June 2nd, 2023, Bobby Wells will turn 100 years old! She and her family came from Rochester, Minnesota to Port Isabel (Brownsville) in September of 1930 to seek opportunities during the Great Depression. With over nine decades in Port Isabel, Bobby is truly a local Port Isabellian.
Please wish Bobby a Happy Birthday using this form! https://forms.gle/qDxhEavS3oWLgvZH8
Bobby’s memories as a girl in Port Isabel range from scampering up and down the stairs in the abandoned lighthouse and roller skating down Maxan Street after it was surfaced with concrete. Her hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, she recalls, had sidewalks, something Port Isabel did not have, “Port Isabel had nothing but dirt streets”. Bobby’s junior-senior prom was held in the Queen Isabel Inn, which was considered “uptown”. And in 1934, she witnessed the very first Texas International Fishing Tournament.
Bobby’s father was an auto mechanic by trade and a fisherman on the lakes of Minnesota when the Great Depression hit the midwest. As a fisherman, he had the gear that could outfit the family for a self-contained road trip and they struck out in search of luck. The country-wide camping trip took them to Brownsville where they discovered that could still go further south and ended up in Port Isabel. They found a spot on the shoreline and pitched their tent until they could find a place to live. Shortly thereafter, Bobby’s father found a job as a mechanic and the family lived in the store room of the shop until housing was available. Rentals and vacations homes were uncommon.
When the devasting 1933 hurricane hit the area, Bobby recalls being hoisted up on the counter in the Post Office with other children as water inundated the town and the buildings. Bobby recalls, “that hurricane wiped us out, big time. My dad was out in a boat when he was notified by the Coast Guard to bring the boat home and tie it up and that’s how we found out the storm was coming. We had no way of knowing but for the Coast Guard. We were in a little cottage until we got moved out to the Post Office which was a 2-story building. The water was up to my chest, in the building.” The family’s first experience with a hurricane did not prepare them for the eye of the storm. Bobby continues, “when there was a lull in the storm, we stepped out to survey the damage and then the hurricane turned back and put us right back in that building. It was terrifying. Very few houses were built sound enough to go through the hurricane. We lost everything.” Bobby’s father found a house they could move into and covered it with tar paper to make it weather proof. Rent was $8 a month. Bobby adds, “and sometimes we got a little bit behind. Who had $8 in those days? We lived in that house until about 1937 when we were able to move into something a little nicer. Everyone in town had the same hardships.”
“There was no animal control in those days so we had a lot of donkeys and chickens and cows and pigs. We had a lot of people with their own milk cow in Port Isabel. I bought milk from Doctor Hockaday, he had a cow. He would leave the milk on my doorstep, that’s in the 1940s. Doc Hockaday was also in the brick business.”
Bobby’s father outfitted a rig to fish from off of North Shore and Bobby spent a lot of time on it and around it in the Laguna Madre Bay. She adds, “I don’t think young people today have any idea how much fun I had growing up! I had a little boat out there and I just rowed all over the bay! I thought that’s what you were supposed to do! It was just a wonderful, wonderful little childhood. I was too stupid to know I was anchored in a small town. I started school here in the first grade and I graduated in the 11th grade. At that time there were 11 grades because the school had not been affiliated until my sister graduated and was the first graduate in this school. It went to 12 grades by 1941.”
Happy 100th Birthday, Bobby Wells!
From the Port Isabel Museums