S. S. DeWitt
|Sturgis Sprague "S. S." DeWitt|
Louisiana State Representative
for Tensas, Franklin
and Madison parishes
1964 – 1972
|Preceded by||J. C. Seaman|
|Succeeded by||Lantz Womack|
|Born|| September 15, 1914|
|Died|| February 19, 1998|
|Political party||Democrat / later Republican|
|Spouse(s)||Hazel Green DeWitt (married 1940-1998, his death)|
|Children|| Edith Sprague Sandoz
|Residence|| Tensas Parish|
(Newellton and St. Joseph)
|Alma mater||Sicily Island (Louisiana) High School|
Sturgis Sprague DeWitt, known primarily as S. S. DeWitt (September 15, 1914 – February 19, 1998), was a farmer and businessman from Newellton and St. Joseph in Tensas Parish in northeastern Louisiana, who served as a conservative Democratic state representative from 1964 to 1972.
In 1963, DeWitt unseated 20-year Representative J. C. Seaman of Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish. He had run unsuccessfully against Seaman in the 1959 primary. In his first term from 1964 to 1968, DeWitt represented only Tensas Parish, but in his second term, he was paired with Lantz Womack of Winnsboro in Franklin Parish, in a combined district including Franklin, Tensas, and Madison parishes. DeWitt was hence the last person to have represented a district which included only Tensas Parish, the least populous of Louisiana's sixty-four parishes. Prior to 1968, all Louisiana parishes had a minimum of one member in the 105-member state House regardless of population. DeWitt lost a bid for a third term in the 1971 primary, and Womack was elected in a redistricted single-member district. After his legislative service, DeWitt at some point switched his affiliation to the Republican Party.
DeWitt was born to Harry Burr DeWitt (1867-1961) and the former Edith Walton Sprague (1876-1938) in rural Sicily Island in Catahoula Parish, also in northeastern Louisiana. Harry DeWitt, a native of Lodi, Ohio, who first came to Louisiana at the age of seventeen to work in a sawmill at the community of Peck in Catahoula Parish. Edith Sprague was reared in Sicily Island, but her family came originally from Natchez, Mississippi. DeWitt graduated from Sicily Island High School in 1931 and thereafter attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for two years. Also from Sicily Island was one of DeWitt's boyhood friends, Cecil R. Blair, who served as a state senator for Rapides Parish.
In 1940, he married the former Hazel Green (July 19, 1921 – January 29, 2015), the daughter of William Lawrence Green, Sr., and the former Ernestine Vance. She was born in the village of Slate Springs in Calhoun County in northern Mississippi, and had a surviving twin sister, Mabel Green Walker. Mrs. DeWitt was reared in Newellton, graduated from the former Newellton High School, and was a member of the First Baptist Church of Newellton.
Legislative and civic service
After World War II, the couple moved to her hometown of Newellton in northern Tensas Parish, where DeWitt clerked in a store owned by Henry Lang. Thereafter, DeWitt engaged in farming, piloted his own plane, and developed an interest in state politics. In the legislature, he served on the House Un-American Activities, Agriculture, and Transportation committees. Prior to his legislative service, the couple relocated outside St. Joseph and resided on scenic Lake Bruin, an oxbow lake of the Mississippi River.
DeWitt was a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Newellton. He was a member of the advisory committee of the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation, an interest group, which honored him on April 30, 1996, with its 1995 "G. O. McGuffee Public Servant Award" presented in a ceremony in Baton Rouge by former state Senator Bryan A. Poston (1924-2009) of Hornbeck in Vernon Parish in western Louisiana.
He was also active in the American Legion, Rotary International, and the board of the Lake Bruin Golf and Country Club, where he played tennis well into his eighties. In earlier years, he was a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America.
