My paternal grandmother, Beulah Thompson Stanley, was born May 30, 1888 in Oxford, Calhoun County, Alabama to Alex Thompson and his wife Martha Able. While living with her sister, Essie Thompson Wall, Beulah first met her husband, Wesley Birdwell Stanley. He was in Huffines working in logging and came riding up on a big white horse named Eli.
Beulah and Wes were married November 13, 1908 from this marriage there were six children, two of which died young. All of her grandchildren referred to her as Granny however Wes most often called her “Miss Hootie”.
Granny was petite, always wore starched ironed dresses, liked her nails done, and always wore her hair short. She loved pretty jewelry and while she didn’t have, she particularly loved diamonds which she referred to as “di-monts”. She was a member of the Purity Chapter Order of the Eastern Star in Ida, Louisiana and enjoyed the social events of the order.
She was a talented musician and she and Wes could play most any instrument. They taught their children well and the group often played at family gatherings or when others came to visit.
Wes worked mainly as an over-seer for many plantations in Caddo Parish and I suppose you could explain Granny’s life as privileged. She had a maid as well as a man who came in daily to build a fire before she got up, put a pan of biscuits in the oven and milk the cow. I don’t recall her cooking too much, but she really knew how to make fried apple or apricot pies!
Wes pampered Granny all of her life, especially in her later years after she suffered a stroke. He did everything for her including adapting a chair with wheels so that she could move around in the house.
When we went to visit the silverware would be in the center of the table covered by a table cloth. If you spent the night you could barely turn over for all the handmade quilts piled high on the bed. She dipped snuff and could spit into the fireplace from half way across the room. And of course she had that special snuff brush made from a black gum twig, carefully chewed until it became soft enough to be dipped into the snuff.
One of the favorite things we grandchildren loved most about being at Granny’s was playing with a big brass bowl someone had brought her from Mexico. It was large enough for one child to sit in it with legs crossed. Your brother, sister or cousin would wind you up and spin it around. I suppose maybe the Stanley grandkids invented the Sit and Spin we know today.
Recently while visiting with cousin Neva Stanley Thomas, she gave me a most prized possession of Granny’s….. a collection of shoes from Petty Pottery in Ida, Louisiana. I am told that at one time Granny owned almost every piece of pottery that Petty made.
Also, a special thanks to Neva for giving me the doily crocheted by her mother, Oneta Tolleson Stanley, for the Petty Pottery shoes to sit on.
Beulah and Wes were married sixty years before her death in 1968. Both she and Wes are buried at Munnerlyn Cemetery in Ida, Louisiana.
Anna Pearl Martin, the second daughter of Walter Houston and Emma Pearl Bain Martin, was born September 10, 1910 in Ida, Louisiana. Anna was named for her grandmother Anna Lyle Mangham Martin and her mother. She was blonde with brown eyes and attended school in Ida.
On March 10, 1928 Anna married Clell Dodd in Miller County, Arkansas and that same year their daughter Margaret Janice Dodd was born. The 1930 census for Madison Parish, Louisiana dated April 16, 1930 states that she was seventeen years of age when she married. According to a newspaper article from the Madison Journal dated July 4, 1930, Clell was killed by a freight train. The story states that he had been employed by Sondheimer Lumber Company however the saw mill had recently shut down. It is believed he was trying to board an Illinois Central train bound for Monroe, Louisiana where he was to look for a job. According to by-standers at the depot, he slipped and fell beneath the train and was badly mangled. Apparently the train crew did not realize the accident had happened as the train never stopped.
On March23, 1936 Anna married Clisto Dodd, a cousin to her first husband. Of this marriage she had a son, Bobby Ray Dodd. Bobby and Margaret were cousins and half brother and sister.
By the 1940 Census for Caddo Parish she is once again back in Ida, divorced and with two children to rear and educate. In need of an income, she worked for her grandfather, Benjamin Noel Bain after her grandmother, Margaret Price Bain died. She was his housekeeper and cook.
