- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

WESTLAKE, La. (AP) - Edward Ecter and his wife, Mary, first met each other at Mossville High School roughly five decades ago. The two flirted, but never actually dated until after graduation. Mary said it was because Edward “always had a girl with him.”

“He was a ladies man,” she said.

Edward, who was standing nearby, just shook his head and smiled.

“I told my chemistry teacher as soon as I saw Mary that I was going to marry her,” he said.

For the Ecters, who were part of the 1962 graduating class, the memory of the Mossville school is more a love story than anything else. It was the early backdrop for a relationship that began as a teenage romance and turned into a 50-year marriage. And they aren’t the only former students to remember the institution fondly.

Last week, the Ecters were among a handful of Mossville graduates on the grounds of the shuttered school to reminisce about the past one last time. The school transitioned from being a high school to an elementary school years ago. Now it sits dormant next to what was a Voluntary Property Purchase Program information center for Sasol.

The building is going to be torn down in the next few months to make way for the ongoing expansion of Sasol’s multibillion-dollar facility. As part of an endeavor spearheaded by the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and funded by a grant from Sasol of more than $275,000, the gathering was one of many steps being taken to capture, record, preserve and make available the written and oral history of the Mossville community. Memorializing the school is a cornerstone of the project.

In the end, the documentation will be used to complete an exhibit that will feature written and oral histories, copies of family photographs, aerial photos, as well as video and photographs of standing structures and artifacts.

Eventually, Mossville’s history will reflect how unflinching industrial progress can affect an area. And for a community that was founded by former slaves in the 1790s and is widely recognized as one of the first communities of free blacks in the South, its lasting memory will be how its former residents say goodbye.

Still, in certain moments, the history of Mossville can be seen the way the Ecters see it - as a love story for the people who called it home for so long.

“One of the moments I remember is, I was in class and I got up to ask my English teacher what time it was,” Edward said as he tried to stifle a chuckle. “She looked at me and said, ‘Edward, time is passing. Are you?’ “

Everyone had a story like Edward’s during the reunion. Sometimes, a student in one part of the crowd was a main character in a story being told by someone else only a few feet away. The connections among the group ran deep.

Barbara Washington, class of 1964, lived next door to Mary while the two were in school. She moved to Mossville in the late 1950s and immediately the two became good friends. Washington’s memories are all happy ones too, but they are based in a reality that, for her, is hard to stomach.

“This was just home to me,” she said as the group moved out of the morning sun and into the shade. “It’s almost overwhelming just being here, and I’m truly going to miss it.”

The backdrop of buyouts and relocations was hard to ignore for many of the former students in the crowd. Several could point to nearby areas and describe houses that once stood on certain lots. Some of the spots were the homes of family members. Others were just neighbors or friends. The area now is mostly barren outside of Sasol’s equipment

The area has changed rapidly over the last year. And this fact was apparent to Kathy Jourdan, class of 1969. Jourdan said she last came to visit the location was in July.

“It’s just so different now,” she said.

When it comes to attending the school as a kid, Jourdan admits her early experiences were rough, but she grew to love the place. In her last two years of school, Jourdan was named homecoming queen and “Ms. Football Sweetheart” - both were titles given to the school’s most popular female student.

Jourdan said the memories of gaining confidence were what she was going to take away from her time at Mossville.

“Coming out here and just thinking of all the experiences, it’s rewarding,” she said. “It made me feel good, really. I blossomed here.”

As the event went on and the stories continued to flow, the school pride grew and culminated in an impromptu group performance of Mossville’s fight song. A balloon release in memory of the school was one of the group’s last acts on the grounds of their former campus.

Susan Reed, executive director of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, spent the day making sure the event went off without a hitch. She said her goal is preservation of both the tangible and intangible when it comes to the community. And Saturday was just another part of the process.

“Just organizing this, you could tell they wanted the opportunity to have this lasting memory,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this project. It’s definitely something special, and it needs to be preserved.”


Information from: American Press, https://www.americanpress.com

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