WWI Profile: William Asbury Rourk, Jr 1898-1948

Many records and photos were found for William Asbury Rourk and his family, along with unique details. As a result, this snapshot became lengthy. We hope that readers will also appreciate becoming acquainted with them and honoring their sacrifices and commitment to their communities.

NC WWI Service Card
William Asbury Rourk, Jr was born in Wilmington, son of William Asbury Rourk, Sr, and Sarah Helen Stone. The 1900 Census and 1910 Census shows the family remained in Wilmington. His father was described as a merchant of groceries.

According to The Wilmington Dispatch (1917, June 1; p. 6), William graduated from Wilmington High School on May 31, 1917. He was a freshman in the 1917-1918 year at North Carolina University at Chapel Hill (now known as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), according to the 1918 yearbook, Yackety-Yack, p. 112. His residence was Wilmington and his area of study was science. A later yearbook referred to him as “Bill.”

During military training at Chapel Hill, Bill served in Company D, which is documented in the 1918 yearbook beginning on page 180. The photo below shows the university battalion. Recall that military training was offered at Chapel Hill before the Students’ Army Training Corps was created. See the previous post for more photos and information.

Previous posts introduced the Students’ Army Training Corps and his fellow corps member from Brunswick County, Commodore Clarence Chinnis.

Like Commodore, Bill did not become eligible for the draft until the registration of September 12, 1918. His draft registration shows he was a student at North Carolina University at Chapel Hill. He and his family resided in Shallotte, Brunswick County.

William Asbury Rourk’s signature on his draft registration:

When the SATC became active in October 1918, William and Commodore met the physical and educational admission requirements and volunteered. Both were accepted and ordered to report for duty on October 5, 1918, at the University of North Carolina, a Collegiate Section from NC. Read the previous posts linked above for details.

Photos of the SATC in Chapel Hill can be found in the 1919 yearbook. Pvt Rourk served in Company D.

The November 11 Armistice ended their training and the SATC was demobilized. Pvt Rourk was honorably discharged on December 10, 1918. Unlike Commodore Chinnis, Bill did remain in college.

In the 1919 yearbook for the school year of 1918-1919, Wilmington was listed as his residence. Presumably, this was his residence when he re-enrolled at Chapel Hill in the spring of 1918. But recall that when he registered for the draft in September 1918, his address was Shallotte.

He was a junior during the 1919-1920 school year. The yearbook shows his residence as Shallotte.

He played basketball his first three years of college. He was a starting guard at 5′ 8.5″. These photos were taken during his junior year. In the team photo from 1920, he is seated at the far right in the front row.

Bill entered Medical School his senior year, graduating a year later in 1922. He can be seen standing second from the left in the front line.

The description under his senior photo, shown here, includes his residence as Shallotte, followed by mention of Mecklenburg County, which is the county of Charlotte. Confusing these two cities is a common mistake found in historical records at the time, as mentioned in Harvey T. Chadwick’s WWI Profile.

At right, his photo is displayed in the 1922 yearbook when he graduated from Medical School. Below his photo, the following words are printed.

“He had the reputation of being the scrappiest basketball player on the floor last year, and we were disappointed when medicine intrigued his interest this year. There is nothing of the artificial about him, for his friendships and work are both genuine. Carolina is proud to own him whether on the courts, in the classroom, or in life.”

The 1930 Census shows he was married to Getrude, a woman from Pennsylvania. They had a son, William Jr, age 1. His wife’s mother was living with them. She had remarried and was widowed once more.

Curiosity about how he came to marry a woman from Pennsylvania led to some interesting information about her and her mother.

Gertrude Berg McDonell was born in York, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 1903, to Emory Clair McDonell and Gertrude Neal Fitzgerald McDonell. [Source: Baptism Record from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records in Ancestry; Marriage License]

In 1910, her father was a salesman for an electric vacuum cleaner company. He passed away in 1912 at age 40. [Source: Death Certificate in Ancestry; obituary: The York Dispatch, August 16, 1912, p.2]

According to The York Daily, October 6, 1915, p.3, her mother, Mrs. Gertrude McDonnell was appointed the new superintendent of the Christian Home and the House of Detention by a unanimous decision of the board of directors of the York Society to Protect Children and the Aged Persons. She would hold this position until April 1, 1921, as noted in The York Dispatch, March 2, 1921, p.10.

Daughter Gertrude (Bill’s future wife) is listed as a resident of the home with her mother Gertrude the Superintendent in the 1920 Census. Daughter Gertrude was 16 years old.

On August 30-31, 1921, according to The York Dispatch, p.13; and The Daily Record, p.5, a farewell party was held for Miss Gertrude McDonell, who was leaving for Philadelphia where she would enter training at the Philadelphia General Hospital to become a public health nurse.

Interestingly, Mr. William Asbury Rourk, Jr arrived in Philadelphia in 1922 to become an intern at Philadelphia General Hospital, according to his AMA Physician File records. Presumably, medical intern Bill met nurse trainee Gertrude and fell in love.

According to The Charlotte Observer, July 25, 1924, p.7, William Asbury Rourk, Jr, from Shallotte, was awarded a license to practice medicine in the state of North Carolina following examination.

On September 27, 1926, Gertrude McDonell and William Asbury Rourk, Jr, married, according to her flat marker in findagrave. Bill’s AMA files indicate that they remained in Shallotte for a time, then settled in Myrtle Beach, SC, where they remained until their deaths. He was reportedly the first physician to practice in Myrtle Beach, according to the articles shown below that were published near his death.

The 1940 Census is much like the 1930 Census, with the addition of another son, James Rodman Rourk.

On December 22, 1944, Dr. Rourk’s son, William Asbury Rourk, passed away from bilateral pulmonitis. He was 16 years old.

On May 3, 1948, Dr. Rourk suffered a heart attack. As a long time friend of the Myrtle Beach Air Base, which had since closed, the Air Force responded to an emergency call by flying in an oxygen tent and Air Force physician. They were unable to save him.

On May 19, 1948, Dr. William Asbury Rourk, age 50, passed away. He was laid to rest in Ocean Woods Memorial Cemetery in Myrtle Beach.

On March 6, 1964, his wife, who had since remarried, passed away.

Their only surviving son, James “Roddy” Rodman Rourk, was reportedly a teacher at Myrtle Beach High School from 1958 to 1966. He passed away at age 54 on December 24, 1984. Some amazing tributes can be read on this Myrtle Beach High School alumni page. According to comments, he was a math teacher, Scoutmaster, award winning coach, a leader in his community, and “a principled man providing positive leadership to everyone with whom he had contact.”


To view this or an earlier profile or snapshot at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

If you would like to help us honor William Asbury Rourk, Jr or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement:
Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran:
How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Comments Off on WWI Profile: William Asbury Rourk, Jr 1898-1948

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

Comments are closed.