A Tribute to Frank Thornberry - Tuesday, February 12, 2014 Born in his parents' home on North 9th Street, Colton, California, Frank was the son of Russell E. Thornberry and Blanche Irene Hurd-Thornberry. Russell worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad (now the Union Pacific) and Blanche was a homemaker. Frank Eugene Thornberry was born November 6, 1916. His brother Robert Hurd Thornberry was born on April 4, 1920. Frank loved WWI air craft seeing them fly about in his youth. One of his favorite movies was "The Blue Max." Frank met his wife to be, Gwendolyn Mae Pruitt, in a music class a Colton Jr. High School. They married on June 16,...
A Tribute to Frank Thornberry -
Tuesday, February 12, 2014
Born in his parents' home on North 9th Street, Colton, California, Frank was the
son of Russell E. Thornberry and Blanche Irene Hurd-Thornberry. Russell worked
for the Southern Pacific Railroad (now the Union Pacific) and Blanche was a
homemaker. Frank Eugene Thornberry was born November 6, 1916. His brother
Robert Hurd Thornberry was born on April 4, 1920. Frank loved WWI air craft
seeing them fly about in his youth. One of his favorite movies was "The Blue
Frank met his wife to be, Gwendolyn Mae Pruitt, in a music class a Colton Jr. High
School. They married on June 16, 1939 in an outdoor flower garden that is now
the Colton High School baseball field. He purchased a lot at the opposite end of
the street he grew up on and built their honeymoon home before they married.
They loved each other like honeymooners for 66 years. A part of him died when
his soul mate passed in 2005 for she was the most important part of his life.
Frank's love of music stayed with him throughout his life. After graduating from
Colton high School in 1935, Frank went to San Bernardino Valley College and then
to UCLA where he played the tuba in the band. He learned to play the piano
through his mother and could play any song after hearing it just once. Someone
joked that he played by ear because he didn't know he was supposed to use his
fingers. He would entertain family and friends throughout his life playing the
piano and later the organ.
To pay for school, Frank began working for California Portland Cement Company's
Colton Plant at Mt. Slover. He started out at the bottom working on the labor
crew. With his marriage to Gwen and a baby (Gary born December 29, 1942) on
the way, he dropped his studies at UCLA and worked full time at the Colton
Cement Plant. He worked up to an electrician assistant before going into the
At UCLA he studied forestry. Another passion he had was for the outdoors. He
loved fishing a trout stream the most. But any fishing gave him great pleasure.
When I was a young boy, he would take me and later my brother joined us, fishing
the Santa Anna River at Seven Oaks. He would tell me how his father did the
same for him. The old apple ranch that he and his father went to and then hiked
down to the stream had long gone. So we would drive down the fire road headed
towards the junction of the Santa Anna and Bear creek stopping about half way
from where the pavement ended and the junction. There was a land mark – a
sand stone out cropping at that point we would park and hike down the steep
mountain slope to the stream. Always marking the spot to return to the road, we
would tie a rag to a tree branch and at that tree we would tie our sack lunches to
a limb. We would then work up the stream and then back down, have our lunch
and then work the stream down and then back up.
Years later I got it! This was his solitude, his being in touch with nature and its
creator. The only sounds were that of nature. The sound of water flowing over
rocks and falling into deep pools, the wind gently blowing through pine trees and
shaking the Aspin leaves, the sounds of Blue Jays and other birds, the sight of
butterflies and grasshoppers (bait), and the occasional sound of a deer or bear
was his time to decompress and relax.
May 12, 1943 Frank and his brother-in-law Harry (Bud) Pruitt joined the Naval
Construction Battalion. I don't know how they finagled the system so that they
would be together, but they did. After basic training they shipped out on the USS
Orizaba to New Caledonia some 400 miles north of Australia. On the ship Frank
volunteered to assist the crew and receive a commendation from the ship's
Captain. There Frank became a First Class (1/C) Electrician. Once again, he made
friends that lasted for the rest of his life. He was proud of his service in the CB's
but was happy to return to his wife and young son (me). His favorite hat to wear
was his CB's hat and he spoke often of his service years.
