O'Keefe Family


The Great Potato Famine of 1845-1850 brought death and misery to millions of impoverished Irish Roman Catholics.  One of the positive actions of this near 19th Century genocide was the immigration and subsequent habitation of Edward “Ned” Keefe (1815-1874), later O’Keefe, a native of Bincher Parish, County Tipperary, Ireland to Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the mid-1850s.  Here a middle-aged Ned O’Keefe and spouse, Mary Tracy (1832-1895), another Irish expatriate, commenced an Irish-American family that remains a viable part of Ocean Springs, Biloxi and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.(Lepre, 1991, p. 165)

The Ned O’Keefe family chronology at Ocean Springs is one of success.  Determined toil, perseverance, and good business acumen in an environment probably untarnished with Hibernian prejudice and because of its small size, predominantly Catholic society, and high ratio of immigrants to indigenous people, allowed Edward "Ned" O’Keefe to achieve his prosperity, primarily as a teamster and drayage contractor.  To further ameliorate the local situation, there were already several other Irish families at Ocean Springs, i.e. the Ames, Colligans, Egans, Shanahans, and Sodens.

The Primal Cottage

The first known property acquisition at Ocean Springs by Edward “Ned” O’Keefe, the family progenitor, occurred in February 1859, when he paid Andrew F. Ramsay $100 for Lot 5-Block 26 (Culmseig Map of 1854).  This ground is situated on the northeast corner of Rayburn and Porter.  It is assumed that the first O’Keefe domicile was erected here.  O’Keefe purchased Lot 4- Block 26, which was contiguous and north of Lot 5, in October 1867 from George A. Cox (1811-1887).  It is interesting to note that Margaret B. Foy (d. 1892), also from Ireland, lived just east of the O’Keefe family.  She settled here in February 1855, on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson.  Her nephew, James Lynch (1852-1935), was legated her two-story home and subsequently operated a store and the renown Lynch Academy, which the J.J. O’Keefe children attended for some of their basic education.(JXCO. Ms. Land Deed Bk. Bk. 7, p. 272 and Bk. 1, pp. 184-185 and Ellison, 1991, p. 35)

The O’Keefe lots on the northeast corner of Rayburn and Porter were sold to Eda Miller, wife of John Voght Miller, in December 1883, for $400 and a note of $50.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 7, p. 272)

Civil War

After returning to Ocean Springs from the Civil War in which he served with Company A-Live Oak Rifles of the 3rd Mississippi Regiment, Ned O'Keefe became a teamster and started a livery business.  He supplied transportation service to the multitude of visitors who arrived at Ocean Springs by steam packet and later railroad train.  When people passed on, his carriages were used to transport their bodies to the local cemetery.  Before his demise in 1874, Ned O'Keefe and his wife had two children: Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Joseph O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Mary Helen O’Keefe (1863-1878).(Howell, 1991, p. 440 and p. 555)  

1878 Yellow Fever

The 1878 Epidemic started at New Orleans in July and took nearly four months to run its course through the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.  When it was over, the nation recorded more than 100,000 cases of fever and a mortality rate estimated as high as 20,000 people.  Particularly hard hit were the cities of Memphis (approximately 6,000 deaths), New Orleans (between 4,000 and 5,000 deaths), and Vicksburg where about 1,000 victims fell to the pestilence.   

Fever cases and deaths occurred as far north as St. Louis on the Mississippi River and Louisville, Kentucky and Gallipolis, Ohio on the Ohio River.  The economic impact to the nation was over $100,000,000 due to the suspension of industry and trade, lost wages, medical attendance, and relief for the thousands of sick and unemployed.  It is estimated that New Orleans lost $15,000,000 during the crisis.     

By late September 1878, health conditions in Mississippi had gotten so grave that Governor John M. Stone made a proclamation.  Part of which read as follows:  "I, J.M. Stone, Governor of the State of Mississippi, do recommend that on Friday, the 30th day of September, all Christian people throughout the State repair to their respective places of worship and offer up their united petition in prayer to God, that He will withdraw from our people this terrible affliction, and that He, in His infinite goodness and mercy, will restore them to health and bring peace to their mourning households".

Since the yellow fever quarantine had shut off the people of Ocean Springs from the outside world, conditions were very difficult.  The Ocean Springs Relief Society was formed in early September 1878, to assist those in need.  H.H. Minor Sr. (1837-1884) was president, R.A. Van Cleave (1840-1908)-treasurer, and J.M. Ames, secretary.  The society collected $767.25 with the Howard Association of New Orleans, the citizens of Galveston, Texas, and the Moss Point Relief Committee being the largest contributors.    

There were approximately one hundred seventy-five cases of yellow fever recorded at Ocean Springs from the nearly six hundred people believed to have been here at the time.  From this population about thirty deaths were recorded.  Many were small children and unfortunately Mary Helen O'Keefe (1863-1878) died from the fever at Ocean Springs on September 5, 1878.  Miss O'Keefe was probably buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs.

O’Keefe Boarding House

In February 1881, Mary Tracy O'Keefe commenced her boarding house and store operations on the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Porter Street at Ocean Springs.  The structure was an attractive and hospitable inn.  It is very likely that the O’Keefe boarding house had a strong Irish flavor and catered to Hibernian families from New Orleans and Irish born railroad workers.  The property was purchased by her husband, Ned O'Keefe, in two parcels.  The first lot was bought from Enoch N. Ramsay (1832-1916), in April 1867, and described as Lot 6 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map of Ocean Springs) and comprised 52 feet on Jackson and 200 feet on Porter.  In August of the same year, Ned Keith purchased Lot 5 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map of Ocean Springs) from George A. Cox (1811-1887).  This tract became the site of his livery stable.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, February 4, 1881, p. 3 and JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 62, p. 475 and Bk. 62, p. 476)

Not all boarders were Irish.  In August 1896, the Pascagoula Democrat-Star reported that one Alphonse Gauthreaux of Donaldsonville, Louisiana "beat his board, decamped, stole a pocket book containing $5.00 and prayer beads, shoes and some clothes....whereabouts unknown".

In 1895, the O'Keefe family was tragically struck by fire on two occasions.  The most devastating occurrence was in February when Mrs. Mary O'Keefe's gown caught fire from the hearth and she died as the result of her burns.  Later in the fall of the same year, the kitchen was badly gutted by a fire caused by a defective flue.  Jerry O'Keefe gave a generous donation to the fire department which was very effective since this was the first fire fought with the assist of fifteen new fire wells which provided ample water.(The Daily Picayune, February 19, 1895, p. 9 and The Pascagoula Democrat-StarSeptember 20, 1895)

The Jeremiah J. O’Keefe Family

Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe(1860-1911), called Jerry, was born at Ocean Springs on February 5, 1860.  He met his future wife, Alice Cahill (1864-1921), a New Orleanian, whose family came to Ocean Springs for a visit and stayed at the O’Keefe lodge.  The couple wedded in the Crescent City at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on April 3, 1888. Their children were: Edward J. O’Keefe (1889-1890), John W. A. O’Keefe (1891-1985), Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981); Jeremiah J. “Ben” O’Keefe II (1894-1954), and Joseph H. “Jodie” O’Keefe (1897-1932).(NOLA, MRB 13, p. 105, The Daily Picayune,  April 1, 1888, p. 9 and The History of Jackson County, Miss., 1989, pp. 301-302) 

Alice Cahill was born at New Orleans into an Irish immigrant family.  Thomas Cahill (1819-1865) and Mary Britton (1837-1880+) were also the parents of: Margaret Cahill Connors (1856-1931) m. Michael Connors; John L. Cahill (1858-1926) m. Margaret Orrell (1855-1958); and Ellen Cahill Hill (1862-1940) m. Stephen J. Hill.

Margaret Cahill Connors died at the O’Keefe home at Ocean Springs on January 28, 1931.  Her funeral was held at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church and transported to St. Patrick No. II Cemetery in the Crescent City for internment.(The Times-Picayune, January 29, 1931, p. 2)

Ellen Cahill Hill (1862-1940) passed on July 9, 1940 in New Orleans.  She had married Thomas J. Hill and they were the parents of Thomas J. Hill Jr.; Joseph S. Hill; Mary Hill Vogt; and Mrs. Charles R. Brennan.  Her son, Thomas J. Hill Jr. once served as the Clerk of the City Commission Council of New Orleans.(The Times-Picayune, July 9, 1940, p. 2)


[courtesy of Maureen O'Keefe Ward]

Although born at New Orleans, the children of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill O’Keefe (1864-1921) were reared at present day 911 Porter Street.  John A.W. O’Keefe was a leader of men and made his career in public service and the military retiring as a Brigadier General.  Mary C. O’Keefe was an outstanding educator and is memorialized with our Mary C. O’Keefe Arts and Cultural Center on Government Street.  Ben O’Keefe was a funeral home proprietor at Biloxi and Ocean Springs.  J.H. ‘Jody’ O’Keefe was a sugar chemist and lost his life in a diving accident while working in Cuba.  L-R: Jeremiah J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe (1894-1954); Joseph H. “Jody” O’Keefe (1897-1932); Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981); and John A.W. O’Keefe (1891-1985).

After Mrs. O'Keefe's demise, Alice Cahill O'Keefe in addition to rearing her children, Edward Joseph O’Keefe (1889-1890); John Aloysius William O’Keefe (1891-1985) m. Amelia Castenara (1905-2000); Mary Cahill O' Keefe (1893-1981); Jeremiah Joseph ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1895-1954) m. Theresa Slattery; and Joseph Hyacinth (Jodie) (1897-1932), ran the boarding business.  Her husband, Jerry, expanded his undertaking service to create the O'Keefe Funeral Service in 1892. 


Ocean Springs, Miss.

J. O’Keefe, Prop.

Carriages, Buggies, and Omnibuses for Hire

Orders Promptly Attended to.

Politically, Jerry O'Keefe was elected the first Alderman from Ward 2 in 1892, in the newly incorporated Ocean Springs, and served in that office for two years.  He also was a road overseer in Beat Four being in charge of Jackson Avenue from the Front Beach to O'Keefe’s Corner on Porter Street and Jackson Avenue and from O'Keefe’s Corner to the Illing Place on Washington Avenue.

The 1885 O’Keefe Castle

The “O’Keefe Castle” at present day 318 Jackson Avenue was erected by Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911), circa 1885, on a lot acquired from Kate Peniston M. Jourdan (d. 1942) and Augusta Sophia M. Jourdan (1858-1952) of New Orleans.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 11, pp. 410-412)

The spinster Jourdan sisters were the daughters of Augustus W. Jourdan and Mary Josephine McGehee (1837-1878).  They both died in France and their corporal remains buried in the Metairie Cemetery.(The Daily Picayune, March 13, 1949, p. 10 and The Times Picayune, November 7, 1952, p. 2)  

In 1855, the Jourdan-McGehee families became involved in the hostelry business at Ocean Springs as they owned the Seashore House on Jackson Avenue and Front Beach, opposite the Ocean Springs Hotel.(Bellande, 1994, p. 25)

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe acquired this beautiful home from her siblings in July 1930.  It was sold to Cecile Brodeur Saxon (1893-1980), by Mary C. O’Keefe in August 1933.  Mrs. Saxon was the mother of Rose Annette Saxon (1924-1998) who in March 1944 married Miss O'Keefe's nephew, Lt. Jeremiah J. O'Keefe III (b. 1923), a young USMCR fighter pilot, at Camp Pendleton, Ocean Side, California.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 63 p. 524-525 and Bk. 66, pp. 46-48 and The Daily Herald, March 13, 1944, p.7)

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s great niece, Susan M. O’Keefe Snyder (b. 1952) and her spouse, Christopher T. Snyder, acquired the “O’Keefe Castle” in March 1982.  In early 1997, Paul Campbell, general contractor, and Carl Germany, architect, were hired by the Snyders to undertake a major interior renovation of their historic home.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 730, p. 116)




The 1909 Neoclassical Mansion

[Courtesy of Maureen O’Keefe Ward]

It is believed that the 1909 O’Keefe home at present day 911 Porter was modeled on that of the Dr. Case-H.F. Russell edifice, which stood on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Porter Street until it was demolished in the 1930s. (The Jackson County Times, September 29, 1934 and J.K. Lemon, 1993) 

