NEIGHBORS
SAM UPCHURCH

By Jack Ballard (submitted by Rick Lemons)

Samuel Lafayette Upchurch, Jr. will be eighty-five years old this October 17 th. He was born near the Lamar County community of Marvin to Effie Mae and the senior Samuel Upchurch. The Upchurch family was large which was typical for those years. There were many brothers and sisters— Flossie, Irene, Paralee, Kenneth, Curtis, Bobby, plus five stepbrothers and stepsisters Mag, Dora, Jerry, Zora, and Wallace-- to round out the family.

Some of the kids, including Sam, attended a three-room school, Ashland, which he fondly remembers as "Ashland University." Some of the best times Sam recalls were on the basketball court. In addition to Sam, the Ashland team included such Lamar County round ball greats as Hollace Towers and Cleo Salters. Their teacher/coach was Angie Essrey and they played out on the dirt school playground. If they had a good season, the basketball " big-time" was at the Fairground playoffs in Paris.

As with many kids in those days, Sam's formal schooling ended when he was about fifteen-years-old. He then spent much of his time helping the family working in the cotton fields.

As World War II engaged, a twenty-one year-old Sam Upchurch was drafted into the U.S. Army. He did crewman training at Ft. Bliss in the Anti-Aircraft Command. While in El Paso and just before he was to ship out to the war, he married a Deport area girl, Juanita Westbrook.

Sam saw action in the Pacific theater. He recalls his experience on the ship as he traveled to the theater, "The waves were fierce. That ship would go up high and then go down low and back up again. I got so sick I would just as soon have been dead." But he did survive the ocean voyage to the battle. During his service he achieved the role of sergeant and he remembers a lot of fox hole digging and playing around and shooting at people."

When Sam came back home from the war, he and Juanita lived with his parents and farmed cotton and corn. They had four mules and he spent a lot of time behind a cultivator.

In the 1950s, jobs were hard to come by and many in the Upchurch family moved to Amarillo where they found good jobs. Sam and some of his brothers went to work for ICX Freight Lines. Sam drove a forklift for years. It was a life-challenging job. One day, an accident occurred when a tire exploded on the dock. It broke Sam's jaw and his mouth had to be wired shut for weeks. Sam says, "For a big ole boy, I would have never thought I could have survived by only eating milkshakes though a straw."

The good times of Sam and Juanita's life included spending a lot of time with the family and traveling to stock car races. During a period of time Sam says, "We went to the races every time the gate was open and we knew a bunch of the drivers."

Sam and Juanita kept many Lamar County friendships over the years as they visited frequently. One of the highlights for travel to Deport was the annual Varner reunion. Unable to travel the last couple of years, Sam sighs, "I sure miss those."

Sam has been good at just about everything he has tried. As hobbies, he built lamps and yard decorating windmills. The windmills were quite the conversation piece for the neighborhood. They were usually painted red and stood about six to ten feet tall.

Juanita died of pancreatic cancer several years ago. But before she passed away, lovingly she and Sam had time to prepare him for life without her. A second angel came into Sam's life when he met Bonnie. Bonnie and Sam were married in February of 1998 and have enjoyed great years of companionship. They are now retired on Lloyd Drive in Amarillo.

Sam has experienced tough health challenges lately. He has diabetes, which has added to complicated congestive heart failure and kidney failure. Bonnie recently cared for him as he was in for a long hospitalization and rehab stay. Now he is at home and getting around with the help of a walker. He laughs, "I walked enough when I was a kid behind those mules, and so I don't walk as much now."

In his garage he keeps his pride, a shiny 1964 turquoise and white Ford 100 Custom Cab pickup with added air conditioning and an AM radio showing only 55,413 miles on the odometer. In his back yard, one of the bright red windmills turns as the West Texas wind silently blows where Bonnie and the World War II veteran and Ashland University graduate sometimes sit in a shaded swing and enjoy their days together.

Sam Upchurch Obituary:

Samuel Upchurch, 85, of Amarillo died Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Memorial Park Funeral Home Chapel of Memories, 6969 E. Interstate 40, with Phil Harguess officiating. Burial will be in Memorial Park Cemetery.

Mr. Upchurch served as a sergeant in the Army during World War II in the Asiatic Pacific Theater Campaign. He worked in farming and then for ICX for 27 years. He married Juanita Westbrook on Feb. 24, 1945, in Las Cruces, N.M. She preceded him in death in 1990. He then married Bonnie Williams on Feb. 1, 1998.

Survivors include his wife; two stepsons, Gary Williams of Waco and Don Williams of Woodinville, Wash.; a stepdaughter, Kathy Lemons of Amarillo; 10 stepgrandchildren; a stepgreat-grandchild; many nieces and nephews; and dear friends from all over.

The family suggests memorials be to BSA Hospice, P.O. Box 950, Amarillo, TX 79105.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the funeral home.

Amarillo Globe-News, Nov. 16, 2004