Some Other Rolfe History
I'd mentioned in "My New Beginning" that
up until recently I had no personal knowledge
about my Father's side of the family.
That changed this past October, 2008.
This all came up because one of my older
sisters, Opal, helped Kayelen a lot for my
surprise birthday party. She’s in her mid
eighties and spry as can be, but Kayelen
thought it might be a good idea for us to
spend a little time with her as soon as we
So we planned on spending some time
with her, passing that info on to my sister
Jeannie, who lives in Monroe, Louisiana.
She talked with a bunch of the rest of the
family on my Mom’s side and arranged a
bit of a family get –together for the adults.
Jeannie also heard about a project being formulated by a member of my Father’s side of the family and chanced a visit with him during one of his area “festivals”.
His name is Joe Cooper Rolfe (director of Starr Homeplace - see www.starrhomeplace.org). She did meet with him and asked if he was interested in meeting one of his cousins (me), and once agreed, provided phone numbers and email addresses for us to correspond.
We set up a meeting at his place in Oak Ridge, Louisiana. He invited a few other relatives (cousins) as well.
We met on October 18. It was a marvelous time.
There were five cousins there, some with spouses, all older than me except for Joe, whose wife, Starr, passed away a few years ago. The Starr Homeplace is dedicated to her memory.
Anyways, I was to be the apparent guinea pig for a nature versus nurture study, since I had all of my Father’s genes, but none of the Rolfe family daily input. The initial findings were almost bizarre.
Apparently the Rolfes have a history of love for music. After the Civil War, one of the Rolfes built a nice music building that was located across the road from the country school. WG Rolfe traveled down from Bastrop to provide music lessons for the area youngsters. About a year ago, Joe had that building located on his property at the Starr Homeplace.
John Rolfe Windsor, who was one of the cousins, is a gifted pianist and has a rosewood piano at his home that is one of only two in the country – the other unit is at the Houston Symphony Hall.
The Music House
Well, the Music House had a piano and other instruments, so we all walked over there. Jim Rolfe, Joe’s Dad, was a media celebrity and singing performer for radio and TV broadcasts in the area for many years. The room we entered had copies of the scripts he had done for his radio shows and shelves on walls full of Vinyl Music Albums next to a DJ turntable. There was quite a collection of varied artists – everything from Vocal Jazz to Rock and so on.
After a bit, I asked John Rolfe Windsor to play the piano. It had managed to stay in reasonably good tune in spite of North-east Louisiana's sometimes demanding temperature and weather conditions.
He did some amazing “rags” – real fast and fun tunes that made you smile just to listen. When he was finished, there was a copy of a song, “Deep Purple” (a 40’s Ballad) sitting on the piano. Fore some reason JRW hedged on playing it, but asked me if I’d give it a try. I said okay.
Before arriving there that day, nobody knew I was a musician of sorts, so when I sat down and started playing and singing, a kind of polite hush came over the room. After I’d finished playing and singing the song, the room filled with applause and every one was smiling. They then asked me about my music history and I had opportunity to tell them about starting music in college, winning the Musician’s Club award of Phoenix, Bands I’d lead in College, teaching at Central High School and directing a Youth Concert Ministry called “Hand in Hand”. They asked me if I’d written any songs myself and I said a few. They asked me to play some. I did “Bright Shining Morning” from the piano and “I Know Somebody” on the guitar. Genevieve, my dear sweet, new-found cousin said afterwards, “If I wasn’t already Saved, I would be now!”
Then JRW started playing a funky version of Amazing Grace and everybody sang along, then they dropped out, inviting me to sing a solo verse with John playing the piano – talk about amazing – it really was.
Education and Teaching
As noted previously I attended Phoenix College for a couple of years. And even though it was a "junior" college, the teachers I received tutilege from were in their heyday and were highly regarded in the music industry. I learned under Dr. Kenneth Hakes, a senior director who took me through a rich history of choral music. I also was priveleged to work under Dr. Harvey Smith, who also directed the Phoenix Symphony Chorale and Phoenix Boys Choir. His joy for choral music was infectious. He also provided me opportunity to participate in the Phoenix Symphony Chorale in a series of performances of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem". To this day I am moved at the passion and brilliance of the work. Dr. Chalma Frost got me started on the piano and was also my Madrigals director. Dr. Al Davis had many published Band compositions and was my theory teacher for two years. His encouragements regarding my style was a contributing factor in giving me confidence to write.
