymondville High School.

Harland graduated from UT Pharmacy School and Cissie earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Texas Women’s University in Denton.

They bought City Drug at a foreclosure auction, and Harland worked untold hours to make Watson’s City Drug a Raymondville fixture. They sold the business 25 years ago.

This lovely couple shared their RGV memories with John Bourg, who wrote the article.

Harland & Cissie Watson


Harland’s Early Years

Harland Watson was born in a Raymondville clinic in 1939. His family lived in Lasara where his dad owned a country store that sold “everything from groceries to small appliances” as Harland put it.

Cissie’s Early Years

Juanita Rowland was born in Longview in 1942, the daughter of Bennard and Verna Mae Rowland. Her 2 year old brother couldn’t say sister, so Cissie became her nickname and then her name.

Her dad was an instructor at a small Longview airport after serving 3 years in the army before WW2. He was recruited by the Air Force at the start of WW2 to give basic flight training to as many pilots as possible in a 6 weeks course before they were checked out on bigger planes in Pensacola, Florida and shipped to Europe.

The family moved to Baton Rouge in 1944 where Cissie’s dad continued teaching in the private sector. After the war, Bennard moved his wife and four children (ages 1, 2, 3 & 4) to the ‘Magic Valley’ he had heard so much about. He became a cropduster, flying piper cubs he rengineered into cropduster planes. He flew until age 75, and Rowland Dusters is in its 3 rd generation.

Lasara Country Store

Harland recalled, “Lasara’s population increased from 300 to 3,000 in cotton season. The illegal Mexican cottonpickers used the store a lot, especially on payday.”

A loud yell “charo’ — ie, Border Patrol — sent the Mexicans to the basement. The Border Patrol agents could see the carts filled with groceries, but never asked to check the basement. They probably just tried to help Harland’s dad.

People came from all over to see the store’s zoo. It had an alligator, a raccoon, and a monkey, Jerry. The store had a siren they set off at noon ever day and about once a month when clever Jerry escaped from his cage.

Magician & Curandero

Lasara had two other unique attractions. Harland’s dad Dale was an excellent magician who performed all over the Valley, and there was a Curandero who cured illnesses and removed spells which some Hispanics feared more than illnesses. She dressed in a colorful robe, wore a lot of fake jewelry, and performed her ‘cures’ on a stage with fire and incense. Harland said, “We kids peeked in the window, and weren’t going anywhere near that stage.”

Lasara School

Lasara had a ‘little building’ (grades 1-3), a ‘big building’ (grades 4-8), and a year long ‘beginner’s grade’ designed to help Hispanic kids improve their English if they had not convinced the 1 st grade teacher or principal they were ready for 1 st grade. Harland’s mom taught at the school during a teacher shortage, and convinced the principal to let 5 year old Harland start school.

Lasara had a Catholic church and a community church.

Harland at Raymondville High

Harland was supposed to go to Lyford High, but went to Raymondville High because his grandparents lived there. The only bus from Lasara made its 1 st stop at Raymondville High.

Harland liked biology and history courses the best, but wasn’t crazy about math. Harland said, “I majored in Chemistry because it was the pharmacy school’s recommended undergad major, so

I just had to work a little harder.”

Dating was innocent fun. The usual date was a movie at one of four theatres — Texas, Ramon, Rio (Spanish), or Corral Drive-In – and either Southern Drive-In or Steve’s Drive-In.

Cissie at Raymondville High

Cissie had dreamed of being a cheerleader, and taught herself gymnastic moves like flips. She had taken dance classes at Patty Dickerson’s School of Dance since she was quite young.

Cissie knew it would be a challenge to be elected a cheerleader her freshman year because only one of the six cheerleaders could be a freshman. Cissie had never been in a gym so she was stunned to see the entire Raymondville High student body waiting to see the tryouts and vote.

Cissie panicked and called her mom to come pick her up. Her mom told her, “Cissie, you made a commitment to do this and I expect you to give it your best shot. You don’t have to win, but you do have to try.” Cissie won as Harland, who couldn’t vote as a senior, whooped it up to influence those around him to vote for Cissie.

Cissie took every art class and even turned biology into sort of an art course with her sketches. English was also a favorite because she liked to write.

Cissie’s Talent on Display

Cissie was a regular on the KRGV-TV Ty Cobb Variety Show from age 13 to 19. She won the 1960 Texas Farm Bureau Talent Contest with an acrobatic dance to “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, qualifying for the national contest in Denver. She and her mom rode the train to Denver, where she saw snow for the first time.

Harland Off to College

Cissie was a cheerleader four years and casually dated many of her friends. Harland had enrolled in Southwestern University, where he pledged Phi Delta Theta along with Sam Coats and Andy Vogel (both HHS ’59), and then UT Pharmacy School.

When Harland was home, these longtime buddies did things together with friends. Dancing and listening to records on Cissie’s front porch was a big treat! Cissie said, “This was a difficult time for our relationship because Harland was having all types of dates connected to his fraternity activities. He pinned several college girls while he ‘dropped’ a few others (ie, dropped a necklace around their neck, a prelude to pinning).”

Their First Date

Cissie said, “As a high school junior, I thought of Harland as a dear friend and not a beau. Mom admired Harland so much she insisted I ask him to escort me to the Cotillion Dance.”

Cissie realized on that first date there was something different about the relationship, and their first kiss opened a new door.