In 1909, Jerry O'Keefe built a large family home behind the O’Keefe boarding house.  This 2 1/2 story mansion of Beaux-Arts "polite" design, Corinthian columns, and wide galleries has become an iconic symbol of the O'Keefe family prosperity and financial calamity.  Built on the colonial style with massive pillars, at a cost approaching $10,000, the Jerry O’Keefe mansion was lauded in 1909, as a handsome addition to the numerous beautiful edifices situated in Ocean Springs.(The Ocean Springs News, November 27, 1909, p. 1) 

In 1964, Miss Mary Cahill O’Keefe who at this time was domiciled on Porter Street two houses east of her childhood home related her memories of the 1909 O’Keefe home place as follows:

“as having beautiful lawns, and tennis courts and as the scene of many gay young parties.  With the four children of Jeremiah [O’Keefe] the house was filled with young people and the tennis courts were a popular place.  The house was originally surrounded by a picket fence and with wonderful oak trees and green lawns, the marvelously attractive Colonial house and all, it was a real beauty spot.”(The Ocean Springs News, August 6, 1964, p. 3)

William F. 'Willy' Dale (1899-1990)

Willy Dale has been described as a “hard working, good businessman and mechanical wizard”.  He was a passionate fisherman and motor boater as well.  Here circa 1927, Willy is  shown with two drum that he caught in Biloxi Bay near Gulf Hills.[Courtesy of H. Randy Randazzo-Arlington, Virginia]

Unfortunately, this architectural jewel was lost by the O’Keefe family during the Depression, when it was repossessed in December 1938, by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a Federal corporation.  A balance of $5612.17 was owed on the property.  It was sold by this Government agency to William ‘Willy’ F. Dale (1899-1990) in December 1939, for $3850.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 71, pp. 580-581 and Bk. 74, pp. 158-160)

Mr. Dale had leased the “O’Keefe Livery Stable Lot”, east of the mansion in August 1927, from the O’Keefe family.  Here he operated a garage and initially sold Texaco products.  Mr. Dale later vended Shell gasoline here.(JXCO, Ms. Land deed Bk. 70, pp. 196-200)

In the spring of 1941 William 'Willie' Dale hired Clarence Korman of Biloxi to move the former O'Keefe residence back 32 feet from its former location.  Mr. Dale planned to convert the structure into an apartment house with additional space for a restaurant and another business.(The Daily Herald, Marh 3, 1941, p. 6)

During the W.F. Dale ownership from 1939 to 1986, the O’Keefe home at 911 Porter Street was used primarily as a restaurant and lounge although it was once leased to Perkinston Junior College.  On August 31, 1959, college classes began in the former O’Keefe home and Dale’s Restaurant.  The regional junior college offered seventeen evening classes and one morning class in practical nursing, which included a simulated twelve-bed hospital.  Subjects available for prospective scholars to enroll in the evening curriculum were: English, English literature, algebra, trigonometry; general business, accounting; shorthand, general psychology; sociology, American government, world history, personal health, speech, music appreciation and introduction to teaching.  Admission to the Perkinston classes was open to high school graduates or mature individuals demonstrating the ability to utilize the material offered by the lecturer.(The Ocean Springs News, May 27, 1959, p. 1 and August 27, 1959, p. 1)            

One of the great success stories of Ocean Springs was the return of the O’Keefe family residence on Porter Street to the family.  When they lost it in the 1930s, the Ben O’Keefe family relocated to Biloxi and resided on Fayard Street behind the O’Keefe Funeral parlor at 601 West Howard Avenue.  A young Jeremiah J. “Jerry” O’Keefe III (b. 1923) and his sister, Alice O’Keefe Sebastian (1922-2011), vowed that someday, they would reclaim their former home in Ocean Springs.(Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999 and The Ocean Springs Record, July 3, 1986, p. 2, July 10, 1986, p. 2, and December 3, 1987, p. 1)  

This was accomplished in July 1986, when the W.F. Dale family sold the O’Keefe mansion to Gulf National Life, an O’Keefe corporation.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 863, p. 159)

An adjunct to this tale is that of the fabulous, cut-glass portals on the O’Keefe home that had been  constructed by Jefferson Davis Egan (1864-1907), the son of Irish immigrants John J. Egan (1827-1875) and Julia Egan (1833-1907), as a wedding gift for his childhood friend, Jerry O’Keefe.(1860-1911).  From 1938 until 1971, the O’Keefe cut-glass doors remained at Ocean Springs in Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s cottage, which was located on West Porter between Dale’s Garage and the W.S. Van Cleave Store.  After Miss O’Keefe’s domicile was demolished to erect the Villa Maria in the early 1970s, the doors were stored in Biloxi.  They were installed on the O’Keefe mansion during its restoration, which was completed in December 1987.(Ellison, 1991, p. 67, Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999 and The Ocean Springs Record, December 3, 1987, p. 1)

In July 1910, the old, wooden, O’Keefe boarding house was sold to Samuel Backous (1855-1921), a farmer from Indiana, who had recently returned to Ocean Springs from Texarkana, Texas.  Mr. Backous and his wife had sold their Texas farm, and planned to reside at Ocean Springs permanently.  In September 1907, they had purchased the NW/4, NW/4 of Section 29, T7S-R8W from E.E. Clements of Buncombe County, North Carolina.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 32, pp. 616-617 and The Ocean Springs News, July 23, 1910)  

The old boarding house was moved to the Backous place in 1910.  The upper story was removed.  It is speculated that it was transported over the shell roads of Ocean Springs using a method popular at this time:  When one wished to move a house, he called his neighbors together and organized a hauling bee or halerie.  With a dozen yoke or oxen and three wagons, they soon had the house underway with no difficulty.  First they took the beds off two wagons, and in place of the regular coupling poles they used long logs perhaps thirty feet long.  They jacked up the house then ran poles under it.  Next they chained them up to the two front pair of wheels, thus supporting the house, and it was ready to roll.  They hitched five or six yoke of oxen to each of the wagons, and away they went across the open prairie.(Post, 1974, p. )

The Backous family developed their twenty acre site on Old County Road, now Government Street, into a farm and pecan orchard, and probably utilized the boarding house as a home.  Only the first floor of the old structure was relocated to present day 2122 Government Street where it became the residence of Mary Anne Lightsey Clark, the widow of Alvah Clark (1918-1990).  The Clark home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, as an individual listing. It remains in the Clark family.(Bellande, 1994, p. 65 and Kemp Associates Ltd., 1996, p. 15) 


The Entrepreneurial O’Keefe Brothers

At Ocean Springs, from about 1913 and throughout the 1920s, the O’Keefe brothers, John A.W. O’Keefe, J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II, and J.H. ‘Jodie’ O’Keefe, continued aggressively in their entrepreneurial projects.  In addition to the funeral parlor, they were involved in a Ford automobile dealership, livery and drayage, coal delivery, construction materials, gasoline retailing, and a taxi and limousine service. 

‘White House’ Tract

The locus of many of the O’Keefe Brothers commercial activities in Ocean Springs were centered on their valuable commercial lot situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street opposite the L&N Depot.  In February 1906, Jeremiah J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe (1860-1911), their father, acquired the ‘White House’ property from Mary Artemise Rodriguez Marie (1840-1912), the widow of Antonio Marie (1832-1885), a Spanish, immigrant  mariner and pioneer settler of Bayou Puerto, now Gulf Hills.  The consideration was $1100 for the tract which had one hundred-seventy feet on Robinson Street between Cash Alley and Washington Avenue and ran south two hundred twenty-five feet.(Jackson Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 35, p. 642)

The White House tract was located just east of the Commercial Hotel, which was situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street.  It had been erected by R.A. Van Cleave (1840-1908) in 1880.  This event was noted in the Pascagoula newspaper as: Van Cleave's new hotel on the depot grounds is going steadily forward to a speedy completion and gives employment to a number of workmen.  He seems to believe in the right way of doing things - that is employing home folks when he has work to be done.(The Pascagoula Democrat-StarJanuary 16, 1880, p. 3)

The first person to develop the White House tract was Charles Ernest Schmidt (1851-1886) and Laura Coyle Schmidt (1857-1931), his spouse.  In February and August 1877, they acquired this land from E.W. and Mary T. Clark of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Charles E. Schmidt was born in New Orleans of Ernst Schmidt and Euphrosine Schoser, immigrants from Baden, German.  Charles E. Schmidt came to Ocean Springs and met Laura Coyle, the daughter of an immigrant, Menorcan father, Francisco Coyle (1813-1891) and Magdalene Ougatte Pons (1813-1904).  They married in October 1874 at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church.  Their son, Francis Ernest Schmidt (1877-1954), later owned a bakery on Washington Avenue from 1901-1938, and served as Ward One Alderman (1915-1922 and 1925-1929) and Mayor of Ocean Springs from 1935-1938.  A son of F.E. Schmidt, Charles Ernest Schmidt (1904-1988), would write Ocean Springs French Beachhead (1972), the first and only comprehensive history of the city, and also serve as Mayor (1961-1965).  Two other sons, Frank O. Schmidt (1902-1975) and Harry J. Schmidt (1905-1996) would become prominent physicians on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 3, pp. 103-106 and Lepre, 1991, p. 303)

The journal du jour, The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, had the following items published between 1879 and 1881 concerning the Schmidt’s White House: Mr. Charles E. Schmidt, commonly called "Handsome Charlie" has opened a retail family grocery store and says he will sell goods as cheap as anybody.  Schmidt keeps almost everything good to eat in his store and at his other establishment (White House) everything good to drink.(November 7, 1879).

When you go to Ocean Springs call at the White House and see Charlie and Frank.(November 7, 1879).

Last Saturday in the early evening, the kitchen of the White House caught fire.  Proprietor Charles E. Schmidt, had help from friends in battling the blaze.  Postmaster Van Cleave brought two garden and house sprinklers.(November 26, 1879).

The White House is the place to get liquid refreshments.(February 4, 1881, p. 3).

In August 1881, Charles Schmidt made the decision to sell the White House.  He advertised it in The Pascagoula Democrat-Star of September 2, 1881 as follows:


White House Billiard and Beer Saloon

With fixtures is offered for sale at a great bargain.  The White House is opposite and near the depot.  Apply to Chas. E. Schmidt

In November 1881, the Schmidt family sold the White House to Antonio Marie for $1200.  After Antonio Marie died intestate in December 1885, Madame Marie began leasing the White House.  In October 1887, she entered into a two year contractual agreement with John Vogt Miller.  The rent for the first four months was set at $5.00 per month, and $8.00 per month for the remaining twenty months.  Mr. Vogt expected Madame Marie to repair the doors, windows, and blinds of the building.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 6, p. 19 and Bk. 11, pp. 10-12) 

Madame Marie allowed Herr Vogt the use of the following articles in her building: 20 beer glasses, 8 chairs, 1 baseball club and deer horns, 2 round tables, 1 large mirror, 2 plaster images, 1 marble top wash stand (damaged), 1 ice stand, and 1 beer closet ( 1 door off).

By December 1892, the Vahle family, formerly of New Orleans, took a long lease on the White House property and built a livery stable here just west of the White House.  Casper Vahle (1869-1922), the proprietor, oversaw the erection of the 1200 square-foot barn.  In March 1894, Richard Egan (1858-1896) joined Casper Vahle to form Vahle & Egan.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, December 28, 1892, p. 3)

In 1895, Charles L. Dyer in Along the Gulf stated that while visiting Ocean Springs: The firm of Vahle & Egan furnished us with carriages upon all occasions and we were rather surprised to find in a town of this size such a finely equipped livery stable.  Messrs. Casper Vahle and Richard Egan are both young enterprising, energetic business men and have built up a fine trade since their partnership, which commenced in March, 1894.  Previous to this, both members of the firm had conducted livery stables of their own.  They have a number of fine driving horses and several speedy matched pairs and a number of carriages to select from, among which are tally-hos, three and two-seated surries, buggies, wagonettes, transfer wagons, and they also have several teams for heavy hauling.

