Stokes clan honors Phyllis Rabren and family

Published 11:59 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

The annual Stokes reunion, held in Andalusia on Sat., June 27, paid tribute to Phyllis (Stokes) Rabren, the eighth child of Burrell Jackson Stokes and his wife, Georgia Cornelia (Hare). The activities were staged in the fellowship room of the Cedar Grove Church of Christ, a church of which Phyllis was a member and attended during her youth and many of her adult years.

As the attendees arrived, they were asked to register, prepare name tags and indicate their Stokes ancestor. There were about 70 to register, and they represented six of the nine children of the Burrell J. Stokes family. They came from all over Alabama and many points in Florida.

After a period of fellowship and visiting, a greeting was given by Curtis Thomasson who presented instructions for the meal and the program to follow. Robert Lee Holley voiced the invocation for the day. Everyone enjoyed the abundance of home-cooked specialties of the good cooks in the family. Among the prizes awarded was recognition for the best desert. This ended with a tie vote for the two best dishes prepared by the same person, Cathy Little of Fort Walton Beach. Her two deserts were strawberry-pretzel congealed dessert and Chocolate Brownie Trifle. Recognition for the best other foods went to Robert Lee Holley for his fried cornbread, fried salt pork and turnip greens. They were presented sugar-coated peanuts and handmade pillow cases by Hazel McClain.

The program began with recognition of John D. Stokes, a grandson of Burrell Jackson Stokes, who was the oldest one present at 92 years of age. The youngest descendant present was Ian Travis Savage at 4 weeks of age who is a great-great-great-great-grandson of Burrell Jackson. The ones who traveled the farthest were Bob and Liz McGrath from Bradenton, Florida. They were the only descendants of Phyllis (Stokes) Rabren who were able to be present. Next, a couple of family trivia questions were asked, and Renee (Little) Gardner and Cindy (Stokes) Martin were awarded prizes for being the first to give correct answers.

Recognitions were begun by honoring those present of the oldest generation who are grandchildren of Burrell Jackson Stokes and Cornelia (Hare). These included John D. Stokes, son of Lee and Bama Stokes; Bonice Stokes, widow of L.C. Stokes, another son of Lee and Bama; Clara Bass, daughter of Mathew VanBuren Stokes; Imogene Stokes, widow of M.V. Stokes, Jr.; Lillian (Fuqua) Vaughn, daughter of Jim and Naomi (Stokes) Fuqua; and Sybil (Stokes) Nall, daughter of Lamar and Flossie Stokes, and her husband, Joe Nall.

Others present were introduced by family line in the order of the birth of their ancestors, children of Burrell Jackson Stokes. The descendants of Lamar Stokes were most numerous with good representation of the other children: Absalom Stokes, Lee Stokes, Mathew Stokes, Phyllis (Stokes) Rabren, and Naomi (Stokes) Fuqua.

Those present enjoyed a video presentation on the life and family of Phyllis (Stokes) Rabren, wife of Emory E. Rabren, Sr. A grandson, Albert “Buddy” Blackwell of Las Vegas, Nevada, produced the program, which included photos of Phyllis’s family and an historical review of the years during her lifetime, 1900 to 1968.

Phyllis was the eighth child born to Burrell Jackson Stokes and his wife, Georgia Cornelia (Hare). She was born in 1900 and lived to be 68 years of age when she died in 1968 in Deland, Florida. She was reared in the Cedar Grove Church of Christ community and married the son of a neighboring family. She and Emory E. Rabren, Sr., son of Henry and Martha (Fuqua) Rabren, were married in 1915 in Andalusia and made their home near their parents.

The couple began their family there where Emory farmed to support them. When farming became difficult during the 1930s, they moved to a house in Andalusia to allow Emory to do public work. In 1945, they moved into a huge house on Opp Avenue, which was located at the north end of the Magnolia Cemetery. To help with the monthly rent, they rented some of the upstairs bedrooms. There was also enough space to accommodate two daughters, Beatrice and Pauline, who were either widowed or divorced and found it necessary to move back home with their children.

