By Terry Harpole
MABEN — Lance Ragsdale, vice president of development at French Camp Academy, was guest speaker for the Maben Methodist Men’s breakfast meeting on Sept. 23.
After the morning meal, Ragsdale brought news, updates and a little history about French Camp Academy to the group, which included the ladies of the church.
Ragsdale told how the parents of Greenwood Leflore, Louis and Rebecca Cravat Leflore (daughter of Choctaw Indian Chief Pushmata), had come into Mississippi to set up a trading post for the Choctaw Indians, as Louis, a French trapper and fur trader, saw the need for the trade in the area. The trading post was at the spot where the little log cabin restaurant is now located.
The all-boy French Camp Boarding School was started, and in 1885 the Central Choctaw Girls School was started. In 1917, the girls’ school burned and the Presbyterian Church decided against rebuilding. The two schools were merged and French Camp Academy was now a co-ed school.
This school was for students from homes of troubled families, such as one-parent homes, children from abusive homes and any special needs.
In the 1940s this school was struggling, and the Rev. Sam Patterson, Presbyterian pastor from Leland, spoke with the Presbyterian Board. He convinced the members that they had too many pastors on the board and staff, and that they really only needed two pastors, and that was for “Attending the board meetings, and one to open with prayer, and the other one to close the meeting with prayer.”
Patterson stopped preaching soon afterward, as the church asked him to serve as president, which he did. Long a Presbyterian school, French Camp soon became interdenominational.
Ragsdale went on to say that French Camp Academy still stresses itself as being a place for home environment, the teaching of the Gospels and good work ethics. This is now being shown by graduates of French Camp at their time of employment, being well trained and ahead of many students from some other schools.
Ragsdale brought to the group’s attention of the many ways the public can support and help the school. For example, the church group has gone to the school and repaired the roof on some buildings.
He said that in addition to financial support, volunteers have come to French Camp and cooked or grilled out with the students or groups of students, and have gotten to know these boys and girls. Ragsdale said the school invites the public to come down and make a tour of the school.