During the 1940s she moved to Doyline, Louisiana and became one of America’s Rosie the Riveters at the Army Ammunition Plant.
Daughter Margaret married very young and by the time Anna was 32, she was a grandmother. Margaret and her husband, Harry Gray and children, Harry Lynn, Janet and Clella Anna moved to California. Anna did not get to see them often however she did ride the bus to Vacaville a few times to visit.
In 1946 she is listed in the Shreveport City Directory as living at 1516 Jordan Street and was employed by Shreveport Garment Manufactures. Sometime thereafter she moved back to Ida where she worked as a cook in the local café. Bobby attended school there and was constantly into mischief however he and some other boys from Ida formed a band and thus began his love for music. Bobby served in both the Army and Air Force and later was a studio recording musician in Nashville, Tennessee.
1957 found “Aunt Nan” (as my siblings and I called her) back in Shreveport working at St. Vincent Convent where she cooked. The nuns loved her and were very kind and supportive.
Aunt Nan made it on her own through all the hardships life had dealt her. She never complained nor said an unkind word against anyone. For years she either rode the city bus or walked to work. She never owned a car until she was about sixty-five years old when she bought a little black Ford. Bobby taught her how to drive and she was off and running!
This photo was made at the 1984 Martin Reunion held on Caddo Lake when we honored her as the oldest surviving child of Walter and Pearl with our version of This Is Your Life! She was humbled and embarrassed but enjoyed each person recanting their memories of her and what she had meant to them through the years.
She had the best hugs and always had time for all her nieces and nephews. She was a wonderful cook and in the kitchen something delicious was always ready for whoever might drop in. She had a large collection of frogs of all kinds; in what-not shelves, on the porch and other places around the house. She had a warming smile, a big heart and loved her family dearly.
With aging came failing health and Bobby moved her to his home in Conroe, Texas where she lived with him, his wife Jean and their children Michael, Tammy and Matthew. Anna passed away on July 20, 1992. She is buried at Bethsaida Baptist Church Cemetery in Ida, Louisiana.
Benjamin Noel Bain, my maternal great grandfather, was born in 1856 in Alabama, the child of James Calvin Bain and Sarah Ann Tucker. His parents moved the family from Georgia with an ox drawn wagon. He is listed in the 1860 Census in Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas as four years of age. On August 18, 1881 he married Margaret Price in Columbia County, although the license states he was a resident of Ida, Louisiana. They lived in the southern part of the Arkansas near the Ida, Louisiana and Arkansas state line. The community‘s mailing address was to Bain, Arkansas.
They moved about a half a mile south, into what is currently Ida. Benjamin Noel wanted to name the town for his daughter, my grandmother, Emma Pearl Bain Martin. However, Louisiana already had a post office named Bain as well as one named Pearl hence Ida was named for the daughter of J. R. Chandler, another Ida resident. At the time the town was wooded with wild animals all around.
Noel, as he was known, was a hard-working man, a bee keeper, a veterinarian (not degreed) land buyer and horse trader. According to Ludie Bain Stroud, a granddaughter, he once traded two mules and some syrup for a tract of land. Another time he traded a horse and saddle for several tracts that had been homesteaded. The only documentation I have is a deed dated August 18, 1895 for one hundred seven four acres.
Noel served as a Caddo Parish Deputy from 1905 through 1923. His grandson, Roy was first a constable and then served as a Caddo Parish Deputy for thirty years. During that time Roy received many awards for his work including the most prestigious American Legion Award by then Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards.
Having being widowed twice, his mother, Sarah Ann Tucker Bain Gardner, helped Noel with burials in Ida. He would take his wagon to pick up bodies and build their coffins. Sarah, who was also a mid-wife, would lay out the bodies and line the caskets with silk.
Noel and his family, which consisted of daughters Ella Carl, Emma Pearl and son John Henry, were Baptist and attended Line Creek Baptist before joining Bethsaida Baptist in Ida. There were also two sons, George and David who did not live to adulthood. He was a charter member of the Ida Masonic Lodge #324 which was established in 1907. Both he and his wife, along with most of his children are buried at Bethsaida.