Frank picked up where he left off. After discharge from the military on December
3, 1945 he came back to California Portland Cement (CPC) Colton Plant and
started a career that would last 45 years with the same company.
Work wasn't the only thing he had in mind on his return. August 20, 1946 his
second son Keith was born.
Now a First Class Electrician, he practiced his trade at the Colton Cement Plant
and six years later he became the Electrical Department Supervisor (1956) after
the retirement of his boss L.C. Clark. I remember LC coming to the house smoking
his huge cigar and with his large English Bull dog in toe. This would drive my
mother nuts – she worried about her antique furniture, the dog hair, the drool,
and cigar ashes. Frank would later say "NOW GWENNIE NOW GWENNIE" (the
"now Gwennie now Gwennie" became the phrase he always used when he
disagreed with her) he is a good boss and friend who has helped me both
technically and in supervising. After LC retired, Frank would stop by LC's home to
visit and help since LC was not in good health. This was the man – the father I
remember. The summer vacations were mostly spent trailer camping in the High
Sierria's. Many times, we would celebrate Keith's birthday along Robertson Creek
When he and his brother got together it was never Frank and Bob. It was always
Thorny (Frank) and Berry (Bob). Bob (Berry) followed their father's career and
work for the railroad until retirement. I fallowed my dad and worked for the
cement plant. My uncle Bud followed his father and was in the horse business –
riding academy, pack horses, and boarding. He went from horse trading to a
successful career in car sales. At work, the guys nicknamed Frank Papa Bear and I
was Little Bear and maybe some others we weren't aware of. To many of his
friends he was known as "Pancho" and to his grandchildren and great
grandchildren his was known as "Papa."
Seven years later (1963) Frank was promoted to assistant plant superintendent.
He and Gwen were active in the Colton community. Frank was in the Rotary club,
Kiwanis club, the Masonic Lodge. Gwen was in the Woman's club, Eastern Star,
antique club, and a volunteer pink lady at the hospital. Their relaxation and
escape was a trailer set on "fingers" jetting out into the Salton Sea. There he
would park his boat like one would park a car in a garage. The Salton Sea was hot
as Hell in the summer, but they loved it and of course – good fishing.
Five years later (1968), Frank was promoted to Plant Superintendent. He would
walk the cement plant at every opportunity which was at least every week. He
would stop and greet every employee he came across. He knew every
employee's name, his spouse's name, his children's names, the employee's
hobbies, likes and dislikes. This was some 300 people.
In 1974 Frank was asked to go to the Arizona Plant and take the helm. He and
Gwen picked up and left the home he had built and lived in for the last 33 years
and moved to Tucson to become the Plant Manager of the Rillito Plant.
He fell in love with the Arizona life. He bought a house still under construction in
the north/west area of Tucson known as Casa Adobes area. Some of the features
he liked most were the fact that the house was on an acre of land with Saguaro,
mesquite and Palo Verde trees, ocotillos, Arizona Bird of Paradise, etc. Just what
an outdoor person would love. Frank even held one of the annual company
Christmas parties at the house.
Seven years later, Frank retired in August 1981. He and Gwen traveled, grew
beautiful roses, enjoyed visits from family, and had a small summer place in the
Northern Arizona White Mountains. He went from a trailer to a fifth wheel, to a
motor home to the summer place. He and Gwen enjoyed escaping the hot
August days in Tucson by going to their summer place in Payson. And of course
there was good fishing up there. They took trips to other states, they went to
Hawaii and they took a cruise to the Caribbean. Like two peas in a pod – soul
mates forever, they enjoyed retirement.
When his soul mate in life passed, Frank returned to here to be near his family.
In summary, if I had to pick one thing it would be his love for his wife – my
mother. He was a "people person" Every neighbor, every acquaintance or friend,
every person he worked with, every family member he knew their likes, dislikes,
those in their lives. He enjoyed conversations with people, doing things with
people – vacations, fishing, partying, or just to have a good conversation. He truly
cared for their feelings and thoughts. But above all it was his Gwennie he lived his
life for. He was an extraordinary, kind, and loving man.
Funeral service will be held on Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 10 a.m., at Montecito Valley
View Chapel, followed by burial at Montecito Memorial Park, both at 3520 E.
Washington St., Colton, CA.