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G. Bradley Bourland UT Elementary School Library Book Fund

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David Bourland never thought of himself as a UT donor. Although he is an alumnus of The University of Texas and an employee of the UT Development Office, it took a visit to UT Elementary to seed the idea for Bourland’s gift of the G. Bradley Bourland UT Elementary School Library Book Fund.

Bradley, Bill, and Mabel Bourland at the Masonic Home
Bradley, Bill, and Mabel Bourland at the Masonic Home

“It does strike me as odd that my work with an outside organization, not working here at UT, was the catalyst for this,” Bourland says.

The Masonic Lodge Foundation, of which Bourland is a member, gives regularly to UT Elementary. Two years ago UT Elementary honored the Masonic organization with a ceremony thanking it for supporting Little Longhorns. The next year Bourland took a tour of the school.

“I started to see many similarities between my dad’s early education and UT Elementary,” Bourland says.

Bourland’s father, G. Bradley Bourland, for whom the endowment is named, survived the third-deadliest tornado in Texas history and grew up in the Masonic Home and School (MHS) in Fort Worth. Established in 1889, MHS was a home for widows and orphans. Starting in 1913 it became its own school system, the Masonic Home Independent School District.

UT Elementary opened in 2003 as a public charter school for underserved families in East Austin. Enrollment is open to all pre-K through fifth-graders through a lottery, and 77 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged households.

“Both schools are one-school districts,” Bourland says. “Both serve a body of students that may struggle economically.”

Third-Deadliest Tornado

On April 12, 1927, an F5 category tornado touched down three miles from Rocksprings, Texas. Bradley Bourland was 8. His brother, Bill, was 6. Their mother, Mabel, had just washed their feet. When she emptied the bucket from the back porch the wind lifted the water into her face.

Bradley’s father, James, saw what was happening and put his sons and wife in the tub before the high winds picked up the house and threw it across the street. Bradley and Bill were OK. Debris struck James on the head, but he remained on his feet. Mabel survived, but her right shoulder and hand were crushed.

James took the boys, one on each hip, to the courthouse, an undamaged brick building in the center of town, then returned home for his wife and carried her to the courthouse, too.

Cars ferried the injured from Rocksprings to the closest rail line in Uvalde, Texas. Given medicine to help him sleep on the train ride to San Antonio, James died of a brain injury in his sleep. Mabel underwent multiple surgeries, lost her right thumb, and spent months in recovery. In all, the Rocksprings tornado killed 74 people and injured 205.

Rock Springs, Texas after the 1927 tornado
Rock Springs, Texas after the 1927 tornado

Masonic Home and School

Bradley and Bill bounced between relatives while their mother recovered, but no one could afford to take them in permanently. Their father had been a Mason, and they ended up in the Masonic Home and School.

When she was able to join her sons, Mabel got a job managing a boarding house in Fort Worth. She was close to her boys and could visit often. Both Bradley and Bill lived at MHS until they left to attend The University of Texas at Austin.

Bradley Bourland was lucky, first to survive the Rocksprings tornado and then to live and learn at MHS. He and his brother received an education that prepared them to study at UT. Bradley graduated high school as valedictorian, though he would point out that his class consisted of fewer than 20 students. The boys got health care, were fed, and made bonds with their teachers, their classmates, and the place itself.

MHS administrators helped Bradley find a scholarship to UT. Bill joined him two years later. Bradley used to say that everything he accomplished was built upon the start he got at MHS. Though his story began with tragedy, it led to a long and educated life.

Books Paved the Way

“When Dad died he had almost 16,000 books,” Bourland says. “I want to see the UT Elementary School library get to that level and keep climbing.”

Books paved the way to Bradley’s love of reading and learning. Bourland sees the G. Bradley Bourland UT Elementary School Library Book Fund as an extension of his father’s passion for reading. He knows the endowment will help fill the Little Longhorns’ library and contribute to the learning of future generations.

“The home (MHS) embraced and encouraged my dad’s love of learning,” Bourland says. “He passed that on to me, both in the way he loved to read to me and reverence he had for learning. He taught me to care for books the way some fathers teach their sons to polish a hunting rifle. These connections built a perfect fit and made me want to create this endowment.”

The G. Bradley Bourland UT Elementary School Library Book Fund was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on Dec. 20, 2013.

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