TRIBUTE TO MRS.

BESS BASKERVILLE

 

Compliments of Ellen Baskerville

Wedding photo of Frances Elizabeth "Bess" Cates born 23 April 1912 and died 5 November 1993. On the 16th day of November 1940 she married William "Bill" Purnell Baskerville who was born 24 July 1902 and died 29 January 1973. They are buried in the Minden City Cemetery in Section K-1.  Their first home was 300 N Broadway in the Turner Apartments.                                                                    

From the front page of the Minden Press-Herald, November 9, 1993

Biology Teacher Touched Lives
By Pat Culverhouse
General Manager

Too often, we forget how much someone influenced our lives until it’s too late to tell them. That’s the sense many of us have now.

On Monday, Mrs. Elizabeth “Bess” Baskerville was laid to rest. It was the end of an 81 year journey that traveled life’s high road. Her career was one of the most honorable…she was a teacher. In every pure sense of the word, she was a teacher. She even made a few hard-headed country boys learn to love biology.

From the late 1930s until 1971, she reached out with her special touch and quietly urged Minden elementary students, then Minden High School students, to a slightly higher plateau of learning than even they knew they could attain. She made her students believe in themselves and their capabilities.

She did this expecting no honors, but her peers knew this was a special lady. The proof came toward the end of her teaching career, when, in 1968, she was named Outstanding Biology Teacher in Louisiana. She could have received the honor annually and the committee would have chosen the right person.

As she approached the end of her life, she put on paper what her daughter (my classmate) Eve called her autobiography. It was not meant for any eyes other than those of her family, but it told the story of a small-town girl who grew up when times were different. It gave an insight into the past we seem too ready to forget.

The following are excerpts from the life of Frances Elizabeth Cates Baskerville. Many will find her story reviving memories of days gone by. Others, hopefully, may be stirred to remember the person who - if even for a moment - touched their lives in a positive way. Thanks to her children – Ellen, Eve and Bill – for allowing us to take a glimpse at one of Minden’s best.

She was born in 1912 in a two-room house in the Sardis Community [in Sabine Parish], and was delivered at home by a local doctor, Dr. Allen. Her mother was 40 at the time of her birth; her father was 46. One of her earliest memories, she recalled was “…wrapping my kitten in a blanket and putting it in a chair before the fire. Along came Father – all 210 pounds of him – and sat down. Smashed Kitty! Father grieved along with me.”

Exciting days occurred the first cold days of November…it was hog-killing time, and her father was the expert. Their neighbors came early and several hogs were killed, scalded in a large wash pot, scraped free of hair, bled and cooled, then cut into portions. During the not-so exciting times, Bess and other kids occupied themselves by playing in the cotton crib, catching rats in the cotton crib, catching rats in the hay, gathering eggs, getting peanuts for parching and popcorn for popping.

Her youth was not without tragedy. While playing near a deep millpond one summer day, Bess, the Bass cousins and brother, “Bub,” decided to go for a swim. “Bub” was the only one who could swim, and he paddled out to a stump in the pond with Bess hanging onto his arm. He then returned to shore and started the trip again with Cousin Hazel in tow. Hazel panicked, and dragged “Bub” under the water. He managed to free himself, but Hazel sank from sight. She was found later by loggers working nearby [who] helped search the pond.

“From that experience,” Bess later wrote, “I vowed I would learn to swim. The opportunity didn’t come until college, but I learned well and had my children taught not long after they learned to walk.”

Her family did not suffer as greatly during the Depression as some urban residents, but there was a serious lack of money. Green coffee berries were roasted to just the right degree of darkness, a large orchard yielded pears, peaches, apples, plums and figs, vegetables were raised and meat came from the farm and catfish from a nearby creek.

“My happy childhood has given me many loves, all associated with Nature,” she wrote. “It is understandable that I became a biology teacher. All through the years, even now, ‘Nature sings a more wonderful song, and tells a more wonderful tale.’ ”

She graduated from Wallace High School in 1929, the valedictorian in a class of seven. She wanted to major in home economics in college, but that course required “…buying lots of supplies which we couldn’t afford.” Instead, on the advice of her principal, she majored in science with a math minor.