After the untimely death of Richard Egan in 1896, the business appears to have dissolved as Soden & Illing were operating a livery at this location in 1898.  By 1900, Mrs. Marie had moved to Biloxi.  In December of that year, she entered into another lease agreement with Casper Vahle.  This lease was for five years, January 1901 to January 1906, and called for a $5.00 per month rental.  Vahle must have decided to purchase the White House from Artemise Marie as the deed records of Jackson County indicate Mrs. A. Marie of Biloxi sold "the frame building known as the "White House" and a certain parcel of land, situated on the south side and opposite the L&N Railroad depot" to Casper Vahle on December 12, 1900.(Jackson Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 22, pp. 208-209)

The Fire

Casper Vahle and Herman Nill (1863-1904), his brother-in-law, and owner of the Ocean Springs Drug Store, on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Porter Street, were victimized by vandals in early December 1900.  The Pascagoula Democrat-Star of December 7, 1900 reported its demise in "Ocean Springs Locals" as follows: The most distressing scene witnessed in our town for a long time was the burning of the Ocean Springs Drug Store and Vahle's Livery Stable Monday night.  The fire was discovered about midnight by Walter Davis the night operator for the Cumberland Telephone Exchange, which was on the second floor of the drug building. The fire alarm being given the two companies responded immediately and by heroic efforts saved the Illing House, A. Switzer's Store and Mrs. M.A. Case's property from similar fate.  The flames spread so rapidly that nothing was saved from the drug store, and had it not been for the rain during the evening, which made the housetops wet several other buildings would probably been lost. Mr. Herman Nill, proprietor of the drug store and his family were in New Orleans at the time and the place was temporarily in charge of Dr. E.A. Riggs, who lost everything in his office which was also a room in the building.  The drug store was insured for $3,900 in the Home Insurance Company, of New York, probably half its value with the stock.  There was no insurance on the livery stable.  The telephone exchange was completely destroyed, but will be installed again as soon as possible.

Caspar Vahle and Herman Nill and his family left Ocean Springs shortly after the conflagrations and settled at Gulfport.  On February 10, 1906, Madame Marie sold the White House property to Jeremiah J. ‘Jerry’ O'Keefe (1860-1911).(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 35, p. 642) 

Several years later Jerry O 'Keefe demolished the White House on Robertson Street.  It had apparently deteriorated with age and neglect.  Its demise was related in The Ocean Springs News of August 19, 1911: The dilapidated old lady that has stood for years opposite the depot-antiquated relic of byegone days- is now being torn down by the owner, Jerry O'Keefe.  The old structure was at one time one of the principal business places of the town.  It was known as the White House, and was a hotel and barroom.  Old residents tell of great doings at the old tavern.  Of late years it has fallen into decay and has not been inhabited for a long time.  Something more substantial and ornamental will doubtless be built in its place.

Ocean Springs Livery Stable and Ford Agency

By July 1914, John and Ben O’Keefe were local agents for the Ford automobile and Prest-o-lite, an exchangeable acetylene gas tank for the running lights of an automobile.  The O’Keefe Brothers through their Ocean Springs Livery Stable provided transportation at Ocean Springs.  In their stable of motor cars was a Cadillac touring car and large enough to accommodate seven passengers in comfort.  They advertised in the local journal as follows:          


The Ocean Springs Livery Stable


Modern Automobile Service

Fine cars, careful drivers, reasonable charges.  Ford agents.  Prest-o-Lite tanksrefilled.  All orders promptly attended to.

Telephone 46

(The Jackson County Times, September 26, 1914, p. 1)

They sold rural mail carriers, Walter Armstrong (1878-1945) and Fred Newcomb (1880-1932), their Ford automobiles.  Mr. Armstrong delivered the US mail to the Larue-Latimer communities while Newcomb handled the East Beach-Fontainebleau-Vancleave route.(The Ocean Springs News, August 1, 1914) 

The O’Keefe Brothers sold their Ford agency to W.B. Hollingsworth who had come to Ocean Springs in March 1915, from South Bend, Indiana.  Mr. Hollingsworth rented the John B. Honor place on front beach for one year.  In November 1915, Orey Young & Son bought out the Hollingsworth Garage and Ford Agency.(The Ocean Springs News, November 4, 1915, p. 1)

In October 1915, Fred Davidson (1885-1915+), a native of Illinois and the son of Jerome T. Davidson (1845-1918) and Jessie Montgomery Davison (1859-pre-1930), bought the Buick, Overland, and Hudson agencies from W.B. Hollingsworth who returned to the Hoosier State.  The Davidson family acquired present day 420 Martin Avenue, the Mestier-Sheehan House, in February 1917.  At this time there were fifty-two automobiles at Ocean Springs.  Dr. O.L. Bailey (1870-1938) had bought nine since 1906.(The Ocean Springs News, October 11, 1915, p. 5)





O’Keefe Brothers Commercial Hotel Tract

The Jerry O’Keefe and sons owned a large tract on Robinson Street and later the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street in the years between 1906 and 1944.  Here they operated a Ford automobile dealership, livery and drayage service, coal delivery business, sold and transported construction materials, gasoline retailing, and operated a taxi and limousine service.  In December 1953, Wendell Palfrey (1896-1956) constructed a 2100 square-foot, Arkansas tile, building on a portion of this land which he leased to the U.S. Postal Service. The building now houses the Salmagundi Gift Shop.

Commercial Hotel tract-Salmagundi

The Commercial Hotel tract was situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robertson Street, just west of the O’Keefe ‘White House’ parcel which had been acquired in February 1906.  The Commercial Hotel was erected in 1880 by R.A. Van Cleave (1840-1908) and was destroyed by fire in the early the morning of October 26, 1920.  After flames were discovered in the Commercial Hotel, immediately fire alarms consisting of fire bells, pistols, and engine whistles were sounded.  Unfortunately the entire structure was consumed by fire in only a few minutes.  Guest on the second floor made a hasty departure into the cool autumn darkness.  Although winds were light, firemen had difficulty securing a convenient water supply, and the building was quickly lost to the conflagration.  The Farmers and Merchants Bank Building opposite the inn on the west side of Washington Avenue had window damage from the intense heat originating from the hotel fire.  Although the structure was fully covered by fire insurance, H.F. Russell (1858-1940), the owner, stated that he would not rebuild on the site.  Commencing with the Ocean Springs Hotel in 1905, and the Shanahan House in 1919, the Commercial Hotel became the third Ocean Springs hotel to be lost to fire in these early years of the Twentieth Century.(The Jackson County Times, October 30, 1920, p. 1)

H.F. Russell sold the empty Commercial Hotel lot to Ben O'Keefe and Jody O'Keefe on May 18, 1921 for $1500.  This acquisition now gave the O’Keefe family one hundred-ten feet on Washington Avenue and approximately three hundred front feet on Robinson Avenue opposite the L&N Depot.  Unarguably, a most advantageous location for business and commerce.(JXCO. Ms. Land Deed Bk. 50, p. 400)

Ben O’Keefe held this property until October 1944, when he conveyed it to Isabel Hodges (1902-1981).  Here in December 1953, Wendell Palfrey (1896-1956) constructed on a 2100 square-foot, Arkansas tile, building which he leased to the U.S. Postal Service. The lot and structure cost $27,500.  It was completed by E.T. Hoffis, general contractor, in late April 1954, and turned to Oscar T. Davis (1894-1963), postmaster of Ocean Springs, in June 1954.  The new post office had its main entrance on Washington Avenue and a side portal on Robinson Street.  Congressman William Meyers Colmer (1890-1980) was the primary speaker at the late April dedication of the new post office.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 106, p. 120 and 140, pp. 484-488 and The Gulf Coast Times, December 10, 1953 and January 13, 1954, p. 14, and April 28, 1954, p. 1)

The old U.S. Post Office-Palfrey structure is extant as Salmagundi, a gift boutique, which operates here today at 922 Washington Avenue.  Jeanne and Jack Stevenson, natives of Mobile, acquired it in 1993.  Salmagundi specializes in Christmas gifts, glassware, collectables, jewelry, pewter items, household accessories, potpourri, and candles.(The Ocean Springs Record, October 6, 2005, p. A4)

O’Keefe Transfer Company

After acquiring the Commercial Hotel tract the O’Keefe Brothers promptly built their office and garage fronting on Washington Avenue in late June 1921.  The building was one-story and 2500-square feet in area.(The Daily Herald, June 23, 1921, p. 5)

In July 1923, the O’Keefe brothers were awarded a contract for hauling materials for the construction of that portion of US Highway No. 90, “The Old Spanish Trail”, known locally as “The Million Dollar Highway”, between Moss Point and the Mississippi-Alabama state line.  They had just acquired six Ford trucks, which had been specially built for heavy duty tasks.(The Jackson County Times, July 7, 1923, p. 5)

In late August 1927, the O’Keefe’s formally opened their new Liberty Pep Gasoline pumps at their filling stations.  As an inducement for their clientele to use the new petroleum fuel, they gave one gallon of motor oil free with each five gallons of petrol purchased.(The Jackson County Times, Local and Personal, August 27, 1927)

The O’Keefe’s also supplied construction materials in the form of cement, lime, plaster, gravel and sand for the erection of the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School on Government Street.  On October 9th, 1999, a historical marker was dedicated on the former school grounds in honor of Miss Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981), the sister of the O’Keefe Brothers and former school superintendent, for whom the building is now named.(The Jackson County Times, September 10, 1927)


O'Keefe Funeral Service-Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home

On June 3, 1923, J.J. 'Ben' O'Keefe commenced the O'Keefe Funeral Service at 601 West Howard Avenue.  In early May 1957, Paul S. Bradford (1894-1983) and Ruth Gates Bradford (1899-1986) sold the Bradford Funeral Home with all property, ambulances, etc. located on East Howard Avenue to Jeremiah J. 'Jerry' Keefe III (b. 1923) for $150,000.  The new organization became the Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Service.(The Daily Herald, June 4, 1948, p. 9 and Harrison Co. Land Deed Bk. 422, pp. 317-326)




O’Keefe Funeral Home-Biloxi, Mississippi

In March 1923, Ben O’Keefe acquired the Voivedich property at 601 West Howard Avenue and Fayard Street.  It was soon transformed into the O’Keefe Funeral Service.

The merger of the Bradford Funeral Homes and O'Keefe Funeral Service was not completed until July 1960.  The company now called Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Service was situated at the former Bradford funeral parlor on East Howard Avenue where improvements and additional parking had been acquired on the north side of the street.  The O'Keefe funeral parlor on West Howard Avenue was demolished and a Goodyear Service Center was built on its former location.(The Daily Herald, June 17, 1960, p. 2)

In 1964, Bradford-O’Keefe built the Ben O’Keefe Chapel at Ocean Springs.  It was located on the northwest corner of Government Street and Pine Drive.  The chapel was later closed, but became the temporary City public library in 1994-1995.  In August 1997, the structure was dedicated as the New Hope Center, a joint venture between the YMCA and the O'Keefe Foundation.(The Ocean Springs News, August 6, 1964, p. 3 and The Ocean Springs Record, August 7, 1997, p. 1)

1929 Buyout

Shortly after the October 1929 Wall Street Crash, Ben O’Keefe acquired the interest of his siblings in the O’Keefe Funeral Service of Biloxi which had opened on June 4, 1923 at 601 West Howard Avenue opposite the Nativity B.V.M. Catholic Church and the O’Keefe Transfer and gasoline filling station enterprise on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street at Ocean Springs.  Ben O’Keefe assumed about $28,000 in mortgages and other debt.  He also gave up his rights, title and interest to several tracts of land at Ocean Springs and New Orleans.  Among them were: the J.J. O’Keefe family home at present day 911 Porter; the ‘O’Keefe Castle’, present day 318 Jackson Avenue;  the old livery stable on Porter; the White House tract on Robertson Street; and the Mary C. O’Keefe domicile on Porter, which was demolished to build the Villa Maria.(Jackson Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 63, pp. 511-515)

John A. W. O'Keefe (1891-1985): The General

John Aloysius William O’ Keefe (1891-1985) was born at New Orleans on February 24, 1891, the son of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill O’Keefe (1864-1921).  At this time, the O’Keefe family was domiciled in the O’Keefe Boarding House’ on the northeast corner of Porter Street and Jackson Avenue at Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  The O’Keefe family had settled here in the late 1850s, when Irish immigrants, Edward "Ned" O'Keefe (1815-1874), a native of Bincher Parish, Tipperary County, Ireland, and Mary Tracy O’Keefe (1832-1895), acquired land on the northeast corner of Porter and Rayburn.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 7, p. 272 and Lepre, 1991, p. 165)


John A. O’Keefe attended local schools and the Jesuit College at New Orleans.  There is a high degree of certitude that he attended the Lynch Academy, a private school at Ocean Springs, operated by James Lynch (1852-1935), an Irish immigrant and merchant.  This is corroborated by the 1900 Federal Census, which notes that “John A. O’Keefe is a student residing with his parents and siblings on Porter Street.”(1900 Jackson County, Mississippi Federal Census T623 812, p. 2B, ED 45)

