A HISTORY OF THE EARNEST GRANT DEESE AND WILLIE DELL DEESE FAMILY
By W. T.Block
Earnest Grant Deese was born in in Alabama on October 6, 1906. His father, John Wesley Deese, and his mother, Mary Ann Grant Deese, owned turpentine stills, land, and a general mercantile store in extreme south central Alabama (Covington and Coffee counties). John W. Deese, who grew up an orphan on the frontier, had no opportunity to attend school as a boy, and eventually he employed many people, both Blacks and Whites, in his business enterprises. Because he had to depend on a ruthless bookkeeper to administer his finances, John Deese suffered heavily from embezzlement, the bookkeeper stealing from his employer.
One family tradition held that, when race troubles developed in John Deese' neighborhood, a hard-working, kind Negro, whom Deese knew to be innocent of any wrong doing, was being hunted by a lynch mob. Deese gave the black man food and money, and then dipped his shoes in turpentine so the blood hounds could not track him. The Negro made good his escape.
In 1913, Earnest Deese' parents sold their store, land, and dwellings in Alabama, and then moved by train with their furniture, livestock, equipment, and married children to Carriere, Pearl River County, Mississippi. Being unable to lease or buy timber lands in that area of Mississippi, the Deese family were soon reduced to share-cropping. One by one, the remaining children left home, until only Earnest was left to plow the fields, and care for the livestock as well as his aging parents. Because of that, he could only go to school a half-day at a time, but he nevertheless succeeded in finishing the eleventh and twelfth grades in one year. For a while, he worked in a nursery for ten cents an hour until he saved enough money to enter and graduate from Soule Business College in New Orleans, where he studied bookkeeping and banking.
On August 2, 1931, Earnest Deese married Willie Dell Watson of McNeill, Mississippi, the daughter of David Hubert Watson and Emeline Spiers. Eventually, the D. H. Watson family would also move to Nederland, Texas, where they resided at 904 Helena for many years prior to their deaths. The year 1931 was not particularly a good year to marry and start a family anywhere in this country, it being in the utter depths of the Great Depression, but especially so in South Mississippi. Most jobs there were only temporary, lasting perhaps a few weeks, and many men had to go out of state to seek employment. Earnest Deese worked for a while as bookkeeper for Wiggins Pickling Company. Later he worked for the W. P. A. (Works Progress Administration, a Federal agency under Pres. Roosevelt), first as a weigher, building roads, and later as a bookkeeper. Willie Dell Deese also worked for W. P. A., at first in the sewing room; later for the County Home Demonstration Agency, teaching food preservation; and eventually as a land assessor.
Earnest Deese first came to Texas in 1934, where his first work was in an oil field, and where he also caught malaria. By then, their oldest child, Jeanne Marie Deese was two years old. While Earnest was recuperating, Willie Dell picked cotton and did other farm chores to help support the family. Their second trip to Texas ended up for a time in Richmond, southwest of Houston, where Earnest caught malaria fever again, and Winnie Dell worked as a waitress at Green's Cafe. When Earnest was able to travel, the Deese family caught the train back to Carriere, Mississippi. After buying a second-hand car, they traveled through Florida to work the fruit harvest, even though Willie Dell was pregnant. For a time Willie Dell worked as a packer in a grapefruit plant, while Earnest worked as an operator and custodian in a fruit juice canning plant. Finally, Earnest got a part-time job at the box factory in Picayune, Mississippi, about the time that daughter Patricia Anne was born at the Picayune hospital.
In June, 1936, Earnest decided to hitchhike back to Texas, and although Willie Dell was pregnant again, she got a job in a shirt factory as a labeler. On this trip, Earnest ended up in Nederland, Texas, where he stayed with Willie Dell's cousin, Myrtle and Morris Green.
Earnest Deese got a temporary job, working "shutdowns" at Pure Oil Company (now Unocal) for only three days a month, but he was earning 65 cents an hour while he worked. That wage seemed fabulous, compared to wages being paid in Mississippi, so Willie Dell loaded up her two children into her Model A Ford and set out for Nederland in August, 1937. Fifteen hours later, she arrived with only fifty cents left in her purse.
The couple rented their first house in Nederland for $5.00 a month at 1007 Boston, next door to Twin City Tabernacle, where they also attended church for the next several years. In November, 1937, their third child, Billy Grant Deese, was born, and in the meantime they moved to another rent house three doors away, also in the 1000 block of Boston. At one time they lived at the corner of 11th Street and Franklin. Earnest was still working shutdowns, and Willie Dell took in washing, ironing, and sewing from the public, even though her three infants and toddlers kept her tied to her home.