I received my Bachelor's Degree at Arizona State University with a major in Choral Music and minor in Instrumental Music. My professors there were also enjoying the zenith of their carrers. Dr. David Heffernan was my Directing Choral Groups teacher and helped me recognize some of the strengths I had for leadership. Dr. Douglas McEwen was the choir director, and as well as taking us through magnificent choral music, helped me define the best techniques for developing Choral tone. Marion Smith was my vocal coach and trained and challenged me to extend my singing voice. My orchestra directing professor, Dr. Eugene Lombardi, was very encouraging as well of my directing style. I also picked up some great Master's Classes in Music Theatre and Choral Arranging.
Teaching at Central High School
During a four year stint of the Hand in Hand time I also taught at Central High School (1976-1979). I loved it tremendously and still have fond memories of that amazing choir I was able to provide leadership for. I had excellent choir officers in both the Concert Choir (Steve Burt, Janet Delicath, Jennifer Nichols and Susan Hansen) and the Choraliers. Their hard work allowed me to focus on developing the groups, while they provided leadership for the special activities and Choir Tours. Our expeditions into California and exchanges with college age choirs were informative, inspirational and fun. During the four years I taught there, I was priveleged to see superior skills develop and I was always thankful for the fun and professional attitude of the members. We had lots of fun, mostly due to the fact that we'd worked hard and were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor together ("One of the Finest Choral Organizations on the Planet").
The first year I was there I generated a special program, using Randy Sparks "Riverboat Days" music as the basis and we "wrote" our own little melodrama as a presentation that was huge fun and received tremendous applause from the audience. Some Hand in Hand musicians even helped us out as the accompanying "ensemble" (Terry Hann, Greg Williams, Don Nelsen and myself). In following years, the drama department wanted to joint venture some musicals, so we did "Paint Your Wagon", "Oklahoma", and "Brigadoon." All were astonishing experiences. If you've been in an excellent musical production, you know what I mean.
However, teaching full time and directing Hand in Hand eventually got to be a bit much to do, so I had to decide between the two. It took about a year, for several reasons, but I finally determined to let the Teaching go and do the Hand in Hand thing full time. But I cherish the music, fun, friendships and amazing moments and sounds that this group enjoyed together.
B Hope (my Dad)
"Who's askin'?", B. Hope said to the teen-age boy timidly staring up at him.
"My name's Bernard Rolfe - that is Bernard Hope Rolfe, Junior, sir."
They stood in one of the rear grocery isles of the small store on the highway just outside of Mer Rouge, Louisiana - B Hope's Green two-tone Oldsmobile station wagon being the marker suggested by the farmer in the cafe the teen had stopped in as a last effort to locate Mr. Rolfe.
He had asked all around the town for the whereabouts of a Bernard Rolfe and nobody seemed to know who he was talking about. Supposedly, the Rolfes were all well-known and respected in the community, but nobody seemed to have ever heard of Bernard.
The teen had been looking in the little town for hours. His brother, Robert Earl Freeland, had almost forced him to take the day off from plowing at the farm (a task the teen had offered to do for the few weeks he had prior to moving to Phoenix with his brother Joel Freeland, after helping his folks get settled down in Mena, Arkansas). Robert Earl said it would be good for him to meet his Dad, since he'd never communicated with him these first 17 years of his life.
The cafe was about the fourth place the teen had stopped in. By this time, his swirling thoughts had begun to convince him that there was some kind of secret plan portioned out to the town-folk by the Rolfe family to prevent the long-lost Rolfe child from finding out anything about his Father or his family, or their old cotton plantation or some other incidious tidbit of information - perhaps they controlled the community, somehow.
When in frustration, the kid said to the entire room full of patrons in the cafe - "Does anyone know of a Bernard Rolfe?" Looks of genuine stupor filled the room for an uncomfortable, long silence. The teen said the name one last time "Bernard Rolfe" - pause - sigh - "Bernard Hope Rolfe?"
Apparently when the patrons head the name "Hope", they almost all immediately realized who he was looking for.
"Oh, you mean B Hope??!! Of course we know who B Hope is!"