My dad, Hector Clyde Stanley was born November 18, 1911 in Mira, Louisiana, the second of six children born to Wesley Birdwell and Beulah Thompson Stanley. Granny and Pop Paw had some unusual given names for their children and so at an early age, Daddy changed his to Henry. Later in his life when a bank in the small town in which we lived confused his bank account with another H. C. Stanley, he changed it again to Clyde Henry. Imagine the night mare of researching his name in genealogy! Luckily on most documents he is listed as Clyde.
I’m not sure how old he was in this photo but I’m thinking less than two years old.
When Daddy was very small, Pop Paw was a farmer in North Caddo Parish but at about four years of age, Pop Paw began making a living in the timber industry. They first moved to Fostoria, Texas, and they, along with other families working in the timber industry, lived in railroad cars. When logging was complete in a particular area, the train and its inhabitants would move to another location. Daddy told me they moved thirty four (34) times within an eighteen month period.
My grandparents were both musically talented and could play almost any instrument. Luckily they passed this on to their children. Daddy played the mandolin, however in the photo below with his brother, Audrion, he is shown with a fiddle.
In 1919 they moved to Ida, Louisiana where my grandfather farmed on shares. Apparently they did well as by 1924 they bought a brand new Ford Car. Daddy drove a tractor and worked on equipment on the farm. In fact, he told me he was the first person to hook up electric lights on a tractor. This would enable farmers to work at night when the weather was cooler. He wanted to patent his idea, which would cost $75.00, however Granny wouldn’t give him the fees.
Although I did not find out until I was eighteen years old, my Dad had been married prior to his marriage to my Mother. That marriage which was never spoken of in our family by any one at any time, lasted less than three years and there were no children. In 1933 my dad married my mother, Mamie Louise Martin and of this union, there were six children.
My grandfather left farming and went to work for several different sawmills in East Texas. Dad soon followed, although he had owned and operated a service station in Ida. At sawmills in Bivins and Atlanta, Texas he worked as a mechanic. I remember when we lived in Bivins bathing on Saturday nights in a washtub. It was not until the early 1950s that we got indoor plumbing.
In the mid 1950s we moved to Jefferson, Texas where he ran an ice plant and by my freshman year, we could be found in Ganado, Texas. Daddy worked for an oilfield service company as a mechanic. By midterm of my sophomore year we had left Ganado, went to Dayton and Liberty, Texas and finally back to North Caddo Parish where he worked for a tractor dealership and Mother owned a small café in Belcher. Mother had a new red and white Ford Falcon and Daddy drove one of those God awful green Studebaker cars that looked the same coming or going! After I married they returned to South Texas where he worked in Pearland, Humble and finally retired in Conroe, Texas. I think Daddy’s vagabond ways began as a child when his father followed the job regardless of where it took them.
My daddy was a superstitious man. He didn’t like gardenias because they reminded him of cemeteries. He wouldn’t have a cedar tree on the place because if they grew large enough to shade a grave you would die. He wouldn’t start a job on Friday that he couldn’t finish on Friday.
It was bad luck to sweep after dark or under someone’s feet. If we left home and something was left behind (mostly Mother’s purse) he would not go back for it. Bad luck!!
But the one superstition he branded me with was that of the black cat. Of course that one has been around for ages, but his obsession involved seeing one crossing the road in front of you. We either had to turn around, find another route so as not to cross the cat’s tracks or roll down your window and spit to wash out the tracks! Many years after his death I had my sophisticated Uptown New Orleans grandchildren in the car with me and a black cat crossed the road in front of us. My mouth began to salivate! Then I screamed, “Roll down your window and SPIT!” Of course they thought I had totally lost my mind, but soon realized when I pulled over and would not move until everyone in the car had hacked up enough saliva to wash out the cat’s tracks, that they had better SPIT! And for you information, I still do it today.
