Mike Stewart and Susan Walker, of Denham Springs, are a living example of "Love on the Reservation." After more than 50 years of friendship, the couple found something new and exciting when they both attended an Istrouma Indian class reunion.
This year marks the 10th official year a group of Istrouma graduates have met for twice-a-year reunions called pow wows hosted by Frank and Kathleen Parker. Alumni meet in the spring for a crawfish boil and the fall for a pig roast to recall days gone by and spark new connections at an old, secluded Indian mound on the outskirts of Zachary dubbed Trails End Reservation.
Frank Parker, 1967 graduate, and owner of Frank’s Specialty Meats in Zachary for years, has become the honorary chief of this tribe. Parker has been an organizer, historian and silent force in keeping the Istrouma Nation together.
“Frank has been in touch with this Istrouma group since he got out of high school,” said Kathleen Parker, who retired from the Bank of Zachary.
Frank Parker is a history book of anecdotes, and he takes great pleasure in talking about love stories, or "Love on the Reservation," that started or rekindled at his home.
Stewart was living in North Carolina and came for the spring reunion. Walker is more specific. “It was the crawfish boil on May 4, 2014,” she said.
The two had known each other since high school. Walker dated and married Stewart’s best friend from high school. Walker’s first marriage ended in divorce and her second husband died. They had hadn’t seen one another in 15 years when they reunited at the spring 2014 reunion.
“We happened to meet up that day and picked up from the mid-60s where we left off,” Stewart said. “And neither of us was looking for anything, but things started to develop.”
They visited at the pow wow and met up twice the following week, including a trip to Third Street in Baton Rouge looking for some live blues music.
“It wasn’t until I started to drive back to North Carolina that I really began to know that I had some feelings for her,” Stewart said. “Before, there was no romantic interest between us; she was like a sister to me.”
Stewart invited Walker to a family wedding in Virginia in July 2014 where he made a confession. “I said, ‘Susan, I gotta tell you something or my chest is going to explode,’” Stewart recalled. “I love you.”
Walker immediately retrieved her iPad from the car that had an unsent email confessing her same feelings for Stewart. She was working up her nerve to share her feelings.
“From that point forward, it was on,” Stewart said. “It just took me another year to get back to Baton Rouge to get back to her.”
Stewart returned to the area in July 2015 and the two have continued to attend the reunion events as a couple.
Some of the reunion love birds managed to just miss each other in high school.
The Rev. Galen Sorey and Nonie McClure had both lost their spouses.
They had both gone to Istrouma and grown up in the same neighborhood, but they didn’t know each other. McClure’s older sister was in Sorey’s class. He saw her name tag and her year and stopped to ask about his classmate. “For about four hours, they were talking in the yard,” Kathleen Parker said.
The two then attended the May 4, 2015, reunion and eloped in July that same year. Sorey, while conducting a study of Ecclesiastes 3, found confirmation in the passage “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die ... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” After his mourning, it was his time to dance.
The couple now live in Watson, where Sorey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge.
The successful reunions, like the reservation love stories, were unexpected byproducts. Tom Clement, of St. Gabriel, started a Facebook page several years ago. He said he was looking for two particular classmates and thought social media might be a good way to find them. As the page attracted more members, the group began to have offline meetings and small social gatherings at local restaurants.
The pow wows at Trails End Reservation started when the group outgrew restaurants and wanted the flexibility to have day-long reunions.
Clement never found the two classmates, but the Facebook group has more than 700 members. The pows wows have exceeded 200 attendees, but reunions are limited to the 1960s classes and the first 150 to RSVP.
Clement was thankful to be a part of the Nov. 2 reunion after a 17-month recovery from a devastating accident. Clement was cycling with his friend and East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso on June 30, 2018, in West Feliciana Parish when a driver plowed into the cyclist from the rear. Amoroso died at the scene and Clement was seriously injured.
Clement’s Facebook group continues to grow and add new members and the next pow wow will be held in spring 2020 at Trails End Reservation.