One of the gentlemen at one of the tables said, "Yeah, I just saw his Olds station wagon a few minutes ago, just down the road at the grocery - if you hurry, you'll probably catch him!"
The so-called "conspriacy" theory, now cleared up, evaporated out of his head.
A surprised teen had said thanks and hurried outside to the Rambler that Robert Earl had provided him to make the hour-long trip to Mer Rouge from Rayville, Louisiana.
So here he was facing B Hope - they were the only two in the store other than the man behind the counter who had pointed out B Hope to the kid.
An uneasy silence - a furrowed brow - an uneasy teen trying to maintain eye-contact with the older gentleman, though feeling totally out of place and apparently wishing he wouldn't have asked in the first place "Is your name B. Hope Rolfe?"
"You'll have to prove that - " B Hope said - meaning that the teen's identity was in question and needed facts to prove who he said he was.
The teen clearly was surprised at the query and could be seen formulating his response. Part of him had wanted a warm embrace and perhaps a sense of a beginning - but instead of that there was the sense of suspicion from B Hope that caught him off guard.
"Doggone my Brother for suggesting this!" the teen thought to himself. Then he reached in the right back pocket of his blue-jeans, fetched his wallet, flipped it open and showed B Hope his California Driver's License.
California - where he'd been shipped off to from Camden, Arkansas in the eight grade after his Mom had courted and married a man called Roy Barrett who lived in Pacoima, California. Roy was the father of Robert Earl's deceased wife. Robert Earl later remarried a lady named Sarah, but had shipped the kids of his first wife to Camden to live with his Mom for a while. Roy and Robert Earl's Mom connected and decided to get married - and live in California.
The kid managed to survive the gang wars that apparently had been going on for years between Pacoima and San Fernando. But he still had a fondness for Southern California, probably due to the beaches and the somehow gratifying cruising down Van Nuys Boulevard weeknights and weekends with friends. He believes the movie American Graffitti steals episodes that he and some of his friends were a part of those days when Motown, the Beach Boys and even the upstart Beatles were bigtime on the airwaves.
He'd gotten in with an unruly bunch and left town with his Mom and step-dad when they were retiring and moving to Mena, Arkansas. Some of his So Cal "associates" were getting picked up by the Fuzz due to some of their "endeavors". Timing couldn't be better to get out of town, but he hated to say goodbye to his '53 Studebaker with the huge Caddy with two four barrel carburetors in it.
B Hope stared at the kid's license for an uncomfortable long time, as far as the teen was concerned. He was beginning to think that B Hope was going to ask for more proof.
You've probably guessed that the kid was me.
Anyways, after another short while, he tenderly looked me in the face and asked “How’s your Momma?” At the time I simply responded, “She’s fine.” But as I think back there seemed to be genuine sadness and gentleness in his query. Frankly, due to the uncomfortable circumstances, I just wanted to do as little as possible small talk about California and Mom re-marrying and I was going back to Phoenix, then leave. There was no exchange of addresses or other information.
He simply extended his hand and said, “It’s been my extreme pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks” I said, shook his hand, and turned to leave.
“If there’s anything I can do” – he started to say –
“No, I’m fine .” I said, thinking to myself that I’d not gotten his help in the 17 years past – and I didn’t need it now.
As I look back, I recognize a tenderness now that the awkwardness of the situation at the time did not allow me to see.
My sister Jeanie is convinced that He and my Mom truly loved each other – perhaps the only real true love of their lives in view of the fact that my Mom was almost forced by her Father to marry her first husband, a man she hardly knew, at the age of seventeen. The first husband was apparently unkind and abusive to the kids as well as to her, I’m told. From what I can make of it, the Freeland kids held no fondness for their Dad and not much talk of him is had. He died from injuries suffered in WWII.
I can imagine “Doc’s” (one of my Dad's nicknames) kind heartedness and good-natured attitude was very endearing to my Mom.
So in retrospect, I take some sweet comfort on their behalf, knowing that for a few months of their lives they enjoyed the kind of love that people remember for their entire lives.
And of course I’m the progeny of that unusual love affair.