Daddy and I had a special relationship and he taught me much, such as one wrench from another, how to read a road map and much more. We loved to watch baseball games on TV together, sometimes rooting for the same team, sometimes not, but our cheers (or rants) were always as loud as if we were in the stands. When I was in my teens I made the comment that I wish we could see a Major League game in person. At that time it seemed only an impossible dream however it did come to pass when my brother Jim took the family to see the Astros play at the Astro Dome in Houston. I looked at him and said, “Did you ever think we’d do this in person?” only to be interrupted with wild cheering from the “Clyde Section”.
My dad was an intelligent man and a hard worker. He believed you gave a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. He was honest and never lied and stressed honesty at all costs. Perhaps I get my outspoken ways from him for in his words, “Say what you mean and mean what you say” or my favorite Clyde-ism, “Keep two things clean that are uniquely yours; your word and your name.”
The last time Mother and Daddy moved to South Texas he told me he would return to North Louisiana one day but he when never say when that day would be. Many times I asked and he never gave an answer so I turned to Mother as to when she thought that day would come. She told me Daddy thought you only go home to die. Weird I thought.
During the last year of his life Daddy was in and out of the hospital many times. It was then they decided to purchase a small house in Vivian and return to Louisiana. Don and I moved them back and two weeks later he passed away on January 1, 1980. Maybe there was something to his superstitions.
My how the twigs of a tree do tangle and such is the case of James H. Hanson’s family which winds itself through my Hemperley, Stanley and Martin trees. James H. Hanson was born in Georgia on October 22, 1853 to Jesse and Matilda Wade Hanson. On October 10, 1867 he married Mary Jane Leonard in Cherokee County, Georgia.
In the 1880 Census he lived in Little River, Cherokee, Georgia and listed his profession as a furniture maker. By 1900 he and his family had moved to Cass County, Texas where he was listed as a manufacturer. During the next ten years, he had become a Baptist preacher and in the 1920 Census he was listed as an evangelist.
During an interview in the late 1960s with Beatrice Hemperley Tollison Crane Eason (granddaughter of James H. Hanson), she recanted the following story. “By 1901 James H. Hanson and wanted to be a preacher and so he went into the woods near his home and lived six months by himself. His family would bring food to him and during this time he learned to read, write and studied the Bible. Soon thereafter he became a circuit preacher and would ride his horse from church to church on the weekends where he would preach. He preached at Mt. Gilead Baptist near Vivian, Louisiana, Bethsaida in Ida, Louisiana and was also at Salem Baptist in Bloomburg, Texas.”
She also told me Rev. Hanson attended a Baptist convention with a Rev. Oliver in Washington, D. C. While he was strictly self-taught and had no formal education, he was chosen to be a speaker. He came home with a blue ribbon for the sermon he delivered.
James and Mary Jane raised twelve children in Cass County, Texas namely: Victoria, Dora, John R., Jim, Laura, Alice, Alfred, Robert Benjamin, Minnie Belle, Henry, Willie and Beulah.
Laura married John Daniel Luther Hemperley, the grandfather of my late husband.
Dora first married Basil Tollison; Beatrice Hemperley, daughter of Laura and John D. L. Hemperley, married Basil Tollison, her mother’s sister’s ex- husband!
Robert Benjamin married Roxie Lee Stanley, my grandfather Wesley Birdwell Stanley’s sister.
Jim Hanson, grandson of James and Mary Jane, married my mother’s sister, Gladys Martin.
Whew! I’m beginning to feel like there’s a monkey’s uncle in the tangled twigs of these trees. James and Mary Jane both lived to eighty-seven years of age and are buried in the Salem Baptist Church Cemetery, Bloomburg, Texas.
My mother, Mamie Louise Martin, was born October 21, 1914 in Ida, Louisiana to
Walter Houston and Emma Pearl Bain Martin.
Mamie Louise Martin
She lived in Ida all of her childhood years; attended school there; played basketball on the school team; and along with other siblings, hoed cotton during the depression.
