June 18, 2008

Amboy had special place in her heart

Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

For much of her life, Bessie Burris had a love affair with a tiny town in the Mojave Desert.

Along with her husband Buster, the couple ran the gas station, post office and motel-cafe in Amboy, once a major stop along historic Route 66, roughly 60 miles northeast of Twentynine Palms.

So deep was her affection for the remote and quiet place that when she sold it in 2005 to Albert Okura, the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain, it was with the promise that he would restore the town to what it once was.

"She loved the serenity and used to tell visitors to just sit down and listen because it's a whole different world," said Joanne Fuentes, the project manager for Amboy. "And she looked forward to us opening up more for the people again because she loved people."

Burris, of Wonder Valley, died May 17. She was 91.

She was born July 31, 1916, in Louisville, Ky.

Her childhood was a good one because her father worked for the power company and did well even during the Depression.

The family ended up in California, and as a young woman she was married to Clarence Weight and did secretarial work.

Early on they had one daughter, Bessie Emma, who attended Hollywood High School.

The marriage did not last. She married Allan Ellsworth, who owned a record pressing company in Los Angeles.

She worked alongside her husband, also traveling the world with him. During that time, she discovered her love of art and studied painting under artists at the Louvre in Paris.
"She wanted to do everything, oil painting, china painting, nudes and still lifes," said granddaughter Bonnie Barnes of Jacksonville Beach, Fla. "It was a time when her talent really blossomed."

She purchased her cabin in Wonder Valley in the early 1960s, using it to paint with oils and china as well as instruct others in the craft.

She moved there in the early 1970s and was involved in Eastern Star and the China Painters Guild, and escorted high school youth on a trip to Europe.

After her second marriage ended, she married Herman "Buster" Burris, the then-owner of Amboy.

In the 1940s, Buster had teamed up with Roy Crowl, who opened "Roy's" as a service station on Route 66 in Amboy in 1938.

His first marriage was to Crowl's daughter, Betty. Together they expanded the business, keeping it open 24 hours a day and adding the motel to the service station and cafe.

Business boomed with the deluge of motor tourists after World War II, but dropped to zero the day the new interstate highway opened in the early 1970s.

After Betty died, he eventually married Burris and together they continued running the town that included a motel-cafe, gas station, air strip, a couple of houses, a school and a post office.

They loved their time there. They were active in community affairs and fought to keep the school there for area children.

Buster sold the town in 2000, just before he died at the age of 92.

The town was owned by investors Walt Wilson and Tim White starting from 2000. After the two investors lost it in foreclosure, it was repossessed by Burris, who was again living in Wonder Valley.

She sold the property in 2005 to Okura.

In her final years she returned to painting. There was even a portrait of a nude on her easel when she died.

She also supported plans to restore Amboy to its former glory.

She hoped to attend the grand opening of Roy's Gas Station in April, but was too ill.

Fuentes wishes she could have been there.

"She was a jewel of a woman who always kept Amboy tucked away in her heart," she said.

Burris was the last of eight brothers and sisters. She has one remaining aunt, who just turned 100.

She was preceded in death by her daughter, Bessie Emma.

She is survived by her six grandchildren, including Barnes, 10 great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.

Her funeral was May 21. She was buried next to Buster at Joshua Tree Memorial Park.