“It’s good to have friends,” says Burt Hardwick, 70, who’s met a few over the years.

His reign over the Orange County Courthouse snack stand is at an end, but he takes with it the fame of a 30-year career. 

They might not have known his last name, but everyone knew Burt.
And he knew them. 

He sits on a front porch in West Orange a little before noon in May, when a sunny day is nice and blue and not too hot yet. 

“This is where I am most of the time,” he says.

“I got sick. The doctors said I had pneumonia, and I have breathing problems. I’d like to keep going at it, but I just can’t. 

“I had some good years there at the courthouse. I met a lot of good people and I’m going to miss them very much.”

After running a concession stand at the Orange post office since 1961, he started at the courthouse July 5, 1978, selling candy, chewing gum, coffee and cold drinks. 

He remembers his first day there as “confusing” but eventually got the routine. 

Except for Social Security, which he began getting a few years ago, he’s lived entirely on his concession profits.

Burt has been blind since age 3, first as a result of a childhood accident. 

Later, he contracted glaucoma.

Some customers were known to take advantage of him, underpaying in return change; but others would give him $20 and tell him it was $1.

“It’s been my experience that – by and large – the majority of people are good people.”

Over the years, he says, business dropped off.

“That new administration building didn’t used to be there, and I had a lot more traffic. There were more offices and people in the courthouse then. It seemed like the slower business got – the slower I got.”

He lived on Third Street for a time, then moved to the Heritage Center senior citizens’ apartments. He was evacuated because of Hurricane Ike. 

He misses his job but loves sitting on the porch, one he will leave for at least a day if his former co-workers have their way.

There has been talk of a reception in Burt’s honor, but first commissioners must decide what to do with his concession area.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux says he’s talked with owners of the Lamar-Orange cafe, interested in renting the space. 

“I don’t even know how much of a lease we’d charge for that spot,” he says.

Vending machines are another option, he says.

“That might be the best way to go because I don’t personally see it as a money-making venture. Anytime we have to change something at the courthouse we have to get the approval of the Texas Historical Commission. We’re dealing with them on some other things right now and they’re not too happy with us. But that’s OK, I’m used to it.”

For now, Burt’s stand is open, run by his friend Deb Thompson or county maintenance worker Lowell Henry – who can only attend it part-time. 

Like many others, they love the man who for so long was a part of their lives.

And for now, Burt says he plans to stay in the Orange area, right there on his porch.

“This is where I am most of the time,” he says. 

“It’s good to have good friends and good people.”