Death and legacy
DeWitt died at the age of eighty-three of pancreatic cancer in St. Francis Hospital in Monroe, Louisiana. In addition to his wife, he was survived by their daughter, Edith Sprague DeWitt Sandoz (born 1945), and her husband, Robert James Sandoz, of Houston, Texas. Edith Sandoz was divorced from James Clyde "Jim" Wilkerson (1942–2007), the son of Virginia R. Wilkerson (1908-1974), a veteran member of the Tensas Parish School Board, and a maternal grandson of former state Senator Clyde V. Ratcliff of Newellton. There are two DeWitt grandchildren, James Clifton "Cliff" Wilkerson, II, an attorney in Baton Rouge who is the namesake of his paternal grandfather, and Edith Margaret Wilkerson, formerly Edith Wong of Atlanta, Georgia. DeWitt left behind one great-grandchild, Kayle Anne Griffith. Services were held at the First Baptist Church in Newellton, with five officiating ministers, J. Fulton McGraw, James D. Hill (the former First Baptist Newellton pastor, then at First Baptist Blanchard in Caddo Parish), Mack Stange, Hugh Boswell, and Ray Robbins.
After his death, First Baptist dedicated its flag and flagpole in DeWitt's honor. He was lauded as:
one of those men who answered the call of his country to help defend these freedoms and ideals during World War II. His love of his country developed a strong sense of patriotism which never waned and which was reflected in his strong stand against the desecrations of this hallowed flag. ... He always tried to inculcate and instill this love of country and loyalty to country in the lives of young people. ... Sprague DeWitt's support of freedom for all and his loyalty to his country was absolutely unswerving. ...
The late Sam Hanna, Sr., a Louisiana journalist in his colum,n "One Man's Opinion," recalled that mourners packed the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Newellton for DeWitt's funeral, and many had to watch the service on video in the family room of the church. Hanna described DeWitt, accordingly:
A strong physically fit man, DeWitt was active, still playing tennis, until he became ill. ... [His] life story [was] typical of a lot of men of his generation who grew up in quieter times, went to college, served in the military during World War II, and came home to make a living, support a family, and contribute to a country he dearly loved. That was DeWitt's story, a farmer by trade, a veteran, a family man with grandchildren, a Scoutmaster in his earlier days, a Rotarian, a church-going man, and a loyal Louisianian. ...
Tensas [Parish] was different [when DeWitt entered the legislature]. It was unique, a parish where more than its share of strong-willed men lived their lives in leadership roles, men like Elliot D'Evereux Coleman (1881-1963), Ben Burnside, Sr., Edwin Randolph McDonald, Sr. (founder of the defunct Dutch Gardens in Newellton), and Howard M. Jones, the state senator who served alongside DeWitt during DeWitt's first term in the House....DeWitt was not a natural or a pure politician. He wasn't driven by politics. But he was genuine and sincere in his feelings for people and his desire to represent them to the best of his ability. That was his outstanding distinction in public life, more so than being a legislator in a period when the state experienced one of its most significant changes in history. ...
One of DeWitt's friends from his Sicily Island days was at the funeral where he recounted that although DeWitt never returned to live at Sicily Island, he never forgot his friends there and maintained contact with them. Hanna recalled that DeWitt became friends with his northeast Louisiana neighbor, John J. McKeithen, a former lawmaker who was governor during DeWitt's legislative tenure, described DeWitt as "a fine honorable man, a good representative of the people who stood by his word, and his convictions." DeWitt and his wife, Hazel, are interred at Legion Memorial Cemetery in Newellton.
- Sturgis Sprague DeWitt. findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 25, 2020.
- Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1880-2024. Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on June 25, 2020.
- Obituary of Sturgis Sprague DeWitt, Tensas Gazette, (St. Joseph, Louisiana), February 25, 1998, p. 2.
- Hazel Green DeWitt. The Monroe News-Star (January 31, 2015). Retrieved on June 25, 2020.
- Statement of Mrs. Hazel DeWitt, April 22, 2008.
- Annual Meeting and Awards Program, Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation, Radisson Hotel, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, April 30, 1996.
- Louisiana Legislature, Regular Session, 1999, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 19, Senator Noble Ellington of Winnsboro.
- James Clyde Wilkerson. findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 25, 2020.
- Virginia Ratcliff Wilkerson. findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 25, 2020.
- Dedication service of flag and flagpole, First Baptist Church, Newellton, Louisiana,1998.
- Sam Hanna, Sr., "DeWitt's class was the last", "One Man's Opinion" column in The Concordia Sentinel, The Franklin Sun, and The Ouachita Citizen, February 1998.