Evergreen - Memories Letters
REMEMBERING EVERGREEN HIGH SCHOOL
& THE TOWN OF EVERGREEN
My teaching career began in the early part of 1949 when I was teaching veterans returning from World War II. A special program called On the Farm Training Program required veterans (single or married) to attend classes at their nearest school for four hours per week and at home supervised by a qualified agricultural instructor. I taught veterans in Hessmer, Moreauville, Cottonport and Evergreen.
While teaching in Cottonport, I heard that the Agriculture teacher of Evergreen was leaving his job to move back to his home town of Plaucheville. I immediately contacted my school board member, Gano Lemoine, Sr. (now deceased) for the job in Evergreen and he advised me to go see the principal, Anthony Smith, for an interview. It turned out that Mr. Mayeux had never told Mr. Smith about his plans of transferring to Plaucheville. I could see by his immediately dark red face, that he was very upset. He told me that he would discuss this matter with the parish superintendent, Mr. L. A. Cayer, and get in touch with me later. Mr. Lemoine told me I had the job.
I then received a letter from the School Board Office to attend the next School Board Meeting in Marksville. I attended this meeting, was introduced, and questioned by the board members and told that I had the job of Agriculture teacher. I had met all the qualifications of my college degree, B.S. in Vocational Agricultural Education, (VAE) according to Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Lafayette, La.
I started my work in Evergreen in June 1949. I only knew four people from Evergreen, but I quickly learned the territory and the names of many wonderful people. I worked at school with Mr. Smith and Mr. Ivy Holston, the janitor, in daytime and taught the veterans at night on Mondays and Thursdays, with the other instructors, Mr. Charles O’Brien and Mr. Max Long. I taught in the Ag Room, Mr. O’Brien was in the Chemistry Lab and Mr. Long had the African American veterans at the Magnolia School (elementary school for black students on the bayou bank across from the Magnolia Baptist Church). Every so often I had to supervise those classes.
I would help Mr. Holston with yard work in readiness for the beginning of school. We also did a lot of cleaning and painting.
I can also remember the cleaning of the workshops and the cleaning, oiling, and fumigation of the incubator for hatching baby chicks and the brooders to hold the newly hatched chicks. By a fluke of nature, I remembered one chick hatching and beginning life with three legs, two in normal position underneath the abdomen and the third leg would drag from the tailbone. It could eat and drink, however, it died after one week.
School for the students started in September. We had faculty meetings, homeroom teacher assignments, etc. The high school building was clean and comfortable (no air conditioners) but we survived. My classroom was upstairs by the metal fire escape stairs. I really enjoyed the small campus and the closeness of all the buildings. The large auditorium for general assemblies, plays, band practice, graduations, etc., was very convenient especially during rainy day duties. The lunch room was entirely different from any other lunchrooms that I had ever been in. It was a very large, historic wooden building known as the old Masonic Building. I can still remember Mr. Smith asking me to sometimes go earlier in the morning to help the cooks. I had to cut the meat from hanging beef quarters stored in a large walk-in cooler. This meat was used for stew, soup, spaghetti, hamburgers, etc. The meals were always tasty, clean and prepared from various menus, including milk, homemade bread and desserts.
The school’s water supply was from a deep well. It didn’t taste too good, yet it was very refreshing, cool and healthy, with many minerals. If the pump broke or the electricity went out, we then had a short day because the students were sent back home.
On clear, warm days, we would all gather outside before the bell rang for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I can remember one boy who never took part because of family beliefs. No one ever objected to this.
All the academic subjects taught, and the teacher teaching them were approved by the Louisiana State Board of Education. Because of the small enrollment, another teacher could not be hired. This was a weakness, since subjects like typing, shorthand, bookkeeping and physics could not be offered like in the larger schools.
In my first year of teaching, I had to teach Chemistry in addition to my Ag classes. I was lucky enough to be using the same textbook that I had used when I was a student at Cottonport High School in 1945.
I also got married during my first year of teaching. This came about from my having to attend weekly meetings at the U. S. Naval Training Center in Alexandria. A friend of mine from Cottonport was working at Cotton’s Holsum Bakery in Alexandria and had a girlfriend who shared a room with another girl and both worked at French Unique Cleaners in Alexandria. My friend, Stuart Thevenot (deceased) decided to drive me to the Naval Center for my meeting and he would take the girls to the movies, then pick me up after the meeting was over and we would go out. I met my girlfriend, Amanda Gremillion, from Moreauville, on a blind date. We had a short dating period. I proposed, she accepted and we had a short engagement, and got married at the Moreauville Catholic Church, September 24, 1949.
