Robert Frost once said, “Nothing gold can stay.” While this may be true about some aspects of life, Mr. Frost clearly has not met Jimmie Nelle Adams Rabalais Lewis. After a 35-year career as an educator and administrator, Jimmie has spent her retirement years restoring a commissary in Tioga, La. She has worked with fellow residents and state leaders to revive a community fixture central to Tioga.
Jimmie grew up near the commissary, which was a part of the original Tioga Lumber Company. As a child, her mother would often give her a grocery list and send her shopping.
“I would wave at the engineers working on the railroad on my way to the store,” Jimmie recalled. She always had good memories associated with the army surplus store. The commissary closed in 1981.
After seeing the wear and tear on the commissary over time, Jimmie felt a desire to restore it. Now retired and with some extra time on her hands, she approached Fred Price, the owner of the building at the time. “I asked him if I formed a society to restore it if he would donate the building,” Jimmie says. “And he did.”
In 2001, Jimmie founded the Tioga Historical Society. She quickly realized that the restoration would be a large task at hand. So, she went to the Secretary of State’s office to register the commissary as a museum in order to have the resources to restore it. Jimmie also wrote several grants to fund the restoration projects.
Soon, the commissary became the Tioga Heritage Park and Museum, a community center and museum featuring the city of Tioga. The site contains three small museums including the original community barbershop, a doghouse containing miniature dogs, and a telecommunications building displaying a historical view of telephones and switch boards.
“The barber shop is one of the original structures of the building and even has the original furniture,” Jimmie explained. Many events have been held at the restored commissary including weddings, civic events and reunions.
As time went on, the building once again faced wear and tear. The Tioga Historical Society eventually petitioned the state to fix the roof but was postponed due to limited funds. Until the building is back up to code, events can no longer be held there.
However, this group is not one to back down from a challenge. “We decided we would take matters into our own hands,” Jimmie says. “We got the building back in our name and are trying to restore it locally.”
The Tioga Historical Society continues to seek donations and volunteers to repair the roof and return the building to its original state. Interested individuals can contact Jimmie at 318-443-1683.
Many retirees enter their golden years with the hopes of rest and recreation. For Jimmie, retirement was an opportunity to pursue her passion project of restoring the commissary she was so fond of.