Despite the fact that Sam Rayburn died in 1961, his 135th birthday was celebrated Saturday at his Bonham family home — now a state historic site and museum on the life and legacy of the Fannin County favorite son.
Guests to the site Saturday were treated to free guided tours of the farmhouse, which is nearly the same as he left it, and served refreshments of some of his favorite foods — chili and coconut cake. Anne Ruppert, curator of the house and historic site, said Mr. Rayburn’s birthday celebration was a day dedicated to remembering the famed statesman and honoring his legacy, which is still evident in North Texas.
“It’s just making sure we remember him and keep learning about him,” Ruppert said. “Everyday I’m learning something new about him and keep asking questions and celebrating his legacy.”
Ruppert said the longest-serving speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was a man of the people. He cared about the people in his district and cared about what they had to say, she said. His Bonham house on State Highway 56 served as his office.
“If you were a voter in the district and you wanted to talk to your congressman, you didn’t make an appointment — you didn’t call — you just drove over here,” Ruppert said. “You parked in the backyard and walked in the backdoor.”
If Mr. Rayburn wasn’t there, or if he was out working in the field, milking cows or the like, visitors were free to go join him or wait inside. He made it a point to speak with his constituents, and he came back to Bonham at every given opportunity, Ruppert said.
“He met with everyone who stopped by,” Ruppert said. “He made sure he made time for all the voters. He thought that was very important.”
While morning visitors to the museum were few Saturday, which staff attributed to the icy roadways, guests were expected to come in the afternoon. To help guide and inform the expected visitors, a few volunteers from Bonham High School were planted in the garage and the barn on the property.
Brandi Holcomb, a teacher at Bonham High School, brought a group of three students to volunteer at the site. She said it’s important for the students to learn the local history, to take pride in it and pass it on.
“He was a politician of the people,” Holcomb said. “He was just one of the crew; he took care of everybody, especially around here.”
Besides a love of his politics, Kasi Holcomb, Brandi Holcomb’s daughter, said the most interesting thing she learned about Mr. Rayburn was his driving ability, which was recorded on the dents and scratches covering a 1951 Dodge Express truck parked in the barn.
“The funniest thing I learned is that he was a bad driver,” Brandi Holcomb said.
The 1916 farmhouse, which once rested on 121 acres, was a family home. Mr. Rayburn’s parents lived there until they passed, and his siblings also lived there throughout the years. In the 1970s, the house was given to the state and became a historic site.
The theme of the guided tours Saturday was Mr. Rayburn’s favorite things. The guides talked about his hobbies, the foods he liked, favorite rooms and objects, Ruppert said. From talking to people who have visited the site, Ruppert said many have shared stories about Mr. Rayburn. The stories are often of memories of buying corn from him or visiting the house to meet with him. She said no one seems to have a bad thing to say about him.
“He had such a great reputation and people really looked up to him,” Ruppert said.
A common sentiment shared by many visitors, Ruppert said, is “Why don’t we have someone like Mr. Sam in Washington today?”
“I hear that everyday,” Ruppert said. “He did it right — a man of the people.”