During the Great Depression
My father lost his job due to the depression. Work everywhere came to a sudden standstill. What money my father and my older brother Glen had saved was about the same as lost - all banks and building and loans were closed.
Stillman Residence on 619 Iroquois Street
At that time we moved from 508 Seal Avenue to 501 Iroquois Street to a house owned by a Mr. Byrd. When he sold the place, we moved to 619 Iroquois Street, owned by a Mr. Palmer; rent was then paid by barter. Mr. Palmer owned many houses and my father was able to repair and paint them and this paid the rent. At that time I was a senior in high school. By some good "Turn of Events" my father and mother were able to find a house at 624 Seal Avenue that could be bought for $800.00 with a down payment of $300.00 and then monthly payments of $8.00. This they were able to manage. I was still delivering papers for the Daily Herald and Ralph was working at the Electric Maid Bakery. Then Ralph joined the Marines and was gone from the family for a while.
To keep things going I joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and went to Fort Barrancas, FL. I did this so that my father and mother would receive $25.00 per month, and that they would be able to keep the place they called home. In December 1935, I was able to leave the Conservation Corps to go to work for my brother Glen as a Clerk in the Tivoli Hotel, in Biloxi, MS. While in the CCC, I progressed from enrollee to assistant leader, and then to leader with salary from $30 to $35 to $45 per month.
To help educate myself, I went to Miss Robinson's Business College in Pensacola two or three days a week. In this case, the US Army helped me by letting me off from my duties at 3:00 PM on the required afternoons and allowed me to eat at early mess in the mess hall, at which time I was allowed to ride to Pensacola in a dump truck there and back. While on duty I was trained to qualify for 2nd Lt Adjutant Generals Department Reserve of which I could not qualify until I had a university degree.
I qualified the test to go to Ft McPherson to qualify for the Army entrance program to go to West Point, but refused the opportunity to do so.
At that time a 2nd Lt only made $125.00 a month and had to pay station and quarters out of that, and a private was paid $15.00 of $20.00 per month, and the future didn't look so good.
As for the Boy Scout movement I became a Tenderfoot Scout back in 1927, a Second Class Scout in 1928; and, a First Class Scout in 1929. This was in Troop One, when Bill Marsh was Scoutmaster. We met for meetings in the Old West End School House, which was vacant building where a Delchamps or Winn-Dixie Store is now or used to be; at present, the Biloxi Police Station is across the street or Porter Ave.
From 1932 to 1933 I was an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 213 in Biloxi; we used Naval Reserve Park as a training area.
I was a Daily Herald News carrier, from 1929 to 1934; and, had routes 8 and 9. While on Route 9 down in the East End of Biloxi, on my first day on the route, I was hit in the head by a brick, and Dr Hood patched me up and said "Son, from what I can find out you are now from the West End of Town" and this is the East End, where you don't belong. You formerly were a student at Dukate School and that will help you get along - and it did - "I will speak to the boys about this". I will always be grateful to Dr. Hood for his help.
During my senior year at Biloxi High School, I recall that I was in my first chemistry class. Mrs. Esther Donaldson was the teacher; there were about 30 students in the class. The class room was in back of the chemistry lab and after the first month, Mrs. Donaldson was chiding the class and told us that we were the worst class she had had in years; that she had told us all about chemistry; and that if any of us that didn't like her or her teachings could leave and that was it. So - thinking it over - I left the room and went down stairs to see the principal. I knew him fairly well since I had been trained to be his office boy. So he said "What are you doing here? You should be in the class room". So I told him about the affair and he asked me to follow him back to the class room. He asked Mrs. Donaldson what had happened and she told him exactly what I had told him - If I didn't like what was going on I could leave - so he told her - "I think you have been teaching at college level instead of high school level and if a teacher has not taught properly a student cannot learn." So it ended there. She began teaching so we would understand it and I learned to like chemistry.
Then about the same time while in algebra class Mr. Gathings, the professor, had been rambling on the same way, he told us that we were the "Dumbest Class he had ever had" and he hoped he would never have such an unruly class again. So being tired of being low rated, I got up enough nerve to ask him a crazy question - Mr. Gathings "How much dirt is there in a hole 3-ft square"? And he took the bait and for about 10 minutes he drew diagrams on the blackboard and was carrying on something awful. The 5 minute bell rang and I up and told him "You are not so good yourself - I am sure you would break your neck on a dark night - because there is no dirt in an empty hole". He turned livid and grabbed me by my belt and shirt collar and threw me out of the room and said "Don't come back". So I went to see the principal again and he said "What? You here again? What have you done this time?" So I told him what had happened and he took me back to the room and talked a bit and I told him the same thing he had told Mrs. Donaldson "You are probably teaching at college level and must apologize to your class and teach so they can learn what it's all about". So he did and I did learn something about algebra.
