Submitted by Dianne Hollis Lundy
Before the 1940’s Rocky Branch had a fairly stable population of people who continued to live in the community and marry someone from the community. Just about everybody there was kin to somebody else from the community.
My parents, Flavil D. Hollis and Dolores G. Hollis, moved to Rocky Branch in the 1940’s when my dad was appointed as principal of the school. At that time, the school board provided housing for the principals, and the principal’s house for the school was located on a lot next to the school with a road running between the two.
Although they were outsiders in the eyes of the community, they quickly made friends and were in some social circles, even playing cards with some people. My dad was diligent in his role as principal and was concerned that some students might not be getting enough to eat, so he introduced the hot lunch program to the school so that everybody was assured of getting a nutritious meal at noon. He also worked with the 4-H Club as a sponsor during that time.
My mom, by law, could not teach under her husband, so she taught at a small country school in the Antioch community, which was about ten miles away. My dad continued as principal until he was drafted into the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was sent overseas to serve as a radio operator and earned the rank of Master Sergeant during his service. My mom continued to live and teach in the community, and during the war she wrote many letters to soldiers from the community who were stationed overseas.
After the war, my dad decided he could not be cooped up in a classroom after enduring so many blackouts in Europe because of the war. So, he went back to school, attending LSU and taking the biology classes he needed to become a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agent. He loved animals and the outdoors, so that seemed like the ideal career for him.
During his time at that job he first had to move to Abita Springs, but when he got a chance to transfer to Ouachita Parish, he gladly accepted. He had grown quite fond of Rocky Branch, so he and my mom decided to make it their permanent home. By that time, I had been born and was two years old. He bought some land from Mr. Hardy Howard and hired some local carpenters to help him build a house and barn on it. He later expanded his land to the extent of sixteen acres, enough for a small farm.
He enjoyed going out and surveying all the wildlife and moving some wildlife from one area to another. He often carried me with him as he was driving along the back roads of Union Parish, and I kept the tallies of the animals for him. That helped me learn how to count. Having grown up hunting for food, he became concerned when he, along with some fellow agents, discovered that the wild turkey population of the state had declined drastically, almost to the point of extinction. The deer population also needed some improvements. So, he became the lead biologist on a project to restore those two species to the state. The native Louisiana deer were small, so the biologists decided to bring in some larger deer to interbreed with them to make for better hunting. He went to Wisconsin and brought back two cattle truckloads of mule deer to be released on game preserves in several Louisiana parishes.
By that time, I was six years old and in the first grade. He took me with him to watch the deer being released. He drove the truck, and we were accompanied by a man known to me as “Uncle Bill.” I spent most of my time that day worrying that I was going to get into trouble for missing a day of school without being sick, but I did learn a few new things, such as how to make a lunch out of Vienna sausage, crackers, and a Coke.
I was fascinated watching the deer race away when they were let out of the truck, not realizing that I was witnessing a historical event. Later that night when we were returning to Rocky Branch in the cattle truck, the roads were still gravel, and it had been raining. The truck got stuck in the middle of the road just after crossing the old one-lane D’Arbonne bridge, and we had no choice but to leave it there until help could be summoned. We started walking up the road to our house, with me riding on my dad’s shoulders. Fortunately, a car going our way managed to get by the truck and gave us a ride home after we had walked for a couple of miles.
He completed the project by restocking the wild turkeys and even wrote a book about the wild turkey population of Louisiana in the 1950’s. It was called The Present Status of the Wild Turkey in Louisiana by F. D. Hollis, and it was considered the “bible” for the knowledge about Louisiana’s wild turkeys until sometime in the 1990’s. He was also still involved in education by teaching elementary students about the wildlife population of Louisiana. He traveled to several schools, including Rocky Branch Elementary, and showed films about how the biologists caught and tagged wildlife to keep records of their habits.
People often called him whenever they saw some kind of wildlife that presented a problem, including a bear that was spotted in the woods in the area near Elton Hayes’ house. Because I had accompanied him on a lot of the trips, that was one trip I wasn’t about to miss. So, I, along with several men, accompanied him as we traipsed around the woods looking for the bear. We never found the bear, but I never forgot about it and could say that I had once been bear hunting.
After working as a Wildlife and Fisheries agent for several years, he decided that it was not exactly what he had been looking for, commenting, “On the sunny days we’re inside filling out paperwork. When it’s bad weather, they want us to go out and check on the animals.” So, he resigned from that job and returned to his first love, farming.
He had been gradually adding animals to his sixteen-acre farm. He had cows, a bull named Dan, chickens, and hogs. He loved growing anything, both plant and animal. He grew a large garden every year, providing not only enough food for him and his family, but also generously sharing the bounty of his garden with his friends and neighbors. He had acquired a John Deere “Poppin’ John” tractor, and he used that to plow his garden and cut hay in the pastures. However, when it came time to plow up the potatoes, he always hired Mr. Marion Pace to bring his plow horse, Mike, over to help him. I and my sister, Sallie Rose, who was six years younger, would follow along behind the plow, picking up the potatoes as Mr. Marion would chant, “Taters, po’taters, and mo’taters.” I was more thrilled to see Mike than I was to pick up potatoes because I knew that Mr. Marion would let me ride the horse bare-back, as he was very tame.
My dad, whose interests in jobs kept changing, decided to turn part of his farm into a peach orchard. He left enough land to still allow for the cattle to graze, but by then he no longer had hogs or chickens. Since it took three years for the trees to produce, he again changed careers and decided to open a grocery store when given the chance to rent the store owned by Mr. R. B. Pace. He did a good job of stocking the store, even featuring fresh cuts of beef. He loved children, and when a child came in for an ice cream cone, he always gave them two scoops for a nickel or three scoops for a dime. Their eyes would widen, and a bright smile would break out on their faces when he handed them the cones.
When the trees began to produce, he opened Hollis Orchards and hired a lot of the local boys to help him pick and sort the peaches. At a time when jobs for teenagers were hard to come by, they were happy to have the work. He was a hard, but fair taskmaster who expected a day’s work for a day’s pay. The boys respected him for that. Also, his peaches were so good that people from Ruston, the peach capital of the state, drove to Rocky Branch just to buy his peaches.
After the trees grew older, and also after fighting the weather for several years, he decided to give up farming. He turned the operation of the peach orchard over to me and Sallie Rose, and we basically allowed people to pick their own peaches, while selling a few we had picked ourselves. We thought we might become rich, but we soon learned that was not to be the case.
My mom had started back to college in the summers to earn her master’s degree, and my dad’s ego would not permit him to have a wife who was more educated than he was, or so they joked. So, he also went back to college to earn his master’s degree in education, and they graduated together from Northeast Louisiana University, their story even making the Monroe newspaper. He never served as principal again but finished his teaching career by teaching for three years in Marrero and later commuting from Rocky Branch to Junction City, Arkansas.
My parents were lifelong members of the Church of Christ. My dad served as a deacon in the Rocky Branch church for several years and was also a Sunday school teacher for the adult class. Some people commented that he was “the best Bible teacher” they had ever known because of his excellent knowledge of history, which he mixed together with the scriptures.
He had looked forward to hunting and fishing after he retired. However, his health took a turn for the worse, and he was unable to do either one of those two things except for a couple of brief trips down the Bayou D’Arbonne in his bass boat. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 71 and was buried in the Antioch Cemetery in Spearsville.