They kept dating others, however, and Harland was even engaged briefly.

Cissie at TWU

Cissie enrolled in Texas Women’s University in Denton to major in art education while Harland was in his 2 nd year of UT Pharmacy School in Austin.

The miles between Austin and Denton were bridged by the daily letters they wrote each other.

After graduating, Harland accepted a pharmacist position in Carthage. When he realized how far it was to Denton (200 miles), however, he turned down the offer.

Harland took a job as an assistant pharmacist for a chain in Dallas, but got lucky when the chain offered him the pharmacist job in a new pharmacy in Plano just 38 miles from Denton.

Marriage and Hubbard, Texas

Harland and Cissie were married in September 1964 as she started her senior year. After she graduated, Harland was offered a partnership as a pharmacist in Hubbard, near Waco. (1960 population 1,600).

Their first drive through Hubbard was a shock. It was late evening and everything was closed. The next morning, however, the town came alive and looked like ‘Mayberry’ on TV. The word spread quickly that a young couple might be moving to Hubbard, so the townspeople came out to welcome them. They signed up.

Cissie opened a dance school for kids that was both fun and profitable. Getting students was no problem, with a few newspaper ads and word of mouth. Their first 3 daughters, Monette, Suzanne, and Angie, were born in Hubbard.

In this Baptist town a few snide remarks got back to them about the evils of dancing and Harland’s drinking an occasional beer and smoking a pipe outside his house, but they and the community warmed up to each other.

Those were 7-1/2 wonderful years so there were a lot of tears when they left for the Valley. A friend handed Cissie a huge stack of ‘goodbye letters’ and said, “Don’t open these until you’re on the way home.” There were more tears as Cissie read the letters aloud on the drive home!

Coming Home

Harland had made several attempts to buy longtime Neese’s Pharmacy, but Mr. Neese always said, “Maybe next year.” When they heard about a foreclosure auction for City Drug, they were ready to make a bid with $500 and good friends at the bank. City Drug had been a good pharmacy in its time, but a succession of poor or absentee owners had reduced it to a mess. They were the only bidders so they paid the minimum.

Watson’s City Drug

Harland faced quite a challenge to rebuild the pharmacy. Business had evaporated, there were so many debts deliveries were ‘cash on the barrel’, and fixtures were outdated or broken. Cissie’s dance studio was an immediate hit and Harland got the pharmacy turned around so quickly he paid supplier debts he didn’t have to pay.

Cissie said, “Harland worked as many as 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. He didn’t take a day off for 2 years, and when he came home hungry at 1 or 2 am I woke up the baby just so he could see her.” Harland reflected, “Can you believe I left the front door unlocked so someone could get a prescription filled after hours?”

Cissie said one industry magazine called Watson’s City Drug the best independent pharmacy in Texas. Cissie said, “It was Harland’s hard work, availability at all hours to doctors, and his personality that made the difference.” Harland interrupted, “Even more important was our dedicated staff. We had a few holdovers, but most were good new people we had hired.”

They did so well they opened the first automatic car wash in Raymondville, Robowash, and Cissie remodeled her dance studio. Life was good.

Daughter #4

Cissie decided she wanted another child at 39. Two of her daughters were in junior high and the third in elementary school when Sally Marie was born. Cissie laughed, “The two schools announced over the public address system, “Listen up. The Watson girls have a sister.”

Walmart & Revco

Harland had competition all along, many of them friends. There was Neese’s Pharmacy, Medical Arts Pharmacy, and 2 or 3 others that had come and gone. Harland admits he was very worried, however, when huge chains Revco and Walmart announced plans to open pharmacies in 1986.

Anticipating heightened competition, Harland priced several drugs below cost and added many more services (eg, one hour photo, UPS center, a bridal registry, and acceptance of utility payments). Within two years Revco closed completely and Walmart closed its pharmacy.

Sale of Watson’s Pharmacy

Harland asked daughter Angie to choose a smart high school classmate to work at the drug store so she selected an exceptional young man, Matthew Kiefer. He worked side by side with Harland throughout his high school and early college years.

In his mid-50s and facing the first of two hip replacements, Harland thought of retiring. Matthew wanted to buy the store, but was not a pharmacist. Harland convinced Art Garza to merge his smaller Medical Arts Pharmacy with Watson’s and become Matthew’s partner.

Art presumed his pharmacy student son would become the pharmacist, but his son had no desire to return to the Valley. Matthew hired East Texan Ron Wittenbach as his pharmacist, and Matthew’s sister Connie joined the group when she graduated from pharmacy school.

For 7 years after the merger, Watson’s had no competition. Matthew maintained prices rather than raising them to improve profits, a savvy move that resulted in even greater customer loyalty.

Retirement Years

Harland and Cissie have spent the last 25 years sharing their retirement, spending time with their children and grandchildren, and enjoying a very good life in Raymondville.

Cissie has become active with the Willacy County Art League and Art Center, and the Willacy County Historical Museum. She has also returned to her love of painting, working in oil, acrylics, watercolor, and pastel. Cissie was named 2012-13 Raymondville Woman of the Year, and was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame.

In 2006 Harland was named one of America’s top independent pharmacists by the Consumer’s Research Council of America. Harland and Cissie could be the ‘poster couple’ for going from a very small home town to great educations, successful businesses, and a lovely family while making a major contribution to their adopted “home town.”