Editor’s note: Tom Lisenby ’47, trustee emeritus, wrote this about his dad in conjunction with a gift he has made to help fund the new dormitories. The gift honors John Blackard Lisenby ’10 (1890-1955).
After he graduated in 1910, John completed a year of college at Tennessee State Teachers College in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Then he transferred to Louisiana State Normal in Natchitoches, La. I don’t know why but I think it had everything to do with baseball.
It is my pleasure to give my personal thoughts about my dad and to express my reasons for giving a memorial gift to The Webb School in loving memory of my father.
In Louisiana one could earn a teachers certificate after two years of college. He did that and was hired as a teacher and as the principal in Ida in northwest Louisiana just south of the Arkansas border.
My dad, John Blackard Lisenby was born in 1890 in Bell Buckle, Tenn. The family, in 1895, moved to Fosterville, Tenn., a short distance down the road from Bell Buckle. My grandfather and great uncle both died of scarlet fever. The very serious epidemic left my dad the sole male survivor of his family. My grandmother became a widow. Dad had four surviving sisters. Through the kindness and generosity of Fount Brothers of Fosterville, the family lived on the farm owned by Mr. Brothers.
It was from this place that he went to the army for WWI. He did not have to go because he was the sole surviving son and sole support of his mother. He wanted to go because he didn’t want to miss the adventure.
The education of the family began in a one-room school house on the farm. My dad grew up on the farm and worked hard and long hours. As a reward for his hard work, dad was given a colt to raise and ride on the farm. One day my dad saw a neighborhood bully throwing rocks at the colt. Dad was small, wiry and tough and asked the young man to stop throwing the rocks at the colt. The rock throwing stopped after John Lisenby boxed the young man’s nose. Blood was spattered all over the bully’s face.
He became a member of a large medical unit in Blois, France. They occupied the campus of a large Catholic Church, school and hospital. He served as a non-medical assistant to a group of doctors assisting with tasks that they assigned. Frequently he donned a large chef ’s hat and cooked a meal for them as they got off work.
“I am pleased to honor him and The Webb School in this way, and am fortunate to be his son. It is my hope that the young people who will enter this edifice keep Noli Res Subdole Facere forever in their hearts.”
Dad finished his studies at the one-room school, and his teacher encouraged him to continue to further his education goals. His teacher was resourceful and contacted The Webb School. After several days passed, correspondence was exchanged, and John was told to catch the train and pursue education matters at the school.
John performed farm chores in exchange for four years as a student at Webb. He took the required four years of Latin, two years of Greek and all the math Webb School offered. John Webb was my father’s favorite teacher.
After the war he continued teaching and attending Louisiana State University summer school each year.
In 1920 he married Nita Oden of Shreveport, La. Years before she had asked about the “B” initial in his name. Having spent time around Nashville he thought that Belmont was more impressive than Blackard. He was kidding and forgot all about it. He was surprised to find on their wedding invitation that the groom’s name was John Belmont Lisenby. I was born in 1930. In 1932 I accompanied my parents to live in Baton Rouge while my father completed a master’s degree in education. I returned a few years later and received my own degree. John Lisenby loved to teach and he loved to learn. When LSU started offering extension courses he was the first person to complete one, earning an A. He spent about 20 years as principal of Pine Grove High School in Louisiana, and many of his former students spent their lives in the education field. His was a life well lived and a life that guided and inspired others. I left my dad’s school to go to Webb, following in his footsteps, graduating in 1947. I am pleased to honor him and The Webb School in this way, and am fortunate to be his son. It is my hope that the young people who will enter this edifice keep Noli Res Subdole Facere forever in their hearts.
Fall - Winter 2014 - 2015
One interesting assignment that John was given was to drive a huge wagon load of supplies to the site of the Webb summer camp. The wagon was pulled by a double team of horses. When crossing over a stream on a wooden bridge the horses became frightened. They baulked and starting backing up. When one rear wheel got over the edge of the bridge, John jumped down from the wagon, ran to the lead horses, talking to them and pulling the bridles at the bits. He coaxed them forward over the bridge. I don’t think this scene had appeared in a John Wayne movie in 1908.
He became friends with one of the priests at the hospital complex, and they exchanged languages, French for English and English for French. His four years of Webb School Latin was most helpful in this regard. He became so proficient in French that he taught it in later years.