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Learning more about Chapel Hill Roots

July 9, 2011

For Starkville Daily News

Who do you think you are? Where do your roots go? Where did your family history begin? Where did you life take you? How did this story begin?
As I was working in my yard recently, Mary Randle Calmes Purnell and her daughter Kate Calmes stopped in the drive to say hello. Mary had been a sitter for my mother and stopped in remembrance of her. As we were talking in the driveway, I reminded Mary of how impressed I was with the excellent care she gave my mother and asked her where she acquired the skills she possessed. She said she followed her mom around as a child helping people who were sick and doing various jobs in the houses for them. Her mother had learned these skills from her mother, and had they had been passed down from mother to child through the years. Mary’s mother was a member of the Missionary Society, which taught helping others. In this way, the tradition was passed from one generation to another and still continues today.
Mary is the daughter of the late Henry Randle, who was a pioneer family of Oktibbeha County and Sunday School superintendent of the Chapel Hill church for many years. The wall hangings on the inside of the church were put there by her father and hung there until recently when the church was remodeled.
In 1876, during Reconstruction in Oktibbeha County, there is recorded in the history of our county, a Chapel Hill Riot. The Chapel Hill Church was the assembly place. It was not a big battle, but it had tremendous effect.
In 2005 another remarkable event occurred at the Chapel Hill Church during its 150th anniversary celebration. A Randle reunion was being held in Starkville. They had a bus touring Starkville and outlying areas of Oktibbeha County. No member of the family had been back to that area since 1890. They met a gentleman by the name of George Randle who lived up on a hill in the Chapel Hill community and who was a veritable fount of historical information. They told of their experience as they visited Chapel Hill Church.
As they were touring the inside of the church, some of the older family members approached the front of the church when one of them began singing an old, old hymn. Others began to join in and sang the song like they had been there and sang that same song before. Later they related that they felt like they had come home.
Mary N. Elliott from Silver Spring, Md. was the person on the tour who gave this account of visiting the Chapel Hill Church. She also told about her great grandmother, Julia Ann Randle Elliott. She married a man named Willis Elliott. They lived in Oktibbeha County until they migrated to the Oklahoma Territory in about 1890. Julia had a sister named Mary Ann Randle who married a man named Horace Gandy. Mary and Horace had a son named Dr. John M. Gandy who became the president of Virginia State University back in the 1930s. The basis of this information came from Dr. Gandy’s unpublished autobiography.
Mary’s father, Henry Randle, earned a living farming a tract of land that was part of a sharecropping agreement he had with Henry Tabb. Historical records show that Henry Tabb had 33 slaves in 1835. Henry Randle had truck crops, orchards and a hay baling enterprise that he operated throughout the county. He would travel about with his boys bailing hay for other farmers.
Henry Randle Jr. was born April 1880 and died July 8, 1969. He joined the Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church at an early age. He was married to Miss Dessie Rice and to this union was born two sons. He later married Hattie Bolden and to this union sixteen children were born. His last wife was Nancy Chandler and to this union ten children were born. Two children died at birth. In summary, he married three times and had 30 children with most of them being boys. He also owned a store at Chapel Hill. When their family home burned, he built a room onto the back of the store and moved his family into the store until he could build them another home. The store building still remains next to Mary’s home. Mary had ten children. One son is a minister in the Atlanta area and three of her daughters married ministers; and four sons, four grandsons, and three granddaughters are in the military.
Mary still lives on the land of her father and continues to be a member of the Missionary Society, which taught her at an early age to be a help to others.
On April 17, 2011, the Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church celebrated over 155 years of working in God’s vineyard. The church began when old patriots such as Henderson Harris, Henry (Chief) Harris, Young Harris, Clark Harris, Claude Harris, Jimmy Lee Harris, Sr. and other men in the community came together to build the church. The church in its early years was also used as a school so local children were also educated here in the church. Henderson Harris and the Harris family who played a major role in the church history donated the property. Chapel Hill Road turns left off Oktoc Road and continued past the church. until the 911 changes in 1968 when the road where it bends was changed to Harris Road. The church is now located at 2319 Harris Road. Some of the former pastors are Rev. Stewart (1920s), Mack Green (1930s), Rev. Turnipseed (1940s), Rev. Sharp (1950s – first vestibule built on the church), Creed Buck (1963-1971), Lewis Vaughn (1971-1976), Tillman Calvary (1976-1980), Bobbie Bowen (1980-87), I. L. Conley (1987-1988), Jimmy Ellis, Jr. (1989-2002), Kenyon Ashford (2002-07), and Earl Willis (2002-present). Chapel Hill is the mother church of two great churches, Pine Grove MBC and Mt. Olive MBC (1875). This information was taken from the 155th Anniversary in 2011 provided by Sena Harris whose deceased husband was a member of the Harris family at Chapel Hill.
Kate Calmes remembers, “My mother was excellent at juggling multiple tasks and working under pressure. While raising her children, she took odd jobs outside her home caring for the sick and elderly people. She loves this kind of work. She attended Chapel Hill school, Pleasant Grove school, Golden Triangle School’s Health Care and CNA Division. She loves flowers and working in her beautiful yard. To see her roses is a joy. She loves cooking for her children and her turkey and dressing is the best around. She is a member of Pleasant Grove M.B. Church and was a Sunday School teacher for about 30 years, a member of the senior choir and the Missionary Society.”

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