Wednesday, November 13, 2019

CHS Class of 1958, Memories Along the Way

For today's Tammany Family article, Phil Pfeffer is sharing with us some more memories of the Covington High School Class of 1958, which graduated sixty-one years ago.

Covington High School Class of '58
 By Phil Pfeffer

The journey of the Class of ‘58 began in early-September 1946. Covington Grammar School was located on Jefferson Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Avenues. As the six-year-olds lined up for their first day of school, there were several emotions. 

Some were anxious to start school, having older brothers and sisters already in school. Some were just awaiting a new experience while others were scared, leaving mommy and daddy for the first time.

The students, new and old, lined up outside the school building awaiting the bell to ring. Once inside, they would find out where their classroom was located and who would be their teacher.  Not all of the Class of ’58 would be here. Some were starting first grade in Madisonville, Mandeville, Folsom or Lee Road. A few were possibly starting out of state.

One first grader in this group would go on to reach international fame. Although no one remembers him from the school days, he was in Mrs. Morgan’s first-grade class. He and his mother lived in an apartment building (since been torn down) on Vermont street between Gibson street and Boston street. He would move out of Covington before completing the first grade, but his name appears on the rolls of the school archives. His name was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Once the students were settled, it was time to go to work. Students had their supplies which consisted of a pencil, a pad of paper (with wide ruled lines), some crayons, a scissors and some paste. Coca-Cola would give each student a supply packet containing a ruler and a pencil. The ruler had the Golden Rule printed on it. 

The pencil was red and had the words, “Coca-Cola.” Each of the classrooms had a blackboard and a pencil sharpener. Above the blackboard was the alphabet, in cursive showing both lower-case and upper-case letters.

The Beginning of the School Day

Before school began, the students would gather in the school yard awaiting the bell. The boys would play marbles or spin tops. There were two merry-go-rounds near Jefferson Avenue and later there were “monkey bars” for the children to climb on. In the front of the school were some outside steps going to the second floor where some of the children played “Mother, May I.” Recess occurred about ten o’clock and the students would go outside for exercise and commence the same activities as before school.

First grade students learned the alphabet and then to write it. They learned to write the numbers and then some simple addition. They learned words and then to read simple books. The main book at the time was “Mac and Muff.”

The school day was often started with the students standing and saying the Pedge of Allegiance. Every classroom had an American flag. They would learn patriotic songs like “America” and “America the Beautiful.” Nothing like this could happen today because someone might be offended. One teacher tried to have her students sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the Broadway musical Oklahoma.

The students got an introduction to music. Besides learning the basic notes on a musical scale, they each had a “tonette” on which they would play simple songs. 

In February, the students exchanged valentines. One little girl got a card from everyone in the class until the teacher recognized the handwriting and the exchange. The student had got the “to” and “from” confused.

School Lunch

Lunch was served in the cafeteria adjacent to the gym. Lines were formed with the first grade going first, then the second grade and so on. Once you got you plate, you were expected to eat everything. To some, there was food that they just did not like. To others, some of the food was new to them. Being a large Catholic population in Covington, fish was always served on Fridays. To almost all of them, the food was probably better than they got at home.

When they were through eating, they would scrape any remaining food items into a garbage can and place their dish and utensils on a table to be cleaned. A teacher would monitor the discards, expecting you to eat everything. If you had too much food still on your plate, the teacher would send you back to your table to eat some more. The more ingenious students would watch for the teacher to turn his or her back and then rush to discard their food. Some students just shoveled their food on to the floor below the table.

Ralph Menetre

The fifth-grade teacher was Ralph Menetre. Mr. Menetre organized a softball game to be played at noon after lunch. It was played with home plate near the intersection of 24th Avenue and Theard Street. While a normal team had a pitcher and a catcher, these teams had an additional player. He was positioned behind the catcher and was called the “hind catcher.” It was because cooling water from Delta Pine Company ran underground from their plant along Theard street to the Bogue Falaya River and street drains along the east side of Theard street also emptied into this water way. If the softball went into the drain, it was gone, thus the hind catcher to save the ball. 

There were also a couple of boys that were older, having been held back a couple of times, were larger and would occasionally hit the ball on to the cafeteria roof. Time out was called while the ball was retrieved.

Each year, the grammar school staged a May Festival. It was held in the high school football stadium. There was a king and queen and their court, selected from the sixth grade. Members of the court were selected from each of the lower grades. Each class had an act to perform. The fifth grade always did the May Pole. 

