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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.