Perkinston Jr. College
I recently lost my best friend of over sixty years. She apparently died in her sleep leaving all of us who loved her dearly in complete shock and grief. I include Dona in my family history because she was as much a part of my family and in some cases more like family to me all my life. Dona Elise Sanders Richmond became my friend when she was born a year after I was. Our mothers were best friends, having attended Perkinston Jr. College together in the year of 1955-56. The photo below shows my mother, Janie Morris seated on the left and Dona’s mother, Shirley Reeves, seated on the right. This is the only photo I have of the two friends together, although, I believe there were quite a few others in my mother’s photo collection.
The earliest memories I have of Dona and me together were probably preserved by the many times our mothers discussed our early history with us as we grew up. We were told about the times we were just little toddlers when we would accompany our mommas to the beach and we played in the sand while they caught each other up on their lives after college. I seem to remember those trips to the beach – the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast – with our mothers. But, do I really, or are they from my imagination? Time has taken its toll on my memory after so many years, but, suffice it to say when Dona joked with me about being friends since she was “in utero” I readily agreed, and we would smile really big.
Dona grew up in the Orange Grove area of Gulfport – what I called “the country”. We didn’t get to see each other as much as we wanted because it required our mothers to navigate Highway 49 to get to our respective homes. There were some miles between us and we didn’t attend the same schools. So, if we got to spend the night with each other it was a big deal. We mainly saw each other when our mothers got together for various functions and life events.
Our mothers raised us in the Southern tradition of calling our elders by somewhat formal names. Dona’s mother was “Miss Shirley” or “Miss Sanders” to me as deemed appropriate by my mother and Dona called my mother “Miss Janie”. Her home was kept neat and clean, unlike my mother’s home (complete disarray). A trip to Dona’s home was like a breath of fresh country air to me. A trip to my house provided Dona with a bit of the city life, although Gulfport was not a big city, it still lent a sophistication Dona seemed to crave. I went to church with Dona every time I spent the night at her house. It was the law. It was always fun for me to hang out with Dona, thought, because she and I knew each other better than anyone else in our lives. We held secrets, dreams and heartaches deep in our souls that were shared forever.
When our dog, Hustler, a pedigreed boxer sired an “unofficial” batch of puppies with the neighbor’s mixed breed dog, Dona’s family adopted one of the puppies. Her daddy named him Cassius. Dona and I recently had a conversation about Cassius and how sweet he was. Loyal and fun to play with, just like his dad, Hustler. We loved that we had dogs that came from the same family. We loved out dogs. Cassius was the first dog I remember Dona’s family having.
The day I learned Donald Sanders, Dona’s daddy, died momma picked me up from West Ward Elementary school and we cried so hard I thought our eyeballs would fall out. He built our playhouse in Mamaw’s yard, as well as the house Dona grew up in. I knew him as a loving father to his kids, devoted husband to “Miss Shirley” and dedicated friend of our family. I remember being so shocked that Dona’s daddy had died, just as mine had a few years earlier. It just could not be. I don’t really think Dona was the same after that. She was so sad most of the time during our childhood. But, we laughed a lot, too, in spite of the sorrow. I enjoyed going to Dona’s to spend the night and play Barbies. Dona had her own room with a canape bed – white French Provincial and she had a great collection of Barbies that did not have their leg chewed off by her dog, like mine so often did.
Perkinston Homecomings through the years meant Dona and I accompanied our mothers to the gatherings and football games. We met all her mother’s friends and my mother’s friends, the administration of the college and the families associated with the college. It was homecoming for me and Dona, too. I don’t remember any of our siblings attending the festivities – just me and Dona and Janie and Shirley (Reeves). We loved the bulldog mascot out on the field at the football games and would laugh so hard at him. He just sat there, not moving, like he just was concentrating so hard on the games. We vowed to have bulldogs in our future lives.
There were photos take of us when we were growing up that I remember seeing in our mothers’ photo collections. I have none of those photos now, and Dona did not have any of them in our possession, either when we discussed this earlier this year. She told me she was going to go threw her mother’s stuff and see if she could find any. My mother’s stuff went through numerous hurricanes, so, I don’t know what she ended up with when she passed, but, they are as good as gone to me now. I do have this one photo of me, seated on the right side of the photo looking on as Dona blew out the candles on her 18th birthday cake.
Our friendship was anchored on the Gulfport shores to be sure, but, our friendship stretched thousands of miles as I left Mississippi in 1976, when I was 19 years old, to live in Wisconsin.
In 1977, I was preparing for my wedding to begin in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, when the florist entered the area of the church where the bride and bridesmaids had gathered to help each other get dressed. She was carrying one long-stemmed red rose. She told me her instructions were to present the rose to me just before I went down the aisle. I opened the card that was attached to the rose. It read, “I gave you the first rose when you were born, now, I am giving you a rose when you get married.” It was one of the more amazing moments of my life. Miss Shirley had sent a message from thousands of miles away that she loved me all my life and always would. She was there with me even though she was unable to be.
I was down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1982 visiting my mother when I got a chance to talk to Dona. She told me she wanted me to come to her baby shower. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. I was so honored to be at her baby shower and we pledged to betroth our two unborn children to each other and laughed! We kind of meant it, though. The photo below is from Dona’s shower.
When my grandmother, Rosie Smith Morris, died Dona was there when I came home to Hungry Hill for the funeral. I made sure I took photos of Dona and her sisters were in the ones I took of my family because they were my family in my heart, too. While momma and Miss Shirley were in the house, we young adults gathered outside to socialize a bit. The Sanders family were as much a part of our family as anyone born to our family. They were there to help us through the tough times of life as well as the good. Dona is seated in front of the hutch in my mother’s dining room at Hungry Hill in the following photo.
Memories have flooded into my mind and heart the past few weeks. Dona was my chosen sister and I’ll miss her like crazy for the rest of my life. She was one of the better angels of our world. Someone who supported and loved me all my life. I feel lost without her. My soul mate.
I’ll probably have to add stuff and update this post many times as I think of things to share. I know I’ve probably been repetitious in some respects, but, my mind feels foggy from the mental and heartfelt pain. I can’t imagine what her husband, kids, grandkids and friends are going through at this time. I am selfish and quite alone in my emotions right now. I just feel this huge void and little else. If I wanted to share my feelings with, it would be Dona. And now, she’s gone. I’m all alone with this grief because I live far, far away from the Gulf Coast and her loved ones.
This blog post has been sort of rambling and I know it is long, but I find the writing difficult because I find it hard to focus. How do you write about such an icon in your life and narrow it down to one blog post? So, I wrote about Dona here on my blog. She loved the written word ever bit as much as I did. Our favorite book was To Kill A Mockingbird and our favorite movie was “Gone With the Wind” — she called me “Mellie” for the character Melanie, and she called herself “Scarlet”. We shared so much about literary works and wrote our feelings out in journals all our lives. Writing is therapy for some folks and that is just another way of coping Dona and I shared.
Peace be with us all…
I’ll end this by providing a link to Dona’s Blog so you can read for yourself what a special gift she was to our world:
And just a few old photos I have to share…
“If there ever comes a day
when we can’t be together,
keep me in your heart,
I’ll stay there forever.”
(from Winnie the Pooh)
And that’s what Dona and I did…
Submitted by Tenderly Rose-Robin Melissa Bosworth-Estrada Reininger
Public and Private School Teacher, Principal of Coast Episcopal School
Jane “Janie” Morris Estrada
November 27, 1935-March 9, 2013
Jane “Janie” Morris Estrada, a descendant of the pioneer Morris and Harkness families of the Gulf Coast, led her last parade through downtown Gulfport this week. She called the band to attention and quietly passed on March 9, 2013, in Gulfport. She will be forever missed by family and loved ones. She was born on November 27, 1935 at the Kings Daughters Hospital in Gulfport, and was a resident of Gulfport for most of her life. Jane was a 1953 graduate of Gulfport High School and was one of three Morris sisters to be head drum majorette of the Gulfport High School band. She was a champion baton twirler, and she and her sisters introduced fire baton twirling to the state of Mississippi. In national competition, she was the Midwest Fire Baton champion.
At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jane was the first to serve as the head Perkette for two terms, and was Miss Perkinston Jr. College and the Annual Ball Duchess. She was also an editor of the Bull Dog Barks newspaper. Jane graduated in 1955 from Perk and received Elementary and Secondary Degrees in Education in 1958 from the University of Southern Mississippi, where she was a columnist for the USM student newspaper. After the death of her husband, Jim, she moved to Hattiesburg with her four children and received a Masters of Education from USM.
Jane was the widow of USAF Captain James Peter Estrada, who was killed at the age of 28 in a B-58 Hustler supersonic jet, which was the first bomber to reach Mach Two. She was President and a lifetime member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Gold Star Wives, an organization chartered by the U.S. Congress for those whose husbands died on active duty in the U.S. armed services.
Mrs. Estrada was preceded in death by her parents John Harkness Morris and Rosie Smith Morris and her brothers Chancery Judge John S. Morris and U.S. Staff Sgt. David Harkness Morris, USAF, her great aunts Stella and Mae Harkness, an uncle, Gaston Robertson, Jr. and a sister Mary Elizabeth Morris, mother-in-law Angela Franquet Estrada and two beloved brother-in-laws, Dr. David Kelly and Shannon Slyfield. She is survived by her children Tenderly (Tom) Reininger, Angela Estrada (Ed Moleski), Alison Estrada and James Powell (Jan) Estrada.