All of the classes would rehearse in the grammar school gym and a day or two just prior to the big event they would walk down in groups to the high school football field for one final practice at the festival location.

After school each day, the school buses would line up along 23rd avenue for the rural children. Once the bus had collected all necessary kids, it would travel down Jefferson avenue to the high school where they would line up along 18th Avenue waiting the high school students.

Entering Junior High was another new experience. Junior High was in the same building as the high School. Now, you no longer sat in the same classroom with the same teacher all day. Each hour, the bell would ring, and you would change classrooms, subject matter and teacher.


Discipline was handled by the principal, James Plummer. Corporal punishment was handed out in the boiler room. When it became unacceptable for this punishment to be administered by an adult associated with the school, boys were forced to use the paddle on each other. If the application was not up to the expected severity, they were forced to do it again.

In high school, you were introduced to America history, World history, civics and Louisiana history. Also, classes in biology, chemistry and physics. Here you might dissect a frog or mix some chemicals. Arithmetic became mathematics and you learned algebra and geometry. The girls would take a class in typing and home economics, boys were offered classes in agriculture, wood working and mechanical drawing or drafting.

During the morning, an hour was set aside for physical education. Most of the boys enjoyed it, most of the girls hated it. The boys got a gym outfit which consisted of a white shirt and white shorts with writing on them and a number. The number did not mean anything. The girls were adorned in baggy blue bloomers, not very flattering.

In about the tenth grade, boys and girls began to notice each other. Some would pair off and “go steady.” For some it was “puppy love” and for several others, they would eventually marry.

Football Provisions

School varsity athletics consisted of football and basketball. Since a good number of boys on the football team had to catch the afternoon school bus to get home, football and basketball practice took place during 5th and 6th periods or from one to three o’clock in the afternoon. Because of the timing, the football players had a special lunch line so that they could eat first and have time for their food to digest before practice.

That senior year the basketball team did well. They won several area invitation tournaments, won the district championship and went into the state championship playoffs. In the playoffs, they eventually lost to Deridder, a town just northeast of Lake Charles, by one point.

The 5th period was also the time set aside for band practice. Obviously, you could not participate in both the band and be on the football or basketball team. Some of the band members had their own instruments but the school also furnished some (the base-drum or the Sousaphone, for instance).

Most if not all the teachers that developed our lives are now gone. Our principal Jim Plummer died in 1988. Coach Hubie Gallagher died in 1992. Gone too are Helen Boyd, 1985; Lela Menetre, 1990; Rosemary Pfeffer, 1998; Louis Wagner, 1999; Elizabeth Alford, 2008; Erlene Howser, 2017; Johnny Foster, 2017; and many others. We miss these earlier mentors.

Story-telling Teachers

One math teacher was a storyteller. If he started a story before class began, students would egg him on, and he would use 20 or 25 minutes on his story. It was better than doing math.

One English teacher was Miss Congeniality. One morning after a basketball game, she told one of the team members that she thought that he played a good game last night. Problem was that he never got into the game, but she wasn’t there, so she didn’t know. She just knew that he was on the team.

The physics teacher also liked to tell stories. We had only one girl in the class so if the story turned a little risqué, he would ask her to out into the hall and get a drink of water.

In the woodwork class, there was a walled-in area where wood was kept. It was also kept locked. One afternoon, the teacher went into the enclosure for a piece of wood and left the padlock hanging on the hasp. Once he was inside, a student ran over and locked him in.

As a way of judging the level of English and composition of the incoming class, one English teacher had the students write a two-page essay about themselves. It wasn’t so much as judging their writing skill but learning about each student for future gossip.

Each year, the seniors put on a class play to demonstrate their thespian talents. The Class of ’58 was no different. The play was entitled, “The Perfect Idiot.” It was about a very, very smart boy that did not want to go to college. So, when he took his university entrance exam, he made sure that he scored a perfect zero. After taking the test and flunking, he changed his mind, but it was too late. Further examination showed that to score a perfect zero, you must have known the correct answer to every question. You could not have scored zero at random. In the end, it was acknowledged that he had scored a perfect exam.

During a school assembly in the gym, the school was introduced to a rock and roll band. It consisted of four boys, three of them part of the Class of ’58. They would play music currently on the top ten music charts. One of them actually sounded like Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry. They played at several venues around town and on Saturday nights they played at the Village Inn.

