Tip OF THE HAT
December 19, 2008 - 10:36 p.m.
BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM


Late High-Brehm founder made hats and friends

Roy High, who died Tuesday, began making hats in the late 1940s and passed the craft along to his son, Kelly, who still owns and operates High-Brehm Western Wear in Victoria.

The sign for High-Brehm Western Wear bears a message in memory of Roy High, who died Tuesday.

Kelly High, who took over ownership of High-Brehm Western Wear in 1986, remembers fondly one of his father's favorite sayings: "At High-Brehm we'd rather make friends than money."

His father, the store's founder, Roy High, died Tuesday at age 85.

"In all honesty, I think that was the case," Kelly said. "He knew he needed to make money to pay the bills, but for him it wasn't about money. That was something he had to do to keep the store going."

And Roy had friends. Among them was Sam Rippamonti, who also recalled his friend the hatter.

"I was a customer of his at the store on Main Street, and we became really good friends," Rippamonti said. "He was kind to everyone. Everyone liked him and he had a good sense of humor."

Kelly said his dad used to drink coffee at Ramsey's Restaurant three times a day.

"I think that's how he kept his sanity over the years. They'd have a cup of coffee and try to solve the world's problems. He told me he had a doctorate and he got it from Ramsey's coffee shop," his son said. "At his table was such a diverse group, the whole spectrum of religions and jobs, so he'd say he learned more at Ramsey's than he ever could at college."

Roy was a camera technician in the Army Air Corps from 1942-45, serving in the Pacific. After leaving the service, his dad, Van Roy High, taught him the hat business. Van Roy had worked as a hat cleaner in Oklahoma in the 1900s and owned a hat shop in Corpus Christi when Roy left the military.

"Back in my grandfather's day, every man had a hat on his head. It was just like getting a shirt cleaned at the laundry today. It was a piece of clothing. That's where my grandfather learned the hat business and he taught my dad," Kelly said.

Roy's first hat shop, Roy High Hatter, was in Uvalde. Then he moved to Alice and opened a store in 1949. It was in Alice where Roy met and married Bonnie McCurdy.

The couple moved to Victoria in 1957 and Roy went into business with his sister's husband, L.H. "Buddy" Brehm.

The store, High-Brehm, was initially located near the Guadalupe River bridge, but the partners built a store at 1602 N. Main St. Kelly, who bought the business in 1986 three years after graduating from Texas A&M University, moved the store to its present location at 6603 N. Navarro St. in 1989.

"My dad made it real clear early on I was not to feel forced into this. If I didn't love it and want to do it, not to do it. He was not expecting me to do it. It was strictly my decision. I was in no way ever forced into it. I looked at it as the best opportunity for me. I did enjoy it and it was a natural fit," Kelly said.

"My dad laid a great foundation and I just built on top of that. I don't know that I would have been able to start the business like he did," Kelly said. "My dad was a humble, simple kind of guy. Not a lot of flash. He was a very hard worker. He did like to have fun, liked to hunt and fish, but he had a job and took care of his business. When you own a small business and are everything from the janitor to the bookkeeper, there is not a lot of time for much else."

But Roy always had family at the top of his priority list.

"He loved spending time with his family, but back in his day it wasn't uncommon to work six days a week from sun up to sun down. He was good about taking Sundays off to be with his family," his son said. "His goal in life was to raise three kids, put them through college and make sure they had some opportunities maybe he didn't have. He achieved that. What made him happiest was when the whole family was together."

Roy was an active member of the John Wesley United Methodist Church and a long-time board member of the local Salvation Army.

 

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