This week’s Echo will resume my periodic series of articles about the six individuals whose name was placed on Minden schools. This week we will look at the story of how one local school came to be named for a woman, Theresa McConnell Lowe, with the story of what was built as Lowe Junior High School.
From its creation in 1909 until 1949, all white Minden public school students of all grades attended the same facility, Minden High School. In 1949, two separate elementary school facilities were constructed Westside (later Stewart) and Eastside (later Richardson). The school population of Minden was still growing so, in 1954, the 1910 Minden High School building was replaced with a new high school facility. At that time, for the first time in history a separate Junior High School campus was created – although part of the MHS campus — Junior High classes were relocated to the 1924 Minden High School building. As school populations continued to grow, it became obvious that more space was needed on the MHS campus. In August 1956, members of the School Board assigned Asst. Superintendent of Education R. O. Machen to make recommendations for improving the curriculum and instructional facilities of the Minden Junior High school. Machen had recently given a report to the board of what he had learned about Junior High educational standards at a conference in Florida.
In the Fall of 1958, the problem with high enrollments was made worse. Richardson Elementary had out grown all facilities on its campus and the two sixth grade classes housed at Richardson were moved to the Minden Junior High School campus, making a cramped situation worse. That fall a special citizens committee was appointed to investigate Minden’s “white and colored school building needs.” John McInnis was appointed chairman of the committee which was all white and made up of representatives from local civic groups. The members were Mrs. Bryce Sullivan, Mrs. R. A. Baker, Mrs. Eugene Frazier, Mrs. Marcus Wren, Jr., Pearce Jamieson, Warren Grigsby and J. V. Smith. The first question on the items the committee was to consider was “Should the Junior High be remodeled or should there be a new plant constructed at a different location.”
By January 1959, the committee had brought back its report. The committee recommendations were studied by the Ward Four members of the School Board and the result was a planned bond election for the City of Minden. The plan was to add classrooms to the Junior High School building along with renovations and modernization of the facility. However, opposition soon sprang up in the community. Of particular concern was placing all sixth, seventh and eighth grade students on the campus of the Minden High School. The public seemed to think that the range of ages was not a good idea. The Minden Press, editorially, called for a rethinking of the plan and increasing the funding in order to add a separate campus for a new Junior High. The paper called for work to begin as soon as possible and attempt to have at least the sixth-grade facilities available by the end of the year.
At this point, School Board member J. E. Harper offered a modified plan. Harper called for the construction of a new Junior High to house either seventh and eighth grade or seventh, eighth and ninth grades. The paper, while partially agreeing with Harper, argued that this plan did nothing to solve the problem of the sixth-grade students, which had precipitated the entire problem. Harper pitched his plan to various civic clubs in Minden, but the paper, at the least, would not be budged from the idea that the sixth grade “problem” must be solved.
After much public discussion, including sample ballots on the issue given to each of Minden’s civic clubs, the Board came up with a new plan. A bond election was called for April 14, 1959 in the amount of $1,250,000. The plan called for the construction of a new seventh and eighth-grade Junior High School somewhere in the northern portion of Minden. Two new sixth-grade classrooms were to be built at Stewart Elementary to address the overcrowding of students in that grade. On election day the plan was approved by a popular vote of 250 to 25. Assessment vote was $1,266,000 to $186,000. So, the Board moved ahead with plans for a new Junior High School.
Despite the approval the Board moved slowly, announcing no plans for beginning construction before the Fall. At a meeting in the last week of September, the Board announced they had acquired a 15-acre site for the Junior High. Plans for the new school were almost completed and the Board anticipated taking bids for the new school during October and awarding a construction contract at its November meeting. When the bids were announced, the Board called for a 16-room facility at an estimated cost of $415,000. When bids were received a problem appeared. B & S Supply company of Springhill submitted the lowest bid; however, that bid was $419,000, over the proposed limit of the Board. The board agreed to enter negotiations with the bidders in hopes of obtaining a price within the planned limits. Negotiations did not prove fruitful and the board reluctantly awarded the bid to B & S at the $419,000 price.
Work on the school started by the last week of November 1959. The Minden Press of December 14, 1959, featured a front-page sketch of what the new building was look like when completed. The goal was to have the school up and running for students by the Fall of 1960. By February 1, the Press had a front-page image of construction underway on the school. By May, construction had slowed, and the hope was now to have the school open by midterm in January 1961. In July, the School Board formally named the new school, the Theresa M. Lowe Junior High School, in memory of Mrs. Lowe a long-time teacher at the Junior High who had lost her battle with cancer in November 1959 at age 52. In July, the Board also challenged the construction company to “step up the pace” and complete the school for Fall. The suggestion worked, as on Friday, September 2, 1960, the new Lowe Junior High School opened for classes.
The school would function as a Junior High school for the next 14 years. Then, with the implementation of court ordered integration, the school’s name was changed to Lowe Middle School at the Board meeting in September 1974. That incarnation lasted for 13 years. At its meeting in August 1987, the Board moved the former Jerry A. Moore School Away from School to the former Lowe campus. After a long debate, the board decided to drop both of the old names and called the facility the Webster Parish Alternative School. So, after 27 years the only Minden school ever named for a woman disappeared.
But that raises a question, who was Theresa M. Lowe that the Board honored her – albeit for a brief time – with a school bearing her name. Finding information about Mrs. Lowe proved tough. That’s why you’ve had an article largely about school construction and not the individual. I attempted to find former students who remembered Mrs. Lowe, without success. So, my story of her life is brief and largely limited to obituary information and a few public records. Laura Theresa McConnell was born on March 13, 1907 in Madison Parish, Louisiana to Edwin Lucien McConnell and Zilpha Aleia McKay. She graduated from Rayville High School and came to Webster Parish as a teacher at Doyline in 1926. By 1929, she came to Minden High School, where she would teach Junior High classes for the next 30 years. She married Prentiss Lowe of Minden, newspaperman and one of the founders of the “new” Minden Herald in 1927. To quote her obituary, “Mrs. Lowe, a teacher at Minden Junior High School, was widely known in the field of education having served two terms as president of the Louisiana Teacher’s Association. She was a past president of the classroom teachers of the fourth district and of Webster Parish. In 1957, she received an award as the Educator of the Year, presented annually to a teacher in the fourth district which is made up of Bienville, Bossier, Claiborne, DeSoto, Red River and Webster parishes. That same year she was the recipient of the Minden Chamber of Commerce’s award to the Outstanding Teacher. She had served on the President’s committee on education for a White House Conference on Children and Youth, was active in the National Education Association and was a member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society, international honorary organization of women teachers.” She was also a member of the First Methodist Church where she taught a class of business and professional women. Among her siblings was the well-known attorney Charles McConnell of Springhill. She is buried in the Minden City Cemetery.
While the name, Theresa M. Lowe, on a local school was only used for 27 years, it is also apparent now that the building that bore that name is also destined for a relatively brief life span. With the classes formerly taught at the location now being taught at the former J. E. Harper Elementary, the Lowe Junior High School building is now scheduled for demolition, just short of its sixtieth birthday. Difficult to imagine as a student who spent three years at Lowe that the name and even the facility where I attended school will be gone “so soon.” The name and the building are soon to be an Echo of Our Past.
Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald