Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Waller Elementary and a Lady Named Pearl

Pearl Taylor Waller (1874-1960)
Have you ever wondered how the names of streets and schools are chosen? Some are obvious, like Martin Luther King Drive, while others are not so obvious unless you dig into the history of the area. This week, I want to tell you about Pearl Taylor Waller, who Waller Elementary is named in honor of.

Pearl Taylor (Waller) was born on October 9, 1874, in Haynesville, La. On December 24, 1896, she married Judge Tarpley Waller of Haynesville where they lived until they moved to Bossier City in 1923. (By the way, Judge is his first name, not his role or title.) One year later Judge passed away. Judge had been a good businessman and he owned a lot of land, some of which he earned oil and gas royalties from.

After being approached about selling the land that Waller Elementary School is located, Pearl decided to donate a large section of land for the purpose of building schools and other such needs for the community. Her copious donation provided not only the land in which Waller Elementary sits on, but also that of Rusheon Middle, Kerr Elementary, Waller Baptist Church, and other Bossier City landmarks. According to her granddaughter, Barbara Gray, “she was interested in education and wanted to do what was right for the community.”

Waller Elementary School opened to 600 students spanning grades 1-6, on March 13, 1950. The school had 18 classrooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium, and a cafeteria and was under the administration of Principal Donald E. Shipp. Over half of the students were dependents from Barksdale Air Force Base.

By September of 1951, Waller Elementary became overpopulated due to a growth spurt in Bossier City; particularly around Waller Elementary, as that section of Bossier City became more developed attracting people to relocate to this part of town, and the number of children from Barksdale was higher than expected. The superintendent R. V. Kerr and the school board found it necessary to move  261 students to other schools to bring the average classroom size down to less than 40 per classroom. Thanks to a Federal School Aide Grant the Bossier Parish School Board was able to complete a 16 room addition by 1952.

In 1954, Waller Elementary began providing education to children in the 7th grade as well and had an enrollment of 1285 students. Then, in 1955, the Bossier Parish School Board ordered enough library books to make Waller Elementary School eligible to become accredited. Waller reported having the highest enrollment of any elementary school in the state with approximately 1400 students enrolled. According to state law, a school must have a minimum of five books per enrolled student to qualify for accreditation. This meant that Waller would require 7,000 library books to meet this qualification.

W. M. Waller, the nephew of Pearl and Judge Waller, served on the Bossier Parish School Board and was the one who made the motion to buy the required number of books and for the board to take the necessary action of transferring a few teachers in a move to acquire the school’s accreditation.

Don’t you know Pearl must have enjoyed watching the constant growth and improvement of not only the school named in her honor but also the growth of the community that she loved and generously gave to.

There are also streets that bear the names of the Wallers’ descendants in the area where they owned land, including Patricia Drive, the street that Waller Elementary is on. Yjean Street is also named after a Waller descendant, and Bobbie Street is named after Pearl and Judge Wallers’ granddaughter Barbara Gray who was lovingly called “Bob” by her family.

On Jan. 6, 1960, Pearl Taylor Waller died in a local hospital after a long illness, but she left an indelible mark on Bossier City with her thoughtful donations which helped the city to flourish.

To learn more about the history of Bossier Parish schools visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center, 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City, LA.

By: Amy Robertson

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