Border Angel


Bill Starr


New York Washington Atlanta Hollywood

FIRST Edition

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form

Copyright (c) 1979 by Bill Starr

Published by Vantage Press Inc. 516 West 34th Street New York New York 10001

Manufactured in the United States of America Standard Book Number 533-03670-4

This internet edition was made with permission of the author/copyright holder. Please respect his copyright. It is offered on the Internet with the provision that if anyone wishes to use it all or in part they must have written permission from Bill Starr, 2202 E. Crockett, Harlingen, Texas 78550. If it is used in any profit making way he will negotiate with the user.

DEDICATION TO Frank Ferree Friend of God and Mankind

   "Inasmuch as you have done it to the 
 least of these, my brethren, you have done 
 it to me."

                           Jesus Christ 

CONTENTS Preface xi Foreword xiii Chapter 1. In the Beginning 1 2. A Bible and a War 4 3. Colorado, California, and Wisconsin: A Prelude to Texas 10 4. Another Beginning 16 5. The Territory 18 6. Healing 21 7. By His Stripes We Are Healed 25 8. Men Eating Banana Peels 30 9. Roundup Time in Texas 37 10. The Tampico Disaster 41 11. The Daily Routine 44 12. The Albert Schweitzer of the Rio Grande Valley 47 13. An Unnoticed Monument to One Man's Human Kindness 57 14. El Amigo Is Coming 65 15. Attention Cotton Pickers! 71 16. Food and Jobs for the Starving 76 17. Invitation From the White House 86 18. Volunteer Border Relief 88 Notes from the inside of the dust jacket:

