Many people can talk about where they were when news was first broadcast about September 11th, but how many can remember the historical moment when President Kennedy was assassinated?
At the age of 91, Kaplan native Hilda Manceaux experienced firsthand these monumental moments as well as many more.
Hilda was born the second of five children on May 10th, 1917 to the union of the late Andre and Elenora Baudoin.
When Hilda was two-years-old, her mother passed away and her father eventually remarried. It was her step-mother, Eunice, who Hilda came to know as mom.
Today, Hilda lives on the same block she grew up on, right next door to where her parents’ home once stood.
In the early 1900’s, Kaplan displayed a rich culture, one in which the present day only hints at.
People of the surrounding regions spoke Cajun French as their first language. Like most children at that time, Hilda wasn’t exposed to English until she entered the school system.
Unlike today, schools weren’t publicly funded, therefore, each family was responsible for paying tuition and books.
Teachers were brought in from other states and were not familiar with the Cajun French language. As a result, children were forced to learn English and not speak their native tongue in the classroom.
Hilda stopped attending school around the eighth grade, as was custom during this time period, in order to work and help her family.
In 1934, Hilda married Kaplan native Sidney “Palley” Manceaux. The couple had four children, two born before World War II and two born after.
The oldest Maureen, now deceased, was born in 1935. Barbara, the couple’s second daughter, was born in 1938. Two sons, Danny and Ted were born in ’47 and ’52, respectively.
At the time of Hilda and Palley’s marriage, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Work was scarce and hardships abounded. Palley was employed through the WPA, a form of the Citizens Conservations Corps which was a work relief program set up by President Roosevelt in order to help unemployed families during the depression.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s was a major low point in our nation’s history, and Kaplan was not immune to the effects.
Hilda’s daughter, Barbara, recalls her mother having to wait in line to receive a piece of fabric to make a communion dress. All supplies were rationed out requiring Hilda to return to the back of the line time after time in order to acquire one piece of fabric after another until she had the full amount needed. Hilda can remember that commodities such as coffee and sugar were also rationed.
“We were limited as to what we could get.”
At the beginning of World War II, Palley enlisted in the Navy Construction Battalion as a First Class Petty Officer and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. Hilda stayed home with her two daughters and awaited letters from her husband.
Hilda recalls fondly, “He wrote a letter every day. I wrote a letter every day. He could write two or three pages where I could only write one. He loved to write!”
World War II caught all citizens in a grip of fear and thoughts of war on American soil were abundant. As a part of the war effort, Kaplan participated in black outs and air raid practices. In fact, Hilda and her sister Jeanne were chosen to stand at the tower, located at the old City Hall, to scan the sky for enemy air craft. Barbara recalls what it was like to go along with Hilda during these times.
“I can remember my sister and I going with mom to the tower,” she said. “Now that I’m older and I think about it – it was a very exciting and an interesting experience.”
After the war, Palley returned home to his family unharmed. When asked if Hilda kept the correspondences between her husband and herself during the war, she replied, “I kept all our letters until he got home. Then, after a while, we got our letters together and we went in the back and burned them.”
Finding steady employment after the war was difficult, and eventually Palley opened a plumbing, electrical, and appliance shop where he worked until his death in 1984.
Hilda joined the work force in 1953 as a receptionist for an optometrist in Kaplan.
In 1981, Dr. Wise purchased the business and kept Hilda employed. Hilda still works for the doctor to this day.
In fact in September, she will have been employed for fifty-five years at the same job!
“We have a lot of repeat customers that I get to know as friends,” she said. “That’s what makes the job interesting. When they get to the door they say, ‘You’re still here?’”
Hilda does her part in keeping the Cajun heritage alive by speaking French to many of the older patients.
Hilda has experienced not only national history, but local history as well. She recalls what it was like to take the train as a means of transportation and how the loading depot was located where CVS stands today.
“We had to take the train to go wherever we wanted to go. There was just a dirt road between Kaplan and Gueydan.”
She also remembers the POW Camp, where Abshire Addition is now located, which housed almost 300 German soldiers during World War II.
“I would see the soldiers passing in front of my house as our soldiers brought them to work.”
At the age of 91, Hilda Manceaux is still as vibrant as ever.
In the past twenty-three years she has traveled with Vermilion Cajun Tours and has visited most of the states and several countries.
Some of the places she has traveled to include Belgium, Paris, Alaska, Rome, Hawaii, Canada, and Washington D.C. Her favorite place to visit is Medugorje, which is near Croatia and is best known for apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Rome.
Spending time with Hilda is very refreshing and reminiscent of simpler times. She enjoys watching the Mass everyday on TV, her housework, catching up with family and friends over coffee, and her job.
She is frequently visited by her three children, eleven grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren.
Hilda has retained a positive outlook throughout the decades of her life and even retorted, “I’d like to work at least another two years, as long as I have my health.”