East Fort Worth’s ‘Joe Bird’ Breedlove, a construction and community icon, dies at 80

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In a pickup truck packed with construction equipment — shovels, wheelbarrows and other things — Joseph Breedlove Sr. would pull into Little League practice still dusty from the job site. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s, when passengers in pickup beds was common, so he’d also be towing five or six young players.

“He’d still be in his construction uniform, dirty maybe, but he would demand the utmost respect for the game” his son Joe Breedlove Jr. recalls.

“He really showed us how to work hard,” he added later.

Joe Breedlove Sr. — Bird or Joe Bird to those who knew him well — built a successful career as a contractor at a time when Black-owned businesses often didn’t receive work, his son said. Not only did he establish his own firm, but he joined a competing company and rose through the ranks to an executive position before retiring. A longstanding east Fort Worth community man, Breedlove died June 7 at 80.

Breedlove Jr. said his father had the entrepreneurial spirit early in life, starting out as a barber before working at Outdoor Living, a Fort Worth stone company. He eventually became a supervisor and yard foreman before he decided to venture into his own project.

In 1969 he and partner J. D. Richmond started The Craftsmen, a construction and landscaping company. The firm did mostly mid-size contracts but eventually the pair built a company capable of competing for larger work.

“They were outbidding the large firms and getting the work done,” Breedlove Jr. said. “It’s a credit to obviously leadership, but you got to have that team piece, where your workers are on board with you.”

Work at the Fort Worth Zoo was among major projects the firm completed, and the Dallas Black Chamber awarded Breedlove with the “Quest for Success Award.”

His success drew attention from a larger, competing Black-owned contractor, Arlington-based Con-Real Inc. That firm hired Breedlove as a project engineer in 1991. He swiftly worked his way up, retiring as a partner and senior vice president of construction and safety in 2020.

During his time at Con-Real, he worked on or oversaw several major projects in the Fort Worth area, including work for Frito-Lay and FedEx.

Working on I.M. Terrell’s new 900-seat performance hall was a major jewel of Breedlove’s career. Con-Real received the contract when Breedlove was a vice president with the company, his son said. The elder Breedlove had been keeping an eye on possible work either at the school or in the area.

“That’s something he really wanted to do, and I think he saw it as a way to give back to the community,” Breedlove Jr. said.

Bredlove’s dedication went beyond his career, son Stephon Breedlove said.

Stephon enjoyed a long and successful wrestling career, competing largely in the United States Association of Blind Athletes from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s. He won his weight class several years and competed at the University of Texas with encouragement of his father, Stephon said.

Often his father wanted him to compete against athletes who weren’t blind, he said, and instilled a sense that no matter the task his sons should “give it our all.” In 1980 Stephon was able to compete internationally in Toronto, but money was tight, he said.

“He made sure we could get there,” Stephon said of his late father. “I’m very proud of him.”

Breedlove’s “Bird” nickname may have originated from his time at I.M. Terell High School, where he was a star track and football athlete, Breedlove Jr. said.

“If I heard anybody call him ‘Bird’ while we were out, I knew they’d known him since he was young,” he said.

After high school Breedlove studied landscape architecture at UT Arlington. During his career he served on the board for AIDS Outreach Center and was a longtime member of the Fort Worth Rotary Club, Downtown Fort Worth YMCA, and I. M. Terrell Academy for STEM and Visual Arts.

Breedlove is survived by his three sons, Joseph Earl Breedlove Jr., Stephon Breedlove and Darren Breedlove (Stacy); a daughter, Bria Sneed; stepchildren, Marty Ferguson and Kendall Ferguson; grandchildren, McKenna, Lydia, Joseph III, Isaac, Maddox, Montgomery, Liv, and Ella; niece, Lisa Grays.

He is also survived by his wife Martha Breedlove and her two children, James Malone and Erin Malone, and grandchildren, Isabella Sparks, and Jordan and Jackson Malone.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at I. M. Terrell Academy for STEM and Visual and Performing Arts, 1900 I.M. Terrell Way, Breedlove Jr. said, joking that his father had “come full circle.” Spencer’s Funeral Home, 4000 Miller Ave., is handling arrangements.

“He’s getting ready to do some construction in heaven for us,” Breedlove Jr. said with hearty laugh.

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