Mr. Lynch’s school was situated on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson Avenue, opposite the J.J. O’Keefe home at present day 911 Porter.  In early December 1896, James Lynch advertised his private school in The Ocean Wave as follows:

Preparatory School

To the general school instructions already offered, I will add a course of elementary classics and French, Algebra and Geometry, Stenography and Typewriting, as a preparatory for college or commercial studies. For particulars apply to James Lynch, Jackson Avenue-Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

John A. O’Keefe’s sister, Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1980), who would establish herself as an excellent educator of the French and English languages in the school systems of Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, and at Biloxi, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was an attendee of the Lynch Academy.  Miss O’ Keefe became Superintendent of public schools at Ocean Springs in 1929, and held this position until 1945.  She was also the first woman appointed to the Board of Trustees of Perkinston Junior College.(The Daily Herald, April 6, 1945, p. 3, c. 6 and Charles L. Sullivan, October 28, 2006)

By 1901, John A. W. O’Keefe was in New Orleans and under the tutelage of the Jesuits.  He was promoted from first sergeant to first lieutenant in the Jesuit Cadets.   Young O’Keefe received his A.B. degree from the College of the Immaculate Conception at New Orleans.  In 1911, the College of the Immaculate Conception of New Orleans was divided into Loyola University and Jesuit High School.  John A.W. O’Keefe graduated from Tulane University in 1911. (The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, December 3, 1901 and The Daily Herald, 50th Anniversary Souvenir Golden Jubilee, 1934, p. 50) 


John A. O’Keefe married Amelia “Nicki” Castanera (1905-2000), the daughter of Captain Frank B. Castanera (1870-1934) and Amelia Desporte (1880-1953), in December 1929.  Amelia Castenera was the Queen of Les Masques, a Biloxi Mardi Gras krewe, in 1927, and taught school at Biloxi.(The Daily Herald, February 12, 1927, p. 1)

In 1937, John and Nicki O’Keefe adopted a Jackson, Mississippi born baby girl and named her Patricia Mary O’Keefe (1937-2009). Patricia M. O’Keefe was born on September 27, 1937.  She was a graduate of the Immaculate Seminary at Washington D.C. and a 1959 graduate of Chestnut Hill College at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Patricia married Ensign Badger Conley Smith III on July 4, 1959 in the Walter Reed Memorial Chapel at Washington D.C. Ensign Smith had graduated from St. John's College, Washington D.C. and the US Naval Academy in 1959.(The Daily Herald, July 8, 1959, p. 8)

Patricia Mary O'Keefe married Frank Obrimski in May 1965.  She worked for the Library of Congress for fifteen years. Patricia died on September 20, 2009 at Garrett Park, Maryland.  She and Frank Obrimski were the parents of Margaret Obrimski Bonacorda and Sharon Obrimski Portillo.(The History of Jackson Co. Ms., 1989, p. 302 and The Sun Herald, October 4, 2009)

Sugar chemist

After completing his college education at Tulane, John A. W. O’Keefe was employed on sugar plantations in Louisiana, Cuba, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Trinidad as a sugar chemist.  At this time, there were several young men from New Orleans with Ocean Springs connections associated with the sugar industry in the Caribbean.  Among them were the three sons of Louis J. Mestier (1855-1909) and Josephine Judlin Mestier (1862-1914): Louis Jean-Baptiste Mestier (1883-1954); James Edmund (Edmund) Mestier (1887-1941+); and Arthur (Archie) Joseph Mestier (1889-1946+).  Josephine Judlin Mestier’s sister, Emma Judlin (1869-1958), became the wife of Judge E.W. Illing (1870-1947) of Ocean Springs.  She was also the aunt of Mabel E. Judlin (1890-1956), the wife of Henry L. Girot (1887-1953), a New Orleans tailor who retired to Ocean Springs in the 1920s.  In addition to John A.W. O’Keefe and the three Mestier boys, Joseph H. ‘Jodie’ O’Keefe (1897-1932), John A.W. O’Keefe’s brother, and E.W. Illing Jr. (1895-1978), the son of E.W. Illing and Emma Judlin Illing, also pursued careers as sugar chemists.

In late October 1916, John A. O’Keefe departed Ocean Springs for Thibodeaux, Louisiana to work for a large sugar mill.(The Jackson County Times, October 28, 1916, p. 5)

John A. O’Keefe’s last assignment as a sugar chemist before entering the military was at the St. Madeleine Sugar Company in Trinidad, BWI.  On his return from the Caribbean, he was visited to Washington D.C. where he took an examination to qualify as an officer in the flying corps.(The Jackson County Times, June 2, 1917, p. 5 and WWI Draft Registration Card R 1682927)

WWI military career

On August 23, 1917, John A.W. O’Keefe with several other young men from Ocean Springs boarded at New Orleans, the “Ole Miss”, a special train carrying Mississippi student officers to Camp Funston, Leon Springs, Texas.  In early December 1917, he returned on furlough with Lieutenants V.G. Humphreys (1885-1942) and Byron Lyons after he was commissioned a Captain in the field artillery.(The Jackson County Times, August 25, 1917, p. 5, and December 1, 1917, p.1 and December 8, 1917)

By June 1918, Captain John O’Keefe had arrived in France, after an uneventful voyage.  In November 1918, he was assigned to the 96th Aero Squadron and flew with the Army Air Corps as an observer.  While in Europe, he participated in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St.-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne campaigns.  Captain O’Keefe was discharged in October 1919, as a Captain of field artillery.(The Jackson County Times, June 15, 1918, p. 5 and The Daily Herald, January 7,1935, p. 3 and January 25, 1936, p. 1)

Post World War I years

Returning to Ocean Springs from his military service in France after the Great War had ended; John A.W. O’Keefe continued his seasonal work in the tropics as a sugar chemist.  He also was assistant manager of the O’Keefe Funeral Service and president of O’Keefe Burial Insurance Inc. in Biloxi.  On June 4, 1923, Jeremiah J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1897-1954), his brother, had opened his funeral parlor at 601West Howard Avenue opposite the Cathedral of the Nativity of the B.V.M.  John resided at 301 Hopkins Boulevard in Biloxi.(The Daily Herald50th Golden Jubilee Number Biographical and Historical 1884-1934, 1934, p. 50)


John A.W. O’Keefe left Ocean Springs in late October 1925, for Manoplea, Cuba.  He attended the Georgia-North Dakota football game in Atlanta and made visits to Miami and Coral Gables before departing for Cuba.  During his career in the tropics, he had taken positions as chemist, assistant superintendent, and superintendent at sugar houses in Trinidad, Santo Domingo, and Haiti.(The Jackson County Times, October 31, 1925, p. 5 and The Daily Herald, September 16, 1985, p. 2)

In March 1928, John A. O’Keefe became a partner in the Biloxi Laundry with John Wright Apperson (1862-1939), George J. Collins, Eugene Dowling (1880-1944), and W.L. Guice (1887-1971).  This organization was chartered to acquire by lease or purchase or construction a plant or plants for the conduct of a general steam and hand laundry and dry cleaning business.(The Daily Herald, March 21, 1928, p. 2)

John A.W. O’Keefe also continued his military career as a Captain and specialist in the US Army Air Corps reserves.  In April 1932, O’Keefe left Biloxi for New York to serve two weeks in the Air Corps headquarters in The Big Apple.(The Daily Herald, April 11, 1932, p. 2)


The O’Keefe’s Troubled Thirties

Jodie’s Death

The O’Keefe family like many other Americans faced the Depression with determination and hope.  Several years after the infamous October 1929 stock market crash, their brother, J.H. “Jodie” O’Keefe (1897-1932), died on August 1, 1932, from neck and cervical injuries incurred while springboard diving at Matanzas Bay, Cuba.  Miss O’Keefe and her New Orleans friends, Mrs. J.T. Nix, Rosary Nix, and James T. Nix, had just visited Jodie at Matanzas, where he was a sugar chemist and assistant manager of the Matanzas Sugar Company.  They were on a Caribbean cruise and the vessel had stopped in Havana for a few days.(The Daily Herald, August 2, 1932, p. 1)

Joseph H. ‘Jody’ O’Keefe (1897-1932) also worked as a sugar chemist primarily in Cuba, although he had worked at a sugar beet factory in Mt. Clemons, Michigan in the fall of 1927.  At the time of his demise on August 1, 1932, he was the assistant superintendent of the Matanzas Sugar Company at Matanzas, Cuba.  Jody O’Keefe fractured several neck vertebrae in a diving accident while swimming in Matanzas Bay.  He expired on the operating table as specialists from Havana attempted to save his life.(The Daily Herald, August 2, 1932, p. 1)

John A. O’Keefe flew to Havana, Cuba via Atlanta-Miami to recover his brother’s corpse.  He accompanied Jody’s corporal remains on its return to America via New Orleans.  They sailed from Cuba aboard the United Fruit Company’s freighter, Cataga.(The Daily Herald, August 5, 1932, p. 2)

Jodie H. O’Keefe’s funeral was held on August 9, 1932 in Ocean Springs.  It was one of the largest ever held on the Mississippi coast.  A Requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church by Father Joseph H.Chauvin (1867-1959) with assistance from four Biloxi priests: Fathers O’ Sullivan, McGlade, Maloney, and Mulrooney.  Hundreds were in attendance.  In respect for Ben O’Keefe, Jody’s brother, funeral directors from Coast cities and Mobile conducted the funeral services.  Arthur Lang of Gulfport was in charge.  He was assisted by: H.A. Fails, Moss Point; Calvin Dees, Perkinston; and Joseph Thompson and James Duffee of Mobile.(The Daily Herald, August 9, 1932, p. 2)

Jody O’Keefe’s corporal remains were carried to the Evergreen Cemetery at Ocean Springs on August 9, 1932 for interment.(The Daily Herald, August 9, 1932, p. 2)

CWA and the O’Keefe Airfield

While in business at Biloxi, John A.W. O’Keefe continued his involvement in the military.  At this time he held the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps reserves.  In April 1932, Captain O’Keefe was sent to the Air Corps headquarters in New York for two weeks duty.(The Daily Herald, April 11, 1932, p. 2)

In 1933, John A.W. O’Keefe was appointed Civil Works Administration aeronautics advisor for Mississippi.  The CWA was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ to combat the lethargic American economy of the Depression.  It also was an economic failure and was disbanded by April 1934.  In March 1934, John A.W. O’Keefe had retired as the Grand Knight of the Biloxi Council Knights of Columbus relating that his active position as CWA aeronautics advisor and his third term as Grand Knight, as salient reasons.(The Daily Herald, March 20, 1934, p. 5)

In November 1934, the town of Newton, Mississippi and the Newton County American Legion Post dedicated their new $12,000 airport in honor of Major John A.W. O’Keefe, former CWA aeronautics adviser for Mississippi.  The event was highlighted by a visiting U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft from Maxwell Field, Alabama National Guard planes from Birmingham, and eighteen commercial southeastern United States, including a tri-motor airship.  Mayor John Summers of Newton made the presentation to Major O’Keefe.  U.S. Senator Byron ‘Pat’ Harrison (1881-1941) also spoke at the dedication.  The Newton County airfield is no longer called O’Keefe Field.  It is now known as James H. Easom Field.  It is located at 266 O’Keefe Road one mile southeast of. Newton, Mississippi.(The Daily Herald, November 13, 1934)

Biloxi Mayor

John A.W. O’Keefe was elected Mayor of Biloxi in July 1934 to succeed incumbent Mayor Robert Hart Chinn (1888-1972), called Hart.  R. Hart Chinn was born on April 9, 1888 at Vandalia, Audrain County, Missouri the son of James Buchanan ‘Buck’. Chinn (1857-1912) and Martha Ella Hart (1857-1938).  In 1890, Buck Chinn came to Biloxi to start the Biloxi Milling Company with fellow Missourians, E.G. Burklin, R.D. Chinn and Mr. Brewton.  In April 1893, the Biloxi Milling Company commenced operations making flour and meal.(The Biloxi Herald, January 7, 1893, p. 8 and April 22, 1893, p. 1)

After a brief military career during WW I, Lt. Hart Chinn returned to Biloxi where he made his livelihood as manager of the Foster-Fountain Packing Company.  He had married Mrs. Vera L. Dukate Bond (1886-1977) on November 11, 1918 at Camp Sherman, Ohio.  She had two daughters with Mr. Bond: Vera Leola Bond (1909-1989) m. Leslie Baltar Grant (1908-1986) and Whillamene Linda Bond Eddy (1911-1998).(The Daily Herald, November 14, 1918)

In July 1933, Mayor John Kennedy (1875-1949) of Biloxi resigned his position to accept the post of Comptroller of Customs, New Orleans, Louisiana for the Gulf District, which included Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas.  His recommendation for this Federal position had come from U.S. Senator Byron Patton ‘Pat” Harrison (1881-1941) of Gulfport, Mississippi and appointment by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945).  R. Hart Chinn was elected Mayor of Biloxi at the August 25, 1933 general election.  In the Democratic primary held earlier, Mayor Chinn ran against Walter H. ‘Skeet’ Hunt (1887-1960) and Dr. George F. Carroll. 

