Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part series about an incredible act of benevolnce that has historical meaning going on in eastern Jackson Parish and the man behind it, Richard Pool! – Ben Ledbetter
God, Country, Family! Those are the three things that Richard Pool has dedicated his life to over the past 76 years. It is the strong ties to this heritage that led him to want to serve his country during a time of war when he was a young man. It is also the internal forces behind his commitment to preserve and refurbish a now defunct and mostly forgotten about church that one of the oldest places of worship in Jackson Parish located in a rural setting on the outskirts of Eros.
As Richard, Charlotte (his wife of 55 years) and I sat around his kitchen table, I soon understood his reasoning why preserving this little chapel in the woods was so important to him. With great appreciation, I also learned more about this incredibly benevolent man and how the creed of God, Country and Family were intertwined into the fabric of his soul.
For a little background, the Salem Baptist Church was built in 1850 following a gathering of a group of men in the blacksmith shop of Wade Pool, of whom Richard is a fifth-generation descendant of. The purpose of the meeting was that they wanted a place of worship for their families. Wade agreed to donate the land whereupon the men of the area pitched in to provide materials and labor to build the church which flourished as gathering place and worship center for the area families who resided around Eros for over 150 years.
I asked Richard to take me to the church. Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was that there was a large graveyard on each side of the little building, proving that for many a decade the church had a thriving congregation. While outside, he showed me the new roof he had put on, the new entry way in the front and where he was now redoing the awning on the side.
Upon entering the chapel, it was obvious a lot of work around the pulpit had been done there as well but nothing compared to the kitchen area in the back. This was complete with new interior ceiling, new flooring and a refurbished long counter in front of what looked like new cabinets and appliances. To the side was a stack of lumber that led to the promise of more work ahead. It was easy to see that the $30,000.00 I had been told had been spent on this project was at best a very conservative figure.
Why would a man do such a thing? What reasons could there possibly be that would make a man in his golden years spend his life savings on a church building that no one uses and hasn’t been a place of worship for nearly a decade? With a far-away gleam in his eye that made me think he was recalling another time, Pool began to explain.
“Around nine years ago the membership of the church had dwindled down to where it was just three or four of us left and it was decided that we would quit having services there,” recalled Pool. “For years the building has just sat here empty and it has started to decay from neglect. That really bothered me. I have spent my whole life here other than the two years I went to war and this church has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.”
“It was important to my mother that her nine kids were church raised and had a relationship with God. If the doors were open, she made sure that we were there,” laughed Pool. “It wasn’t an easy thing to do either. We had to walk about a mile and a half down a trail through woods to get to the church but rain or shine, every Sunday and Wednesday she would gather us up and off we went.”
“I also learned how important it was to be of service to others through what I saw my Father do for folks at the church. He was always doing something to help someone,” reflected Pool. “Back then, almost everybody walked to church and two creeks had to be crossed. My father hand-built bridges and so we could go over them when the water was up. I also remember him sitting outside in his truck and shining his headlights through the front door so we could see on revival nights.” (Back then the church had no interior lights).
“See all those graves out there?” Richard asked as he waved his hands to both sides of the church. “My father dug with a shovel just about every one of those and never took a dime for it. He knew that no one had any money. What he taught us boys about being of service is the main reason we all enlisted to go to war. We felt that it was our duty to be of service to our country.”
“I realize that there probably won’t ever be church services here anymore,” finalized Pool. “I just want it to be in good shape so that is someone wants to use it for a wedding, reunion, reception or some kind of social event it would be a nice place to go.”
The ties of the Salem Baptist Church and the Pool family go back much further than just Richard’s childhood. In the Sunday, October 31st edition of the Jackson Parish Journal, PART TWO will visit the history of one of Jackson Parish’s earliest pioneer families and how the area around Salem Baptist became their home.