At the age of nineteen she and Clyde Henry Stanley married and remained so for forty-seven years until he passed away. Of this union there were six children, namely Jimmy Clyde (also known as Coot), Thomas Neil (better known as Winkie), Charles Edwin (referred to as Ed), me (and you know I go by Kookie), Judy Faye (JuJu) and lastly Linda Kaye (who we affectionately call Kitty). We all knew her as loving and kind but also a strict disciplinarian. Let one of us act up and we promptly felt a keen peach tree switch across our behinds. She lived by “spare the rod and spoil the child” so it is safe to say none of us were spoiled!
Mother was a fun loving, quick to laugh person. She was a great cook and at one time owned the Belcher Café in Belcher, Louisiana. She loved her family, to fish, and to play games. Rook was one of her favorites and she took it seriously! This photo has Jim Stanley, Mamie Martin Stanley, Johnny Hemperley and Steve Hemperley playing Rook with Sybol Hemperley watching.
On her 75th birthday all six of her children and many of her grandchildren and a great grandchild spent the entire weekend celebrating at Kitty’s house in Lafayette, Louisiana. One of the highlights was playing Pictionary with her. She also liked playing Trivial Pursuit with her grandchildren and often would surprise them with her knowledge of events.
Today, I don’t want to tell you about what records I have located on Mom, but rather another side of that we, the children, knew and loved. You see, Mother had a different way of expressing herself while getting her point across. She could tell you how the cow at the cabbage or to kiss my grits and you would like it. I’m not sure what language it was but I’m sure it was not the Queen’s English. It wasn’t Redneck or Southern style filled with “dawlins’, sugar, or sweetie pies.
At one time, I thought she had made it up but came to the realization that it was the jargon she grew up with and most probably had been handed down from one generation to another and so I dub it Martin-ese. An example would be if any one of us children was wasting time she might tell us we were burning daylight by lolligagin’ around and that we better get it done before quick got ready.
The weather could be hotter than a fox in a forest fire or a depot stove, or colder than a well diggers’ grave. When it rained she would say it was coming down like a cow peeing on a flat rock. And if the roads were icy, they were slicker than goose hockey or snot!
If someone was putting on airs or living beyond their means she would say they were living high on the hog, or that you couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. To her, some were just plain highfalutin’ or howling at the moon. Many looked like they had been rode hard and put up wet. Sometimes she would say a person was older than dirt, crazier than a road lizard or Betsy bug, not worth a hill of beans or they might be a whippersnapper.
When times were hard her remarks would be that something needed was scarcer than hen’s teeth, harder than pulling teeth, higher than a cat’s back or that she felt like a pup sucking hind tit. And of course in a household of two adults and six kids, she never had room to cuss a cat.
She always taught us that anything worth doing was worth doing right or not at all. How many times have I heard can’t never could or that can’t killed himself chasing couldn’t?
That old adage about if Momma ain’t happy nobody’s happy applied in our household because if she got her bowels in an uproar, you had better hide and watch! Of course there were many times she had reason to be unhappy because one of us kids was always having a hissy or conniption fit. We never really knew if one was worse than the other but we always knew the cure was a peach tree switch!
As to her health some days she felt bright eyed and bushy tailed, hush mouthed, nervous as a cat in a room full of rockers or had just run out of gas because she was all stove up. Some nights she would have the big eye and not sleep much. Most days she was happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.
Visitors were always as welcome as the flowers in May and it didn’t make no never mind who dropped in, you were always invited to sit a spell and have supper (you know, the meal that’s served at night). One of her favorite sayings was whatever melts your butter, meaning whatever makes you happy.
It will be twenty years this October since Mamie Louise Martin Stanley passed away. There is only my brother, two sisters and I left of the six children. Sometimes when talking, one of us will unconsciously use one of her phrases. Realizing what just happened laughter breaks out. She would be proud that we have managed to keep Martin-ese alive. She would be happy to know that we were melting butter.
