It was a sad day for locals, especially Helen Cox High School alumni, to learn of the permanent closing and intended demolition of Helen Cox High School in Harvey. Around since 1969, it was home to junior high, middle school and high school students for over half a century.
For first cousins Val Coles and Holly Williams of Gretna, the school closing set off alarm bells. The school’s namesake Helen Cox, a Gretna resident and longtime educator, was their great-great aunt. The Cox family had presented a picture of Helen Cox to the school soon after its opening back in 1969. The cousins were on a mission to make sure that the picture, if it still hung in the school would be salvaged.
The cousins went to the school and received the portrait from Principal Melanie Moore. It needed a little tender love and care at the frame shop, but was prominently displayed at the July general membership meeting of the Gretna Historical Society. Val and Holly both serve on the Board of Directors as officers of the historical organization. Val gave a talk at the meeting telling members about Helen Cox and her wonderful legacy of education in Gretna and Jefferson Parish.
Helen Adelle Cox was born June 14, 1871 here in Gretna, one of four children. Her sister Hilda Cox was a first grade teacher for 42 years at McDonogh #10 and Belleville school. The sisters were both old maid schoolteachers who lived together until their deaths.
Her brother George was a former President of the Jefferson Parish School Board and the Editor and proprietor of the Jefferson Democrat newspaper. In 1961 the Jefferson Parish School Board named the new elementary school on Belle Chasse highway after George. That school is still operating today.
She began teaching in 1891 and taught for 51 years, Math, her subject. She was affectionately known in Gretna as “Miss Helen,” described as a “stately white haired easy spoken person,” loved and honored by the thousands she taught.
She initiated efforts which resulted in the first high school classes being formed in 1905. In 1908 Miss Helen was appointed principal of McDonogh Jefferson High. She insisted on remaining as a teacher and was the highest paid teacher in Jefferson Parish at $280 per month.
In 1928, when Gretna High School was opened, she became its first principal. She served as a teaching principal until her retirement in 1942. Helen Cox died in 1967 at the age of 95.
Helen Cox’s portrait will be permanently housed in the Ignacius Strehle House, a part of the Gretna Historical Society Museum complex at 209 Lafayette Street. There is a section in the Ignacius House dedicated to schools and education with an impressive amount of school memorabilia. This is very appropriate since Helen Cox grew up on Lafayette Street, right next door to the GHS White House.
The school named after Helen Cox is located at 2200 Lapalco Blvd. in Harvey. Founded in 1969, it was once a middle school (6th -8th grade), then in 1985 became a junior high school (7th – 9th grade) and in 2004 Helen Cox became a high school (9th -12th grade.)
With the school closing, Helen Cox High School students will be absorbed into John Ehret High School, L.W. Higgins High School and West Jefferson High School.