Burrell Jackson Stokes families hold annual reunion

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

Each year, the Burrell Jackson Stokes family holds its reunion on the last Saturday in June at the Cedar Grove Church of Christ in Andalusia. B.J. Stokes was the local leader in establishing this church circa 1916, and it is still an active congregation with an attendance of about 200 on Sundays.

For a number of years, the children of Burrell Jackson and Cornelia Georgia (Hare) Stokes have been featured in chronological order according to birth. This year the youngest child, Eva Dell Eunice, was spotlighted. Plans are to review the next generation in this family in future reunions.

During the 2012 gathering, the some 70 descendants arrived, registered according to ancestor and renewed acquaintances with various relatives during the morning. At noon the invocation was voiced by Robert Lee Holley, a great grandson, and those present enjoyed the large buffet of family specialities and traditional Southern dishes. Prizes were given to Robert Lee for his famous fried cornbread and salt pork, which was one of the overall favorites, and to Sheila Bass Parrish for her unique squash pie with coconut flavoring. Heather Skipper Blackwell’s vegetable pizza was another overall favorite.

Following the meal a family history program was conducted by Curtis Hampton Thomasson, a great grandson. The family has participated in a DNA Stokes study, and continued research is seeking to document the parents of the earliest proven ancestor, Absalom Lafayette Stokes, of Charleston, Beaufort County, SC. All evidence points to his parents being David Stokes and Millen (Blount) Stokes, of the same location.

Each person present was introduced by lineages descending from Burrell Jackson and Cornelia Stokes. Clara (Stokes) Bass, a granddaughter, at 94 years of age, was the most senior person present, and Charles Hampton “Champ” Stokes, a great-great-great-grandson, at 1 year of age, was the youngest descendant present. Those descended from Justice Lamar and Flossie (Huggins) Stokes had the most in attendance. One of these, Renee (Little) Gardner and husband, Don Gardner, of Auburn, were recognized for having traveled the greatest distance.

Eunice Eva Dell Stokes was the 11th and last child born to Burrell Jackson Stokes and his first wife, Georgia Cornelia (Hare). She was most likely born at home in the Cedar Grove Church of Christ Community, southwest of Andalusia, on Feb. 28, 1907. She grew up as the youngest of a large family and was no doubt doted on by her parents and siblings. She has been described as a beautiful child and as a most attractive adult lady.

Eunice was married as a teenager circa 1921 to a local man, Virgil Herbert Gilmer, son of Hughie Herbert and Ella Virginia (Williford) Gilmer. During the 1920s, it was tough for families to earn a good living. Eunice was a good seamstress and would make clothing for her children and others as well.

Eunice and Virgil had three children born to them: Euveda, a female infant who died at birth circa 1921; Elwood Hiram, born Sept. 7, 1923, died in 1972, was married to Mildred Frances Simpler (1921-2002); and Eleanor Virginia, born on April 28, 1926, married Grady Huggins. Several years later, for reasons that are not completely clear, Eunice and Virgil were divorced, and she left her children with Virgil and his parents and went to West Virginia. Some relatives recalled that she knew her two children would be cared for by their Gilmer grandparents and that she hoped to take them with her at a later date.

Elwood Hiram Gilmer and his wife, Mildred Frances (Simpler), reared two children: Chip Hiram Gilmer who married Sarah Johnson, and Tracy Virgil who married Frank French. Both of these and their families currently reside in Montgomery.

Eleanor Virginia Gilmer and her husband, Grady Huggins, reared four children: Brenda Larraine who married William Whitaker; Daren Leigh who married Woodrow Wilson Herring Jr.; Benita June who married Eric Wolfgang; and Grady Kim who married Pamela Jean Upshaw. Benita June and Eric reside in Texas, and the other three live in Pensacola, Fla., near their mother.

In West Virginia, Eunice was married to Wayne Geral Hudgins, a quiet-tempered gentleman. He has been described as having a rather “dry” personality, while Eunice was very “full of life” and a prankster. It was about 1925 when Eunice wrote her father asking if it was all right that they come home for a visit, and she requested his response. Otherwise, she would not bother him again. Of course, her dad did reply that she was most welcome, so she returned home to enjoy her relatives.

At some point, Eunice and Wayne returned to Eunice’s home of Andalusia and lived there for a short time. During that period of time, Wayne worked for his brother-in-law, Mathew VanBuren Stokes, at the Stokes Stockyards. They lived in an apartment behind her brother, Matthew Stokes’, house on Church Street. The linoleum was bad, so Eunice used her creative skills to paint the floors by taking a plunger, dipping it in paint, and creating the look of rugs. They apparently were not to comfortable here, so they soon returned to Wayne’s home in West Virginia.

At some point, Eunice and Wayne Hudgins adopted a daughter whom they named Shirley. In 1953, Shirley was married to Hal Walding, and they made their home in Fairmont, W.Va. Following Hal’s death in later years, Shirley was married to James Edwards in 2010. A phone visit with Shirley revealed how much she loved and appreciated her parents.

Eunice died at 60 years of age of cancer of the spine. When she was near death, her sister, Ellie Pope, with whom she had remained close, went for an extended visit. While there Ellie pampered Eunice and did such things as cooking meals that were especially tasty to her. One of her favorites was the good ole Southern chicken and dumplings. Following Eunice’s death, she was buried there in Fairmont, W.Va.

The reunion and program were concluded with the announcement of the 2013 reunion being scheduled for the first Saturday of August at the same location. The family of Wright Absalom Stokes will coordinate this reunion and plan a program to feature the children of Absalom and his wife, Minnie L. (Rabren) Stokes.

The sources for this writing were Stokes family records and interviews with several Stokes relatives.

Anyone who might find any error in the above or who has additional information on the Stokes family is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.