Herbert G. Branch, 91, of Woodville, passed away Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023 at Woodville Health & Rehab Center in Woodville. Herb, as his friends knew him, was born March 17, 1931 in Nacogdoches County and grew up in Etoile before moving to Humble in the early 1940’s, where he graduated from Humble High School in 1948.
He was offered a basketball scholarship to play for Coach Glen Rose at Stephen F. Austin State University where he majored in Forestry. He often said without the basketball scholarship he would have never been able to afford to go to college. He played for the Lumberjacks for four years and was a letterwinner. The 1948-49 team won the Lone Star Conference championship. While in college, he found summer work as a Forester, initially in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he would hike miles to his fire tower and stay for a week at a time. Solitary work, he had time for fishing and exploring along the Rogue River, the way he liked it. This began his love affair with the mountains and would lead to many other trips to Colorado and New Mexico for elk hunting, snow skiing, and trout fishing. There are many generations of “kids” who learned to ski while on a trip with Herb.
Following his graduation from SFA in 1952, Herb was dispatched to Korea where he saw active combat as a soldier from 1952-54. At 6’5” he was a lanky soldier, and tough to hide in a foxhole. His buddies called him “Tex” and in times of boredom, they would quick-draw on rats in the foxholes. Following a stint in combat he was pulled off the front lines assigned to an elite MP unit where he guarded then-Vice President Richard Nixon while he was visiting Korea, along with Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens. It was during his MP work that he flew aboard Air Force One. After Korea, he returned to Texas and re-enrolled in SFA to work on a Master’s in Forestry on the GI Bill. This is where he met his wife Katherine in 1955 at the Fredonia Hotel during the SFA Homecoming Parade.
For most of his career as a Forester, he worked for International Paper Company. His greatest contribution to the forests of the southern United States can be seen in every pine plantation today. Herb was the one climbing the tallest and healthiest trees across the southern pine belt to selectively collect seeds. These seeds started the Super Tree Seedlings grown today in every seedling nursery in the pine belt. Herb and his young family moved from Nacogdoches to Woodville in the early 1970’s when he was sent to manage the IP office in Tyler County. For the next 50 years, he would joke that even though he had been in Woodville for decades, he was still thought of as “that guy from Nacogdoches.” Herb and Katherine built a house on Ada Street, raised Stephen, Charlie, and John there, along with most of the boys’ friends. As he continued to work as a forester, he also began to work in real estate and appraisals, eventually opening his own business.
Always stressing the importance of community involvement, he led by example. He was an active member of the Woodville Rotary Club where he was Club President, a multiple Paul Harris Award recipient and was later named “Member Emeritus.” He was also an active member in the Tyler County Dogwood Festival where he served as a Kingsman, a Director on the operating board and a was participant in the historical play for many years. He was elected to multiple terms on the Woodville City Council although he refused to campaign or ask anyone to vote for him. He ultimately served the city for 12 years and only stepped down last year when age limited his mobility to attend meetings regularly.
Throughout his years of community service, whether Rotary projects or the annual Dogwood Festival, he would always say “this is supposed to be fun.” And every year, Herb, Lyle Rainey and John Wilson would scope-out trees to “borrow” to create a winter wonderland for the Rotary Club’s annual Breakfast with Santa. Always with some Coors Light in hand (which he always said cured some fella of bubonic plague decades ago in Arizona, so just to be safe we should drink some), he made sure everyone had a good time stealing trees for a good cause. While heading up the cooking team for Rotary’s annual gumbo dinner, he was always a stickler for his Gumbo Recipe from the Old Indian, and any derivations would have to be made with stealth or face the scolding from Herb. At Dogwood time, the good time rule was also enforced – on and off stage, in preparation and performance – eventually leading to not being invited back for the next year’s play.
Herb was a craftsman and somewhat of a nostalgic purist. He carried with him an old, small hatchet from his early life, which he would use to cut pines, build Christmas tree stands, and cut up frozen fish for the big feed the night before gumbo dinner. He made knives and his own buckskin shoes and clothing – which he actually wore while hunting with his black powder rifle – always preferring to walk amongst the forest instead of sitting in a deer stand. He also kept close by a small wooden spool, with some cotton line and a hook, also from his childhood, just in case a fishing opportunity arose.
Herb was known for his famous sayings known as Herb-isms. These included:
If a person will lie to you about a little thing, they will lie to you about a big thing.
Sometimes you have to pin a piece of mistletoe on your coattail.....so they can kiss your tail as you walk away.
If you ever crossed him, he may not say anything to you, but he put you in the “slot.” Once slotted, you never came back.
Nothing is impossible when you’re not the one having to do the work. He used this in Rotary when people would come up with things for the club to do.
When making decisions about what to do – or not to do – always make your decision with this in mind: Your friends and family will understand. What everyone else thinks, just doesn’t make a darn …do your own thing.
You’re as good as anyone, better than no one.
When asked how he was doing? He would always respond “I’ve got one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana peel.”
With regards to Rotary membership, he always emphasized, “We need to recruit quality Rotarians, not just new members, because when we are working on a club project, you will quickly recognize the difference between the two.”
An avid golfer, in 2005 he got one of his several holes-in-one – but this one was in a tournament – and he came away with a nice cash prize. Instead of using the money for himself, he used it to buy the granite monument that sits at the center of the Centennial Pavilion in front of the Tyler County Hospital. That’s the kind of guy he was – a good man who was a stickler for fairness and integrity who lived the Rotary oath of Service Above Self. Another example of why he was such a good and treasured member of the Woodville community and a friend.
He was preceded in death by his parents, John Henry and Ruby Corine Love Branch; his wife of 63 years, Katherine Branch; and sisters, Dorothy and Jeannine.
He is survived by his sons, Stephen Branch and wife, Cherise, of Victoria, Charles Branch and wife, Kay, of Colmesneil, and John Branch, of Nacogdoches; grandchildren: Charlotte Dorn and husband, John, Rebecca Branch, Rhett Branch, Dodge Bludau, and Reese Bludau; great-grandchildren: Emma Dorn, Maximus Dorn, Brantley Bruton and Derrick Bruton.
Graveside services will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 1, 2023 at Magnolia Cemetery in Woodville. Officiating will be Chaplain Steven Hays and John Wilson.
Serving as pallbearers will be Steve Branch, Charles Branch, John Branch, John Wilson, Lyle Rainey and Randy Durham. Honorary pallbearer will be Lonnie Grissom.
Memorials may be made to the Woodville Rotary Club, P.O. Box 314, Woodville, TX 75979 or the Arthur Temple College of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University, P.O. Box 6092, Nacogdoches, TX 75962.
Services are under the direction of Stringer & Griffin Funeral Home in Woodville, Texas.
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