Incidental info about my Dad:
Bernard Hope Rolfe, one of nine children, was named after two of his Dad's (Joe-Sam's) good friends Bernard and Dr. Hope, the doctor who delivered all of the Rolfe children. They lived in a huge plantation home where I'm told twenty people at a time would have daily meals together. His Mom, Gertrude, was an amazing lady (for lots of reasons).
His nicknames were B Hope and “Doc”. He was a free spirit who chose to find simple pleasures in the local areas. In his thirties, after serving in WWII, he bought himself a surplus Harley Davidson motorcycle and cruised the back roads of Northeast Louisiana. He was a dapper dresser and all of the nieces and nephew said wherever he went, it smelled good.
However, an almost fatal motorcycle accident caused him severe head trauma. He was bedridden for several months and it became clear that he was without all of his mental capacities. Though the mental acuity never totally returned, I'm told he was always found smiling and always found a way to be happy. The genuine good-natured ness and playfulness he had with all of his nieces and nephews made him the favorite uncle, whose limitations, at least when they were young, they never seemed to notice.
My Mom, Leveda (Mae Parker/Freeland – kin to Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame) had recently lost her husband to wounds suffered in WWII. Though in her early 40’s, and the mother of eight children, she was still quite a looker whose flair for big hair and colorful clothes and hair ribbons gained her the reputation of being “almost like a gypsy woman”.
Apparently B Hope couldn’t resist getting to know her. Eventually they were married. When the rest of the Rolfe family found out, (I'm told) they were very concerned. The Patriarch contacted a lawyer and somehow convinced a judge that the marriage should be annulled. Their argument was that his limited mental capacities were the source of a very poor decision, endangering his (and perhaps theirs as well) long term best interests.
Even so, the marriage had already been consummated and I was on the way. A full-fledged divorce was formulated by the Rolfe’s family attorney, and with the agreement to pay for all of the Doctor’s delivery expenses for me, my relationship with my Father and the rest of the Rolfe clan was terminated. My Mom and I, along with the rest of her kids (who I always knew as my brothers and sisters), moved away from Rayville to Camden, in southern Arkansas. I’m told I was about nine months old when the paperwork was completed.
B Hope stayed under one of the kind members of the Rolfe family's care until his death in 1981. One of my cousins (John Rolfe Windsor, who I just recently met) enjoyed taking care of him and said there was never an unkind word that ever came out of “Doc’s” mouth. If anyone ever did begin a tirade against someone he cared about, he would raise his index finger, stopping the other person’s discourse, point that finger at them and say “You’ve run out” and turn and walk away.
Apparently my Dad sneaked a couple of visits to me when I was quite young. I don’t remember them.
The Rolfe Kids
I have the privelege of having four great "kids" -
My oldest daughter, Lauren Hope was born in 1979 and is married to Damon Bradshaw. They live in Kansas City, MO. My first grand-daughter, Mina was born in May of 2008 and has her Grand-dad's good looks and intelligence (but the red hair probably comes from her talented Dad). Jovie was born in May of 2009 and looks a lot like her Mom. Lauren is an amazing Mom and has one of the most beautiful lyric soprano voices this unbiased Dad has ever heard. Check her out on the "Happy Holidays" CD, singing "The First Noel" section.
Luke was born in 1981 and is also a talented guitarist and lyricist. He's been playing since junior high school (he played the "Star Spangled Banner" on guitar as an opener at a sports activity) and can do some pretty amazing things on the guitar. Even his first attempt at lyrics were insightful and compelling. He lives in Missouri, still working on what he wants to do.
Landon was born in 1984 and started playing bass when I took the boys with me on a trip to Canada in 1998 when I was doing a construction project there. He, Luke and I would practice at night after work and before we left Canada were asked to play at a party. We pulled off playing a few tunes. As time has gone on, he has picked up guitar and currently keyboards. He called me a few weeks back and sang me a song on the piano that he's writing. A great insight and encouragement song about living life so that there will be no regrets. Cool! He lives in Springfield, MO and as a member of the band Livewire ("Tater Fed") has a recording contract . Check them out on YouTube. You'll forgive a proud Dad when I say Landon has the best bass tone and feel for harmonic structure of any bassist I've known.