During Chinn’s brief first tenure as Mayor of Biloxi, he became involved in a heated argument on August 22, 1934 at a Biloxi City Council meeting with City Commissioner John A. Swanzy (1881-1965).  R. Hart Chinn struck Mr. Swanzy in the head with a paper weight.  Mayor Chinn and William Parks, his secretary, was also involved in the altercation with Commissioner Swanzy.  R. Hart Chinn was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill by the Harrison County grand jury.(The Daily Herald, August 22, 1934, p. , August 24, 1934, p. 1, and October 3, 1934, p. 1)

O’Keefe’s Mayoral campaign

The 1934 Biloxi Mayoral election was held at Biloxi on July 17, 1934.  John A.W. O’Keefe ran against R. Hart Chinn, incumbent, and defeated him by three hundred fifty-six votes.  There were 2029 total votes cast in the Mayoral election.  John A.W. O’Keefe had campaigned with enthusiasm and based his candidacy on five issues: reduction of taxes; industrial development to spur employment; harmony between elected officials for the greater good of Biloxi; hard work and endeavor; and honesty in the office of Mayor.  Mr. O’Keefe related to the electorate that he would not waste time with trite conversation, but would toil diligently to place Biloxi where it belongs.  He promised if elected that “you’ll find Biloxi a better place to live in four years.”  (The Daily Herald, July 18, 1934, p.1 , July 10, 1934, p. 1, and July 14, 1934, p. 1)


Candidate O’Keefe was not meek on the stump.  He criticized his opponent at several public forums.  Repeatedly future Mayor O’Keefe related that Mr. Chinn was often absent from his office and that Chinn had attempted to obfuscate the election by introducing issues with other men, communities, and states.  O’Keefe was alluding to the rumor running amok at Biloxi that Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana was involved behind the scenes in the Biloxi mayoral race.  The Louisiana Conservation Commission had an office in Biloxi at this time and it was alleged that they supported R. Hart Chinn.  Huey Long stated that he didn’t even know that Louisiana had a Conservation Office at Biloxi.(The Daily Herald, July 12, 1934, p. 1)

Washington Senators arrive at Biloxi in 1935

This vintage image was made in the winter of 1935 at the L&N Depot at Biloxi, Mississippi.  Mayor elect John A.W. O’Keefe and City Commissioners F. A. Tucei and John A. Swanzy are welcoming Clark Griffith (1869-1955) , president and owner, of the Washington Nationals of the American League.  The Nationals held their spring baseball training at Biloxi for several years during the early 1930s. Clark Griffith arrived here in mid-February to complete arrangements for the opening of the 1935 baseball spring training session. [L-R: Mayor John A.W. O'Keefe (1891-1985); Frederick A. Tucei (1889-1954), City Commissioner; Clark C. Griffith (1869-1955), owner Washington Senators; John A. Swanzy (1881-1965), City Commissioner. Image by A.V. Ragusin (1902-1997) from the Ray L. Bellande Historical Imagery Archives and The Daily Herald, February 19, 1935, p. 6]

City Commissioners

With John A.W. O’Keefe, the Biloxi voters elected two City Commissioners John A. Swanzy (1881-1965), a longtime incumbent, and F.A. Tucei (1889-1954), a political newcomer.  Mr. Swanzy swept into office in the first primary.(The Daily Herald, August 14, 1934, p. 1)

Captain Castanera expires

The summer heat and intensity of the Mayoral election were stilling boiling in Biloxi when Nicki C. O’Keefe lost her father on August 21, 1934.  Captain Frank B. Castanera (1870-1934) was born in Pascagoula and received a Jesuit education at Spring Hill College in Mobile.  He settled at Biloxi in 1893 and organized the Biloxi and Ship Island Tow Boat Company in February 1897 with J.B. Roberts.  The steam tug Biloxi built by the Taltavull Shipyard for Frank B. Castanera was used in the towing operations along the Mississippi coast.  Circa 1900, he was in the retail lumber and general supply business in Biloxi.  In 1905, he was appointed a member of the Ship Island Bar Pilots' Association, and served as a pilot between Ship Island and Gulfport until the commencement of World War I.(The Daily Herald, August 21, 1934, p. 1)  

During the Great War, he offered his services to the Government as a member of the U.S. Shipping Board.  While at sea duty in the post-War years, Castanera met with a many   adventures on the seas.  Two notable events at this time of his life reported in the Biloxi News of April 25, 1926, were the saving of the life of an ill seaman by radio diagnosis with a land based physician, and the rescue of the abandoned Norwegian steamer Johanne Dybwad in the stormy North Atlantic.(The Biloxi News, April 25, 1926, p. 1  and May 2, 1926, p. 7)

Captain Frank B. Castanera had married Amelia Desporte (1880-1953) at Biloxi on June 30, 1897.  In addition to Amelia C. ‘Nicki’ O’Keefe, their other children were: Eugene Ernest Castanera (1898-1932); Ursula C. Provensal(1900-1991) married Sidney W. Provensal (1888-1977); Delauney Castanera (1903-1935) married Louise Tremmel; and Theodore Castanera (1905-1978) married Bessie Welch (1914-1989).(Harrison Co., Ms. MRB 11, p. 211)

The Biloxi Battler-John A. O’Keefe           

In August 1934, John A. O’Keefe had been elected Mayor of Biloxi defeating incumbent R. Hart Chinn by a wide margin.  When time came for the watch to change at the Biloxi City Hall in early January 1935, Mayor Chinn refused to leave office claiming that O’Keefe and the other newly elected city councilmen, John A. Swanzy and F.A. Tucei (1889-1954), were not qualified electors as they had been late in paying city taxes.  Chinn also alleged that John A. O’Keefe was a registered voter in both Jackson and Harrison Counties.(The Daily Herald, January 7, 1935, p. 3)

A few minutes past mid-night on January 7, 1935, Mayor-elect O’Keefe and his cabinet took the oath of office administered by Judge George B. Wink on Point Cadet.  Immediately thereafter, Mayor O’Keefe, who at the time was a Major in the Mississippi National Guard commanding the 3rd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery, and his armed followers took the Biloxi City Hall by force, ousting Chinn supporters among them Police Chief George Bills.  Mayor O’Keefe brought a cot with him and slept in his office during the crisis week.(The Daily Herald, January 7, 1935, p. 1 and p. 3)

The O’Keefe contingent soon discovered that R. Hart Chinn had absconded with the city books and records making it nearly impossible to manage the daily operations of the municipality.  Chinn excused this act as he believed that he was protecting them from the O’Keefe lead mob that he had heard would invade City Hall in the early morning hours of January 7th.  When Chinn refused a court order to return Biloxi’s records, he was cited for contempt of court.  The net result of this chaos at Biloxi, which lasted about two weeks, was that Chinn was fined $100 and ordered to pay court costs.(The Daily Herald, January 24, 1935, p. 1)

Car wreck

In early March 1935, Mayor O’Keefe, spouse Nicki C. O’Keefe, Amelia Desporte Castanera (1880-1953), his mother-in-law, and Dorothy Daspit (1908-1937+), an Ocean Springs school teacher and native of Houma, Louisiana, were traveling west to New Orleans for a Mardi Gras  celebration.  While driving the beach road through Pass Christian, the steering mechanism of Mayor O’Keefe’s automobile failed and the vehicle struck a tree.  Nicki C. O’Keefe broke her hip bone while her mother and Mayor O’Keefe suffered cuts and bruises.  Miss Daspit was not seriously harmed in the accident.(The Jackson County Times, March 9, 1935, p.1)


Resignation-Adjutant General

With the inauguration of Hugh Lawson White (1881-1965) in January 1936 as the Governor of Mississippi, John A. O'Keefe became Adjutant General of Mississippi.  The Governor-elect had promised O’Keefe this position in his administration for the Mayor’s influence and political support during his campaign for the office to lead Mississippi. Mayor O’Keefe’s announced in early February 1936, that he would resign as Biloxi’s Mayor on February 10, to take the position of Adjutant General of the State of Mississippi. The salary was $2700 per year.  Mayor O’Keefe succeeded Thomas Grayson, also from Biloxi, and appointee of Governor Mike Connor.  O’Keefe and family found an apartment on West Capitol Street in Jackson (The Daily Herald, October 17, 1935, p. 2, andThe Daily Herald, November 8, 1935, p. and The Jackson County Times, February 1, 1936, p. 1)

August 1936, Adjutant General O’Keefe and 2175 officers and troops of the 155th Infantry-Mississippi, the 156thInfantry-Louisiana, the 106th Quartermasters Regiment-Mississippi and other Louisiana National Guard units spent two weeks training at Camp Beauregard near Alexandria, Louisiana.  The medical In detachment from Biloxi led by Lt. Eldon L. Bolton (1910-1990), the Quartermasters unit from Ocean Springs in charge of Lt. Walter Holloway, and Company M out of Gulfport with Captain Glenn Rutledge in command were also encamped. (The Daily Herald, August 24, 1936, p. 2)

In September 1939, Adjutant General O’Keefe was Grand Marshal of the Mississippi delegation in the National American Legion parade at Chicago.  In August Ben Hilbun, of Laurel, Mississippi and  the newly elected American Legion state commander, had made the first announcement of General O’Keefe’s selection as Grand Marshal for the Illinois event.(The Jackson County Times, August 5, 1939, p. 1)

In October 1939, Adjutant General O’Keefe attended a National Guard convention at Baltimore.  He visited Secretary of War Harry Woodring and National Guard leaders and other officials about moving troops into south Mississippi in the spring of 1940.  By early November Adjutant General O’Keefe and spouse were in Biloxi to vote for the proposed changes in the mortmain laws.  He had been a member of the State executive committee that was promoting legislation to amend the current statutes.(The Daily Herald, November 7, 1939, p. 3)

John A. O’Keefe’s tenure as Mississippi Adjutant General ended with Governor White’s first term as Governor in January 1940.  He was praised by Lt. General S.D. Embick, 4th Corps area commander, for his services to the National Guard as follows:  “The marked progress that has been made by the Guard of Mississippi during your tour of duty has evidenced clearly your high qualities of leadership and executive ability.  In preparation for, and the conduct of the 3rd Army maneuvers in the Desoto National Forest, your assistance was invaluable and contributed notably to the success of these maneuvers.(The Jackson County Times, December 9, 1939, p. 1)

General O’Keefe’s four years of service to the people of Mississippi resulted in the completion of the construction of Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg.  The first troops were trained here during his administration.  O’Keefe was lauded for his efforts in 1939 to bring to south Mississippi the largest peacetime US Army training exercises ever held.  He was ever alert to the national affairs concerning the National Guard and in 1938 was named to the executive committee of the National Guard Association which brought him to many conferences throughout America.(The Jackson County Times, June 1, 1940, p. 1)

Washington D.C.

In June 1941, former Mississippi National Guard Adjutant General, John A. O’Keefe , was selected to be one of four assistants to Major General J.F. Williams, Chief of the National Guard Bureau.  Shortly after his appointment, O’Keefe returned to the Coast to attend the funeral of Senator Byron Patton ‘Pat’ Harrison (D-Ms) who died at Washington D.C. on June 22, 1941.    (The Jackson County Times, June 1, 1940, p. 1 and The Daily Herald, June 26, 1941, p. 5)

In September 1941, the O’Keefes were in Washington D.C. and were planning a party for friends at the Army-Navy Club.  Lt. Colonel O’Keefe flew to Louisiana with General Williams, commander of the National Guard Bureau, to observe war maneuvers.(The Daily Herald, September 22, 1941, p. 7)

 WW II Military career

During WWII, Colonel O’Keefe served in North Africa with the Air Transport Command.  In June 1945, he participated in the historic Yalta Conference.  In addition to his US military decorations, O’Keefe was recognized by the Sultan of Morocco and the Bey of Tunisia for his accomplishments in the Allied forces desert campaigns against the Germans and Italians in the deserts of North Africa.  

