Pronghorn, Chapter 39: Local History (IV)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

It has been remarked that the LeBeaux family undergirds education in Pronghorn; Guy LeBeaux was the first schoolteacher in the town, giving the school district its motto–and in his own conduct upholding that. He remained engaged in study and scholarship throughout his life, as his papers–held at Pronghorn Community College’s Pronghorn History Museum–attest. And he passed a love of learning on to his family–easily done early on, when families still tended to follow one another in trades and professions, and when the town and area supported the family well in its intellectual endeavors.

One of Guy’s great-grandsons, Richard LeBeaux, was one of the more vocal proponents of education as the town grew and throve. After marrying a daughter of the Zapata family–his Cajun descent and the Catholicism traditionally associated therewith made such a marriage more attractive to both families than another union with the Lutheran Hochstedlers and the Methodist Smithersons–he made several wise investments not long after the turn of the twentieth century and so found himself in the position of having a fair bit of wealth to apply to local and personal concerns. Much of that wealth went to enhancing the school, helping build it from a one-room schoolhouse to a larger building and into a full-on campus. (His brother, Chase, helped to establish the track and field teams that would become a Pronghorn hallmark. Richard was resistant to the idea, claiming it would be a distraction from the vital work of learning, but Chase had his own funds to apply to the task, and the town approved of the establishment, so Richard was obliged to relent.)

Richard’s one child, son Jacques, sought to follow in his father’s footsteps. The Great Depression hindered that pursuit to some extent; he could not, for example, afford to go east to study, not even so far east as Tulane, where his father and grandfather had both studied. But he did learn what he could where he could, and he applied it to good effect in World War II. When he returned, though, he realized that the emerging world would require more skilled and accomplished workers than had hitherto been the case, and he petitioned for permission from the city and county to set up a trade school, offering up no small part of the family fortune to do so. Permission was granted, unsurprisingly, and construction started in short order–providing jobs that were welcome even amid the post-war boom. The first building on campus, Meriwether Smitherson Hall, was completed within half a year, and classes began that fall. Jacques was killed in a car accident before more buildings opened; when he died, three more were under construction, names already spoken for, but the next one to be raised was named after him and the family that had made schooling in Pronghorn happen.

For all their interest and involvement in education, however, both Richard and Jacques largely abstained from working in the field. Both believed that their financial influence on the institutions would have adverse effects on their ability to be part of the faculty–and both were likely correct. The same was not true of their cousins, however; Chase’s daughter, Heloise, was long an English teacher at the grade school, and his son, Henri, taught welding at the trade school. A more removed cousin, Charles Hochstedler–descended from one of Richard’s sisters–was an early administrator over the trade school and took over leadership of the project after Jacques died. With some financial and political support from the other Hochstedlers, Charles pushed through the transformation of the school in the 1960s from a trade school only to a junior college, using it as a means to help prepare the local students for attendance at four-year schools in San Antonio and points further removed from the small town. The efforts worked, although they had the unexpected consequence of helping to funnel the best and brightest people out of town; they had access to the kind of education that allowed them to move and establish themselves elsewhere. Even so, when he died in 1982, Charles’s funeral was attended by nearly a thousand mourners.

Other members of the LeBeaux family still remain involved in Pronghorn education. A fair number of the teachers at the primary and secondary schools are descendants of Guy, although the family has had a couple of generations run long on girls, and most of the family adheres to traditional mores–the women who marry, which has been most of them, take their husbands’ names. Henri has since retired, and his younger son “Deux” Lee works in retail, but his elder son, Abélard, is noted as a fearsome chemistry instructor at the college. (He is one of two, and while students want to take classes from his colleague, those who have completed their studies tend to look back with thanks at Abélard; he prepares students better for what they will have to do.) Another cousin, Everard LeBeaux, serves as the head librarian for the city. (He is working to align the schools’ libraries with the town, expanding privileges and research ability across the community; his efforts are meeting with limited success.) Many members of the school board are also descended from Guy, although, again, many of them do not carry the LeBeaux name (Smithersons abound, oddly enough), and the president of the school board has almost always been someone other than a LeBeaux.

The trend looks like it will continue. Many of Guy’s descendants are of college age, and a great many of those who are find themselves in one kind of educational program or another. And many of them make a point of coming home to Pronghorn, at least for a time. The schools therefore enjoy an influx of new teaching techniques and ideologies, helping make the town a glistening gem among the limestone hills.

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