- story by Pat Saik
Her poised, calm demeanor, hands gently held together, alert shining green eyes, bespoke a woman ready and willing to share some tales about her long and interesting life.
She is Evabelle Prague McDonald. Born January 19, 1927, in New Orleans and a long time resident of Bay St. Louis, Eve’s soft-spoken demeanor belies the fire in her belly. She is unwaveringly determined to leave the community a better place than she found it.
Eve’s determination to experiment and learn came early in life. Not afraid to take risks, she and her sisters would lock the bathroom door and play a hand or two of strip poker. This woman is no fragile flower, to say the least.
It was Eve who brought to life the first senior citizen center in Bay St. Louis. She credits Mae Beyer, grandmother of the Benvenutti clan, as the initiator of the project. “Mae Beyer was a force of nature. When Mae asked me to head the planned senior citizen center, I could not refuse,” Eve recalls.
By 1972, the center started operating in a small section of the Valena C. Jones Center, the building on Old Spanish Trail that now houses the Boys & Girls Club.
When Eve got involved with providing for the needs of Hancock County’s senior citizens, she was fresh off a loss in the election for the county board of supervisors in the mid-1960s.
Eve decided to run for public office without wringing her hands over whether she should run. “I was reading the budget of the board of supervisors published in the newspaper, and I didn’t like what I saw of expenditures in my district. I decided all of a sudden to run.”
“I didn’t deem losing that election a loss. After that, whenever I asked the county supervisors for funds for the senior citizen center, I got what I asked for.” She was particularly successful in getting renovation money for the center.
The senior citizens center opened its doors in a part of the building on Old Spanish Trail that once housed the police and fire departments. “I got a food program started and an art room, too,” Eve recalls. An artist friend volunteered to teach the art classes. Over time, other programs began to flourish and Eve continued to oversee the center until a new facility opened in the mid-1990s on Bookter Street. (See Gus Duda’s Shoofly column in the June, 2015 issue of the Cleaver for an entire column on the present senior citizen center.)
Eve also played an active role in the League of Women Voters. She has little patience with those who complain but do not act to bring about change. Not one to mince words, Eve proclaims that “You can either make an effort or shut up.”
Eve practices what she has preached. Along the way, she started and worked in the fledgling Head Start program, designed to give preschoolers living in poverty a learning environment where kids learned basic skills to help them make a more successful leap to kindergarten or first grade.
Thanks to Eve’s initiative, she applied for and received grant money to assist the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP. She also has spent many hours volunteering with the Cub Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts.
“You have to reach out for a meaningful way to spend your time,” Eve counsels.
Eve’s daughter Wendy McDonald has taken to heart and action what her mother taught her. After Hurricane Katrina, Wendy moved from a lucrative job in Houston back to Bay St. Louis to help the community rebuild. Highly visible as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the organization eventually recruited her to run the program in Bay St. Louis. That program still thrives here, helping the needy to obtain decent housing, quietly demonstrating this community’s commitment to bettering the lives of all.
Eve is justifiably proud of Wendy’s work in the community. Wendy is a hard-working member of the Bay St. Louis City Council, in addition to continuing her work with Habitat.
“Wendy has the real kind of happiness that comes from working for the good. I pray that all my children and grandchildren enjoy wisdom and health and that real kind of happiness that makes you feel good.”
When it comes to living in Bay St. Louis, Eve speaks like a woman in love. “For me, this is paradise. I love to take rides along the water. So calm and relaxing. Thankfully, there aren’t many tall buildings to spoil the view of the water.” She smiles with delight. “I also love the food.”
Talking about food reminded Eve of when as a child here, she and her friends would go crabbing. “It was fun. I can also remember when the train stopped at the station, people sold refreshments; passengers could buy stuffed crabs for 25 cents. And those stuffed crabs were really stuffed full.”
Naturally, Eve remembers Bay St. Louis the way many of us will never know it. When Eve was living or visiting here in the 1930s, a loud whistle would blow at noon time and everybody knew it was lunch time. The mailman delivered mail by horse and buggy. An ice truck delivered blocks of ice and “it was fun to try and get a chip.”
“It was hot in those days and we had no air conditioning. Sometimes the adults would put the children in the back seat and drive along the water. It put us to sleep.” This method also was employed, she recalls, to help put her great-aunt to sleep.
“I loved the library, which was on top of the Hancock Bank. I read the entire collection of L. Frank Baum’s books in the Wizard of Oz series. I was a fan of mysteries, too. I read the entire Nancy Drew series. Reading was one of my favorite things to do.”
Eve’s love of reading has lasted a lifetime. Her daughter Wendy remarked that her mom reads at least three to four books a week. Eve is still partial to mysteries but reads in a wide variety of genres and subjects. It is her way to keep learning. At age 89, her mind remains sharp.
Her sharp mind may also have been honed by her years of playing cards. “It was great growing up in a three-generation family. We all played cards and you always had someone to play with. Playing cards was a pastime; I can’t remember not playing cards.”
Eve and her friends knew how to make their own fun. Besides playing cards, they got together and cooked and partied and told stories, over and over again. Each story always brought roars of laughter, no matter how many times it was told. They called themselves “the Rat Pack.”
Not intimidated by the world of technology, Eve uses the latest Apple phone to keeps daily tabs on the stock market. Years ago she became a member of a stock club, and she taught herself the workings of the market. Not to tell any tales, but the stocks in which she has chosen to invest are doing better than Standard and Poor.
If you don’t know Eve McDonald you’re missing out on engaging with an open-minded, progressive, independent thinker. You can catch her nearly every Sunday attending services at the Methodist Church, which she has attended since the 1950s.
“The people in the Methodist Church have been wonderful, and are an important part of my life.” She may tell you about Bible class, an activity about which she is passionate. Eve McDonald has never stopped being curious and never stopped learning.
And by the way, she’s supporting Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. She’ll be glad to tell you why if you care to listen. As Eve says, “there is always more to learn.”