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Mt. Hermon Memories and a Nascar Racetrack

Bogalusa Daily News Online
Student project turns into two-year effort to produce DVD documentary
Linda Fortenberry, the Mt. Hermon School English teacher who made the documentary possible, checks out a story board containing copies of both old and recently-taken pictures. DAILY NEWS PHOTOS/ Marcelle Hanemann


The Daily News

MT. HERMON - Two of the 23 senior citizens interviewed for the documentary on the history of Mt. Hermon died before the film was "in the can." Cleo Magee and Mitchell Tate shared their stories just in time. Like so many people, they did not realize the great gifts they had to offer.
Like packages wrapped in faded vintage paper and long forgotten under beds, in dark closet corners or the long-unseen reaches of clu-ttered attics, the memories of all the el-ders who were interviewed were pulled out, dusted off and brought again to the light of day.

It was all part of a Mt. Hermon High School Community Project, "Recollections of the Past." The documentary is now awaiting final edit, but it has already gained recognition from the Louisiana Parents' Congress for getting the community involved.

The community's past, present and future is what the project is all about, said English teacher Linda Fortenberry who initiated and guided the project and secured the Title 1 grant that enabled the school to purchase the necessary equipment.

Once the kids got the cameras, tape recorders, photo scanners and other items needed to document what they might uncover, they went out into the community and examined cemeteries, crumbling structures and local old folks. Area residents got excited and joined in the hunt for history. One student's grandmother located a much-sought after picture of work along the railroad. The project timeline expanded from four weeks to two years.

Mt. Hermon, zip code population 2,264 in the 2000 census, will soon have a documented account of its origins and its early years on DVD.

Throughout the region, many small towns, villages and even cities have not recorded their histories. As a result, certainly, much has been lost.

But elderly natives or long-time residents of any town have lived through remarkable changes. Anyone who has lived 80 or 90 years surely has a few stories tucked away. As Fortenberry and her students learned, a good way to get the sharing started is to gather a group and toss out a question.

"We began with a round-table at the library," said Fortenberry. "We had 10 or 12 of the oldest citizens in the community. Two were 96 years old. Others were in their 90s and 80s. All we had to do was ask a question, and it got them started."

The initial responses prompted discussion, additional responses and deeper recollection. Participants laughed, shed a tear or two and remembered. The students were excited and moved by what they heard. They "couldn't believe" some of the stories, said Fortenberry.

Clodine Brumfield, an African American, offered an enhanced perspective.

"She really got to the kids," said Fortenberry. "They have only known integration as what they see now. They asked how she felt about the integration of (the all-black) Vernon School into Mt. Hermon School in about 1970. She related how the community didn't want to lose their school. She said it with heart-felt sincerity. It was like something was taken from them. A sense of pride. There was no bitterness, just sincerity about what was lost - a community sense of pride. And some were afraid, she said. That was a most interesting interview."

Student participation in the project, which was done outside of regular school hours, was offered to Fortenberry's class of 34.

"Not all of them were interested," she said. "There were about 15 kids who truly worked, and about five who really, really worked."

One of the most involved, Destin Kelly, said the project was well worth the effort.

"I had the opportunity to learn things about my community that I would not have learned otherwise, " he said. "It was especially rewarding to interview members of my family and learn of my Magee heritage. I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing a distant relative, Mr. Jesse Bankston, who showed us some of his school notebooks dating back to the early 1900s. A really special interview was with my great-grandmother, Ms. Cleo Magee, who recently passed away."

Student Cynthia Hendershot called the project "a memorable experience," and Brandon Lebo echoed the enthusiasm.

"I have had a blast, and I enjoyed every aspect of the project," he said. "I liked traveling around the area taking pictures and interviewing our oldest citizens. It has been a real history lesson learning about the settlement of the earliest families and their customs. It is also interesting that these early settlers valued education and established schools for their children even though the conditions were difficult."

The kids said they learned a lot.

Joe Wiggins taught them interviewing skills and Fortenberry enlisted Southeastern Louisiana University professor Lou Sholtz to help teach the more specific points of filmmaking. Of course, the greatest benefit came from the research and the interviews.

Fortenberry gave a sneak preview of what the documentary contains.

Although it is located in relatively hilly northwest Washington Parish, Mt. Hermon, is not situated on a rare Louisiana mountain. It got it's name from the Bible.

"We've not been able to find out why," said Fortenberry. "But it's in first Kings, I believe. Originally it was spelled with an 'a.' (Herman) But now, like in the Bible, it's with an 'o'"

A lot of the earliest settlers were Swiss and German immigrants who came from "the Carolinas" via Mississippi. The James Plantation dates from the late 1700s, but no information was uncovered to tell from where that family originated.

The timber and dairy industries were strong, and by around 1900, the town "had doctors, a bank and a general store. The railroad came through, and there was a cotton gin, which is still standing."

The "musical" Ott brothers built the first school, a log cabin where students learned music and drama besides Latin and other subjects. At one time, there were six "white" schools and six "black" schools in the area.

The last occupied "black" school was built on land donated by the Vernon family, descendents of a slave named Jenny who was taught to read and was otherwise educated by members of the Smith family, who "took her under their wing," said Fortenberry.

Avant Vernon, an interviewee, acted as vice-principal at Mt. Hermon School for more than 30 years.

The information, all the richer for being imparted sometimes in frail and shaky voices, is a precious commodity.

All of the participating elders not only enhanced the lives of the teens involved in the project, they helped ensure that the history of the small rural community would not be forgotten. They enabled an illuminated and enriched sense of self for everyone who will ever call Mt. Hermon home.

The students thought the filmmaking was interesting, profound and amusing, said Fortenberry.

"Oscar James was one of the funniest," she said. "He said he could take a date out for 25 cents and sometimes come home with 10 cents. The kids thought it was hilarious.

"And one of the men said if he got a whoopin' at school, he got another whoopin' at home. They talked about what's wrong with kids these days. A lot of them attributed delinquency and other problems with the breakdown of the family."

Projects like the Mt. Hermon documentary not only bring families together, they unite the greater family of the community for a positive cause.

Fortenberry said she fell in love with Mt. Hermon and its residents when she arrived as a young teacher from the Kentwood area in 1964. Then about seven years ago, she realized how rapidly things were changing.

"The farms were disappearing and the Northshore was pushing in," she said. "I wanted to capture what we have for the future... Again, it's that sense of community."

The group plans to sell the "Recollections of the Past" DVD at a cost of $10. The proceeds will benefit the school technology department.

For information, call at 877- 5813

(louisianawash: - It is my understanding the "Mt. Senir"? was also Mt. Hermon, in the bible , currently in Lebanon.  Source: Zondervan Bible CD)

Kentwood goes international
McComb Enterprise Journal

Posted: 07/28/07 - 11:44:55 pm CDT

Rumored for months, the people who plan to build a big speedway near Kentwood finally announced their project last week. Investors are reportedly ready to sink $100 million into a 1,500-acre site that will include a one-mile oval speedway, a half-mile drag racing track and a quarter-mile-long body of water for speedboat racing.
Ultimately the track’s owners hope to attract a NASCAR event to the facility, which will be known as the Louisiana International Speedway. The track will be built to standards for both NASCAR and Indy Car racing, and the track’s vice president for marketing did sound a cautionary note at the announcement when he pointed out that the facility has to be completed before an organization like NASCAR will consider looking at it for a race.

For now, though, the sky is the limit. The speedway is scheduled to open in 2008, which gives local residents plenty of time to wonder how this will play out and to what extent it will help the local economy.