DeRidder-area women remember growing up in Beauregard Courthouse

By By Lauren Manary / American Press

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.”