Local South Padre Island/Port Isabel legend passes away

By Randy Algoe

Special to the Parade












Billy Russell Algoe, one of the few original Island residents passed away on September 26th, 2019. Billy was born in Barboursville, W.V. in 1934. He joined the Air Force in 1952, went to basic training in N.Y. by train, then was sent to Amarillo, Texas for his duty station, as a Jet Mechanic Instructor on B-47s, a state of the art strategic nuclear bomber that never saw a single combat mission (thank God), but did get retrofitted as a photo reconnaissance high altitude aircraft. There he married his W.V. sweetheart, Shirley Sites, then after their only son was born he divorced Shirley and married his 2nd wife, Bertha May Barnes (of Panhandle, TX.), and opened up a gas station in Groom, Texas. He also got his training there in a motel pool to be a scuba diver, inspired by the TV show, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges. He and Bertha (Bert as she’s now known) had 5 sons together. Ricky, Rocky, and Randy were all born in Groom. In 1965 he moved the family to Port Isabel and started a new life, with new adventures. He first worked for Cecil Moses, then others, including Billy Kenon – his future scuba/salvage business partner. He started his first business at the Sea Ranch Marina and Motel, where he was the first to rent beach vehicles on the Island to tourists, from what is now the parking lot area. At the same time, he built a putt-putt golf course in front of the Olympic size swimming pool at the Sea Ranch, where Dirty-Al’s restaurant now stands. The first Island legend he created was a totem-pole that he carved from a dead palm-tree, and planted it in the center of the golf course. Locals talked about the totem-pole for many years after it was gone. 

In 1967 he was part of a team of divers/salvors that found and began salvage work of three Spanish Galleons that sank in a storm in 1554 off of South Padre Island, TX. The State of Texas then shut them down and took their treasure – and so much more. A documentary is now being made to tell the true story of how these adventurers were robbed of their treasure, their dignity, and their place in history. He was in failing health due to kidney disease, and so a rush to do his and two of his partner’s (Billy Kenon and Kirk Purvis) interviews for the documentary was done just 6 weeks before he passed away. – After the shut-down, he started a commercial scuba diving business called “Treasure Island Divers” and raised his sons, Ricky, Rocky, and Randy as commercial divers in his shadow. At the same time, he also bought the first gas station on South Padre Island from Red Kent (a Gulf station at the time), changing brands and calling it “Treasure Island Texaco.” In 1969 he and Bertha had their 4th child, Roger, who was born premature and died a few days later. In 1970 they had their 5th son, Robin. 

Bertha filed for divorce in 1973. Billy then married a local Port Isabel girl, Madel Chavez, and had one son, Billy Joe. 

Billy Algoe became a local legend of South Padre Island for so much more than the treasures though. Yes, he worked long hard hours, but he played hard too. He was fun loving to the extreme. He would do just about anything to make people laugh and have a good time, and many times, self- deprecatingly to accomplish that goal. If you teased him he would laugh even harder than you would – and then he’d tell others about it to extend the laughter for all it was worth. Everyone that knew him has a story or two to tell about their adventures with him. When he retired, he moved off to Central America on his sailboat “Just Do It” and found many more treasures and had a lifetime of adventures. When he’d came back home to South Padre Island, he’d tell of his latest discoveries, many times bringing back artifacts such as antique bottles and amphora’s, and those that knew him would propagate his stories around town. Since his passing, one family friend, Danny Harris, has even referred to him as our own real life Indiana Jones. By the fruits of these shared memories, his legacy will live on in all of our hearts for all time. 

It is only now that your eternal journey begins Dad, so until we catch up to you again, from your adoring family, we expect that you will be inviting all your friends that have passed before you, like David Friedman, aboard your heavenly vessel “Just Do It” to help you hoist those sails to then plow full steam ahead through the oceans of heaven to discover the treasures God has in store for you. But through your adventures, know that YOU Dad, are the real treasure of our lives. You have enriched our souls beyond imagination, and we love you profusely! ~ Signed: Your sons. 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2019/10/04/local-south-padre-island-port-isabel-legend-passes-away/

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