Mansfield Female College was the first stop on her road through college, and she studied American History, child psychology, college algebra, biology and Bible during her one-year stay. After that year, she was able to borrow money from the Louisiana State Normal Alumni Fund and entered Louisiana Normal (now Northwestern State University at Natchitoches).

She received a two-year teaching certificate in 1931, but there were no openings. She continued to work on a B.S. degree and became lab assistant in freshman zoology.

Bess also helped the head of the biology department (Dr. Earl H. Herrick) on his research, including one study involving attempts to produce sex changes in chickens. Although the conclusion of the study was not published, she said the chickens used in experiments did not go to waste. “Our biology fraternity had a feast of broiled chicken,” she remembered.

She received her degree in August of 1933 and was employed as freshman lab instructor and “assistant to the janitor.” Her salary was $60 per month. Cutbacks in funds in 1934 cost her the job, but she found a job in Minden teaching sixth graders.

On November 6, 1940, on the first day of the Louisiana Teacher’s Convention, she married Bill Baskerville at the Hightower Apartments in Minden. Her wedding outfit was a burgundy wool dress with a jacket trimmed in brown squirrel fur, topped by a Princess Eugenie hat with a long feather. She was 27; he was 37.
The Baskervilles had three children – Ellen Elizabeth, Mary Eve (whose name originally was Mary Frances) and Purnell William III (Bill) – and the small apartment was traded for the family home at 514 Richardson Street. Bess had changed professions, giving up her teaching for duties as wife and mother.

In 1952, she resumed her teaching career. From that time until her retirement, she threw herself into producing some of the brightest students in the state. One, Larry Slay, prepared a science fair project on “Probabilities in Genetic Recombination,” and won a trip to the International Science Fair in Kansas City.

“It is a joy to me to see so many of my former pupils as doctors, nurses, marine biologists, foresters and teachers,” she wrote. Her pride in the success of former students was a topic of conversation at every opportunity.

Highlighting her teaching career was her selection by the National Association of Biology Teachers as the Outstanding Biology Teacher of Louisiana. As she explained, “This honor came with the appropriate plaque, and an American Optical Microscope with $500. These things I treasured and will pass on to the grandchild who shows the most interest in life sciences.”

She was only 59 when she retired in 1971, and began doing the things she never found time to do. As she put it, “I found pleasure in simple things.”

Her husband died January 23, 1973, and she stepped up the pace of activities. But, as she said later, “…the outstanding pleasures have come from my children and grandchildren. No mother could have a more loving family.”

As her life approached its end, she was quick to point to her Irish heritage when delivering a message to her friends, former students and family. “May the road rise to meet you; may the wind be always at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rains fall softly upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Typically, she added one line which would signal the completion of a life filled with contentment. “And may you all be [as] rich as I have been.”

One can only hope we all attain such riches.

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I certainly remember the diminutive but vocal Mrs. Bess Baskerville, mother of Ellen, Eve, and Bill. I put her name in larger print because despite her physical size, she was a real giant to me. She was always immaculately dressed, every hair in place, and a serious-minded lady of highest caliber. I was in her biology class (5th hour) from 1963-64.

That meant that I was in her class when he heard the news from "Uncle" Walter Cronkite of approximately 1 p.m., November 22, 1963. I certainly don't recall what the topic of instruction was that afternoon, which was the Friday before the long Thanksgiving break.

I remember the first few weeks of the class: we had to sketch cells of various organisms that we saw on one of the few microscopes that MHS then had. I was and still am the worst drawer, but somehow I managed to sketch enough to "fool" her, or she just smiled and let me get by, one way or another. I also recall that Judy Hendrix Talley of the Downtown Minden Project was in that same class. I remember that Judy sat in the middle of the side row entering the room, and I sat right in front of Mrs. Baskerville's desk, which was tedious at time when I could get sleepy just after 1 p.m. For some reason, I do not recall anyone else in that class. It's funny how the mind recalls some minute detail but completely forgets other things.

Billy  Hathorn