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Opelousas Trivia – The First Boy Scouts in Town

CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Contributing Writer and Publisher

Feature Photo:  The first Opelousas Boy Scout Troop formed in 1914. The photo is from the album of Ophelia Pitre Lafleur (Tommy Lafleur collection). The photo was taken by Dr. A. J. Perrault, who was scout master of the troop. Front row: “Zeke” Cresswell, Nathan Haas, Rodney Duson (sitting in front of Nathan Haas), Odel Sanders, Scott Isacks, Theophile Fontenot, Henry Castille and Peck Ventre. Back row: Aaron Lafleur, Guy White, George Brown, Donald Brown, Raymond McBride, Eldon Gil, Clermont Hollier, Ben Cottingham, Clayton J. Guilbeau and Leo Lafleur, with the axe. (Courtesy of Tommy Lafleur)

Did you know Boy Scouting in Opelousas goes back over a century? The idea for starting a boy scout organization in Opelousas got public attention when an article in the St. Landry Clarion on September 12, 1914, reported Rev. C. B. Tomb, pastor of the local Presbyterian Church, stated he would be willing to assist in the organization of a local boy scout troop in Opelousas. It seems many citizens of Opelousas at that time thought the city should have boy scouts like many other cities and towns. The Clarion article stated, “Now that Opelousas has a modern schoolhouse it would be much easier to organize boy scouts in this city and Mr. Tomb would be willing to do all in his power to promote this good cause.” After that article was published the organizational process began.

The St. Landry Clarion of October 31, 1914, reported Rev. Tomb had begun to organize the Boy Scouts in Opelousas. Twenty boys from ages twelve to eighteen years old had already signified their intentions to belong to the troop. In that article, Rev. Tomb wanted to make sure the public knew the organization was not for religious purposes. He said “I want it understood I am not doing this from a religious viewpoint. I am only attempting to perform my duty as a citizen and will welcome boys of every denomination in the club, assuring them that they will have as much to say about the boy scouts as any of the rest.”

With the help of Rev. Tomb, the first boy scout troop was formed later that year with local dentist Dr. A. J. Perrault as the scout master. It was suggested that the school board allow the use of two or three rooms in the old St. Landry High School building on North Market Street for meetings. That old building became vacant when the new high school opened on South Street that year. Since the city owned the building, it agreed to let the Scouts use some of the rooms for meetings and activity purposes.

Soon after that first troop was organized, a baseball team was formed. On Monday July 5, 1915, the scouts played a game against the local popular Clary team at Comeau’s Park. All the proceeds of that game went to help the Opelousas Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. With funds from their games, the local boy scouts were able to purchase new team suits. Over the years that followed, the Opelousas scout’s baseball team played in several games against other local teams and area teams as well, including a few games against the team of the St. Charles Juniors in Grand Coteau.

For over a century, Opelousas has benefited from having boy scouts in the community. They have been involved in some way with most of the community’s projects and events. In the 1920s, the Opelousas Boy Scouts helped with the Cotton Carnival, held in 1922, 1923 and 1924. During the 1924 carnival event the Boy Scouts set up a booth to sell Yorkman’s Candy on the Courthouse Square. They raised over $1,000 to help benefit the Opelousas Chamber of Commerce, a relatively new organization in town. On March 8, 1939, when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Opelousas, the boy scouts, dressed in their uniforms, joined with the girl scouts in welcoming Mrs. Roosevelt to the city. On May 5,1946 the Opelousas Boy Scouts marched in the Knights of Columbus parade held to honor Chaplain Joseph Verbis Lafleur, a local priest who was killed in WWII.

Opelousas Boy Scouts lining up on Court Street on May 5, 1946, for the Knights of Columbus Parade to honor the memory of Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur, a local Army Chaplain who was killed during WWII. (From: Carola Lillie Hartley Collection)

In 1953 the boy scouts helped with the project to construct the little red brick building on the courthouse square that houses the Nativity scene each Christmas season. They had originally volunteered to help collect and clean over 9,000 bricks for the project. But when the Chamber of Commerce decided to buy new bricks instead, the boy scouts helped in cleaning the area while it was being constructed. Every year they marched in parades, participated in activities for Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and many other events of that kind. They assisted many civic and community organizations with their events, fairs, festivals and other activities, all to help make Opelousas a better place for all to live.