Joyce Woodard, Charlcie Fusclier and Rita Fusclier tour the rooms where they lived in the basement of the Beauregard Parish Courthouse. (Lauren Manary / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, July 22, 2013 10:09 AM
DERIDDER — The Beauregard Parish Courthouse stands tall — a nearly century-old embodiment of civic involvement and the rule of law. But for one family, it’s much more than that.
The courthouse is literally what the women of the Campbell family — Wanda Ross, Joyce Woodard, Charlcie Fusclier and Rita Fusclier — call home.
When Lonnie “Sidney” Campbell, their father, took a job there working as a janitor in 1936, his wife and Wanda, their only child at that point, moved into the building’s basement.
The apartment had a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms, a little sewing room and a bathroom. Also in the basement: an iron door that leads to a tunnel used to move prisoners between the neighboring jail and the courthouse.
“That was all we ever knew,” Charlcie said. “We never thought it was strange, but our friends would come over and think it was cool.”
For 35 years, Sidney was called the janitor of the courthouse, although he was sort of a jack-of-all-trades. According to the sisters, he also was the in-house plumber, electrician and landscaper, and he’d help fix the clock that sits atop the courthouse dome.
“My daddy was a janitor, but it was an honorable job,” Wanda said. “Most people think that’s a low job. To me it’s not — he fed his family and he never took handouts. He was an honorable person, and he worked hard.”
While it sometimes seemed strange to others that the family lived below a public building, it was an act of mercy on the part of Sidney’s employers. The sisters’ mother, Theda Mae, was a sickly woman: At age 16 she fell off a horse and was badly hurt when she was kicked in the head. She had seizures from time to time after the accident, and Sidney could not leave her side for long.
The courthouse accommodated this need and allowed the couple to live in the apartment. When they moved in, there were three generations — Theda Mae’s parents, Theda Mae, Sidney and their first child, Wanda, then 9 months old.
It was not long before the family grew again. Theda Mae went into labor when she was only 6 1/2 months into her pregnancy. Joyce Campbell Woodard, the second eldest of the Campbell sisters, was born March 12, 1939, in the apartment and weighed not much more than two pounds.
The doctor was grim about the baby’s likelihood of survival. But a couple of women from Theda Mae’s church helped care for the baby — washing her, cleaning her and even fashioning an incubator by placing the infant in a shoe box and surrounding her with warm bricks. The baby survived.
Two more daughters were born some years later — Charlcie in 1946 and Rita in 1950. The two youngest, who used to slide down the metal handrails and run barefoot together on the marble floor, remain close and even married brothers. All the women still live nearby and see each other frequently, although they had not visited the courthouse together in decades until recently.
Joyce, Charlcie and Rita — Wanda was visiting family in South Dakota — toured their former home, and thought back to what they called “the good old days.” Charlcie said she last visited the courthouse 25 years ago, when she took her children there to see where she grew up.
“We had a simple life,” she said. “We didn’t have much, but we didn’t know that. We thought we had everything. It was never a dull moment. We were just surrounded by people.”