I am reminded about the story Chuck Pringle told about the country gentleman told about his son when he came home from the first time from college; "He said to his son; "Son, you are a bright boy and you have studied algebra. Please say something to my friends in algebra; so the boy thought it over and said " Pie are Square"; So his father cuffed him gently and said "Son you know that your mother makes round pies and not square ones; you sure must be missing a lot up there at that college".
While in high school from 1928 to 1932, all of us boys learned military formations and drills because our football coach - Coach Gaddy - was a captain in the National Guard. We learned a lot from him - how to be "Fair" and play football, tennis, track and gymnastics.
During the years of 1929 through early 1934, I continued delivering news papers for the Daily Herald. It was a good income and sometimes put bread on the table and took care of my personal expenses. I recall one time The Daily Herald had a program for getting new customers and paid the carrier 15 cents for each new customer. In order to win 2nd place I decided to give the new customer the first week "Free." By doing this I was able to get 2nd Place with a reward of $15.00. Leon Cefalu won 1st Place with a reward of $25.00. I enjoyed working for the Daily Herald and before joining the CCC, I managed to turn the Route over to Maurus Elder, a very good friend of mine.
It was during this time that I became acquainted with Tom Atkinson, whose family lived out on the Atkinson Place, located out west of the Naval Reserve Park and the Park Road. At that time Tom was a Mississippi State champion swimmer. The sandy road that led out to the family home was a hard one on which to ride my bicycle, but I was able to do so, most of the time. The large home near the water with a nice veranda was located on the south side of Back Bay about a half mile east of Popp's Ferry Bridge. The land and road now running east from the Popp's Ferry Road is now known as the Atkinson Road and place. On the bay, the water level at that time was 10 or 12 ft below land level. At that time there was no draw bridge at Popp's Ferry or span to drive across or walk on. On Boy Scout trips we had to walk across a big metal span or sit down and inch our way across the span to the other side.
I met Tom one day as he was over at Naval Reserve Park, and he was very busy hauling material from Biloxi over to his home. He informed me that he was building a summer camp for boys and girls and was trying to get it ready by July 1933 and that he could use a little help if I was willing to do so. Of course, this whole venture was being accomplished with as little cost as possible, meaning we both would just be accomplishing the impossible if we did. So the months of May and June were busy ones. We built a pier out over the water, for fishing, with long poles and put on decking and such. Then we built a tennis court, baseball field and many other things. A month before, in July, he placed flyers, in Biloxi and Gulfport which advertised what was offered daily; this included a big lunch or dinner at noon to accommodate as many as 10 or 20 boys and girls, each day.
Needless to say, you have probably guessed it by this time - in the middle of the Great Depression we had no one register for this summer camp - the amount of $25.00 per person was evidently way beyond the amount anyone could afford. I had the most wonderful time being the guest of the Atkinson family. We had put the home and all buildings in tip top shape and had a nice time doing it. Tom's mother and family were descendants of Jefferson Davis; and, had in a storage building a nice surrey with the fringe on top - which was later given the Jefferson Davis Home. I have never eaten such wonderful food, prepared by his mother and family - sweet potatoes, pork chops, turnip greens, corn bread, apple pie and ice cream o'boy and all.
Tom's mother told me about a Treasure Map that came into her possession stating that a "Buried Treasure" had been no doubt buried on their property - back, say, a hundred years before. It stated that a schooner, painted black and such, docked near there and the chief buried a treasure on their land. Then she showed me holes about 8 or 10 ft round or square that they had previously dug, but, she would not tell me any more. I have never forgotten this nice event in my life.
During this period I was asked by Albert Ragusin, a very good friend of mine, to assist him in establishing a Boy Scout troop for the Knights of Columbus. I was not a member of his church but that made no difference - the troop was established for all young boys, regardless of religion. Another good friend, Maurus Elder, would be in it as an assistant to both of us. It was a pleasure to assist in this venture as we had about from 20 to 30 young boys to take thru the program - from Tenderfoot to First Class and then on to Eagle Scout. We taught the boys to go to camp and how to swim and the many things to make them dependent on themselves. Albert was the scoutmaster and I was his assistant. As a Scout Troop, (#213), we used local buildings, Naval Reserve Park, and along the rivers for overnight encampments. We made lasting friends and enjoyed assisting in drills and Merit Badge programs. I enjoyed knowing Albert's brother called Tony Ragusin, later known as "Mr. Biloxi" in his endeavors as President of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce, and in World War 2.