The Rolfes in the Music House
at the Starr Homeplace
Play Lauren Singing "The First Noel"
The Family Tree
We went back into Joe’s house. He provided me with a laminated sheet with the Rolfe Geneology starting in the 1600’s. Here are a few of the highlights:
There is a John Rolfe during that time, but not the one of Pocahontas lore - our branch of the family tree is descended from an uncle of the John Rolfe who married Pocahontas.
There were two Rolfes who were active during the American Revolution. Both were involved in the Boston Tea Party, as well as the stand-off and Battle at Lexington. Tradition from the family says that the “shot heard around the world” was fired by one of the Rolfes!
The family stayed in the Northeast for several generations. There’s a couple of Harvard grads who later served as Clergy in the area. Then a few of the Rolfe boys ventured out. One, a doctor, went out west for the gold rush. The San Francisco Chronicle published several of his letters. One headed for northeast Louisiana. At least one moved to the state of Arkansas, the southern part (Hamburg) prior to the Civil War.
He became a General in the War for the Confederacy. His father, General Benjamin Rolfe, married a lady with a heritage dating back to the 2nd century AD traced through royal lineage (- I’ll have to check into that more). The Honorable Willian Greeleaf Rolfe served as a Judge as well as being a real estate entrepreneur among many other things. One item of note – during the reconstruction after the war, apparently he was in a tiff with a Union Officer and he shot and killed the officer – almost got himself hanged, but managed to get out of it. (Kayelen and I drove by the cemetery where his tombstone is. It not only has a memorial stone, but also a rusted iron cross which is reserved for Confederate officers who served well the Confederacy).
The Rolfes who settled in northeast Louisiana tried an undertaking that took a lot of work. They developed a plantation after the civil war and did have black servants, but I’m told they were very kind to them.
Gertrude and Sam
One reason for the kind attitude was because of the newly married small Lady of the house, Gertrude Cooper Rolfe. Her Father did have slaves on his Cooper Plantation, but they were well-treated. The story goes that shortly after she and Sam Rolfe were married, she happened to see her husband hit a black male servant. She quickly ran out onto the porch and called her new husband. She asked him to join her in the house. He came in and she dismissed everyone else from the house. She then locked the door behind her, faced Mr. Rolfe and quietly said, in her soft genteel voice, with no small amount of terse clarity, “Mr. Rolfe – If you ever lay your hand on any colored person again to do them harm, I promise you that I will divorce you – is that clear?”
Apparently it was. Sam never was unkind to a servant on the Rolfe property ever again. Even after Gertrude passed away, his reputation for kindness and generosity to the black community in the area continued until his death. The “N” word was never allowed to be spoken by anyone on the Rolfe properties. He even built a small church for the Black community long ago. The Rolfe name is respected by the black community in Oak Ridge and Mer Rouge, Louisiana.
Gertrude had the misfortune of losing 3 infants early in the marriage. One of the things she determined to do was to take care of, protect and provide for the rest of her children (eventually nine of them). What that came to mean was that a home would have to be built large enough to accommodate all of her children and possibly their spouses if need be. The result was that she convinced Sam Rolfe to build a 10,000 square foot two story house (the Forest Home) with quarters for each of their children. They all ate meals together – approximately 20 people at each sitting. Wow!
After Gertrude’s demise, Sam was approached and asked what he thought of the endeavor. His pensive response was “It has been a very interesting experiment indeed - the likes of which should never be repeated.”
Eventually each of the children did move out and form their own households. The house was abandoned after Sam’s death and eventually fell into decay. The concrete columns at the entry with “Cooper” on the left side and “Rolfe” on the right side are the only visible remains of the Rolfe “Plantation” home. Currently the area has been cleared of all the trees and has been planted with cotton. There is a road sign nearby with the title “Rolfe Lane”.
The Freelands get together at Jeannie and Jerry's Place
in Monroe, LA (my Mom's side of the Family)
Joe Rolfe handing me copies of centuries old Rolfe letters
Glory to the God of New Beginnings
Logan was born in 1992 and is the athlete of the family. He works hard at basketball, spending his recent summers working with his "guys". He recently graudated from Niangua High School. I was honored that he asked me to play, along with his brother Landon, at his graduation a song I'd written for he and his buds to play and sing to the graduating class. The song "Separated Never" (see YouTube video) was written to hopefully capture both the melancholy of saying goodbye, and the hope and dreams for the future.