Sunday, February 16, 2020

Profile of Mathilde D. Brunning

In 1976, some 44 years ago, this article appeared in the News Banner newspaper. It told the story of Mathilde D. Brunning, a well-known and loved community leader in western St. Tammany Parish, particularly the Lee Road area. Here is the article:

Profile of a Grand Lady: Mathilde D. Brunning

(Published 1976)

Although she is old enough to remember well the start of the 20th century, Mathilde D. Brunning is as active and progressive in her ideas as those one third her age.

Affectionately called "Tesi" by her contemporaries and "Mama Teal" by all the young people she has worked with through the years, Mrs. Brunning has certainly left her mark on our community.

Mathilde was born an January 19, 1891, in the family home on Lee Road. Rebuilt after a fire when she was five, the home still stands. Mathilde's life, as that of her parents, typifies the American ideal of the vast opportunities open to those who will pursue them.

Originally from Ireland

Her father Alexander Colville Dickson, grew up to Ireland in a very colorful family in history. His uncle John Mitchell a rebel who fought for Irish freedom from England was imprisoned for 20 years during which he wrote and published two volumes on the family and the Irish cause. After graduating from an agricultural university in Belfast, Mr. Dickson came to New Orleans with the dream of raising sugar cane and shipping it back to Ireland.

He bought acreage on Lee Road which he called Wolfe Tone Plantation, after General Wolfe Tone of Ireland. He raised sugar cane, processed it in his mill, and shipped the raw sugar back to Ireland. When too many ships sank on the rough seas, Dickson turned to raising cotton and built a lumber mill on the plantation.

Mathilde Brunning

Mathilde's mother Anna Marie Dumas was board in France. Her family settled in Canada then later moved to New Orleans. She met and married Dickson and moved to the plantation bringing many treasures her family had collected in their travels.

Mathilde was the second of there seven children: Ethel D. Hodgson, Mathilda, Colville, John Mitchell, Marie D. Martin, Kyle and Hazel D. Northouse. As a child Mathilde and her brothers and sisters were taught at home by their father. Later, a school was opened at Pilgrim Rest Church during the summer months each year when the children could leave their duties on the farm.

Mathilde completed her education at the Meridian Female College in Meridian, MS.

In 1910 Mathilde married Thomas Earl Brunning, who had been orphaned when his father was killed on a railroad job and his mother died not long after. They married with $7.00 between them and moved into the plantation guest house, which they remodeled and enlarged. The original part of the house is well over 100 years ago (from 1976). Mathilde still lives there, surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of spreading live oaks.

Family Heritage

Tom and Mathilde had one child, Thomas Earl Jr. When he graduated from Southeastern Louisiana College, where he played exceptional football, T.E. went into business with his father and they called it the T. E. Brunning and Son Lumber Company. The business flourished until a series of fires led T. E. to finally close it.

Mathilde's three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren give her a great deal of pleasure, as her love of young people has never diminished over the years. These are Sue B. Osbon and children Carey and Ashley of Covington, Thomas Earl III and sons Lance and Casey of Luling, and Elizabeth B. Sawyer and daughters Brandy, Paige and Brooke of Poplarville, MS.

Community Service

Over the years Mathilde's life has been a beautiful example of involvement and service to her community and her fellow man. Her active participation in community projects has ranged over many areas including church, charities, service organizations, civic affairs, education, politics, and patriotism. Her 85 years have barely slowed her down and certainly not stopped her.

Mathilde has been a member of the St. Tammany Parish Hospital Guild since it was formed and chairman of the coffee and juice program until a few years ago. She is still active on the St. Tammany Parish Library Board, of which she has been a member for 12 years. Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Tammany Parish Farm Bureau for ten years, Mathilde was selected as Woman of the Year in 1964.

Fair Association Work

Serving as Board Member of the St. Tammany Parish Fair Association for many years, she was presented a gold watch for 50 years of service. Chairman of the Fair Association's Woman's Division for many years, Mathilde also won sweepstakes in the foods section as long as she entered. 

Over the years Mathilde has been Parish Chairman of the March of Dimes. She has held various offices in the Red Cross. During World War II she headed the local Red Cross financial drive and the group which knitted sweaters for the soldiers. She also served as chairman of her ward in the U.S. Savings Bond Drive under Bill Pitcher.

During the Depression she was chairman of the local Red Cross group which made clothing and distributed food and clothing to the many needy people in the parish. When fire damaged or destroyed a home in the community, Mathilde and Tom personally provided the lumber of rebuilding from their sawmill.

Always vitally interested in the education of the youth, Mathilde served as P.T.A. president several times and still continues to work with fund raising projects and suppers at the Covington and Lee Road schools. She began the hot lunch program in the Lee Road school. 

School Board Member

Tom was a member of the St. Tammany Parish School Board for 24 years and served as president of that group for six years until he died in office in 1955. Mathilde ably served out his unexpired term in office.

In addition to her campaigns for the School Board, Mathilde has been very active in Police Jury drives. On a broader political level, she and Tom worked in several Gubernatorial and Presidential elections. Mathilde received a citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt for her work in his campaign.

Mathilde's religious faith has always been very important to her. She is a charter member and a mainstay of the Fitzgerald Methodist Church. A member of the administrative board for about 50 years, she is still active on the board. She was the first treasurer this Church had and resigned her position only recently. 

Religious Service

Mathilde has taught both youth and adult Sunday School classes. Before the Fitzgerald Sunday School program was organized, she taught the Kindergarten Class at the Covington Methodist Church for 12 years.

A high point in her religions life was Mathilde's  selection as Louisiana Methodist Lay Woman of the Year in 1963.

Mathilde Brunning's life has been long and full, full of pleasure gained from involvement and service to others. She has truly been one of the outstanding women of our community.