Opal Mae Alexander was born June 12, 1914 in Fryeburg. She was the 10th of 13 children born in Edmond Barney and Helen Irene (Nellie) Gray Alexander.
As teenagers we found out we were born in the same house as Aunt Opal. That was exciting to know.
Times were really hard back in the twenties and thirties for the Alexander family and everyone else. The family worked in the field for food and income. Our mother, Myrtle and Aunt Opal both loved school. They had to take turns going because they only had one pair of shoes. Sacrifices of all kinds were made back then.
It wasn’t all work and no play. Papa Alexander would let the boys go to farm dances if they would take some of the sisters in the wagon. They were given strict instructions to take good care of them, and they did.
In July 1928, Aunt Opal began dating Frank Corbin of the Yellow Pine Community. After 16 months Opal and Frank got married in Sibley on November 28, 1929.
In 1936, their house burned and they lost everything. The house was re-built with an indoor toilet and an electric pump for inside water. Now that was progress, huh?
Later in their marriage they moved to Sibley. About 1938, our dad, Bob Ryan, joined the Merchant Marines. Aunt Opal, Uncle Frank, Dortohy Jean and JoAnn (Jodie) took our mother and five children into their home for about 15 months while our dad was gone. Aunt Opal was a tough and determined lady. She was our rock then and still is.
After our family moved back to Fryeburg, Aunt Opal and some of the other sisters would come and visit. They always brought a little store bought food and lots of nice hand-me-downs. All of us girls would congregate in the outhouse to get away from the boys. That was the most private place in the whole farm. We would laugh and giggle and have loads of fun until next time.
Later, Aunt Opal’s family moved to Minden. Our family also lived in Minden. Lots of our family members and other Mindenites worked at the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time.
I, Bennye, was in the 11th grade, Dugan and I got married on his 2 week leave from the army. Aunt Opal altered my two-piece pink suit for me. Everything was too big for me then. They certainly aren’t now. Aunt Opal also gave me a small bridal shower in her home. She was always there for us.
On occasion, Uncle Frank or our dad would take Aunt Opal and our mother to the picture show. We would take turns sitting with our grandmother “Miss Nellie.” We played checkers, chinese checkers or just visited and enjoyed each other.
All the Alexander children were very close. On June 27, 1957, Hurricane Audrey reared its ugly head. Dorothy Jean and husband “Ed” Dempsey and their two children, Pam, age three, and Mark Kevin, 18 months old, had recently moved to Cameron. Dorothy Jean was expecting their third child. Ed was the Veterans Affairs Service Officer for Cameron Parish. Aunt Opal was keeping a close check on the weather and told Dorothy Jean to get out, now. Then all the phone lines went dead in Cameron. Early the next morning Aunt Opal, Uncle Frank, our parents and other sisters went down to Lake Charles. The pain and panic of a mother set in, but Aunt Opal put on the ‘whole armor of God’ and held the family together. To give up a child is heart-breaking. I gave up one and Bobbye gave up two. Aunt Opal gave up a whole family. But she still stood firm. Mark Kevin was found and brought home to be buried in the Garden of Memory in Minden.
The family went down to the Dempsey home. The house was completely gone. Aunt Opal found a few pictures that were faded but recognizable. She also found two figurines that Ed had given Dorothy Jean on special occasions.
Aunt Opal gave one and gave one to our mother. It’s put away in a safe place. During hurricane season we all think about the Dempsey family and all the others killed or injured in that time.
The Corbin’s owned an upholstery shop in Minden for many years. Aunt Opal made purses out of scraps. Our mother got one. It’s still it good shape. After Uncle Frank died, she kept the shop going for a while with hired help. She later closed the shop.
According to Mrs. Dathene Brown, Opal Corbin went to work for Council on Aging, June 1, 1976 as an outreach worker. When Council on Aging moved the Senior Center to McIntyre Street, Mrs. Corbin became the first senior center director. Mrs. Brown said Aunt Opal was the right person for the job because she knew many elderly in Minden and she loved people and loved helping them. She worked for Council on Aging for 25 years. Mrs. Brown and Aunt Opal were not only coworkers, they were good friends and still are.
In 1986, Aunt Opal became an Ombudsman for Webster Parish. She held that position for 15 years. In September, 1987, a meeting was held at Senior Citizens Center to honor Aunt Opal. She was given the key to the city and it was proclaimed “Opal Corbin Day.” Some of the distinguished guests were Walter Ledig, Mayor Byars, Harmon Drew Jr., Police Chief Chester Adcock, Don French, Jimmy Starkey and Mickey Brown. There was music, food and fun for all.
Aunt Opal was active in First Baptist Church as long as she was able to go. She’s the oldest living member of First Baptist.
Aunt Opal loved to cook for family and friends. The cousins would bring covered dishes and eat and fellowship at Aunt Opal’s house 3 or 4 times a year. We all really miss those times.
After Jodie died, Aunt Opal moved to Alabama to live with her oldest granddaughter, DonnaJo. She remarked in our phone conversations that if she ever needed nurse-care she would call Mr. Ledig. That’s what she did. She brags about everyone at Town and Country being so nice and friendly. She says they cool for her and wash her clothes for her, and she says she’s right where God wants her to be.
On June 12, 2014 Aunt Opal had a birthday party at Town and Country to celebrate her 100th birthday. Friends from First Baptist were there, nursing home friends were their and also some family members were there.
Then on June 13, 2014, we had an Alexander Reunion at the Community House in Minden. We gave her another party. We were all glad she was able to be there.
After going through tornadoes, house burning, banks closing, hurricane, death of family and loved ones; she’s still stayed our rock.
One of her favorite quotes is “I’ve been on the mountaintop and I’ve been in the valley, but my mountaintops outweigh my valleys ten to one.” Another quote was “Are you tired of chasing rainbows? Give it all to Jesus, He can turn your sorrows to joy.”
On June 12, 2016 Opal Corbin was 102 years of age. With all the awards and honors she has received – and there are plenty – she’s still just our Aunt Opal.
An Alexander family reuinion will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, July 10 at the Minden Community Center.