So­corro banker ‘worked to make New Mex­ico bet­ter’

Bur­sum died at his home on Tues­day

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION - BY JOHN LAR­SON EL DEFENSOR CHIEF­TAIN Jour­nal staff con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Holm O. Bur­sum III, a prom­i­nent So­corro banker, who, as a young­ster, wit­nessed the det­o­na­tion of the atomic bomb at Trin­ity Site, died Tues­day. He was 84.

A third-gen­er­a­tion New Mex­i­can and life­long res­i­dent of So­corro, Bur­sum was pres­i­dent and CEO of the fam­ily busi­ness, First State Bank, a po­si­tion he held since 1987.

He had served on the So­corro City Coun­cil and as chair­man of the So­corro County Com­mis­sion. In 1995, Bur­sum was ap­pointed to the New Mex­ico High­way and Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion and served as chair­man from 19952003. Dur­ing those years, the bonds were is­sued to build, re­con­struct and com­plete the In­ter­state 40/In­ter­state 25 (Big I) Pro­ject in Al­bu­querque.

He was hon­ored with a New Mex­ico Dis­tin­guished Pub­lic Ser­vice Award in 2004 for res­i­dents who have made com­mend­able con­tri­bu­tions to pub­lic ser­vice and their com­mu­ni­ties.

Ryan Can­gi­olosi, out­go­ing chair­man of the state Repub­li­can Party, said Bur­sum made a last­ing mark on New Mex­ico “and his legacy is an ex­am­ple for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

“Holm was a pub­lic ser­vant, a phi­lan­thropist, a busi­ness­man, and a faith­ful Repub­li­can who al­ways gave back to the com­mu­nity in So­corro and worked to make New Mex­ico bet­ter,” Can­gi­olosi said in a state­ment. “Holm lived a rich life and ca­pa­bly con­tin­ued his fam­ily’s legacy of ser­vice to our state. Our prayers are with his fam­ily as they mourn his loss.”

Born in Roswell, his folks re­lo­cated to So­corro in 1942, when Holm was 8. He was raised on a ranch 30 miles east of So­corro in an area known as Jor­nada del Muerto Basin.

He rem­i­nisced in a 2014 in­ter­view of spend­ing sum­mers and as much free time as pos­si­ble on the Bur­sum Ranch.

Bank­ing was a far cry from his first love, ranch­ing and cat­tle. He grad­u­ated from New Mex­ico State Univer­sity with a BS in an­i­mal hus­bandry.

The sprawl­ing Bur­sum Ranch cov­ered about 300 square miles.

“It was ba­si­cally put to­gether by lots of home­steads,” he said in one in­ter­view. “It was orig­i­nally a sheep ranch, but later they ran cat­tle.”

By the early 1940s parts of the ranch’s acreage was ac­quired by the U.S. Army for the new White Sands Bomb­ing Range. But as an 11-year-old, Holm loved to spend the night in the bunkhouse, and it was there he was an ac­ci­den­tal wit­ness to his­tory.

It was sum­mer­time, 1945, and Holm said he may have been the clos­est civil­ian to the Trin­ity atom bomb test — only 16 miles away — on the morn­ing of July 16.

“High­way 380 cuts through the cen­ter of our old ranch,” Bur­sum said. “The mil­i­tary had taken over the south por­tion — one half of the ranch — from 380 down to three miles north of what is now the Trin­ity Site. In fact, 99 ranch­ers were dis­placed. The mil­i­tary said the ranches would be re­turned three years af­ter the end of the war. They never were.”

Bur­sum said he ac­tu­ally spent his first eight years on the ranch, and spent most sum­mers there through­out his youth.

“That sum­mer I was stay­ing in an adobe build­ing, four miles east of Bing­ham and 16 miles north­north­east of the shot,” he said. “The army had blocked part of the high­way (High­way 380), and there was a mil­i­tary pres­ence in San Antonio. We later learned they were there to evac­u­ate So­corro if the ra­dioac­tive cloud blew over it.”

The test was sched­uled for mid­night, but be­cause of a big thun­der­storm, was resched­uled for just be­fore sun up.

At 16 miles away the det­o­na­tion at 5:30 a.m. shook the build­ing in which Bur­sum was sleep­ing.

“I slept in a top bunk in a bunk bed against the south wall of the adobe place that morn­ing, and it woke me up,” he said. “It shook the house pretty good and rat­tled all the cans, and it was bright as morn­ing.

“For a minute I thought the sun was com­ing up in the south,” he said. “We had no idea what it was. It was an­nounced later that an am­mu­ni­tion dump had blown up.

His first job in the bank­ing busi­ness was in 1959 at Al­bu­querque Na­tional Bank.

“I was plan­ning on com­ing down here and work for my dad here at the bank,” Holm once said. “I guess I had men­tioned it to my dad and he said, ‘No, get a job with some­body else and learn on some­body else’s money.’”

That was just a few months af­ter his wed­ding. He and Earle Pow­ell were mar­ried in Roswell and had their wed­ding re­cep­tion at his boy­hood home in Roswell in 1958 while Holm was still a cap­tain in the U.S. Air Force.

Com­ing from di­ver­gent back­grounds, Earle, a Demo­crat, and Holm, a Repub­li­can, made a pact, a spousal agree­ment be­fore get­ting mar­ried.

Holm is quoted in “The Bur­sums of New Mex­ico” say­ing, “When we first got mar­ried I made a deal with Earle. She agreed to join the Repub­li­can Party if she could raise the kids as Epis­co­palians (Holm’s back­ground is Pres­by­te­rian). ‘Let the kids be Epis­co­palians, and I will be a Repub­li­can,’ she said.”

Earle died in 2014. They were to­gether 56 years.

Holm’s fu­neral will be Dec. 11, at Gar­cia Opera House in So­corro.

He is sur­vived by four chil­dren, Holm O. Bur­sum IV, Elizabeth Spencer, Ju­lia Bur­sum and Michael Bur­sum.

RICHARD PIPES/JOUR­NAL

Holm Bur­sum, pic­tured in 2005, wit­nessed the flash from the det­o­na­tion of the atomic bomb at Trin­ity Site on July 16, 1945. Bur­sum died Tues­day at the age of 84.

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