In the spring of 1945, the Westergard Boat Works at Biloxi launched a steel trawler named John A. O’Keefe, which was built for the DeJean Packing Company.(The Daily Herald, June 21, 1945, p.1)


Post World War II

After World War II ended, John A. O’Keefe worked at Washington D.C. as the special representative of the Commanding Officer of the National Airport.  He may have served as Adjutant General of the District of Columbia.  In October 1946, he was recognized by Pope Pius XII of the Roman Catholic Church as he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.  O’Keefe was only the third Mississippian to receive the honor.  Bishop Richard O. Gerow, who present him the award at Nativity B.V.M. Catholic Church, lauded O’Keefe for his meritorious service to the Catholic Church while Mayor of Biloxi, State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus, Adjutant General of Mississippi, and to his service in the United States Army.(The Daily Herald, October 15, 1946, p. 1 and The Sun Herald, September 16, 1985, p. 2)

Colonel O’Keefe underwent a serious eye operation at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland in February 1951.(The Gulf Coast Times, February 22, 1951)     

In 1973, John A. O’Keefe was recognized as a Major General in the Mississippi National Guard.  He passed at Biloxi, Mississippi on September 14, 1985.  O’Keefe had led a remarkable life.  In addition to the accomplishment and honor previously mentioned, he served three years as the Grand Knight of Biloxi Council No. 1244; membership in the John Carroll Society of Washington; the American Legion; the Mississippi Society of Washington; the First Friday Club; the Post Mortem Club; Delta Tau Delta Fraternity; and the TTTs [Typical Tropical Tramps].  Genral O’Keefe’s appropriately was in the National Cemetery at Biloxi, Mississippi.  He was survived by Amelia ‘Nicki’ Castanera O’Keefe and daughter, Patricia O’ Brimski, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.(The Sun Herald, September 16, 1985, p. 2)



Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1980) made an indelible mark on Ocean Springs as an educator-administrator in the late early to mid-20th Century.  Several of her former students remember her well.  An anonymous, local antique appraiser and dealer, recalls Mary C. O’ Keefe as follows:  Miss O’Keefe was then, and is still recalled fondly at the annual Ocean Springs High School s as a great administrator and educator.  These yearly gatherings have been held consecutively since 1978.  I was a student in her French class for two years.  Her love for France, its people and their beautiful language, was very obvious.   Being in Miss O’Keefe’s class was magic!

As the leader of the Ocean Springs High School student body, Mary C. O’Keefe ignited in the hearts and minds of her charges the desire to acquire academic knowledge.  Included in their education were the pragmatic aspects of life such as, behavioral standards, dress codes, the consideration of other people, and naturally the environment.

Miss O’Keefe had rules!  Tardiness was not tolerated.  For those students residing north of the L&N railroad tracks not even a locomotive taking on water, which might on occasions interrupt their well-traveled path towards the Government Street school building, was an acceptable excuse.  The front lawn of the school was particularly sacred ground, and only on special occasions were students and teachers allowed there.

A stately lady with grace, dignity, and supreme authority, it was always a surprise for me to see the edges of Miss Mary O’ Keefe’s mouth quirked and her dark Irish eyes twinkling.  I observed this once when two girls were sent to her office for a serious discussion because one had hit the other.  The lassies had gotten into a scuffle over a pansy.

One legendary story about Miss O’Keefe, but not entirely confirmed, was that a piece of her lingerie mysteriously escaped from her clothes line situated in the rear of her Porter Avenue residence.  To the amusement and amazement of the astonished student body, the oversized undergarment magically reappeared flying from the halyard of the flagpole fronting the high school.

An excellent example of the thoughtfulness of Mary O’Keefe surfaced during WWII, when she summoned an older brother of one of the graduates of the Class of 1944 to accept his diploma.  She had excused the younger brother from final exams in order that he might enlist in the US Coast Guard.

During the Great Depression, Walter I. Anderson was commissioned to create murals for the high school auditorium.  Upon dedication day, a special assembly of all classes was summoned to that meeting hall to observe these works of art depicting the past and present life at Ocean Springs.  Miss Mary O’ Keefe stated unequivocally that these wall paintings would someday be exceedingly valuable.  She also correctly predicted that morning in 1935, that Bob Anderson would one day be recognized as a great artist.

Even then, all we kids realized that Miss O’Keefe was also special. We were fortunate to have had her.  Ocean Springs was fortunate to have had her.  Who said that only the Irish have all the luck?!

Lurline Schrieber Hall, now a resident of Letohatchie, Alabama, attended the Ocean Springs public school in the 1920s and 1930s.  Her personal recollection of her former teacher and principal follows:  Mary O’Keffe, a home-town girl, became the principal circa 1930, of Ocean Springs High School.  This was a complete surprise since there had never been a female head of the school.  Mr. Chandler resigned when I was in the fifth grade and we not only had to get used to a lady at the helm, but a strict lady.  She let it be known from the beginning that she would stand for no foolishness-she gave us rules to follow and we knew we had to live by them.  She showed no favoritism but expected courtesy from each of us and we knew exactly what she expected from us.  Miss O’Keefe was always fair but stern.

During the time my class was in the eighth grade, which was during the tight financial years of the Depression, we only had school for eight months of the year due to the shortage of money.  The teachers agreed to the eight-month term, and we compressed nine months of learning into eight. 

Mary O’Keefe, who was known in Ocean Springs as “Mamie”, had to take on a few teaching chores herself.  She taught our English class and always addressed us as ‘my dear child’.  Her first instructions to us were: “When I call the roll, you are to answer ‘prepared’ or ‘unprepared’.  If you answer ‘unprepared’, I will expect an acceptable reason.  I will not except excuses.  I will accept reasons and they must be good ones”.

Rest assured you could count the ‘unprepared’ responses with the fingers of her one hand.  Her next admonition to us was not to say ‘yes, mame’ or ‘no, mame’ when addressing her.  We were requested to say, “yes, Miss O’Keefe” or “no, Miss O’Keefe”.  Even when reprimanding us, Miss O’Keefe spoke to her students as ‘my dear child’.

Each day at noon when we were dismissed for lunch, Miss O’ Keefe stood at the foot of the stairs-sometimes at the girls’ stairs and at other occasions the boys’ stairwell.  This was to discourage the stomping of feet as we descended.  We never knew which stairway she would select and even the high school boys refrained from loud stomping.  Yes, the sexes were segregated, even on the playgrounds.  One had to ask permission from the teacher on playground duty to cross over an imaginary boundary separating the sexes- even if a ball was accidentally sent crossed the “barrier”.  This form of segregation was enforced primarily to prevent larger boys from unintentionally running into smaller females and possibly inflicting bodily injury.

Miss O’ Keefe captained a taut ship.  During the Depression, Ocean Springs High School was never removed from the list of accredited schools and colleges.  She provided the curriculum that would enable her students to attend college or make a livelihood of ones choosing after graduation.  She operated the school in a most outstanding manner steering her students on a straight course with caring, yet with authority.  Someone once said that Miss O’Keefe was trying to excel in order to prove that a local girl was capable of managing an exceptional school even though many people thought that a female was incapable of doing it.

During the years that Miss O’Keefe was our valued mentor, her brother was killed in a diving accident.  For a year she wore mourning black in fall and winter and white and lavender in spring and summer.  Mrs. Weyerstall made her clothes and they were lovely.  This was her outward expression to us for her deep love for her departed brother, “Jody”.

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe was a lady who demanded respect and she returned respect if it was earned.  She had the best interests of her students at heart and worked continuously to obtain the very best for Ocean Springs High School.  To name our old school building for her would certainly be an appropriate and deserving tribute.


Early Education

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe attended St. Alphonsus School and the Lynch Academy, both located on Jackson Avenue in Ocean Springs.  The Lynch Academy was located on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson directly across the street from the O’Keefe residence.  James Lynch (1852-1935), the school master, was himself Irish, probably a native of County Cavan, Eire.(The Daily Herald, April 6, 1945, p. 3, The Jackson County Times, July 6, 1935 and The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, August 27, 1897)

May 29, 1904, was a special day in the spiritual life of Mary C. O’Keefe.  She and other young contemporaries received the Roman Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion at the St. Alphonsus Church on Jackson Avenue, at this time.  Among those in her Holy Communion class were: Henry Beaugez, Moses Beaugez (1891-1973), Deo Bertuccini (1893-1979), Paul Bertuccini, Leila Catchot, Lena Eglin Gilbert (1890-1928) Elizabeth Joachim, John King, Josephine Mon, Ella Ryan, Blanche von Rosambeau (1892-1982), Gertrude Soden McGregor (1893-1987), Mamie Starks (b. 1891), Tom Starks (1892-1917), George Van Court, and Alice White (1890-1960).(The Progress, May 28, 1904, p. 4)

Miss O’Keefe completed her high school education at St. Mary’s Dominican Academy at New Orleans.  Her brother, John A. O’Keefe (1891-1985), was attending Jesuit High School concurrently.  He was appointed Captain of Company D-Jesuit Cadets in December 1905.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, November 3, 1905 and December 8, 1905)  

John A. O’Keefe would go on to a distinguished career in politics and the military.  He served the city of Biloxi as its Mayor in 1935, before being appointed as Adjutant General of Mississippi by Governor Hugh Lawson White.(The Daily Herald, September 16, 1985, p. A-2)

At the Dominican Academy graduation exercises in late June 1910, Miss O’Keefe was awarded five gold medals for excellence in various academic disciplines.  She matriculated to Sophie Newcomb College at New Orleans in the fall of 1910, and after taking a private examination was admitted to the sophomore class.(The Ocean Springs News, October 15, 1910, p. 4  and  June 25, 1910)

Miss O’Keefe graduated from Newcomb College in 1913.  In 1917, she was voted president of her 1913 class for life.(The Jackson County Times, July 7, 1917)

A Peripatetic Career (1913-1945)

North Louisiana (1913-1923)

After her stellar academic accomplishments in the scholastic halls of New Orleans’ finest educational institutions, Miss Mary C. O’Keefe went to Shreveport, Louisiana to teach French at the high school level.  She spent the summer of 1914, at Ocean Springs, and departed in September 1914 to resume her position as Professor of French in the Central High School.(The Ocean Springs News, September 26, 1914)


Jeremiah ‘Ben’ Joseph O’Keefe II


Brother “Ben” O’Keefe

At this time, it was extremely common for single schoolteachers to room and board with local families.  At Shreveport, Miss O’Keefe found shelter on Fairfield Avenue with the Roman Catholic family of John B. Slattery (1844-1927), a prominent attorney and widower.  His spouse, Mary Ellen Herron, a native of Wisconsin, had expired in 1899.  They were the parents of four sons and two daughters.(Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999) 

Although Mr. Slattery’s daughter, Teresa “Tess” Josephine Slattery (1894-1995), had met Jeremiah ‘Ben’ Joseph O’Keefe II (1894-1954) while on a seashore summer holiday to visit Mary C. O’Keefe at Ocean Springs in 1919, it was his journey to Shreveport for the Thanksgiving holiday of the following year that sealed their fate.  At Ocean Springs, Ben had been the steady escort of the widow Carrie Johnson Garrard (1886-1968), but he was smitten with Miss Slattery, and they were wedded at Shreveport’s St. John Berchman’s Roman Catholic Church in April 1921.  Mary C. O’Keefe was the maid of honor in her brother’s wedding.  She appropriately carried Killarney roses.(Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999 and The Jackson County Times, September 20, 1919, and May 7, 1921, p. 3)

In March 1923, Ben O’Keefe began to expand his funeral business to Biloxi by acquiring the Frank Voivedich (1861-1930) property at 601 Howard Avenue, from his widow, Josephine Fayard Voivedich (1862-1940).  O’Keefe paid her $6800 for the lot and improvements.  Ben’s sibling bought a ¼ undivided interest in the business in October 1924.(HARCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 135, pp. 351-352 and  Bk. 143, p. 212)

This commercial venture was related to the public by the local journal, The Jackson County Times, on May 19, 1923, p. 5, as follows:  Ben O’Keefe, local undertaker and funeral director, has purchased property in Biloxi opposite the Catholic Church (Nativity BVM) and expects to enter into the business in that city about June 1st.  He is fitting up a modern funeral parlor and will be equipped to do a general undertaking business conducting funerals, etc.  Mr. O’Keefe will of course continue his large business interest in Ocean Springs, having his brother, Joseph ’Keefe to assist him.