Also surviving her are her grandchildren Evan Moleski, James Estrada, Jacob Estrada, Justin Dougherty and Kate Dougherty, and sisters Tommye LaNell Kelly of Austin, Texas and Rosie Slyfield of Mary Esther, Florida.
Mrs. Estrada served over 35 years as a teacher and a principal in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Indiana. She completed her teaching career from the Biloxi Public Schools in 1995. In 1985-86, she was selected as Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi by MPSEA private schools. In 1990, she was selected by former students for the initial edition of Who’s Who Among American Teachers.
As a college student, Jane worked in Washington D.C. for Meyers & Batzell, Attorneys and the AAA D.C. district. Her first job upon graduation from college was with Sam Owen at his realty office in Gulfport. She worked also in the law office of her brother John S. Morris.
She was a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority at USM and a member of Kappa Delta Phi Educational Sorority. Her professional memberships included Past President, Harrison County Association of Educators, District 6, Mississippi Association of Educators, former Board member of MAE, seven year elected delegate to the National Education Association, President and Woman of the Year for the American Business Women’s Association, a 50 year member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Past Royal Matron and Deputy Supreme Royal Matron of the Masonic Organization Order of the Amaranth, Past President of the Biloxi Education Association, appointed officer of the Coast Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. While serving as a leader of both Junior and Cadette troops of the Girl Scouts of America, Mrs. Estrada integrated the first Girl Scout troop in Gulfport.
She served on the Harrison County Democratic Executive Committee with Lucimarian Roberts, which was one of her greatest honors. She was a speaker on behalf of the mentor programs for disadvantaged children. In addition, at night she taught adults to read,after having taught school during the day.
Jane was a wonderful mother, daughter and teacher. After the death of her husband, she raised four children on her own, and sent them all to college. She was actively involved in the lives of her children, and took care of her mother in later years.
Mrs. Estrada lived her bucket list. After traveling extensively in the United States and Canada as a teacher, her sister Rosie took her on trip to Europe. She leaned on the Tower of Pisa, prayed at the Vatican, saw the blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover, threw three coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome, touched the feet of “The David” in Florence and smiled at the Mona Lisa. She rode the lifts in Switzerland and turned the windmills in Amsterdam.
A member of First Baptist Church of Gulfport for 70 years, she was converted and joined St. Thomas Catholic Church in Long Beach after a close relationship with the Holy Mother Mary. As a Baptist, she went to Satillo Mission in Mexico when Father Quin was there, and he is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church. Father Quin named Jane “The Babolic”, a Baptist who travels with Catholics.
Friends and relatives will be received from 9-11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 16th at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Long Beach. A graveside service will follow at 11:30 a.m. officiated by Father Louis Lohan at Southern Memorial Park, where Jane will be laid to rest by her beloved husband, Jim.
The family wishes to thank the many wonderful doctors who helped Jane through her illness, especially Dr. David LaRosa, Dr. Edwin Davidson and Dr. Fred Pakron. They also wish to give thanks for the prayers of Father Louis Lohan, Father Pete Mockler and others, the many friends who gave of themselves, Deaconess Home Care and Cannon Hospice.
In lieu of flowers, people wishing to donate may contribute to St. Thomas Catholic Church, Saltillo Mission, c/o St. Thomas Catholic Church, 712 E. Beach Blvd. Long Beach, MS 39560 or The Gold Star Wives of America, 200 N. Glebe Road Suite 425, Arlington, VA 22203.
For the sake of genealogy the following information is provided.
Janie’s first husband was Capt. Frank Hunt Bosworth. Tenderly was her child with Frank.
Later, she married Capt. James Peter Estrada with whom she had three other children. Tenderly was adopted by Jim Estrada and she lovingly called him “Daddy Jim” and grew up as his child.
Tenderly’s name was legally changed to Robin Melissa Bosworth at the age of 19 years old.
Justin James Dougherty (Danielle Gilberg) was Janie’s first grandchild and Kathleen Margaret “Kate” Dougherty was her second grandchild. “Kate” is Janie’s only grandaughter. They are the children of Melissa and her first husband.They reside in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.
Janie also had two great grandchildren not mentioned in her obituary: Mackenzie Diane Dougherty and Brett James Dougherty, children of Justin and Danielle who reside in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.
Voice recordings of Janie on “Chirbit”: Christmas Letter by Jane Morris Estrada for Tenderly – You can listen to the files on “Chirbit” and they are downloadable. Much of the family history regarding Tenderly Rose and Janie before she married Jim Estrada are in these files: