A Memoir: Harry Madison Hurst

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Harry Madison “Prof” Hurst - Image
Harry Madison “Prof” Hurst arrived at Destrehan High in 1930 and remained for 36 years. He served as a teacher and coach before being appointed principal. Mr. Hurst is remembered as a quiet, dignified gentleman. A school named in his honor, Harry M. Hurst Middle School, is located on the site of the original Destrehan High School—his workplace and his home for so many years.

Written by his children: Eileen Hurst Burkhardt, Marcia Hurst Triche, Terry Hurst Holmes and Andy Hurst Ankesheiln*

September 28, 2016

It all began in New Roads in Point Coupee Parish, LA on March 16, 1907. Harry Madison Hurst was born and was the last of 14 children born to Henry and Sidonie Hurst. Later in his life many people knew Harry as “Prof Hurst” or just plain “Prof” but he was always known as “daddy” to us, his children. Daddy’s father, Henry, was a farmer, raised cattle, and later ran a general store in New Roads. In his early years, Daddy was known to ride a horse to the local public school. Since the Hurst family was so large, everything had to be shared – clothes, food, chores. There was only one bathroom in the house for all 16 people. Needless to say, the family was very close. At Christmas time, Dad thought that the best gift from Santa Claus was an orange or an apple that he didn’t have to share with anyone else.

Harry Hurst at Work
Harry Hurst at his principal’s desk.

In 1926, Daddy completed Point Coupee High School and then enrolled at LSU. As the older siblings in the Hurst household became employed, they would send money to the younger family members and that was how Daddy was able to attend college. He graduated from LSU with a BA in Education in 1930. He was then offered a job in St. Charles and remained in the parish the rest of his life.

Daddy began his teaching career at Destrehan High School (DHS) teaching 6 different French and science classes and coaching after school. The beginning salary was $125 a month. He soon became an assistant principal. Eventually, he started the first football team at DHS. Daddy said that he did not know much about teaching football so he bought a football book by Knute Rockne and studied it. After the team tried out a few plays, they were ready to play ball. In 1941, the DHS football team improved so much that they won the state championship. Unfortunately, this victory occurred on the very same day Pearl Harbor was attacked which started the American involvement in World War II. Their victory was overshadowed by this tragic event.

Destrehan High School Postcard
Destrehan High School postcard.

While working at DHS, Daddy started working on his Master’s Degree. He lived in a teachers’ cottage (like a boardinghouse) on the grounds of the school. Several teachers lived at the teacherage because housing was scarce in the area. A fifth grade teacher named Marietta Reine also lived in the cottage after she completed college at Southwestern University in Lafayette, Louisiana. Marietta was from Gramercy, Louisiana and had secured a teaching job in Destrehan mainly because there were no teaching positions available in St. James Parish where she lived. She had her eye on Daddy especially since he had a car and could drive her to Gramercy to visit her family. When it was time for Daddy to write a thesis, Miss Reine along with her mother, Elodie Songy Reine, helped him compile a glossary of the French language spoken in St. Charles Parish. In 1938, his French compilation became his Master’s thesis and included phonetic pronunciations with the local vernacular accents. This thesis became a book that was published and placed in the LSU library.

Destrehan High School Teacherage - Image
The Teacherage at Destrehan High School in 1924 provided a place for unmarried educators to live. Similar housing was available at Hahnville High School. Housing was also available on the campus for the principals and their families.

Eventually, Daddy felt he was making enough money to “afford a wife” so he married that fifth grade teacher, Marietta Reine. They had been spending a lot of time together while Daddy was working on his French glossary. They tied the knot on June 15, 1938. Four daughters were born to them: Eileen, Marcia, Terry, and Andy.

Mr. and Mrs. Hurst
Wedding day – June 15, 1938.

During his early years in St. Charles Parish, Daddy started a football team, helped secure accreditation for DHS, and during World War II, he started an ROTC-type of military training program at the school. During the great depression, parish money became scarce and his salary went down to $66 a month. The teachers were paid in “script” at that time which was a type of IOU. The local organizations had to cash the script so the teachers could survive. Times were pretty bad but after the depression and World War II, things began picking up. In 1943, Daddy became the principal of DHS and as time went by the school became outstanding in educational achievements and in sports. Daddy was known by students and faculty as being a “strict” disciplinarian because he felt that was the only way learning could happen. It was known that he kept a “black book” where he recorded bad conduct situations of students. In that way, Daddy would know what to do next time that student got in trouble. Some of the punishments he used were: memorizing a poem, bringing the parents to school, or paddling.

After 23 years as principal, Daddy was promoted to Parish Supervisor and became Director of Teacher Personnel. In that position, he interviewed prospective new teachers and worked with employed teachers to improve instruction. He enjoyed working with people in this capacity.

DHS Principal\'s Home
Destrehan High School principal’s home in Destrehan.

When 1972 came around, Daddy felt that he had reached the age of retirement. He had served St. Charles Parish a total of 42 years. By that time he was involved in many civic, educational, and religious organizations. He served as president or chairman of many of these. In 1973 he served as chairman of the 250th Anniversary of St. Charles Borromeo Church. He was a member of the Home Rule Charter Commission which drafted the Home Rule Charter that was overwhelmingly approved in 1977 by the people of St. Charles Parish. He was elected to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention that drafted the 1974 Louisiana Constitution approved by the voters. In 1977 he was a founder of the Men of Manresa movement at St. Charles Borromeo Church which is still an active group today. Daddy was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus as well as a Eucharistic Minister. He touched the lives of many people.

Home Rule Charter Commission
Members of the Home Rule Charter Commission sign and certify the proposed new home rule form of government on August 24, 1977. The charter draft was accepted by the police jury and a special election was held Saturday, December 3, 1977, for the voters to consider a home rule charter proposition. Pictured are, back row, left to right: Harry M. Hurst, Dulce Guidry, John Landry, Jr., Allen J. Braud, and Benjamin Parquet; front row: Eual J. Landry, Sr., H. A. LeBlanc, Jr., Edward A. Dufresne, Jr., Irma Green, and Norman Pitre. Rev. Robert C. Kitchell is not pictured.

In spite of his many accomplishments, it was never known that Daddy boasted or bragged about himself. Even outside of his leadership in the educational, governmental, religious, and athletic arenas, Daddy’s dedication, sense of righteousness, and selfless generosity had a huge influence in the community. After his retirement, the community graciously gave back to him. In 1981, the Harry Hurst Award was instituted and was given to an outstanding DHS senior each year. After his death, the former Destrehan High School site was renamed Harry M. Hurst Middle School in his honor.

Harry Hurst Middle School
The gates to Harry Hurst Middle School in 2017.

The children of Harry and Marietta Hurst remember events in their lives which made an impression on them. The oldest daughter, Eileen, remembers Daddy walking into the Mississippi River behind the levee with a wooden box which he built to catch shrimp. The river shrimp he caught were really small but mama made them taste great in jambalaya and gumbo. She was a good cook. Another vivid memory occurred when Eileen was studying simple machines in school. She could not understand how the pulley system worked and how weight became distributed on the wheels. Dad then took her into the DHS high school laboratory and constructed a pulley demonstration with a weight measuring device on it. The pulley concept then became crystal clear and easy to understand.

Hurst Family
The Hurst family. Bottom row: Harry, Marietta, Andy. Top row: Marcia, Terry, Eileen.

Marcia was the second child of Harry and Marietta Hurst, two years younger than Eileen. They shared many of the same memories like the frequent shopping trips to “town” (New Orleans). After shopping, Daddy would treat the family of four to lunch at Arnaud’s Restaurant. They ordered the very same meal every time they visited the restaurant.

Hurst on the Borromeo Bicentennial Committee
Harry Hurst worked on the St. Charles Borromeo Bicentennial Committee in his retirement.

Even though Daddy worked in the public school system, he made sure his children had a Catholic education and sent them to St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School. When she became older, Marcia transferred to Destrehan High School. She made it known that she did not want any “special treatment” just because she was the principal’s daughter.

During her senior year, the class was practicing for a play. At that time, it was learned that someone broke into the school candy store and distributed some candy to the students. Marcia ate some of the “stolen” candy and subsequently got suspended from school. She was so scared she would get reprimanded by Daddy. When he came home that night, nothing was mentioned about the incident at play practice except that she had to bring her mother to the principal’s office the next day. Discipline at school was very strict. Marcia surely did not get special treatment that day. She was treated just like anyone else.

Terry came along seven years after Marcia. Daddy was always larger than life for Terry. She remembers him always working on school, church or community matters, which did not leave much personal time to spend with his third daughter. But her salvation was Monday nights – Daddy always watched Monday night boxing while smoking his cigar and the best part was she got to sit on his lap and receive all the attention she wanted. Boxing, cigars, and spending time on Daddy’s lap made Monday night special for Terry.

Later in life, Terry became a teacher at SCB and taught there for ten years. She had a good role-model to follow.

Andy was the youngest of the four sisters. Her nickname as a child was Pocha. Andy was not sure where Daddy got that name but he called her that in her younger years. Andy attended SCB catholic school when Daddy was principal of DHS. In seventh grade, she switched to DHS. She was not treated special as she remembers being called to the office because her skirt was over the regulated 4 inches above her knee.

A vivid memory of Andy was her entry into the Destrehan oratorical contest. This was not her idea but Daddy’s. He thought it would be good for her. Because she was so reluctant to do the speech, Daddy helped her write it. To this day, Andy remembers the first part of that speech. This is how it went coming from a 7th grader’s mouth: “Nations progress in proportion to the educational level of its people. People that are educated understand one another better and can thus promote peaceful and prosperous living together.” Needless to say, she was scared to death to be in front of over 100 people standing on the DHS stage reciting this speech that Daddy practically wrote for her. Of course, she didn’t win anything due to the obvious…it was not her own work. This speaking experience made an impression on her that lasted throughout her life. At 61 years of age and over 40 years of work experience, Andy still feels uncomfortable with public speaking. Nonetheless, she has developed into a strong person and has been recognized with several work-related achievements.

The Hurst girls still enjoy hearing stories from people who have gone to DHS when daddy was principal. They all speak very highly of him and with great respect. These stories warm our hearts. He was a great man. He was our hero.

*Some content from this narrative was taken from various articles written by or about our Dad, Harry M. Hurst.