Sandcastle Competition Co-Founder Bud Harbin Dies, 1936-2013

Bud Harbin at the 30th Annual U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition. Harbin was a co-founder of the competition and chair of its organizing committee for more than two decades. Photo credit: Khari Johnson

Bud Harbin at the 30th Annual U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition. Harbin was a co-founder of the competition and chair of its organizing committee for more than two decades. Photo credit: Khari Johnson

Published Nov. 1, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

James Madison Harbin Jr., known to friends and members of the community as Bud, passed away at his Imperial Beach home Thursday.

He was 76.

Over the years Harbin logged more than 300 skydiving sessions, worked as a bouncer at bars in Ohio and was a football player, Air Force veteran painting and drag racing cars, his family said.

He was also a father of six, two-term Imperial Beach City Councilman and a co-founder of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.

Due to a history of men dying early in his family, Bud didn’t expect to live very long, and so he tried to live every day to the fullest and pursue his passions, his son Chad said.

“When he was younger he a wild, wild man and nobody really expected him to live past the age of 50,” he said. “He didn’t expect to be around.”

Harbin was born in Joplin, MO and in 1941 moved to San Diego with his parents Matt & Dorothy Harbin, who were supporters of the South Bay Union School District and part of a collaborative effort to create the city of Imperial Beach.

Bud attended Mar Vista High School in its first years of existence. Classes were initially held at Brown Field. After graduating in 1954, Harbin joined the Air Force where he played football.

After he was discharged Bud lived in Ohio where a lifelong love affair with painting and racing cars began in earnest.

“He worked as a body fender man during the day and at night he would work as a bouncer,” Chad said.

When he was wasn’t painting or repairing cars, Bud was occasionally hired to repossess cars.

“He was a scrapper. And basically, if you’re going to get into a fight, you take the first punch kind of guy, growing up,” Chad said.

After two decades of drag racing, Harbin was inducted into the Kil-Kare Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.

In the 1970s Harbin moved back to South San Diego where he was an active member of the Imperial Beach civic community.

Harbin was part of a group of Imperial Beachians who went to Canada for a sandcastle competition and came back to establish the U.S. Open Sandcastle Committee.

In its 30 years, the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition grew to be largest of its kind in the United States. Harbin would serve as chair of the group for more than two decades until it was dissolved in 2011.

Bud regularly gave his time and energy to support the local community because he loved Imperial Beach, liked young people and was a big kid at heart, his children said.

“He was like a kid that never grew up,” Chad said. “Most of his friends were all younger, everybody he hung around with, which kept him young.”

“He enjoyed being in the center of the action,” said his daughter Cynde Kelsey. “I don’t think there was really planning for the future. It was just living everyday as a kid, you know?”

“There just wasn’t anything anyone would dare him to do he wouldn’t give a shot.”

Former Imperial Beach Mayor Brian Bilbray remembers Bud as both a political adversary, lifelong friend and someone you can count on to be involved with anything to do with Imperial Beach. Bilbray will speak at Harbin’s funeral next week.

“He was pretty antagonistic when I first ran. I was 25 years old. He was very antagonistic about my mayorship when I was 27 years old. And I think he basically took a lot of stances opposing me on certain issues,” Bilbray said.

The confrontation would end after a few Imperial Beach City Council meetings after Harbin was elected in 1984.

“I remember him saying boy things look a lot different behind the podium than in front of it. I thought it was pretty impressive,” Bilbray said.

The Harbins and Bilbrays would eventually become neighbors.

“Well I think the biggest issue is that in a city as small as IB, if you live there long enough, that the relationships really do parallel families in a lot of ways. You have love-hate relationships but bud was very much part of the family,” Bilbray said.

“That’s the neat thing about growing up and being involved in a city as small as Imperial Beach,” he said.

Bud Harbin, not Brian Bilbray, would convince Brian Pat Bilbray to run for City Council in 2010.

‘He was always a big reference to me and really convinced me to run for city council. Of course I always had my father but he always gave a different perspective,” said Councilman Bilbray, who Harbin knew since he was born.

The younger Bilbray remembers hearing the story about being inducted into the drag racing hall of fame six times and seeing him paint cars.

“Up to a year ago he was still painting out there in the driveway,” he said.

Other notable connections and accomplishments by Harbin:

– Member of the Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce

– Member of the Imperial Beach Optimist Club

– Helped found the original Sun & Sea Festival

– Lifetime member of the Metropolitan Transit System board

– 35-year member of the Boys & Girls Club of South County Board of Directors

– Wrestling coach at Mar Vista High School for two decades

– Assistant football coach at Mar Vista High School

– Little League baseball umpire

– Helped rebuild Imperial Beach Pier after it was destroyed by a storm

– Helped establish and operate the Surf and Turf Car Show

– Helped install a new scoreboard and press box at Mar Vista High School

Bud is survived by his wife of 39 years Pam Harbin, children Susan, Matthew, Cynde, Jay, Chad and Levi. He is also survived by sisters Carleene Peverley and Jamia Binsfield, 14 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Services will be held on at 10 a.m. Nov. 6 at Ocean View Church at 2460 Palm Ave. in San Diego. A reception will be held at noon the Boys and Girls Club of South County, Imperial Beach immediately following the church service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Boys and Girls Club of Imperial Beach or to Ocean View Church.

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