The obituary of Holtville Woman’s Club member Deborah Thornburg’s mother, Lea Jo Thornburg, printed in the Imperial Valley Press on May 21, 2006, made it clear she indeed was a force to be contended with. Part of the article reads: “After her three children began school, Jo went back to school and got her teaching credential. She taught at Pine School for 28 years, the last eight which she served as principal as well.
Among her recognitions and awards were a Freedom’s Foundation Medal for Teaching Excellence. During her tenure as principal Pine School was named one of the “Top 100 Schools in California.” The article did go on to mention other accomplishments: 1998 Woman of the Year; 2003 nominee for Holtville Citizen of the Year; and local, district, and state officer in the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Pictured: Deborah Thornburg making the yearly Woman'c Club of Holtville donation to Devon Apodaca of the Humane Society of Imperial.
Photo Credit: Marica R. Jennings
Deborah mentioned one accomplishment of her mother’s that is close to her heart. Whenever you’re at the Pioneer’s Museum, make sure to look at the El Camino Real Bell at the outside entrance of the museum. The bell commemorates Juan Bautista de Anza’s passage through Imperial Valley, just as Father Junipero Serra’s bells commemorate the 21 California Missions.
Jo Thornburg felt the Imperial Valley was lacking a bell. She took the time, did the necessary research, the petitioning, and any other details necessary to fulfill this dream. So, thanks to her, De Anza District Bell Marker #23 now stands as a proud reminder of part of local history. As karma would have it, Deborah Thornburg is now on the Pioneer Museum Board, adding her imprint to the legacy.
The love and obligation Deborah felt for her parents is clearly demonstrated during their passing. In 1992, her father, Jack Harrison Thornburg, developed brain tumors and lost his power of speech. She and her mother made the decision to personally look after him, giving him the best care possible. Fortunately, he never seemed to be in any pain. He passed peacefully in his home, after being bedridden for two weeks.
One day in 2006, Deborah’s mother told her she hadn’t been feeling well. Something was wrong with her stomach. An appointment with a doctor was made and on the day of the appointment Deborah came back from work in the evening and found her mother sitting in her chair in the living room.
“So what did the doctor say?” Deborah asked.
Her mother looked at her and said, “Stage 4 cancer.”
Then, without saying anything else, she simply raised her hands in the air and shrugged. Why is it so poignant when fewer words are spoken?
Once again, Deborah made the same decision she had made for her father. In April, a month after being diagnosed, her mother passed. It was during Easter break. Deborah was able to take care of her the whole time.
Returning to the question of who Deborah Thornburg is, at this stage in the story, we can say three of her character traits are love, loyalty, and a sense of obligation. As First Corinthians 13:30 would have us believe, “. . . of these three things, . . . the greatest of these is love.”
When Deborah was very young, sometime around the mid-1950s, her father built them a house on Sixth Street in Holtville, across from Finley School. This was the same house where he eventually built the aforementioned redwood fence of Part I.
The house still stands, and so does the fence. Deborah remembers that in those days the house and the school were on the edge of town, and the road was
unpaved. A favorite pastime for her, as well as her sister Leah and her brother Daniel, was to cross the street and use the swing sets at Finley School.
Toys weren’t bought very often in the Thornburg home. So the children made up games, many of which involved water, running around, and plenty of imagination. But creative play was encouraged.
Love of music was also encouraged, as were books, much to Deborah’s complete happiness, because even then she was a voracious reader. Christmas was the exception to the No Toys Rule. In order to please Deborah, her mother would also give her a book at Christmas. It was usually a history or science book — two of Deborah’s favorite subjects.
Regarding the subject of books, when Deborah is asked to name her all-time favorite books the choices are fascinating and reflect where her interests lay.
These are her choices: 1) Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey; 2) Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat; 3) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; 4) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer; and 5) A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison. Some of these books present thought-provoking social issues. Then, if you’ll notice, three out of five books have animal names attached to the title. Is it simplistic to say we can connect the dots? Could it be said that three more traits in Deborah’s character are social issues/community service, voracious reading, and love of animals . . . especially dogs?
Dogs is a subject that needs to be delved into further next week.
Marcia R. Jennings is a member of the Holtville Woman’s Club.