Graduation Ceremonies

Graduation Day was at the end of May. It took place in the high school football field and stadium. The story was that this outdoor event had been going on for years and it was never rained out. This year was no exception. The graduating class marched to their chairs to the classic strains of Pomp and Circumstance or the Triumphant March from Aida. Those were the only two processionals available. After several speeches, diplomas were handed out and the new graduates formed a line for the well wishers to shake their hand and offer congratulations. It was here that several of the girls began to cry, realizing that they would not see many of their friends ever again.

From here, it was really commencement. It was the beginning of a new life. Some of the graduates would go on to college, some would join the army, others would join the work force, and some would now get married and raise a family.

Several of the graduates of the Class of ’58 went on to successful and satisfying careers. One member of the class joined the Air Force upon completing college and eventually retired as a Lt. Colonel. Another received a Ph. D. in engineering and became a college professor. Still another received an engineering degree and went on to direct the engineering and construction of offshore oil platforms around the world. 

Another graduate became mayor of a town in central Louisiana. An unlikely entrepreneur ended up owning and operating Tugy’s. One girl had several books published about her gay and lesbian life.

Sixty one years have elapsed since that graduation day. The grammar school has moved to 18th avenue and Jackson street and the old building now houses the parish school board. The high school building burned down in 1974 and was demolished. Sadly, several members of the Class of 1958 have gone on to that great classroom in the sky.

See also:

Covington in the 1940's and 1950's

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Artistry in Woodworking

Through the years Ben Bigler has been a construction supervisor, a woodworker, and is now an artist creating beautiful doors and windows for local architectural projects. His Bigler Woodworks at 414 Jefferson Avenue in Covington is filled with plans, projects and planks that will become great showpieces in local homes, churches, and the childrens' museum.

Earlier this decade, he worked on house renovations in Los Angeles, CA. In 2014, he and his wife moved to Covington, where she is from. In California he was a construction supervisor with a large workcrew, and they did a number of high-end home renovations, adding outstanding artistic elements to existing architecture, both old and new. For three years he worked on renovations to the 1920's Frank Lloyd Wright "Ennis House." 

His office door

Now that he's in Covington, he is concentrating on the artistic aspects of woodworking, building windows and doors in particular. Bigler Woodworks is in the old Henri Vergez metal working shop building and now produces outstanding custom-made specialty projects that blend wood-working skills and stained-glass, truly a blend between art within architecure.

Bigler, 37, moved into the building in late 2015. He and fellow artists originally started the "Community Beehive," a place for artists to work on individual projects in a cooperative atmosphere. The building has now become the Bigler Woodworks, where artists collaborate on projects sought by the local architectural community.

His grandfather was a master craftsman from Norway, and while Ben didn't follow the family trade for a while (he was more interested in becoming a musician), he eventually understood that woodworking was a skill he could develop and benefit from. "I really enjoy woodworking, especially now that I am doing it from an artist's perspective," he said.

Once he realized his family's woodworking skills were a "gift," he decided to share them on a larger scale, but he wanted to be careful about not identifying himself as just a woodworker. He has many interests, among them music, especially music played for church ministry. 

Clamping a door panel being glued

As an artist, both in wood and sound, he sought a balance between who he was and what he does. "Artists need to be careful about that balance, he said. "As soon as I became a woodworker, I didn't want to identify with that more than what I should. What changed my whole focus was instead of me identifying as what I did for my craft, I allowed my work to help me become who I was becoming."

He feels that no matter a person's occupation, whether an artist, a plumber, an electrician or whatever, none of those is better or worse than the other, since they are just what people do, not the people themselves.

It's also a question that many young people face: "What would I be today if it wasn't for this, or what would I be if that hadn't happened?"  In that respect, we are all "would workers" trying to figure out what would have happened given this opportunity or choosing this different path. "We should stay focused on who we are becoming instead of what we already are," Bigler said. 

Bigler's focus was radically altered two years ago when, during a wood-cutting session on a personal project, he cut off half of one of his fingers. The extreme pain and visual memory of that horrific incident was bad enough, but what really floored him was the sudden realization of how it might affect his woodworking career and his guitar playing. Once he overcame the anguish of those thoughts, he finally called his wife, who told him to call 911. An on-the-spot prayer helped get him through the worst of it. It all happened pretty fast, but it was a lesson he recalls to this day.

