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Wednesday’s Woman: Beulah Thompson Stanley

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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”.

Wesley and Buleah Thompson Stanley
Wesley Birdwell Stanley and Beulah Thompson Stanley

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.

Wesley Stanley and Beulah Thompson Stanley
This photo was made when they lived on Annie Burney Means’ plantation.

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.

shoes 1
Petty Pottery Shoes made in the 1930s

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.

Prison Ministry: The Story of Nevalene Stanley Thomas and The Born Again Singers

Neva Stanley Thomas

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!

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This scrapbook tells the story and their prison ministries.Scrapbook

The Born Again Singers, 1987
Doris Gomery, Vickie Neiderhofer, Neva Stanley Thomas and in front, Johnna Shew Kunath

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, Judy, Neva, Norma and Johnna

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.
Ferry to Angola
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:

Wingo's final 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.
Letter requesting video to apologize
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…..
Prison Art 2
Prison Art 3
Prison Art 5
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.
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The Magic of Christmas

One of my fondest memories of the magic of Christmas began when I was a small child while visiting with my grandparents, Wesley and Beulah Thompson Stanley, in the piney woods of East Texas.  My aunt, uncles, cousins and our family always gathered at Granny and Pop Paw’s for Christmas.

Pop Paw worked at the lumber mill and had scouted out trees days in advance.    On that particular day, a cool crisp one, he told us that if we didn’t go get a tree, Santa wouldn’t come.  We eagerly jumped into the back of his old truck and headed out in search of the perfect tree.

Wes Stanley and his Christmas tree hunting truck

Wes Stanley and his Christmas tree hunting truck

Being small children, we would have chopped down any tree if that was all it took for Santa to come, but Wes had something special in mind.  We searched and searched.  We looked at pines, which he said weren’t shaped right.   We looked at cedars and he said their limbs were too flimsy and difficult to decorate.  Finally he led us to the perfect tree!

It was a holly, straight, tall and loaded with bright red berries.  Everyone agreed it WAS the perfect tree.  He sawed it down, threw it in the back of the truck with all the kids sitting around the edge of the bed imaging what Santa would place beneath it.

Granny didn’t have much as far as decorations go; a few tangled, wrinkled icicles left over from Christmases past and some glass balls that time had faded and had very little color.  But we decorated it in style!  We made a paste from flour and water for glue and made paper chains for garlands, cut out paper lanterns, and the berries complimented the homemade decorations.  When it was completely decorated, we were all in agreement.  It was magical!  Surely Santa would appreciate our handiwork and bring something special.  We sang Christmas carols as the aroma of Granny’s specialty, fried apple pies, came from the cast iron stove in the kitchen.

I don’t even remember what Santa brought; I think only apples, oranges and nuts.  But that tree and the fellowship we shared instilled in me the love of Christmas and family to share the magic with.

After marriage, Don and I would go to his parents on Christmas Eve to exchange family gifts.  Afterwards, my sister-in-law and I would load the kids into a car and take them to see Christmas lights while Don and his brother were busy at our houses putting bikes together and the toys from Santa under the tree which we had gone to the woods and cut down. To the kids, the ride was magical to see the lights others had decorated their yards and homes with. The children never caught on as to why the dads didn’t go with us.

As years passed we set aside one afternoon a couple of weeks prior Christmas to go to the woods and, as Wes would do, chop down a special  tree.  The kids were almost as excited as I.  Usually we cut down a cedar.

But the one thing that had changed was that I now had fallen for flocked trees.  Don and Steve would flock the tree as Kelly and I covered our ears from the words Don would utter as the flocker stopped up or the vacuum hose would crimp and the flock would either come out in gobs or not at all.  Nevertheless, we had flocked trees.  And the bigger the better!  Most times they had to be tied to the beams of the den to stand erect after being heavily decorated.  Sometimes we made paper chains.  Sometimes we baked gingerbread men for ornaments.  And despite all of Don’s fussing about having to flock the tree, when it was fully decorated, he never failed to say, “It’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had.”

Let the Flocking begin

Santa always came on Christmas Eve when the kids  were small therefore they only had a gift or two from Mom and Dad.  After they had outgrown that stage, I would wrap and put the gifts under the tree, where they would shake, rattle, smell and make a million guesses.

Kookie's children

Some of the magical moments that are dear to me are granddaughter Rachel’s first
Christmas.

Rachels first Christmas

Emy’s visit with Santa.

Emy's visit with santa

And the happy faces of Christmas.

happy face of christmas 01

happy face of christmas 02

happy face of christmas 03

Surprises always came packaged differently and one never knew if your big gift would be under the tree, in your stocking, or in the form of something warm and fuzzy.

Don and I always had an Open House where a roaring fire on Christmas Eve warmed friends who would stop by for a bowl of gumbo and beverage. Sometimes we had to wait until they left before Santa came.  Sometimes they stayed to see what surprises he would deliver to the Hemperley kids.

I have so many magical memories of Christmas in my lifetime; like the year we were so broke that all Don could afford for me was a pair of house shoes.  I don t think I gave him anything.

Or, our first Christmas after he returned home from Japan and we were stationed in Maryland.  Maryland had a record snow fall that year, so we bundled up Steve, who was about a year and a half, and played in the snow building a snowman and having snowball fights.

Or the year he surprised me with a color TV and I sat up well after the three stations we could receive went off air and watched the test pattern until the wee hours!

Or many Christmases when the house was so full of relatives, home for the holidays, that we would run out of beds and couches for them to sleep on.  Santa must have had a difficult time delivering gifts for  there were pallets or sleeping bags on every inch of floor.

Much has changed in my celebration of Christmas.  Some loved ones are now gone.  I no longer go to the woods for a tree to flock.  In fact, this year I put up a flocked fake tree!!!

My kids now have kids and are now Santa!

We still open gifts on Christmas Eve and have gumbo for supper.  However, Kelly now cooks it and I can sit back and enjoy the night.

I no longer have kids sniffing or sleeping under the tree.  My dog has taken over that job!

Ahso under the tree

The magic of my Christmases began many years ago with my grandfather taking all the grandkids to cut a tree. It’s in my heart.  It’s in my memories.  It’s with my family. It’s who I am and where I came from.

May we all remember the true meaning of Christmas.  May we all remember the past, cherish the present, and look forward to a Christmas that is magical this and every year.

Merry Christmas!!!

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