Cliff Ammons

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Clifton R. "Cliff" Ammons​

Louisiana State Representative
for Sabine Parish​
In office
1960​ – 1964​
Preceded by J. M. Belisle​
Succeeded by Willie A. Williams​

Born February 17, 1918​
Negreet, Sabine Parish, Louisiana​
Died July 28, 1981 (aged 63)
Fraser Hospital in Many​, Louisiana
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Ethel Matherne Ammons (married 1940-1981, his death)​
Children Dr. Dianna A. Johnson
Suzanne Jeanne Ammons
Robert D. Ammons
Kenneth E. Ammons
Larry Wayne Ammons (1953-1993)​
Residence Many, Sabine Parish​
Alma mater Louisiana State University
Stephen F. Austin State University
Occupation Educator, businessman
Religion Christianity

Clifton R. Ammons, known as Cliff Ammons (February 17, 1918 – July 28, 1981), was an educator and businessman from Many, Louisiana, who served from 1960 to 1964 during the administration of Governor Jimmie Davis as a Democratic state representative for Sabine Parish.[1]

Ammons is principally remembered as "the father of Toledo Bend Reservoir", a large recreational and power complex on the Louisiana/Texas border. Toledo Bend encompasses parts of four counties in Texas as well as Sabine and De Soto parishes in Louisiana. It is the largest lake in Texas and the largest waterway of its kind on the borders of Texas.[2]Lake Pontchartrain in southeastern Louisiana is much larger in area, but it is a brackish estuary and not a true lake.

Background[edit]

Ammons was born in rural Negreet in Sabine Parish, a son of Oriel Lee Ammons (1896–1968) and the former Velma Alford (1900–1992). After graduation from Negreet High School in 1935, he procured a Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. He also obtained a master's degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches in east Texas.[3]

In 1940, he married the former Ethel Jeanne Matherne (1916–2002). She was originally from the Bayou Blue community near Houma in Terrebonne Parish, the daughter of Ellis Thomas and Ada E. Matherne. Their children are Dr. Dianna Drew Johnson of Memphis, Tennessee, formerly Dr. Dianna D. Redburn of Houston, Texas,[4] and Suzanne Jeanne Ammons, Robert Dale Ammons, and Kenneth Ellis Ammons, all of Many.[5] The youngest son, Larry Wayne Ammons (1953–1993), died at the age of thirty-nine of heart complications in Lafayette.[4]​ ​ From 1940 to 1944, Ammons operated a dairy. From 1945 to 1947, he worked for the Veterans Farm Assistance Program. From 1947 to 1948, he was the principal of Fisher High School in Sabine Parish.[3] From 1948 to 1967, he was an agriculture teacher at Many High School, with service there corresponding with his term in the state legislature.[6]

As an agriculture instructor, he was also the advisor to Future Farmers of America. During summers he organized two-week trips, many out-of-state, for the FFA members. He taught his classes with a John Dewey "learn-by-doing" approach.[3]​ ​

Toledo Bend Reservoir[edit]

​ In the late 1950s, Ammons developed an interest in building Toledo Bend Reservoir. He visited Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border to study how a reservoir could produce an economic boom in a local area. He returned to Many so committed to the project that he ran for the legislature despite his lack of political experience. His motto was "Let's Build Toledo Bend Dam."[7]

When Ammons went to Baton Rouge to introduce his bill for reservoir funding, he met immediate hesitation or outright opposition from state officials in the Davis administration who complained about the lack of funds available for expensive new projects. At the close of a strategy session, Ammons said, "Gentlemen, I called the meeting for you to tell me what could be done to build Toledo Bend, but all you have told me is what not to do.”[7] The head of the state public works department, Lorris Wimberly, a former House Speaker from Arcadia in Bienville Parish, "shook his finger" at Ammons and warned the new legislator that he did "not have the slightest idea what it would take to get this type of legislation passed. If you do introduce such a bill, you are going to hang yourself on the highest tree around this Capitol, and furthermore you are going to be the laughingstock of the whole Legislature."[7] Wimberly was soon replaced by Claude Kirkpatrick, formerly a legislator from Jennings in Jefferson Davis Parish, who worked on the administrative end to bring the project to reality.​

Voters approved Amendment 8 to tap income from a pension-fund tax established in 1890 for Louisiana veterans of the Confederate Army. At the time, there was only one remaining Civil War widow still living. Norman Lee Richardson (1935-1999), then the regional state editor of The Shreveport Times, questioned the project from an historic perspective: the Sabine Breastworks from the Civil War would yield to the water of the reservoir.[7] In time, Ammons got his project approved and funded. He picked up support from the plethora of Garden clubs then prevalent in Louisiana, whose members, mostly women, sent chain letters to legislators in support of the reservoir. However, Ammons paid a political price for his success with Toledo Bend. He was defeated for reelection to a second term, as many local residents still opposed the project. In time, Toledo Bend became synonymous with bass fishing in Louisiana and Texas.[7]

In 1969, Ammons established the Merritt Mountain Church Park, located on the banks of Toledo Bend Lake. The non-profit organization is open to all religious denominations. The Tom Sawyer Chapel atop the hill is regularly used for services[3] He was active in the creation of the Sabine Parish Housing Authority, of which Mrs. Ammons once served as director.[5] Ammons built several subdivisions on Toledo Bend Lake, including Sportsman Paradise, Peaceful Valley, Terra II, Lakeland, and Beaver Village. He was a charter member of the Sabine Parish Chamber of Commerce, having served as president from 1966 o 1967. He established the general aviation facility known as Ammons Airport on Toledo Bend Lake. During his legislative career he worked for passage of the constitutional amendment providing the funds to build Toledo Bend.[6]​ ​

Death[edit]

Ammons died at the age of sixty-three at Fraser Hospital in Many. Cliff and Ethel Ammons and son Larry are interred at Many Cemetery.[5] In 2001, twenty years after his death, Ammons was among five persons honored posthumously in the Sabine Parish Hall of Fame for his work with Toledo Bend. Two months before Ammons' passing, one of his legislative predecessors from Many, Frank Estes Cole (1908-1981) also died.

References[edit]

  1. Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2020 (Sabine Parish). Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  2. Robert Wooster. Toledo Bend Reservoir. tshaonline.org. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Clifton R. "Cliff" Ammons. findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Larry Wayne Ammons. findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Ethel Jeanne Matherne Ammons. findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ammons, Cliff. Louisiana Historical Association, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biographyat lahistory.org. Retrieved on September 26, 2019.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Andy Crawford (August 4, 2009). Ruby Anniversary. lousianasportsman.com. Retrieved on December 24, 2010.

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