PREFACE He looks and dresses like a bum, but don't let that bother you. You've never dealt with anybody quite like Frank Ferree, a completely humble man, easily ap- proached, and at 83, he's still going strong. He is a personal friend with the last four Mexican pres- idents, and of two past U.S. presidents. He's the only man known who can simply walk into the presidential offices in Mexico City, sit down, and talk with the chief executive. He is equally at ease with the most degenerate criminals in rat-infested cesspools called prisons along the Border. Dozens of medals, citations and parchments have come Frank's way from Freedom Foundation, the governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the mayors of Texas and Mex- ican cities, school administrations, service clubs, Mexican welfare agencies, and a recommendation for Mexico's Aztec Eagle Medal, the highest honor which that nation can award to a citizen of another country. Frank Ferree has, I think, lit a candle, rather than curse the darkness. It is my hope that this book will help that candle shine forth to inspire others, to help them feel better about their condition in particular, and the human condition, in general. -- xi -- FOREWORD I hardly noticed the old man when he came in. I was busy with a news story and in those days it seemed important to meet the daily deadline for drivel. So he sat down in a straight chair and waited while I beat and pounded the typewriter, cursed and hammered out another piece of idle gossip. I got paid for such tripe and drivel and I was good at it, and anything beat teaching school, almost, so I made him wait until I got ready to talk to him. He was ,tall, lanky, slow, and filthy. He wore no wristwatch, no jewelry, no rings. Large unmanicured toenails lay exposed to the newsroom's air conditioning. He wore Mexican sandals cut from treads of old abandoned tires, and loose straps held them to his dusty feet. Everything about the man was gnarled, rough-hewn, crude. He was a tramp, I decided. No wonder the others had avoided him, sending him instead to me, the newest, most ambitious member of the editorial room. When I was ready, he handed me an old sheet of newsprint, ripped off the large rolls of paper they'd given him in the backshop. Somehow, he'd managed to put down a few words with an incredibly ancient, malfunctioning typewriter. Crossouts, missing letters, typewritten lines as crooked as a snake wandered over the scrap of paper. Still, what he had written made sense. It was precise, crisp, to the point, the type of stuff easily converted into a first-rate news story. He'd brought news about an American-held prisoner in a Monterrey, Mexico, jail for -- xiii -- nearly ten years for a crime he didn't commit. Frank had visited him in his cell. He spoke, and his speech was scratchy, barely audible. I listened and wrote the news story. questioning him at times for additional information, quickly realizing that here in front of me and behind that crude exterior, sat the nearest thing to a genius, and a true holy man, that it had ever been my unearned privilege to know. I came eventually to know him as a firstclass man with himself that way, a bum, easily approached by the poorest of the poor, ready to help those who needed him most. I came eventually to know him as a first class man with a brain clicking like a computer inside his head, fast, accu- rate, result-getting. He was a man who simply would not accept defeat, who could take without pain the icy stares, the obvious loathing of the rich, proud and affluent-those who did not need his help. He could take all that, and come back for more, persistent, determined, patient, hum- ble, until he got what he wanted results. Results that benefited the desperately poor, those without a helper, without medicine, food, shelter, clothing. No run-around, no come-ons, no con games, just results. He had purposely modeled himself after Christ, a humble man, full of sorrows, the most despised of all men, yet with the power of God within him. When he left, I got up and shook his hand and watched him shuffle out, resolved to find out and learn of this man who was so much more than met the eye. This book is the result f what I found out. In all my news-gathering years, and I've worked for some biggies (Time-Life, National Observer, King Features, etc.), I've never run across a more remarkable tale, nor one more in- spiring. Frank Ferree, the modern-day Robin Hood with a new twist. Instead of robbing the rich to help the poor, Frank begs from the rich and gives to the poor. -- xiv -- From the Congressional Record Senate, February 19, 1975 comes the following: THE HOLY MAN OF HARLINGEN Mr. McGovern: Mr. President, I recently came across an article in GRIT describing the daily routine of Frank Ferree, the owner of perhaps the largest heart, smile, and unselfish spirit in America. Mr. Ferree lives in a shack in Harlingen, a town on the Texas-Mexico border. His only income is a $90 a month pension. But without a thought to his own needs, Mr. Fer- ree combs the neighborhood every day, begging for food and medicine, every bit of which he delivers and distrib- utes to poverty-stricken families on both sides of the bor- der. Unaware of any personal sacrifices he may be making, Mr. Ferree sees to it that everyone he meets has enough food, warmth; shelter, and medical treatment. Only when he is sure of that will he tend to his own needs. Because of Mr. Ferree's generosity and total selflessness, life is bright- er and better for many needy families in the Rio Grande Valley. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the article "Holy Man of Harlingen, from the January 26 issue of GRlT, be printed in the Record, and I hope that everyone will take the time to read about Frank Ferree, a mag- nanimous human being. There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: -- xv -- Holy Man of Harlingen Though Poor Himself, He Gives to Needy (By Bill Starr) A person doesn't have to be rich to play Santa Claus. Frank Ferree of Harlingen, Texas, for thirty years has been helping those submerged in abject poverty along the Texas-Mexico border. Yet Ferree has almost nothing himself. He lives in a shack that is barely adequate for shelter. The two trucks he uses to deliver foodstuffs to the poor barely pass safety stan- dards and look as if they were found in a junkyard. He not only provides food, clothing, and shelter for hundreds of persons each month, but also has located and obtained medical attention for hundreds of children suffer- ing from harelips, partial blindness, and facial defects. This is how he does it: each day he makes the rounds through back alleys of Harlingen, begging wilted fruit, day- old bread, and miscellaneous medicines from merchants. Then he loads his two old vehicles with the merchandise along with assorted cardboard boxes, end rolls from newsprint, and pieces of discarded lumber. He heads for Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico, and half a dozen villages on the Texas side of the border. There, people who have lived in deep poverty all of their lives await his arrival six days a week. Day after day, without ever taking a vacation, Ferree delivers to the poor, keeping them alive, furnishing them with scraps of lumber with which to build some sort of shel- ter, During the last Christmas season, he delivered two tons of candy to poor children. Each month, he begs and receives tons of bread, candy, and medicine from several grocery and medical chains in the United States. The managers of these firms have become convinced of the value of his work. Whenever he finds persons who need operations, Fer- ree takes them to three or four wealthy benefactors whom he has located along the border and obtains funds for them. More than 100 harelipped children have received cor- -- xvi -- rective operations, and dozens more with horrible facial de- fects have had plastic surgery which left them able to face the world. Ferree keeps nothing for himself. "All I need is three light meals a day and a place to sleep," he said. "I am a bachelor I have no great needs." He lives in a hovel, yet he shares even this with those who are less fortunate. Two dozen children have been born in his house, with him acting as midwife. Any bum on the street on the coldest night has a place to sleep in Ferree's hovel, which is never locked. "I got nothing worth stealing," he said. A sixty-gallon oil drum serves as a combination heater and cookstove. A hole cut in the floor serves as a drain when he bathes out of a bucket of water. Valley businessmen call him the "Albert Schweitzer of the Rio Grande Valley." Ferree came to the Valley thirty- five years ago, bought a twenty-three-acre tract on the north side of town, then saw some Mexicans picking up banana peelings from the ground and eating them. "I thought something ought to be done about that," he said. "So I did something. One thing led to another, and now I'm into it over my head. It's a big job, but I just do what I can and try not to worry about the tremendous needs which I can't get to." Ferree sold his tract and gave the money away to help the poor. Once he was seen downtown on a cold winter day in an old army overcoat. Hours later he was seen wearing only a thin shirt and pants. When questioned, he explained simply that he had found a man who needed the overcoat, so he gave it to him. "I don't try to be a big deal or anything like that," he said simply. "I know the teachings of the Bible and apply the teachings of Jesus. It's that simple." Everything that he receives in the way of food, medicine, or money including his $90-a-month First World War pension he passes on to those who need it. "The man is the nearest thing to a holy man that we've seen in these parts for a long time, commented a Har- lingen businessman. -- xvii --

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