Who exactly is Deborah Thornburg? As a background filler, we could say that she traces her Imperial Valley roots to her grandfather, William J. Thornburg Sr., who settled in the Imperial Valley sometime during the early second decade of the 1900s.
She comes from a family lineage whose last name resonates in Holtville, just as other early Imperial Valley founding-pioneer names do. The Thornburg family has distinguished itself in particular by making their last name a byword for community service, and at the same time, synonymous with excellence in education.
There are other accomplishments they’ve achieved. The family farming enterprise for instance, now dissolved, that they established back in 1948: Thor Packing Co., Inc., is one of these.
But returning to the question of who Deborah Thornburg is, she is a life-long Holtville resident, the daughter of Jack Harrison Thornburg (1926-1992) and Lela Jo Thornburg (1929-2006). She is currently the President of the Woman’s Club of Holtville, and has been so for the last five years.
Deborah is a board member at the Pioneer’s Museum and, as if that weren’t enough, she is also a member of the Master Chorale.
Returning to the theme of excellence in education , it should be noted she was a teacher at Pine School for 39 years. These are the facts. They can be accepted at face value, but only skim the surface of who she really is. The question still remains: who exactly is Deborah Thornburg?
She herself claims to have led a charmed life. She says this because everything seems to have fallen into place for her. At this point in her life, she is aware of this, and is thankful. However, she has always had a need to live her life according to her own decisions and her own individuality.
Even as a child, life had to be lived on her own terms. She clearly recalls being the child who was always getting into trouble. As an example, one day her mother, most probably fearing for Deborah’s safety, clearly told her not to climb the tall redwood fence that surrounded their property. Of course, she went ahead and climbed it. But as luck would have it, she unfortunately didn’t time the event quite right, got caught, and got spanked.
“So, why did you climb the fence?” she is asked.
She shrugs and says, “Just to see why I shouldn’t.”
This statement is reminiscent of the lyrics to the children’s song The Bear Went Over the Mountain. And what did the bear see when he got to the other side of the mountain? “The other side of the mountain was all that he could see.”
Curiosity, a sign of intelligence in children . . . and maybe also in bears.
But before it is discussed who Deborah Thornburg is, her immediate family roots need to be understood. Beginning with her parents her father, Jack Harrison Thornburg, was a very intelligent man. He enlisted in the service during World War II. He possessed a logical mind and a brain gifted with spatial acuity.
On the home front, he also happened to be a good husband and father. A farmer all his life, he worked six days a week, but nevertheless, as Deborah remembers it, made time for his wife and family on Sundays to go waterskiing. He and his wife, the then Lela Jo Dunn, who was from Texas and came to the Valley during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, met in high school.
Three months later, and just out of high school, they were married. He was 19 and she 17. But even at that young age, they knew what they were doing. They had a serendipitous marriage, which lasted forty-five years, until his death in 1992.
Deborah’s mother was in her early 60s when she became a widow. Deborah once asked her if she would ever consider remarrying. Her mother’s answer was a definite “no.”
Deborah says of her parents, “They had a lot of respect for each other.”
She remembers that when she got into trouble, her father would ask, “Do you realize how much you’ve hurt your mother by doing this?”
The same was true vice-versa; her mother worried about her father. Several times during an interview, when Deborah was asked what her mother thought about a certain thing she was sharing, she thought about it for a minute before answering.
She realized that her mother probably did worry about some things –– her performance in school, for instance — but she didn’t prod or nag. Deborah readily admits that in all probability she (Deborah) would have dug her heels in if she felt pressured. Most likely, her mother already knew this.
Deborah didn’t discuss what grades she brought home. However, in almost all her report cards, the teachers’ comments were always the same: “Does not work to her potential.”
It may be surmised her grades were good, maybe even very good, but did not even touch what she was capable of. She herself said that when a report or project was due, she’d give it some thought. Then she’d develop a plan of action in her head. After that was done, she’d invariably wait till the day before it was due to actually buckle down and do it. No fuss. No worry. To say she could pull this off, again and again, is in itself a measure of her intelligence.
But if her mother didn’t nag or prod, she does seem to have waited for the right moments (God bless her patience) to make a “suggestion.” Sometimes this could take quite a while, especially as Deborah’s college life was to prove. But eventually her mother would gently push in the right direction.
When Deborah is asked what her mother was like, her answer was immediate: “She was a force to be contended with.”
An Internet search reveals Lela Jo Thornburg was a force to be contended with.
Next week: Part II of Deborah Thornburg’s story will be published in the Holtville Tribune.
Marcia R. Jennings is a member of the Holtville Woman’s Club.