The accident helped changed his way of thinking about his future. It was humbling, he said, how losing a finger made him re-assess almost everything he had hoped to accomplish. He can still play the drums so his love of music is ongoing.

The Artistic Challenge

According to Bigler, the challenge to an artist is to balance his views of the creative process in such a way as to realize that the thing being created, while it appears to be an extension of the person who created it, should not be viewed as being "inseparable" from the artist. "The danger in that kind of thinking is that if someone else criticizes the creation, it may seem they also criticizing the artist who created it."

The best response for the artist to that kind of criticism, he felt, is to receive the comments objectively as an opportunity to improve the creation. "The item created does not define the artist," Bigler commented. "And a person's reaction to any created item can continually evolve," Bigler said. 

"People looking at a piece of art today may feel differently about it as time goes on, as their viewpoints, recollections, and personal experiences change," he noted. Art is timeless, but over time people can respond to the same piece of art differently.

Bigler's goal now is to create custom-made tables, doors and windows that people need and want, in as artistic manner as he can, on budget and on time.

He commended that the building's earlier tenant, Henri Vergez, enjoyed a reputation of helping the community in many ways and was someone of integrity people could count on.  He loves occupying the space that was once the Vergez Machine Shop, a community gathering place where people came to talk, have broken things fixed, and metal things fabricated. Vergez was an important person in town, involved in a variety of public service efforts. Bigler is following the tradition of his shop being a place where not only things are created, but a place where people can visit and explore ideas of what can be created.

A few years ago, he invented a wooden block game "Topple Rocks." That was a great exercise in creativity, woodworking skills, and a desire to help people have fun. He found that stacking odd-shaped pieces of wood one atop another teaches patience, develops fine motor skills, and is a competition between the player and gravity. It also teaches balance, in very intricate and entertaining ways.

Ben has been involved in church music ministry for many years, and his wife Kim started a non-profit organization to help foster children. She had a group in Los Angeles helping provide necessary items for children in foster care and those who were aging out of the foster care system, and when they moved to Covington, she started a similar organization here. (

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day 2019

It's Veterans Day, 2019, and a solemn occasion was held in front of the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in Covington this morning, with several speeches, recognitions, a prayer and a salute by members of American Legion Post No. 16 and VFW Post 8720.

Click on the images to make them larger.

Lane Carson was master of ceremonies for the hour long event.

 The Covington High School Jr. ROTC Color Guard advanced the colors. 


The event took place at the Veterans Memorial Plaza

 Joseph Untz was guest speaker, as well as Parish President Patricia Brister, former Covington Mayor Mike Cooper, and John Botsford, Covington City Councilman. 

To listen to some of the speeches made during the ceremony, click on the following links:

Other dignitaries on hand included Assessor Louis Fitzmorris, Post 16 Commander Gary Songy and VFW Commander Bobby Keizer.

Brenda Ogden (center) with The American Legion Auxiliary presented a specially-made blanket to one of the audience members.

The event was video-taped and a link will be posted later this week for viewing.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Student Art Exhibit

A student art exhibit was held at Heritage Bank's lobby on Columbia Street at this year's Three Rivers Art Festival in Covington. Here are some photos. Click on the images to make them larger. 

See Also:

Three Rivers Art Fest Draws Thousands

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Three Rivers Art Fest Draws Thousands

This year's Three Rivers Festival brought thousands of visitors and art enthusiasts to Covington recently, offering dozens of art-filled booths and exhibits along six blocks of Columbia Street in Covington, with a number of other galleries taking advantage of the thousands of festival visitors as well. 

Here are some photos from Saturday morning. The event continued through Sunday early afternoon. Click on the images to make them larger. 

Big Easy Birdhouses by Gary Ward

Musicians Everywhere

Spanish Guitar Music by Oliver

Music on the Edge of the Lake Stage was provided by Brooke Hagler, Christian Serpas, Kass and Jon Michael, The In-Laws, Maddi Tripp, Reed Alleman, Jake Gunter, and Kathryn Rose Wood. 

Decorative Post Office Boxes by Lone Wolf Woodworks

Old musical instrument horns reborn as I-Phone speakers by ReAcoustic (Ryan Boase)

Sam Clark Art

At the St. Tammany Art Association 

See also:

Three Rivers Art Festival This Weekend

Three Rivers Art Festival Flows Into Covington

Three Rivers Art Festival - 2016