Juanice Gray | Editor
When classmates haven’t seen each other in 70 years, there is a lot of catching up to do! What better place to do that catching up than in Natchitoches? Classmates from elementary school, or primer, from Laurel, Miss., met for the first time in almost 7 decades Sunday, Oct. 2. They shared lunch at Merci Boucoup Monday and reminisced over mini meat pies, shrimp and a few glasses of wine. Natchitoches’ history drew the classmates and was a good central location for the residents of Mississippi, California and Texas to meet.
The seven classmates and four spouses told the tales of their elementary school days, their fondest memories, the history of their beloved school and their professional and personal lives. Their recollections may even stir up some memories of your own school days and show some parallels to local schools such as St. Mary’s and Riverdale.
The classmates attended St. John’s Day School in Laurel, Miss. They were the first class of first graders to attend in 1950. To understand their stories, one must know the school’s history. The three story building was once the home of Mr. and Mrs. George S. Gardiner according to the school website. The building was originally called Laurel Manor, which would be home to the Gardiner family until 1949. In 1949, Jane Rogers Hynson, granddaughter of the Gardiners, discovered that the Rev. William Mann, rector of the Episcopal Church in Laurel, wanted to start a school. She donated the family home and it became St. John’s Day School. It officially opened Sept. 11, 1950, with four classes, kindergarten (K4), primer (K5), first and second grades. Over the years, more grades were added, and by 1955 the first sixth grade class graduated. Today, the school has over 200 students.
Two of the reunion attendees are direct descendants of Mann and Hynson. David Mann, an architect from Jackson, Miss., is the son of William Mann who became he first headmaster of the school, and Robert “Bobby” Hynson is the son of Jane Rogers Hynson.
Hynson recalls his mom was at a bridge game and learned William Mann needed a place for a school. “She told my dad Bill has his place…and we moved to the country.” He said they moved out of the grand house to a small place in the country in May and that September he returned to his former home to go to school. “My bedroom was converted to the milk room,” he said. “It was a small room off the kitchen and it was where the kids got their milk containers, and still do.”
Jerry Reddoch of Waynesboro, Miss., a retired Doctor of Pharmacy, first attended a public school. “I came from, well, a poor area and went to the local kindergarten. One day someone came and I did some tests, like pegs in shaped holes and read a book. The next day a chauffer came and picked me up and took me to the new school.” He said one of his fondest memories was being chauffeured to school then riding on the tailgate of a “hog scrap wagon driven by Peter Boston and pulled by his mule Charlie” to get home in the afternoons.
Holt Montgomery, an attorney and European history enthusiast, remembers the school’s May Day celebrations. “There was celebrating, games and a pageant and we used crepe paper and danced around the May Pole.”
Tommy Weaver, a marine biologist and geologist and owner of an ocean consulting company, burst into song. “Step, step, step; We’re going to St. John’s; Step, step, step, we’re going there to work and pray…” and the group jumped in and sang along, although a few changed St. John’s to “pris-on.” Weaver said they sang the song every day as they marched into the auditorium.
Mickey Oates, MD, an anesthetist, from Palm Springs, Calif., said she remembered the love from all the teachers, even when she was embarrassed to be wearing new jeans to school. “I’d go out on the gravel and get on my knees and scrub around to make them look old,” she laughed.
Stennett Posey, a retired Texas Parole Board member from Georgetown, Texas, remembers the peanut butter cookies. “Dolly Primos was the cook and would make peanut butter cookies,” he said. He and a friend would stand outside the screen door of the kitchen and wait until she would give them a cookie. “The smell of those cookies…mmm…and then we’d get another one at lunch!”
Known as the “rich kids,” the football team competed against three public schools. “We got that name from the others, but we beat all the other elementary schools and the last one was Prentiss,” said Posey. “Then we rode around in Bobby’s mom’s 1956 station wagon with the windows and tailgate down chanting ‘We beat Prentiss.’”
“They called us the rich kids,” Hynson said. “But they had jerseys and we had sweatshirts we dyed green.” He said the school was established in 1950, a time where there was a great racial divide. “It had a non discrimination policy from the start. I went back and read the charter and saw it myself. St. John’s was forward thinking even then.”
The group shared other stories about pigtails in inkwells, Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall in a play and parents rushing to care for the child not knowing it was part of the scene, nicknames that stuck with students over the years and more.
One thing they all found was success. They are an architect, medical professionals and business owners, or at the top of their game, and military veterans, but when they all came together in Natchitoches, they were just old friends who shared a classroom and some really good times. Thanks to Hynson’s mom, June, and Mann’s father, Bill, they and others have gotten the education to find success, and yes, to remember the smell of fresh baked cookies even 70 years later.