St. Mary’s Fountain of Youth remembers almost 4 decades of students’ antics

Payne Williams and Nona Bobo remember their years at St. Mary's

By Juanice Gray

A small lady stopped by my office. She had a ready smile, white hair, was neatly dressed and wore glossy pink lipstick, the epitome of what one would imagine an 88-year-old woman to be.

Actually, scratch that.

Throw all your preconceived notions out the proverbial window. She was little, but a live wire. Her glossy lipstick matched her pink jacket and her smile reached my heart. When she revealed she was 88, my jaw hit the floor. She’s nothing like you imagine – and her mind – a steel trap. Nona Bobo was a teacher for 38 years at St. Mary’s, most of that as librarian. She recalled numerous groups of students who were in the same class, without hesitation. Quite a feat for someone who saw every child in the school and not just those in her classroom for nine months. These days, she volunteers as a Pink Lady at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, something she has done since her retirement in 2008.

She waltzed in with her matching pink jacket and lips and settled in to tell some stories. Former student Payne Williams accompanied her. Bobo will reminisce at the second annual Whatever Happened To…A Walk Down Memory Lane at St. Mary’s Saturday, March 10 at 7 p.m., an event Williams is helping organize.

He refers to Bobo as a Fountain of Youth and it fits. Bobo and husband Bill were both NSU graduates who relocated to Michigan for his job. After six years they returned to Natchitoches where she began her teaching career as a sub at St. Mary’s. “I subbed a month. The fifth grade teacher was leaving and I got her place with those 35 students. Then the next year I moved up to sixth grade with the same kids,” she said. She already had a degree in elementary education but returned to NSU to get a library science degree. She then transferred to the library where she would spend more than 30 years inspiring others to read. “I like books and like to read. On one of the first days in the library a student was telling the others to ‘shhh,’” Bobo said while holding her index finger to her lips. “ I told them they didn’t have to that,” she laughed. “Not in here.”

Williams recalled his punishment for not returning his books on time. “I will not leave my library books at home. Over and over and over,” he said making writing motions with his hand. “I didn’t leave them at home again!”

“Oh, I also did the yearbook. That was back in the days when you had to paste each thing down. I sponsored danceline. I couldn’t dance but I could cheer so I had them (the cheerleaders) too. And the concession stand and senior class sponsor,” Bobo said. She also started the Reading Rainbow and Accelerated Reader programs at St. Mary’s.

She recalled chaperoning Mr. Blake’s class to Winnfield on a field trip. “We were going to see the Earl K. Long park. The cafeteria fixed our lunches but they were eaten by the time we got to Grand Ecore. Those kids didn’t care about anything except a day away from school,” she said shaking her head. “By the time the lunches were gone they were ‘surfing’ their classmates up and down the aisle of the bus. I had to be a lion tamer that day. It was very memorable.”

On another occasion, she was checking cards and saw where someone had checked a book out by signing Tom Selleck. “That was okay,” she said. “I knew who his research paper was on and knew who did it. Greg Freeman!”

Williams agreed it was hard to get something over on her. “She still has a list of late library books and the fines. They might be forgiven if they attend this event,” he laughed.

She has seen doctors, priests, lawyers and teachers walk through her library doors and has a story to tell on almost every one of them. She taught Dr. Chris Maggio and attributes some of his successes to the way she molded him in his early years.

John Ackel is another of her students. “He is a bank president, not a US president like Donald Trump. I say that quietly because I’m a republican,” she whispers.

She told of a day when the school was evacuated because of a suspicious bag behind a curtain in the library. It turns out the worst thing that could have happened with that bag was that someone got food poisoning. It was a lunch. “And can you believe they put it behind those curtains? Those were awful curtains.”

While Bobo has a bounty of funny stories, she also has some sage advice. “Love hugs, just not during flu season,” she said. And “To get kids to like school, you have to like them.” But her most profound advice that comes with her 38 years in a school setting and 88 years of life is this, “There are very few people I don’t recognize. The eyes don’t change.”

To hear Bobo, international entrepreneur Barry Guillet, class of 1964, celebrity chef Henry Chandler, class of 1977, and Dr. Chris Maggio, class of 1982, join them beginning at 6 p.m. for a social hour in the gym. Remembering when… will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person. Contact Williams at 318-352-6695 or Susan Wright at 352-8394.