To check Ben O’Keefe’s funeral business move to Biloxi, his competitor, the Bradford Company at 119 East Howard Avenue, operated by Lyman Bradford (1863-1944) and his sons, James Floyd Bradford (1890-1963) and Paul S. Bradford (1894-1983) almost immediately opened their own funeral parlor in Ocean Springs.  In June, they leased the McFarland bungalow at present day 317 Washington Avenue, and were opened for business in mid-July 1923.(The Daily Herald, June 18, 1923, p. 3 and The Jackson County Times, July 14, 1923, p. 5)

Jerry and Diane Leggett Chapman reside here today.  Our older citizens will remember the McFarland’s Variety Store, the forerunner of Ben Franklin’s, which was situated where the Salvetti Brothers once served delicioso, Italian comestibles and is now home to Al Fresco, another ristorante Italiano.  Oscar “Mike” McFarland (1872-1952) and his sister, Elsie McFarland Hayden (1881-1956), were originally from Carrollton, Illinois. 


Ben and Tess S. O’Keefe were the parents of:  Alice Mary O’Keefe (1922-2011) m. Leo John Sebastian (1915-1995); Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Joseph O’Keefe III (b. 1923) m. Annette Saxon (1924-1998) and Martha Sue Peterson; Dr.  John B. O’Keefe (1925-2004) married Susan Biddy (1934-1991) ; and Joseph ‘Ben’ O’Keefe (1930-1999) m. Jennie Dew Boone.

Shreveport Years

Until the summer of 1918, Miss O’Keefe continued her educational career at Shreveport, routinely spending her summer and Christmas holidays at Ocean Springs. (The Ocean Springs News, December 30, 1915, The Jackson County Times, September 15, 1917, and January 5, 1918)  

In 1918, however, she passed the Civil Service examination and spent that summer working in government service at Washington D.C. Miss O’ Keefe returned from Washington to Ocean Springs in early September 1918.  Again she went dutifully to Shreveport to teach French that fall.(The Jackson County Times, May 25, 1918, p. 5 and September 7, 1918, p. 5)

The academic year of 1918-1919 also brought Miss O’Keefe a new wrinkle.  In addition to her French language classes, she coached the girls basketball team.  1919 was also the memorable year that Miss Tess Slattery from Shreveport came home with Mary C. O’Keefe for a summer holiday at the seashore in Ocean Springs.  They returned to Shreveport in September 1919.(The Jackson County Times, April 5, 1919, May 31, 1919 and September 20, 1919)   

Monroe, Louisiana (1921-1922)

Miss O’Keefe left her position as Head of the Modern Language Department in the Shreveport, Louisiana school system, after the 1921-1922 academic year.  During the late springs 1921, she attended the annual alumni reunions of Newcomb College and St. Mary’s Dominican Academy.  Miss O’Keefe was elected president of her Dominican Academy high school class.  She reported to Monroe, Louisiana in October 1922, to teach French at the high school there.  She returned to Biloxi in June 1923, for her summer holiday.(The Daily Herald, October 21, 1922, p. 5 and June 23, 1923, p. 5 and The Jackson County Times, June 18, 1921, p. 3)

Mary Cahill O’Keefe

[from The Biloxi Beacon-1924]


Biloxi, Mississippi (1923-1926)

Miss O’Keefe returned to Ocean Springs from Monroe, Louisiana in June 1923.  Evidently, this assignment wasn’t agreeable as she commenced the 1923-1924 school year at Biloxi Central High School on September 10, 1923.  She had been elected to teach French to the students there.(The Jackson County Times, June 16, 1923, p. 5 and September 15, 1923, p. 5) 

In early June 1924, Miss O’ Keefe departed Ocean Springs for a globe-trotting summer of adventure and discovery.  She visited friends at Washington and New York before embarking for the Continent via ocean liner from Montreal.  Dr. Margaret Bowden feted her with a luncheon at the Pickwick Club in New Orleans before departing.(The Jackson County Times, June 14, 1924)

After two months in Europe, Mary C. O’Keefe returned safely to Ocean Springs, in late August.  She spent several weeks in the larger European capital cities, London, Rome, Paris and Brussels, took a trip along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea by motorcar, visited the battlefields of France, and had an audience with Pope Pius XI.  In addition to visiting all the cities and points of interest on the Continent, it is believed that Miss O’Keefe took courses in French at the Sorbonne while in Paris.(The Jackson County Times, August 30, 1924, p. 5 and The Daily Herald, September 5, 1924, p. 3)

After the 1924-1925 school term had ended, Miss Mary C. O’ Keefe and Margaret Dacey, who taught girls’ physical education at Biloxi High School, left the Mississippi Gulf Coast in June 1925, for Chicago, where they were joined by Miss Cunningham.  The Biloxi educators were guests of the Edgewater Beach Hotel in the Windy City.  From Chicago, Miss O’Keefe and Miss Dacey went to Detroit and Niagara Falls before arriving at New York City to attend Columbia University.  Miss O’Keefe returned home to Ocean Springs from Columbia in late August better prepared to teach languages at Biloxi High School in the fall.(The Jackson County Times, June 20, 1925, July 4, 1925, p. 1,  and August 29, 1925, p. 3)

Although she was rated as one of the best instructors in the school, Miss O’Keefe resigned her position at Biloxi High School in January 1926.  She cited health reasons for her leaving the classroom.  Her tenure here in the modern languages department had been for three and one-half years.(The Jackson County Times, January 29, 1926, p. 2) 

By July 1926, Mary C. O’Keefe’s health had been restored sufficiently for her to travel to Chicago for two weeks to attend the Eucharistic Congress.  She was a guest at a reception in honor of the crown prince and princess of Sweden.(The Jackson County Times, July 10, 1926)


Miss O’Keefe’s Cottage (1925-1971)

In August 1925, Mary C.O’Keefe, J.J. “Ben” O’Keefe (1894-1954), Joseph H. O’Keefe (1897-1932), and John A. O’Keefe (1891-1985) acquired for $1200, a lot and improvements fronting on West Porter from Daniel Dick (1900-1971). This was the site of Miss O’Keefe’s cottage where she would reside for the next forty-six years.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 56, pp. 349-350) 

The Mary C. O’Keefe’s cottage was situated primarily on Lot 3 of the Seidenstricker Tract in Lot 12 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map of Ocean Springs).  This lovely oak-shaded site was located on the north side of West Porter between Jackson Avenue and Washington Avenue.  Her .523 acre, irregular-dimensioned, lot had a front of 94 feet on Porter and went north 262 feet on the eastside and 143 feet on the western perimeter.  It is postulated that Miss O’Keefe’s cottage was erected here in the late19th Century, probably by the Herman Nill family of New Orleans who had purchased this tract from A.G. Tebo (1848-1929) in March 1891.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 17, p. 355) 

Caroline Vahle Nill (1862-1949) and Herman Nill (1863-1904) had sold this property to Sallie Grayson Orrell in January 1903, for $1200.  The Vahles had built a two-and one-half story building on their lot on the NW corner of Washington and Porter in 1893. Here Mr. Nill ran a drugstore and let offices to local doctors.  In what was an apparent arson, local vandals destroyed Nill’s building in December 1900.  By 1903, the Nill family had relocated to Gulfport.( .(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 25, p. 521, The Ocean Springs Record, July 22, 1993, p. 18, July 29, 1993, p. 17, and August5, 1993)

Sallie Grayson Orrell (1865-1924+) was the daughter of Judge Thomas W. Grayson (1825-1904) and Anne Hyde Grayson (1832-1906).  She married John C. Orrell Jr. (1862-1924+) in November 1889.  He was the son of John C. Orrell (1830-1917), a North Carolinian, who established the turpentine industry in western Jackson County during Reconstruction.  By 1900, J.C. Orrell Jr. was a baggage master for the L&N Railroad and rearing three daughters, Lillian Orrell (b. 1892), Lucille Orrell (b. 1893), and Irene Orrell (b. 1898), on Porter.  The J.C. Orrell Jr. family left Ocean Springs for 208 State Street in Mobile before 1917, as they were residing here when his father died in November 1917.(The Mobile Press Register, December 1, 1917, p. 8)

Mrs. Sallie G. Orrell conveyed their Porter Street cottage to Daniel Dick (1900-1971) for $1200 in August 1924.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 54, pp. 181-182)  Dick was born at Ocean Springs, the son of Eugene Dick (1868-1918) and Mary Cecile Seymour (1869-1953).  Married to     Starnes, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Starnes of Bogalusa, Louisiana.(The Daily Herald, December 16, 1933, p. 2)

It was from Daniel Dick that the Nill-Orrell house was acquired by Mary C. O’Keefe, Ben O’Keefe, John A. O’Keefe, and Jody O’Keefe for $1200 in August 1925.  Mr. Dick left Ocean Springs and made his livelihood at Los Banos, Merced County, California.  His brother, Carl “Mexi” Dick (1909-2000), resided in San Ramon, California where he expired on September 22, 2000.

In July 1930, Mary C. O’Keefe acquired three parcels of land at Ocean Springs, from her brothers, J.A. O’Keefe, J.H. O’Keefe, and J.J. “Ben” O’Keefe.  The cottage property on West Porter was included in this sale.  Miss O’Keefe had to assume a mortgage of $1250 held by Josephine Friar (1883-1958).(JXCO Chancery Court Cause No. 5649, JXCO Land Deed Bk. 63, pp. 524-525, and JXCO Land Deed BK. 56, pp. 349-350)

Miss O’Keefe sold her Porter Street cottage to the Catholic Charities Housing Association in February 1970.  It was removed when The Villa Maria was erected mid-town between April 1970 and September 1971.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 371, p. 506)

Ocean Springs (1927-1930)

Miss O’Keefe joined the faculty of the new Ocean Springs Public School in the fall of 1927.  She taught English her first year at facility for $115.00 per month or $1035.00 per year.(The Jackson County Times, September 24, 1927, p. 1)

Although Mary C. O’Keefe never married, she led an active social life and appeared to be peripatetic by nature.  She had family and friends in New Orleans and traveled there often for parties, football games, and the Mardi Gras season.  The year 1928 wasn’t one of her better ones, as in late February, Miss O’Keefe was badly bruised and shaken up in a car accident on her way to New Orleans to view the Carnival.  Her car had skidded in loose gravel and overturned.  Miss O’Keefe’s friends, Pierre and Louise Donnes also received minor injuries.(The Daily Herald, February 28, 1928, p. 4 and The Jackson County Times, February 25, 1928)

In June, Mary C. O’Keefe was recovering from an appendectomy at Hotel Dieu in the Crescent City.(The Jackson County Times, June 23, 1928, p. 2)

In the spring of 1929, Mary O’ Keefe was elected Superintendent of the Ocean Springs Public Schools.  She was to succeed Professor Sterling Chandler at the commencement of the fall semester.(The Jackson County Times, March 16, 1929, p. 3)

Prior to the new school term, Miss O’Keefe and Miss Salome Bailey (later Watkins), the daughter of Dr. O.L. Bailey attended for several weeks, a lecture course at Columbia University in New York City.  Miss Bailey went initially to visit with relatives in Atlanta and met O’Keefe en route to New York.(The Jackson County Times, August 24, 1929)

New Homes

Another woe of the 1930s for the O’Keefe family, as previously mentioned, was the loss of their family homestead, the 1909 O’Keefe mansion on Porter Street in Ocean Springs.  It was forfeited to a government mortgage agency in December 1938

In March 1923, Ben O’Keefe acquired the Voivedich property on West Howard Avenue and Fayard Street.  He planned to make commercial use of this tract during the summer.  Mr. O’Keefe was operating a funeral parlor and burial business building in Ocean Springs.(The Daily Herald, March 27, 1923, p. 2)

Ben and Tess O’Keefe and their family, Alice Mary O’ Keefe Sebastian (1922-2011), Jeremiah J. “Jerry” O’Keefe III (b. 1923), Dr. John B. O’Keefe (1925-200), and Joseph B. O’Keefe (1930-1999), relocated to Biloxi when Mrs. Tess O’Keefe acquired a home and lot on Fayard Street from Josephine Fayard Voivedich (1862-1940) in July 1937.  This residence was in the rear of the O’Keefe Funeral Parlor at 601 West Howard Avenue. (HARCO Land Deed Bk. 216, pp. 29-30)

During the final year of WW II, Ben and Tess O’Keefe and young Ben, moved into the old Hopkins place at 823 West Beach Boulevard.  Mrs. O’Keefe acquired this home on a 2.3 acre tract on the east side of Hopkins Boulevard and fronting the Mississippi Sound for $20,000, in February 1945, from Dr. Ralph Hopkins of New Orleans.(HARCO Land Deed Bk. 273, pp. 29-30) 

In July 1945, the Main Street Methodist Church of Biloxi purchased about one acre of land north of the O’Keefe home for a new sanctuary.(HARCO Land Deed Bk. 276, pp. 569-570)  The

In November 1960, several years after Ben O’Keefe expired in his beach front domicile, Mrs. O’Keefe and her son, John B. O’Keefe, sold 823 West Beach Boulevard to Gulf Towers Inc.(HARCO Land Deed Bk. 471, pp. 57-58)

After the Villa Maria was opened in September 1971, Miss O’Keefe moved there and was a resident until her demise in January 1980. 