Don, as he preferred, was the second child of Raymond and Sybol O’Pry Hemperley. He arrived a jaundiced baby born on August 18, 1941 in Vivian, Louisiana. Growing up on a 60 acre farm near Gilliam, he was a precocious child who often ran away from home to play with his imaginary family that lived just across the levee. Many were the times his mother, with switch in hand, would cross that levee to retrieve him. When asked where he had been he would speak of visiting his fantasy wife and children who lived across the levee.
Don attended grammar school in Belcher, Louisiana. By high school, a new consolidate school had been built in Vivian and he was among the graduation class of the first four full years of the school. Don could have been an honors student for he was a very intelligent person. Often work on the farm, work after school at a gas station in Gilliam, or his antics got in the way. During his senior year he was suspended for three days for smoking on campus. He was also reprimanded for singing and dancing in the hallways while classes were going on.
Following his graduation he knew he did not want the farm life anymore and enlisted the United States Air Force on July 22, 1959 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His basic training was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. As basic training does for so many young enlistees, he went in a scrawny teen and came out a well chiseled mature adult male!
Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base
From San Antonio he was sent to Indiana University at Bloomington to become a Russian Linguist. His studies included not only the language but also the history and culture of Russia. From the first day of class his professors spoke only in Russian; wrote only in Russian; and expected the soldiers in the class to learn and excel in all things Russian. Not all students graduated (one even committed suicide) as it was an intense degree of studies.
August 6, 1960 Don returned home and we were married that night at the Belcher Baptist Church. After a short leave we headed to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas where he was to attend crypto-logic and intelligence training school. Did I ask what all that meant? Heavens no! We were too busy celebrating our recent marriage and starting our married lives. Besides, it didn’t matter to me just as long as we were together.
By New Year’s Day of 1960 I was expecting our first child and Don was boarding a plane for a fifteen month tour of duty at the 6986th Wakkanai Air Station located on the northern most point of Hokkaido, Japan. Being the linguist he was he soon picked up the Japanese language and was able to communicate with the locals. He loved the food as well as the people in Wakkanai. Off time was spent writing letters home, visiting orphanages and at the Club Walk’N I NCO club where he was on the Board of Governors.
In April 1962 Don returned stateside and met our eleven month son Steve for the first time. We packed our little black 1950 Ford and headed to his next assignment at the National Security Agency located at Fort George G. Meade near Laurel, Maryland. I knew Don had a high level security clearance, but NSA?
The Cuban Missile Crisis took place during the time we were in Maryland and I can remember Don working long hours and being very concerned. Of course, I had no idea of what his job entailed, but the reality of the crisis set in when I drove to work and there were few cars on the road. The shopping center, which was usually bustling, was desolate. The air was tense as most everyone was waiting for President Kennedy’s next news conference.
On July 19, 1963 Don’s enlistment was up and we returned to Louisiana. Our daughter Kelly was born in September and we settled into a life far from the fast paced Air Force one Don loved. He soon became a partner in an insurance agency and was a Junior Warden as well as Master of the Belcher Masonic Lodge. He was instrumental in incorporating Gilliam as a Village and served as its first Village Clerk. He was a jokester, a loving father and husband, generous and a good friend to everyone.
Many many years later in life he mentioned his time in the Air Force and I asked, “Now just what was it that you did while wearing those Air Force blues?” He replied with that precocious smile, “I spoke to Russians flying their planes over water near Hokkaido and they didn’t know I was an American. I also decoded and transcribed top secrets while at NSA.” I rolled my eyes and thought, there he goes again; pulling those same tricks much like he did on his mother about his fantasy family. So was he was telling the truth or not? I suppose I will never know for sure.
Matthew 25:36 reads: “Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.”
Nevalene Stanley Thomas was born July 19, 1936 to Addison Audrion Stanley and wife, Ora Oneta Tolleson in Bivins, Texas. One of her grandfathers wanted to name her Ineva and the other Evalene. According to her, they settled on naming her Nevalene but she prefers to be referred to as Neva. Neva was a twin; however her mother had great difficulty having the children and only Neva survived.
