Sister Bourne: Tough as nails, sharp as a tack and cute as a button

Sister Bourne: Tough as nails, sharp as a tack and cute as a button
John Jennings, Tucson Citizen

[note: this typescript was created in February 2004 from a newspaper clipping contained in the Oracle Historical Society's collection of artifacts from and about Eulalia Bourne. We are guessing that the original article appeared in the early 1980s.]

There are two things she figures you don't need to know:

One is how many cattle she has and the other is her age.

Eulalia "Sister" Bourne got her first school teaching in job in Arizona before the war. No, not the Vietnam War. Not Korea. Not even World War II. She started teaching in 1914 on the eve of World War I.

Sister (that's not a religious title, she picked up the nickname from a younger sister who couldn't pronounce Eulalia) still lives in her ranch on the slopes of the Galiuro Mountains, 60 miles or so northeast of Tucson. And the last handful of miles in to her place as are bouncy and tough as the old lady herself.

Sister Bourne has carved out a permanent niche for herself in Arizona education. Back in the 1930s and '40s, she bounced around to virtually ever back-country school in Pima County.

The love and respect that flowed between her and the students is reflected in the three books she eventually wrote for University of Arizona Press. "Woman in Levi's," "Nine Months is a Year at Baboquivari School" and "Ranch Schoolteacher" all proved popular reading for adults and school kids alike.

She hasn't lost any of the spirit that got her fired from her first teaching job for dancing the one-step, or that could have gotten her fired for letting her class full of Mexican-American kids in Helvetia speak Spanish on school property.

She has sold off most of the cattle she once owned, but still shares her ranch home with some dogs and a horse named Grandpa. The property, too, has been sold, but she gets to live on it until she dies - and with all the spunk that's still in her, that may not be for quite awhile yet.

Until just a few years ago, she still rode, roped and did her own branding. She fell a year or so ago and broke several ribs, but wouldn't even think of going to a doctor.

"There's not a hoot that a doctor can do about broken ribs anyway," she said.

She still feeds her animals and shoos an occasional rattler away from the house. She has no children, but she's been adopted as mother-aunt-friend by dozens of people, and they see that she has food to eat, wood to burn, and feed for the animals.

Cecilia and Lonnie Pettit of Mammoth and Edna and Harry Hendrickson of Oracle are among Sister's closest "family."

Cecilia hauled yours truly and Bob Dalton of the San Manuel Miner in to visit Sister a few days back.

An afternoon listening to Sister tell of her teaching days is a memorable experience.

She talked ot her prize sixth-grade student at Baboquivari School, who went up against eight-graders from throughout the country in a spelling bee and lost out because the judges erred.

"After he lost, he stood there straight and tall," she said, "but big ol' tears were rolling down his cheeks, because he thought he had disappointed me."

Tears formed in her own eyes as she told the story.

"Years later, he joined the paratroops and he wrote me a letter the day before his first big jump," she continued. "He said he would be jumping with a hundred pounds of explosives on him, but that he wasn't scared. He said the only fear he ever had was that someday he might do something that would make me not be proud of him."

When I first tried to talk her into letting me take her picture, she turned me down flat, and added, "Sonny, you're just 30 years too late."

Finally, by cajoling, teasing and fibbing a little, I managed to snap the photo you see here. I hope she'll forgive me for sharing it with you. She thinks she's beginning to look old.

I think she's a beaut.

(On Friday, I'll tell you about Sister's high-flying friend.)