Jen Ezpeleta

Purpus taught art, raised rabbits, sewed Teddy Bears, tilted at windmills

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Joanne Purpus  | 1930 – 2020 |


Joanne Purpus with twin sister Marianne on the beach at 14th Street in Hermosa Beach in the early 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Purpus family


by Mike Purpus

In 1948, shortly after my dad Tom joined the Navy and was sent to Japan, he and my mom Joanne bought a house in Hermosa Beach for $5,000.

Mom, her twin sister Marianne and brother Tom were born in Los Angeles to Anne Shadden. They lived near La Brea Tar Pits and attended Catholic schools. My mom met Tom Purpus at a highschool dance when she was 18.

Our house was in the valley below St. Cross Church. Mom had 30 chickens, 15 pheasants, three ducks, a dog and a cat in the backyard. My brother Tim and I hated the ducks because they took over our little inflatable pool. The pheasants would break out of their pens and leave droppings on the neighbors’ clean laundry, drying on their clotheslines. 

In the mornings Tim and I went door to door selling fresh eggs for dinner money while mom went off to work at General Telephone, leaving our two grandmothers to care for us. Every once in a while mom would cut the head off one of the chickens for a great dinner. The Valley was considered the poor section of Hermosa, but was great for the kids. Everybody had big families. On Halloween mom would send Tim and me out trick or treating at 4 p.m. with large pillow cases. We had to come home every hour to report and give her all the candy that we didn’t want to share with the other neighborhood kids. 

When dad came back from Japan he went to USC to become a physical therapist while working nights for the CIT Collection Company. He was a repo man and mom was his driver. She was eight months pregnant with my youngest brother Dan. My dad’s territory was Watts, Compton and Inglewood. Mom always said it was scary.

Mom loved Hermosa. She was president of the Pier Avenue Junior High School PTA and played beach volleyball with her sister and brother. We loved it because we would go to the beach with her. Mom took every art class El Camino had to offer. One year she wound up in my ceramics class, along with our friend Doc Ackroyd. Our teacher Jack Nelson went nuts because we would disrupt the class with clay fights. He finally put us in different classes. Mom taught the Hermosa Beach Summer School Art Class every year through the ‘70s and was president of the Palos Verdes Art Association. She was no ordinary artist. She painted in watercolors, oils and acrylics. She made tie dye shirts and macrame purses. Her handmade Teddy Bears sold for $500. She became president of the United States Teddy Bear Association. 

Dan and Joanne Purpus (seated) and Tim, Tom and Mike. Photo by Doc Ackroyd

In the mid ‘60s she became best friends with Carol Tanner and together they became tour guides for the Las Angeles Museum of Natural History. The two of them headed up the Hermosa Beach Beautification Committee and spearheaded the Save The Vetter Windmill Campaign. Mom always said, “It’s the oldest landmark in Hermosa Beach.” She got the Navy Seabees to help restore the windmill and move it to where it now stands, at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard. 

In ‘67 Carol Tanner and my mom designed the Hermosa Beach logo, which is still used today. They also helped found The Hermosa Beach Fiesta De La Artes.

In the late, ‘70s mom and dad moved to Encinitas. It reminded them of Hermosa in the ‘50s. Dad gardened around the house while mom went back to raising chickens, geese, pheasants, ducks, peacocks and rabbits. She had over 50 prize-winning rabbits she took to county fairs all over the country. She bred German, Rhinelander, Dutch and Mini Rex Rabbits and became president of The United States Rabbit Association.

Before passing away on October 20, of natural causes, at the Atria Assisted Living Facility, she paid for and furnished the library for all the residents. 

A memorial service has not yet been scheduled. ER



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