Apparently she was born to sing and attend church as at the age of 4 to 5 years old she would walk to church, by herself, at Grogan’s Mill near Bivins, Texas. Every Sunday Brother Will Grogan would ask her to sing Trust and Obey….. all five verses of it … before services began. Her father left the mill for work at the Texarkana Red River Depot, where he was a dozer operator during the construction of the depot. During the time spent in Texarkana she did not attend church.
In 1943 they moved to Huffines, Texas to live with her mother’s father and it was here she got back into church. In 1946 they moved to Vivian, Louisiana when her father went to work for the local General Motors dealership. On July 6,1952, while only 15 year old, she married John Howard Thomas, Sr. They became members of Walnut Hill Baptist Church where she served 25 years and seven months as the music director and Howard was a deacon. And all the while, she was singing!
By 1954 Vivian’s local radio station was broadcasting from Walnut Hill Baptist Church where a quartet comprised of T. J. Stanfield, Lois Ragsdale, Albert Holt and Neva sang. Neva sang at revivals, the Lions Club and for many local funerals. She would take her lunch hour, go to the funeral home and perform, and then return to work. The Happy Time Singers, another of Neva’s groups, soon emerged and the members were Jean Walton, T. J. Stanfield, Buddy McBride and Neva.
Emanuel Baptist Church in Vivian is where Neva met Doris Gomery and enlisted her to become the sound technician. On her first recording in Oklahoma City, Doris accompanied Neva and it was there they met John Rohloff who had played with Andre Crouch. Between that time and 1986 Neva had recorded three CDS and five cassettes.
Even though Neva was staying busy, she still felt there was another direction God wanted her to follow. Being the Christian woman she is, she opened her Bible searching for answers. Her Bible was opened to Matthew 25:36 which reads: “Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and you visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.” On June 3, 1986 the charter for the non-profit corporation was signed for G N H Ministries of Vivian by the Louisiana Secretary of State. Thus The Born Again Singers were born and continued for fourteen and one half years of prison ministry. Neither ice storms, rains, sunshine or lack of finances stopped these troupers! They were provided for by donations and were on a mission to share their love of God and Jesus!
Rev.T. J. McDonnel, pastor at Whitaker Baptist Church in Texarkana, was
instrumental in gaining the group entrance and acceptance into many prisons. During their ministry they traveled to the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana, Texas, and the Texas Department of Corrections in Seagoville, Texas. In Arkansas they visited at Cummins in Grady, the Men’s Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff, the Department of Corrections in Tucker, and the Wrightsville Men’s Penitentiary in Wrightsville. Louisiana penitentiaries served were Wade Correctional in Homer and the Louisiana State Prison in Angola. Neva’s granddaughter Johnna, who also sang, accompanied them and with the exception of one time, was allowed to enter the prisons to perform beginning when she was about eleven years old.
Upon arriving at the prisons they had to be cleared by security and often performed either in the prison’s chapel or gymnasium, which led them past cell block filled with prisoners. Now that takes some guts!!! But these brave ladies would not be deterred.
Vickie Neiderhofer, Judy Holley, Neva Thomas and Johnna Shew Kunath
On their first trip to Angola upon arriving at the gate they learned each of them had been cleared for admittance however their equipment had not. It had to be left at the gate. Neva wondered how in the world they would musically minister to this group of 417 men who had earned the privilege and wanted to attend. Luckily one of the inmates had a keyboard they borrowed. That night Neva wrote and performed two songs that she says until this day she doesn’t remember the lyrics. Seven inmates repented and there were few dry eyes in the place.
On their second trip to Angola while riding the ferry across the Mississippi River, the group got out of their vehicles and began to sing gospel songs. Other passengers joined in the celebration to the point the river boat captain said they had the ferry rocking. On the return crossing the captain told how much he had enjoyed their “concert” and asked to have prayer with them.
