As the long hot Louisiana summer days slowly revolve into more pleasant fall weather, many Vernon Parish residents begin to focus on high school football, the annual Leesville Lions Club Rodeo, LHS Homecoming and the Christmas season.
One thing all of these events have in common is the fun-filled parades that accompany them.
For many years, a welcome sight in each of these parades that marched north on Leesville’s main street was the Preschoolers from Mrs. Bray’s Little Red School, bringing smiles and praise from the crowd.
Recently, a number of students who attended the Little Red School were asked to recall, as best they could after all these years, what they remember.
When asked, every student mentioned marching in the parades as a highlight at the Little Red School House.
Mrs. Bray provided all the needed costumes worn.
Aides Evie Dowden and Gracie Herring, along with parents, assisted as chaperones during the parades.
Who was Mrs. Mabel Bray?
Leesville Leader reporter Audrey Arthur interviewed Mrs. Bray for a story entitled “Retired Teacher’s Golden Years Are All She Could Want.”
It appeared in the March 27, 1985, Leesville Daily Leader.
“I was born to be a teacher. I’ve taught for over 60 years. I’m 82 years old and I don’t even feel like I am,” said Mrs. Bray. “I guess it’s because the children keep me young.”
Mrs. Bray retired from teaching in 1966 but couldn’t give it up for long so she opened the Little Red School three years later.
The Thomas Vision Clinic is now located on the site of the Bray home and school.
At the Little Red School Mrs. Bray and aide, Evie Dowden taught pre-schoolers “ a little bit of everything.”
“I love teaching pre-schoolers best of all,” Bray said. “They are closer to being babies. I don’t have children of my own and I consider them all mine. The Bible says a woman without children has hundreds, and I do.”
Mrs. Bray said she began teaching in 1920 at the age of 17.
“I took the teacher’s exam when I was in the 11th grade and I received my lifetime certificate to teach.” She later attended Normal School that today is Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
During her 60-year career, she taught first grade in Rosepine, Leesville, and Cole Central located between Pitkin and Sugartown.
She emphasized reading was her favorite class subject. She said several of the three and four-year-old could read the first pre-primer “Skip Along” by the end of the mid-term. There were 28 students in her school.
“When I was growing up we didn’t have lights like today. My Mom and Dad used coal and oil lamps to read by. My parents were always reading so I grew up reading, too. I teach a lot of reading because if a child can read she can do anything. During class time we also have records to listen to and if it is sunny the children play outside,” she says.
“I’ve taught a lot of first-grade children and now I have their children here at the school. The parents I have taught tell me the reason why they bring their children to me is because I taught them something and now they want me to do the same for their children.” Bray said.
She enjoyed giving and has donated money, land, and several organs to churches and community organizations in the parish. She also offered free pre-school service to those unable to pay. “If parents didn’t give me a dime, I’d still teach the children. I do it to try to help out in the world. God gives us all a talent and teaching is mine.”
“I like being with people and I like to give them things—why I don’t know. My husband said he expects me to give him away at any time,” she laughs!
(Sisters married brothers: Mabel Bolgiano’s husband was Bert Bray. Her sister Ethel was married to Edlo Bray.)
“I love people especially little kids all my life. I guess it was born in me.”
Students attending the Little Red School House included: Crista Bealer Roberts, Kevin Bennett, Dickie Fetting, Michele Gonzales, Alecia and Aaron Guynn, Jared Previtt, Alex Serna, Nathan Vincent.
Lisa Ward recalled the little wooden desk in the schoolhouse and the fun, fond memories of all the extra activities that made the learning special.
Tim Ward recalled enjoying all the parades, dressing up in costumes for Homecoming, Rodeo and Christmas parades.
Mrs. Bray always had different animals for “show and tell”. He was given a rabbit to take home.
When asked, every student and parent mentioned the parades as a highlight of the year at the Little Red School House. Mrs. Bray provided all the needed costumes worn. Many parents assisted as chaperones during the marching up Main Street in the parades.
Author’s note: Parents sharing information for this story included Brenda Stanley Bealer, Helen Bailes Guynn, Frances Serna, Judy Bolton Ward and Delain Prewitt.