Avant descendants left significant mark on Covington County

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

In today’s column, the Avant family lineage will be continued through the family and descendants of Dr. William Watts Avant and his wife, Minnie Ione (Sentell) Avant. He was the son of the Reverend William C. Avant and Samantha Melvira (Webb) Avant, and she was the daughter of John Troup Sentell and Martha Fletcher (Wilbanks). William Watts was born in 1865 in the Oakey Streak community of Covington County, and Minnie was born in 1871. The couple was married in 1891 in Crenshaw County and made their home in Patsburg, Crenshaw County, where Dr. Avant practiced medicine.

Family records indicate that William Watts became a medical doctor after receiving his medical degree from the University of Tennessee, College of Medicine, Nashville, Tenn. Dr. William Watts Avant is listed in the Directory of Deceased Physician 1804-1929. His medical school is listed as the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences, Memphis, Tenn., and the College of Medicine, Memphis, 1890. He had an Alabama medical license, and his place of death is listed as Patsburg, Ala. Dr. Avant’s original sheepskin diploma hung on the wall at his son, Laurin Avant, in his Andalusia home.

Dr. Avant’s obituary reads as follows: “Avant—Saturday afternoon about 4 o’clock Dr. W.W. Avant of Patsburg died last Tuesday from a stroke of Apoplexy and heart trouble. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his demise. The Funeral will be conducted by Rev. O.P. Brantley. His remains were interred in Emmaus Cemetery Wednesday, July 18. The sympathy of many friends extends to the family.” (Crenshaw County Critic-July 19, 1906) (The Luverne Journal—July 19, 1906). Minnie died in Andalusia in June 1936. She was buried beside her husband in the Emmaus Cemetery in Luverne.

Dr. William Watts Avant and his wife, Minnie Ione Sentell, daughter of John Troup and Martha Fletcher (Wilbanks) Sentell, made their home in Patsburg in Crenshaw County and had the following six children before his untimely death in 1906: Laurin Avant, b. 1893, d. 1973, m. Olive Elizabeth Crittenden (1893-1965); Erin, b. 1894, d. 1980, m. Hiram Breckenridge “Brek” Gantt (1883-1956); Glen, b. 1897, d. 1960, m. Catherine Barr (1901-1994); Toxey “Top,” b. 1898, d. 1985, m. Mattie Robinson; Ralph, b. 1899, d 1988, m. Mary Nell Hines (1915-1980); and Lucille, b. 1904, d. 1986, m. J.F. “Buck” Colquett (1903-1991).

Dr. Avant’s oldest son, Laurin Avant, was married to Olive Elizabeth Crittenden, daughter of Robert Greenway “Bob” (1861-1936) and Mary Ann (Stallings) (1867-1928) Crittenden. They made their home in Andalusia and reared the following children: Mary Olive “Spec,” b. 1915, d. 2004; Robert Laurin “Bubba,” b. 1917, d. 1996; Erin Celeste, b. 1919, d. 2001; William Watts II “Billy,” b. 1922; and Max Crittenden, b. 1925, d. 1990. Billy, Bubba and Max all served during WWII.

Dr. Avant’s oldest daughter, Erin Avant, was married to Hiram Breckenridge “Brek” Gantt, son of Marcellus Coon (1849-1938) and Sophia Valeria (Cottle) (1855-1920) Gantt. Brek’s grandfather, Hiram Gantt, is the one who brought this prominent family to Covington County. Brek served three terms as Sheriff of Covington County. His father served several terms in the same office, and his brother, Tom, served also. This couple did not have any children. Brek died in 1956 and was buried in the Andalusia Memorial Cemetery.

Dr. Avant’s next son, Glen Avant, was married to Catherine Barr, and they made their home in Andalusia. They reared two children, Hal and Mary Glen.

Dr. Avant’s next son, Toxey “Top” Avant, was married to Mattie Robinson, but they were divorced later. The names of any children are unknown. They resided in Andalusia, but Top was later living in Tuskegee where he died in 1985.

Dr. Avant’s next son, Ralph Avant was married in 1938 to Mary Nell Hines, daughter of Howell Payne (1892-1968) and Rebecca Bernice (Young) (1894-1973) Hines. Ralph attended Birmingham College, but he later moved to Opp to work in the oil business. He was the distributor for the Pure Oil Company for most of his working life. He was a faithful member of the Opp Rotary Club and the Men’s Sunday School Class of the Opp Methodist Church. Mary Nell taught in the Opp City Schools until her marriage. She was an adult Sunday school teacher and Book Club leader for many years. They reared three children: Rebecca Ann, b. 1939, m. George Thomas Crichton; John Sentell, b. 1940, m. Marie Jennings; and Mary Ellen, b. 1951, m. Ray Ellis Donaldson. At their deaths, Ralph and Rebecca were buried in Opp.

This family will be continued through the grandchildren of Dr. William Watts Avant’s son, Ralph Avant. Ralph’s oldest daughter, Rebecca Ann Avant, was born in Andalusia, but she grew up in Opp and received her Batchelor of Arts from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. She was married on August 5, 1960, to George Thomas Crichton, from whom she was divorced in 1980. They had a son, George Thomas Crichton, Jr., b. 1961, m. Lisa Marie Edris, and they have twin sons, John Richard and Andrew George. Their daughter, Catherine Ann Crichton, b. 1964, m. Bentley Morris Long, and they have two children, Elizabeth Bentley and Griffin William.

Ralph Avant’s son, John Sentell Avant received his degree from Auburn University and his Doctor of Dentistry from the University of Tennessee. He married Marie Jennings, and they settled in Columbus, Ga., after his service in the U.S. Army. Their oldest son, John Sentell, Jr. died in a tragic automobile accident while serving in the U.S. Navy in 1990. Their second son, George Lanier Sentell, m. Leigh Patton in 1998, and they have three sons: John II, Robert, and Henry.

Ralph Avant’s youngest daughter, Mary Ellen Avant, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Auburn University. She was married to Ray Ellis Donaldson in 1971, and she teaches at Auburn High School. They have three children and at least four grandchildren: Andrew “Andy,” b. 1974, m. Amy Reyer, and they have three sons: Andrew, Davis, and Michael; Seth, b. 1976, m. Ashley Mitchell and they have a son, Colton. Mary Date, b. 1984, m. Eric Long in 2009.

Sources for this second writing on the Avant are once again the family records of a descendant, Rebecca Ann (Avant) Crichton, who is a granddaughter of Dr. William Watts Avant, and Ancestry.com. Appreciation is expressed to Ann for her generous sharing of her family research.

Anyone who might have a correction to the above or additional information on the area Avant family is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.