Mostly their ministry was done as a musical concert, however the group also provided
Bibles, audio recordings, published a news letter for inmates, were pen pals, attended
seminars and worked with prisoners on Pre-Release. Following training Neva became a spiritual adviser to death row inmates. On the night prior to his execution, an inmate convicted of murder, wrote the following letter:
Excerpts from the letter read:
“Dear Sister Neva, It is with a heavy heart I write this last letter to you for I know by the time it reaches your precious hands, you will be wrapped in sadness and sorrow because of my execution . I wish with all my heart I could take your pain and sorrow from you. I did not want to leave you all physically but by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus I was spiritually prepared and unafraid. Praise God! I pray you can find peace and comfort in the truth that death for the Christian, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus is but a mere stepping stone into eternal life in Heaven. By the time you read this I will be standing in Heaven, in the presence of God and our Lord Jesus and all those who went on before me.”
Another inmate, who at a young age, had robbed a lady of her purse in a Wal-Mart parking lot appealed to Neva to aid him in making an apology to his victim. The woman had a grandchild with her. He had demanded the lady’s purse and when she would not surrender it, he fired shots and she gave him her purse.
After accepting God he wanted to make a video of apology to his victim. Neva was instrumental in getting the video made and aired on TV. There was also an arranged face to face meeting for the apology and the victim accepted it.
Apparently Neva and The Born Again Singers were accepted cordially by many of the inmates as evidenced by many self made cards and letters that were sent to her. Her scrapbook is filled with letters of appreciation from those she touched as well as newspaper clippings regarding the groups other appearances.
The inmates sent cards for Christmas, Mother’s Day and Valentine greetings. Some of the prisoners’ art (from their homemade cards) is below…..
Many of The Born Again Singers are still actively involved in Christian fellowship. Here’s a little more about each one:
Doris Gomery is a retired social worker who worked with juveniles at a boys’ home in Greenwood, Louisiana. She also studied criminal law and was a Probation Officer for the State of Louisiana. Currently she attends First Baptist Church in Vivian where she belongs to Hands and Feet and One to Another which offer prayers and assistance for varying needs to people in the community. She also belongs to Prayers Ministry which encompasses the globe as they pray for those in need. At one time she was involved in Message Music and distributed music to book stores as well as individuals.
Vickie Neiderhofer has passed away since her participation with The Born Again Singers.
Johnna Shew Kunath, all grown up now, is the proud mom of two daughters, one recently adopted son and two foster children. She is a Bridge Teacher at Greenacres Middle School in Bossier City and sponsors the Junior Optimist Organization. Johnna and her husband Jason attend First Baptist Church in Princeton where they started a senior citizen ministry called Senior Moments. Daughters of the King, a ladies’ ministry of fellowship and Bible study, was also organized by Johnna at the church. Volunteering in this household involves everyone including the children. Johnna and her daughters volunteer at The Nest, a part of The Renesting Project. And if all of this isn’t enough she is currently involved with a group, the Christian Women’s Job Corp of Northwest Louisiana. Theses volunteers will go into prisons and educate and set up housing for those being released.
Norma Norris Morris met and married an inmate. Norma lives in Bloomburg, Texas and goes to the Full Gospel Church.
Judy Holly Thompson, a registered nurse, met and married an inmate. She resides in Vivian and attends First Baptist Church.
Neva currently attends the Yocana Baptist Church in Yocana, Arkansas where she has been the Music Director for the past seven year and writes a newsletter for her church. She goes to weekend singings but no longer travels for the prison ministry. One of her favorite sayings is “This Too Shall Pass” which is indicative of her belief that all problems taken one at a time in Christ’s name will get better. Ask Doris about Neva and she will say she is a booster of people’s confidence, an advocate and encourager who brings out the best in everyone. I say she’s all that and more but specifically a child of God born to sing His praises. On a recent visit with her and her daughter, Letitia Thomas McGuire, they sang “I See Jesus” for me. The photo below was taken at that time. Neva is still married to the love of her life, John Howard Thomas, Sr.and they give praise to God daily for the wonderful life they have had. They have two children, Letitia Darlene Thomas McGuire and John Howard Thomas, Jr.