In January, 1950, Mr. Smith told me that Superintendent Cayer insisted that I had to move to Evergreen because the law was written that an Ag teacher had to live in the community of the people who he served. There were no empty homes or land available for sale. Again, Mr. Smith came to my aid. He had heard that W. A. “Buddy” Quirk wanted to sell his house because it was too small for his family.
Amanda and I looked at the house and decided to buy it under the F.H.A. Housing Plan financed through the Washington State Bank. We moved in March of 1950 to become citizens of Evergreen. We reared five children, Richard, Julienne, Wayne, Joel and Anita.
Getting back to the high school, the students could take part in many various activities. The girls in Home Economics joined the F.H.A., the boys in Vocational Agriculture joined the F.F.A. Band members had their own club. In sports, girls participated in softball, basketball and volley ball. The boys also had similar teams. All these activities were held on dirt and grass courts. Changes were made as progress occurred, namely the old Masonic Building was torn down and a new lunchroom was built closer to the main building.
The new gymnasium was an asset to everyone, boys and girls athletics, band members, teachers, the entire student body and even the community. I can remember conducting an election for the Parish of Avoyelles to raise and pass a property bond issue. Supervised dances, Christmas programs and graduations services also attracted parents, community personnel and visitors.
Other enjoyable activities that students took part in under the supervision of their respective teachers were:
1. Avoyelles Parish Fair (later La. Livestock and Pasture Festival)
2. F.F.A. Public Speaking and Parliamentary Law contests.
3. Band Day at L.S.U.
4. Senior trips to New Orleans
5. F.H.A. Mother & Daughter - F.F.A. Father & Son Banquets in the lunchroom
6. May Festival (May Pole Dance)
7. Baccalaureate Services
8. Senior Graduation Services
9. The Magnolia Leaf
During the Parish Fair, students learned to prepare different exhibits to show to the public. They could receive cash prizes, medals, or ribbons if they were lucky. Schools were closed so the students could attend the Parades of Floats and Marching Bands at Marksville. I built 9 floats over the years with the help of some of the teachers and F.F.A. boys. My favorite one was for the year 1956. The theme of it depicted 100 years of education at Evergreen. It was a very large birthday cake with candles and the girls riding on top of it were Betty Robson, Jacynthia Goudeau, and Elsie Gremillion. The F.F.A. boys and myself would prepare and sell hamburgers at the fair grounds.
Some boys received good training in writing a speech and delivering it in competition with other F.F.A. boys throughout the parish. Parliamentary Law training was provided to all the F.F.A. members in the proper way of conducting business meetings.
I can remember a very wonderful activity that the band members had one time, which was an invitation to attend L.S.U. Band Day. A few parents and I were the chaperons for this event. We left E.H.S. very early one Saturday morning with Mr. Elmer (Boolet) Riche’ (deceased) and Mr. Louis Mayhall (deceased), the bus drivers, in order to get there early for instructions and practice before the marching and performance in Tiger Stadium for the half time show of the L.S.U. game. Everyone had brought sandwiches, cookies, candy, water, milk, blankets, pillows, books, etc. Many bands from other Louisiana schools were arriving and when the moment of half time arrived, low and behold, the very first band to come out on the field was the small E.H.S. band. What a thrilling moment of excitement! What a long tiresome journey coming back to Evergreen at 4:00 A.M. Sunday. I believer the band teacher then was A. L. Fortenberry from Alexandria. Though small, the band and music department of E.H.S. was always an important part of the school.
Another big event of the school was the annual May Festival and May Pole Dance. I had never seen that before, yet I learned how much work it involved in the building of props, etc., outside in the hot sun. Rainy weather always threatened the day before. It was all worth the worry, trouble and work as hundreds of people filled the bleachers and standing room areas.
Another crowd-pleaser was senior graduation in the school auditorium and the gymnasium, and another thing I had never seen was Baccalaureate Services in high school. We never had that at C.H.S.