Emory worked two jobs to support the large family as a custodian for the Martin Movie Theatre and night watchman for the county courthouse. In addition, he maintained a large garden of vegetables to help feed the family and those renting rooms in the home. Phyllis was busy cooking the abundant meals from their garden and the groceries they could buy. They often secured meats and other foods from their relatives who still lived on farms. Emory frequently killed wild game for the table as well. A grandson, Albert C. “Buddy” Blackwell, remembers helping his grandmother as a young boy cook many of those big meals. He expressed amazement at how she could take a few basic ingredients and create large, tasty dishes. He credits her with teaching him how to prepare the “country or soul foods” that he continues to enjoy.

Phyllis and Emory reared the following six children: Justice Guy, b. 1916, d. 1986, m. (1) Sue ? (2) Mary E. ? (3) Emmett Ray; Rosa Beatrice, b. 1920, d. 1999, m. (1) Odis Bevis Dees (2) James Kramer (3) Willie Green Mullins; Eleanore Pauline, b. 1922, d. 1966, m. (1) Albert Clayton Blackwell (2) Wilson Alfred Williams; Emory E. Jr., b. 1924, d. 1994, m. (1) Omia Jewel Lee (2) Dessie Robins; Tempie Erline, b. 1928, m. Paul Ewashenko; and Dorise Jean, b. 1932, d. 1996, m. William L. McCoy. The only child living today is Erline who resides with her husband in the Deland area.

The oldest son, Guy, had a daughter, Gloria Jean, who m. Jean Lue Began. Beatrice and her first husband, Otis B. Dees, had two sons, Mitchell Beavis, m. Mary Susan Bradshaw; and Wayne Harold, m. Judith Elliott. Beatrice and her second husband, James Kramer, had three daughters: Connie Marie, m. Donald Keith McCalligan; Alma Diane; and Peggy June. Pauline and her first husband, Albert C. Blackwell, Sr., had two sons: Ralph Ervin, m. Constance Marie Frick; and Albert Clayton Jr. “Buddy,” m. Gwendolyn Nancy Malone. Pauline and her second husband, Wilson A. Williams, had a daughter, Elizabeth Pauline “Liz,” who m. Robert McGrath. Emory E. and his first wife, Omia Jewel, had two sons, Jerry Lamar, m. Jackie Katherine Nadeau; and Vernon Lee, m. Karen Polack. Erline and her husband, Paul Ewashenko, had three children: Phyllis Joan, m. Roy Donald LeGrange, Jr.; Linda Anne, m. Harry Johnson, Jr.; and Michael Paul, m. Shelley Green. Dorise Jean and her husband, William L. McCoy, had four children: Jackie, Freddie, Kenny, and Donna Jean.

Representing the loving grandchildren, Albert C. “Buddy” Blackwell has written numerous memories of experiences with Phyllis and Emory. A few of these recount the years his family and the Dees family lived with his grandparents on Opp Avenue. He fondly remembers the big fires kept by Emory in the open fireplaces and how warm and snug they felt. He mentioned the love and care that Emory and Phyllis gave to their children and grandchildren.

Buddy remembers Saturday as wash day with his granddaddy getting the water in the wash pot boiling and his grandmother preparing and completing the washing of the clothes for a large family. He recalled her making the homemade lye soap that was so essential in that day. He also remembered his granddaddy secretly making some blackberry and cherry wine in an old abandoned shed out back.

A special memory is of the persons who rented rooms in the home, which excited the children. Among these were the “old-time western actors” on tour at the local theatre such as Bob Steele, Las Larue, and Johnny Mac Brown. Others that stand out in memory were the tattoo artists who peddled unusual wares. Needless to say, experiences with such folks left vivid impressions on the minds of those young children.

Emory died in 1957 in Andalusia and was buried in the Cedar Grove Church of Christ Cemetery. Phyllis later moved to Deland, Florida, to be near her family and died there in 1968. Her remains were returned to Andalusia to be buried beside her husband. Their relatives remember them fondly and were happy to honor them at the 2009 Stokes Family Reunion.

Anyone having any correction to the above or additional information on this family is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson, a Stokes descendant, by writing to 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; calling 334-222-6467; or e-mailing:


Aaron Crawford, born in 1801 in Georgia, was on the census for Henry County, Alabama, in 1850. He had a son Isaac who was born in 1835. Aaron was the great-great-great-grandfather of Lori Ray who would appreciate any additional information. Contact her at