Going forward, the Sulphur Senior Center at 601 Maple Street bears a new name. The complex was rededicated Saturday as the Birdie Aikens Senior Center, in memory of the first principal of the first colored school in Sulphur, built on the property.
Former students of the elementary school, as well as of the Mother Goose Head Start Center that followed, joined present and former elected officials and others at the center to reveal a dedication plaque and cut ribbon.
Community historian Beverly Scott said Birdie and her husband, Levi Aikens, owned property from the site Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church sits on west to include most of Maple Street. Birdie Aikens died at the age of 52 on March 16, 1956.
Former student James Ella Kirkwood recalled the school and beloved principal for those gathered. She said the original footprint was two wooden buildings that housed eight to 10 students. In 1950, two more rooms were added.
“Mrs. Aikens was a fantastic teacher and visionary,” said Kirkwood. “She taught us about the world around us.” She said her class had a horned toad that had free-range of the classroom. “We saw a caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly right before our eyes and fly around the room and out the big window,” she said. “How many of today’s kids can say that? Of course they can Google it, but we got the real thing.
“We went on airplane rides and on submarines exploring the sea right from our desks,” she said. “I don’t know if we reached her expectations, but she reached all of ours,” Kirkwood continued.
The brick building that now serves as the senior center was built later and classrooms for first through seventh grade were added. The school later grew to include eighth grade.
The oldest of Aikens’ former students present Saturday, Bobbie Jean Fontenot, said her childhood was a time in which “everybody was your mama.
“If you did anything at school, you were going to get it when you got home,” she said. “But we had a good time.” Fontenot was a first-grade student in 1946, at which time there was only one building. Students left each day for lunch, as there was no cafeteria at the time. When the school did begin serving free lunches, Fontenot said her grandmother was the cook.
The building was dedicated the Birdie Aikens Senior Center in 2014 by a Sulphur City Council resolution and a plaque was ordered. But planning a ceremony date to accommodate former students took some time.
The event Saturday was hosted by the non-profit Destiny Drive Youth, whose creator is senior center director Cynthia Beverly. Destiny Driven Youth is accepting donations for a school supply drive. Supplies will be distributed at an event planned for August.