The school paper, The Magnolia Leaf, was very important since all teachers and their students from grades 1 - 12 participated. Anything listed in the paper stimulated reading. Everyone patiently waited for a copy to see who made the Honor Roll, when school would let out for holidays, who was sick or in the hospital, ball game scores, who is dating who, jokes and gossip all made the news.
The saddest news of E.H.S. and the Town of Evergreen , Valentines Night, February 14, 1958, was not a day of joy, love or happiness; instead it was truly a day of absolute destruction danger, worry, grief and sadness. People were awakened around midnight to watch the burning of the high school building during freezing weather. Firemen from Bunkie and Cottonport were called for help and responded immediately, but it was too late because the fire was contained inside the thick walls of the structure. Oxygen entering the bursting windows was like adding fuel to the fire. Water from the fire trucks was used up quickly and since the town did not have a water system or fire department, caused the fire to burn more rapidly. A water line was extended down to the Bayou Rouge for pumping services and that too didn’t work because the sub-freezing temperature was causing the water to freeze. It was so cold that water flowing off of the smoking walls would flow maybe 15 feet and freeze on the ground. Shuttling efforts by the fire departments did help the nearest surrounding building from igniting and burning. Only the main building was destroyed. The lunchroom, Home Eke cottage, Ag shop and classroom and gymnasium survived. The roof caved in in the early morning hours and burned for many hours.
After a few days, all the debris at the site was cleared, plans were being made to resume classes under imperfect conditions. Schools throughout the parish sent tables, desks, books, etc. Elementary children were bused to the Catholic Church Hall and the Bayou Rouge Baptist Church facilities. Elmer Riche’ would drive them back and forth for lunch. The gymnasium was partitioned off as classrooms for the high school students. The buildings that survived the fire were also used under crowded conditions. That pulled us through the end of the school year.
A new building was built on the same site and that served Evergreen Elementary School. It operated for several years under the principalships of Marvin Tanner, Keith Morrow and Raymond Mayeaux.
The following year a portion of the high school students attended Cottonport High School and the other portion attended Bunkie High.
In my personal observation, this was the beginning of consolidation in Avoyelles Parish.
The historic Evergreen school area has changed immensely. A business known as the School Hill Apartments was erected and opened in 1996. It seems to be thriving successfully.
The old gymnasium was purchased by Kent Riche’ and Associates. This seems to be a very profitable firm that employs many people.
When I moved to Evergreen in 1950, the town was still growing with a population of about 425 to 450. The Mayor was Ford Robert (deceased) and about a dozen business places. A cotton gin was in operation and farmers were busy in the fields. Young men returning from World War II engaged in the agricultural profession, and that helped the economy of the town. A Farmer’s Co-Op opened near the railroad next to the cotton gin where farmers could buy their needed supplies.
The high school and numerous churches added to the education and religious values of all.
I can remember buying fresh fish or fresh meat, sausage, cracklings and boudin from people specializing in those areas. A number of grocery stores along Main Street handled bread, milk, canned goods, fruits, etc., and some even had clothing, oil, and gasoline (Gene Heiman Store). Mechanic shops, a barber shop, T.V. repair shop, anything someone needed was readily available without having to go to Bunkie, Cottonport, or Alexandria. Those areas were used mostly for banking services, doctoring and health care, amusements, plain Sunday driving or visitation.
Presently our town population has gone down to about 325 and businesses have dwindled down to about 7 or 8. Time brings about many changes. Perhaps the loss of our high school has brought about some of those, people moved away, people died, and no new inhabitants came in.
I am 79 years old and am proud of the part that I have contributed to the town. We are indeed fortunate to have running water, sewage disposal, garbage pickup, electricity, gas, t.v. reception, and fire protection from our Volunteer Fire Department and police protection.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with our Centennial Celebration of 1972 and the 3 Family Reunions in succeeding years. I have played the part of Santa Claus at the schools and parades because I love children and being friends with their parents. I have served the town for 27 years as Councilman and Fire chief. I have a lot of respect for Mayors Drew Robert, Mrs. Nettie Jans and Phillip Heiman.
I have always believed in the development of cooperation, leadership and citizenship. May God bless us all in our future endeavors. Time passes fast, yet it seems only a few years when I could hear Darrell Jans on the north east side of town play “Blame It on the Bossonova” on his trumpet and W. J. Dugas who lived on the south west side of town playing “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” on his trumpet.