In 1941, their youngest child, Jack Drexel Deese, was born. At that time, Earnest Deese was working in th oil field at Tomball, Texas, when he came home with double pneumonia. After two months of illness, he enrolled at Lamar College, in technical arts classes that were designed to train him as a journeyman pipe fitter. Willie Dell became a Sunday School teacher at Twin City Tabernacle, and later, music director, working with young people. She also had a radio program in progress, offered for a young people's singing group. She had a mixed quartet, and finally an all girls' quartet. Willie Dell wrote the theme song for a group called the Sunshine Gospel Singers, both lyrics and music, which have been edited.
In 1945 Earnest Deese went to work for Neches Butane Products Company as a first-class pipe fitter, and after twenty years service there, he retired with total disability in 1965. During 1946-1947, Earnest and Willie Dell were co-owners of Deese' Garage on Nederland Avenue.
In 1950, Willie Dell Deese attended St. Mary's Hospital and Lamar College Nursing Schools and graduated in 1952 with her nursing license. She was a surgical nurse for a few months and then started working for Physicians' Clinic for the next twenty years. After that, she worked for Beaumont and Port Arthur Home Health Service for two years until an auto accident left her unable to work for one year. After recuperating, she worked for Gaspard's Nursing Care Center in Port Acres, until she retired in 1989 due to her husband's failing health.
Willie Dell Deese became a charter member of the Pilot Club of Midcounty in 1960, and is still a member of that club in good standing. In 1971, 1972, and 1973, she was on the Citizens' City Council Coordinator of Public Buildings, and was on the steering committee when the new Police Station was started, as well as the Doornbos Civic Building. In 1969, as a Pilot Club member, Willie Dell donated one of her hand-made quilts to be raffled off to help raise sufficient funds to build the Dutch Windmill Museum.
Willie Dell also cared for a group of elderly people, checking their blood pressures, etc. She also helped them with projects, became an avid quilter, and belonged to the Super-60s group of Port Neches, where she still takes blood pressures for the elderly once a month, keeps records, and makes physician recommendations when needed. She also taught crafts to the residents of Gaspard's Nursing Home for many years.
About thirty years ago, Earnest and Willie Dell Deese built their present home at 1123 South Fourteenth Street, where they have resided for most of their lives in Nederland.
The Deese family is also proud that all four of their children are graduates of Nederland High School; also five of their grandchildren, the others having graduated from high schools elsewhere. They are also proud that all of their children, their spouses, and most of their grandchildren have attended Lamar University.
Between 1960-1966, the Deese family members owned and operated the Jiffy Food Store at Twin City and Nederland Avenue, as well as the Jiffy Food Store in Port Arthur in 1965. Willie Dell and her daughter, Jeanne Marie, also owned Marguerite's Beauty Shop in Nederland from 1974 until 1977.
For many years now, the Deese family have been members of First United Methodist Church of Nederland.
Daughter Jeanne Marie Deese is a graduate in Education of Lamar University and by profession a teacher. She is a member of Port Neches Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star and is a Past Worthy Matron. She married (1) Jude L. McBride, and (2) Dr. Charles P. McGuire. She is the mother of five daughters and seven grandchildren. She and her family are members of First Methodist Church in Friendswood.
Daughter Patricia Ann Deese is also a graduate of Lamar University and is by profession a teacher. She too is a member of the Port Neches Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star, is a Past Worthy Matron, as well as a former Grand Officer. Patricia Ann married (1) Hestel G. Sheffield, and (2) Charles L. Edwards. She is the mother of one son and three daughters and has eight grandchildren. She and her husband are members of First United Methodist Church in Port Neches.
Son Billy Grant Deese attended Lamar College and has been a Nederland postal employee for 32 years. Billy is the father of two sons by different marriages, and he has two granddaughters. (Ed.'s Note: The editor hired Billy Deese in the Nederland post office in 1959.)
Son Jack Drexel Deese also attended Lamar, and he is an electrician by trade. Jack served in the U. S. Marine Corps, the U. S. Army, and the U. S. National Guard. He married Marie Linda Toups, and they are the parents of one son and one daughter. Jack and his wife are members of First Baptist Church in Nederland.
Earnest and Willie Dell Deese are proud of their more than fifty years of residence in Nederland and found it to be a good place to raise their family. They are equally proud that they and their children have been able to contribute through their civic, educational and religious activities toward the improvement of their city.