Ocean Springs (1931-1945)

It would appear that Miss O’Keefe’ didn’t let the Depression years at Ocean Springs interfere with her social life and summer holiday travel.  She went abroad in the summer of with Mrs. J.T. Nix and daughter, Rosary Nix.  They were accompanied by Miss Mildred van Kamp of Augusta, Georgia.  As previously related, Marcy C. O’Keefe cruised the Caribbean Sea with her dear friends, the Nix family, of New Orleans in the summer of 1932, and visited her brother, Jodie O’Keefe (1897-1932), at Matanzas, Cuba, shortly before his demise.(The Daily Herald, Times, August 11, 1931, p. 2 and August 2, 1932, p. 1)

The following information summarizes some of Mary C. O’Keefe’s activities during the captioned years.


In January 1934, Miss O’Keefe attended the ball and supper dance of the Athenians Mardi Gras organization at New Orleans.(The Jackson County Times, February 3, 1934) 

In April 1934, she went to two plays at New Orleans during her weekend visit with friends.(The Jackson County Times, April 21, 1934)


Miss O’Keefe was the guest of Dr. and Mrs. J.T. Nix of New Orleans.  She assisted in the receiving line at a Yuletide dance given at the New Orleans Country Club for their daughter, Miss Rosary Nix.  Miss Alice O’Keefe, her young niece, accompanied Miss O’Keefe to the Nix soiree.(The Jackson County Times, December 28, 1935)


In July 1936, Mary C. O’Keefe left Ocean Springs and spent her summer vacation traveling.  Her initial stop was at Jackson, Mississippi where she visited with her brother, Major John A. O’ Keefe.  From Mississippi, Miss O’Keefe stopped at Winnetka, Illinois to see Mrs. F.B. Thomas.  The culmination of this journey was Montreal where she was the guest of Mrs. E. Valliquette. (The Jackson County Times, July 25, 1936)    


Miss O’Keefe was the director of the 1699 Iberville Landing at Ocean Springs which was held in conjunction with the Coast wide pageant of March 17-19, 1939.  Miss Elinor Wright (later Scharr) (1913-1953) researched and wrote the script for the Iberville Landing.  Other members of the planning committee for this event were: Iola F. Davidson (1883-1963), Gertrude W. McClure (d. 1971), Henrietta M. Gladney (1900-1978), Virginia T. Lee (1901-1986), A.P. Moran (1897-1967), and Mayor Charles Bennett (1884-1971).(The Jackson County Times, January 28, 1939, p. 1)


In March 1930, Miss O’Keefe was honored with membership in Delta Kappa Gamma, a national honorary educational fraternity.  A salient qualification for membership in Delta Kappa Gamma was extraordinary achievements in the field of education.  Miss O’Keefe had demonstrated outstanding leadership as during her short tenure as School Superintendent, the Ocean Springs Public School had: increased enrollment; the elementary school had been reclassified from B to A; the high school had become fully accredited; and the school district had also been enlarged.  At this time, Mary C. O’Keefe held memberships and offices in the following organizations: Jackson County Teachers Association, vice-president; Harrison-Stone-Jackson Junior College, trustee; Jackson County High School Accrediting Commission, member; Examining Board of Jackson County, member; Newcomb Alumnae Coast Club, president; Junior Red Cross of Jackson County, chairman.(The Jackson County Times, March 30, 1940, p. 4)

Miss O’ Keefe spoke to the Ocean Springs Rotary Club in November 1940.(The Jackson County Times, November 16, 1940, p. 1)


Superintendent O’Keefe and brother, Colonel John O’Keefe (1891-1985), went to the Pensacola Naval Air Station to attend the graduation of their nephew, Lt. Jerry O’Keefe, naval aviator.(The Jackson County Times, July 3, 1943)

Marine Lt. Jerry O’Keefe learned well as on his first combat mission in the South Pacific theater during WWII, he destroyed five Japanese aircraft.(The Jackson County Times, April 28, 1945, p. 1)

It should be noted that Jerry O’Keefe’s father, J.J. “Ben” O’Keefe II (1894-1954), was also a Marine.  He left Ocean Springs for New Orleans in late July 1918, with Jasper Colligan (1899-1951+) to join other recruits bound for basic training at an eastern camp.  Ben’s departure left Joseph H. “Jodie” O’Keefe (1897-1932) in charge of the family businesses, livery and undertaking.(The Jackson County Times, Local News Interest, July 27, 1918)  

Jerry O’Keefe’sson. J.J. “Jody” O’Keefe IV (1946-2007), served in the USMC from 1964-1967).(The History of JXCO, Ms., 1989, p. 303)


Mary C. O’ Keefe resigned from her position as superintendent of Ocean Springs public schools prior to the fall session of the 1945-1946 school term.  Under her sixteen-year administration, the schools of Ocean Springs, maintained high academic standards, and reached new levels of proficiency.  The elementary section advanced from a B to an A classification, the high school became fully accredited, and pupil enrollment increased by 33 per cent.  In the near future, Miss O’ Keefe planned to work on a part time basis in the local school system.(The Daily Herald, April 6, 1945, p. 3)  

Prior to her retirement from the field of education, Miss O’Keefe was recognized on May 22, 1945, by her faculty and students.  She sat in the high school auditorium while the student body sang “Good Morning to Miss O’Keefe”.  Gifts of flowers, photographs of the schools achievement during her administration, and others from the band and faculty were bestowed on her.  Miss O’Keefe spoke briefly to her pupils saying, “that she had always wished to sit and enjoy a program in the auditorium, and at last was realizing that desire.”  After thanking everyone for their gifts, she concluded her comments with “the greatest gifts of all were carried in her heart, place there by pupils whom she had taught.”(The Jackson County Times, May 26, 1945, p. 4 and The Daily Herald, May 28, 1945, p. 8)


In June 1945, Miss Jessie Boyd (1881-1963), who was a life friend of Miss O’Keefe, and career Red Cross relief worker, was feted by her loyal friends at a buffet supper held at the Gulf Hills Country Club.  Mary C. O’Keefe presented Miss Boyd with several savings bonds as gifts from guests.  They included: Miss Ethel Rice (1887-1969), Mr. and Mrs. George Young, Miss Bernadine Wulff (1899-1992), Mrs. Ed (Clothilde Bailey) Campbell (1901-1995), Mrs. Chester Davis, Mrs. John Knippie, and Mrs. John (Vera Wulff) Cook (1906-1992).(The Jackson County Times, June 16, 1945, p. 1)

Mary C. O’Keefe was succeeded as Superintendent of the Ocean Springs public schools by S.S. Wall, a native of Decatur, Newton County, Mississippi.  Mr. Wall came to Ocean Springs from Pascagoula.  He was a graduate of Mississippi Southern College and had coached and was previously Superintendent at Beulah-Hubbard and Vancleave High Schools.(The Jackson County Times, July 28, 1945, p. 1)


Retirement Years (1946-1980)

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s retirement years are presented from information casually observed in local journals of the captioned interval as follows:


In June, Miss Mary C. O’Keefe returned to Ocean Springs after a delightful visit with Colonel John A. O’Keefe at Bethseda, Maryland, Mrs. L. MacWeeney, of Rye, NY, and Mrs. John Knipple in Philadelphia, Pa. (The Jackson County Times, Local and Personal, June 7, 1947, p. 8)


She entertained family and friends from New Orleans, Shreveport, and Biloxi at Gulf Hills with a luncheon.  The young children of the visiting families were sent to the Dude Ranch to ride horses.(The Gulf Coast Times, August 25, 1950, p. 8)

In the fall of 1950, Miss O’Keefe spent two months in the East visiting relatives and friends at Bethesda, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.  In Maryland, she stayed with Colonel John O’Keefe’s family and at Washington D.C. Miss Helen Bliss.  In Philadelphia, Miss O’Keefe was entertained by John and Ena Knippel. Mrs. Knippel was the supervisor of music in the public school of Philadelphia.(The Gulf Coast Times, December 15, 1950, p. 1)

Went to the Sugar Bowl game at New Orleans with the Ben O’Keefe family of Biloxi.  She stayed for a short visit with Mrs. James T. Nix.(The Gulf Coast Times, January 12, 1951)

In February 1951, Miss O’Keefe traveled to Bethesda, Maryland to visit Colonel John O’Keefe, her brother.  He had just had a serious eye operation.(The Gulf Coast Times, February 22, 1951.

In November 1952, a tea was given for Miss Ann O’Neil. (The Gulf Coast Times, November 27, 1952, p. 6)


Miss O’Keefe broke a bone in her left foot resulting from a fall.  Foot placed in a cast.(The Ocean Springs News, January 24, 1957)


Miss O’Keefe came out of retirement for a few years and taught French at the Sacred Heart Academy in Biloxi.  She is remembered during this interval by her great niece, Maureen O’Keefe Ward, as “always dressed very elegantly, with touches of lace here and there, or a beautiful pin on her lapel, spiffy spectator pumps, and stockings”.(Maureen O. Ward, September 9, 1998)


Miss O’Keefe sold her cottage property on West Porter to the Catholic Charities Housing Association on February 20, 1970.(JXCO Land Deed Bk. 371, p. 506) 

The Villa Maria, a seven-story building which houses a retirement community, was built north of her property.  Construction commenced here in April 1970.(The Ocean Springs Record, April 16, 1970, p. 1)


Mary C. O’Keefe was living in the Villa Maria at time of demise on January 22, 1980.  Her corporal remains were cremated and interred in the O’Keefe family burial plot at the Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs.  Miss O’Keefe’s obituary relates that she was a former President of Jackson County Teachers Association and former member of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College.  Her university associations included being an alumna of Dominican and Newcomb Colleges of New Orleans, a member of the Iota Chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma Alpha and Delta Kappa Gamma of which she was a charter member of the Zeta chapter.  Miss O’Keefe worshiped at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church where she was also a member of the Altar Society.(The Ocean Springs Record, January 24, 1980, p. 3)


Family Remembrances

Several of Miss O’Keefe’s great nephews and a niece now submit their childhood recollections of their wonderful “Aunt Mary” or “Tante Marie”, as she might have preferred being the unabashed Francophile that she was.

J.J. “Jody” O’Keefe IV (1946-2007)

I remember that as a child we used to visit Aunt Mary at her home on Porter Street.  She had a very exquisite collection of demi-tasse cups and saucers.  She loved to make us café au lait.  We would usually sit on her porch and sip it while she would tell us stories about Jean Lafitte, Bluebeard, and other pirates and stories about other fascinating or exciting characters.  She also taught us to sing “Frere Jacques” in French, “Hickory, Dickory, Dock”, and other nursery songs. Once she invited me to lunch with one of her friends at Allman’s at the foot of the old Ocean Springs-Biloxi bridge.  She embarrassed the hell out of me because she and her friend both kept commenting throughout lunch about ‘how pretty I was” and “how long and beautiful my eyelashes were”-not good news or well accepted by a boy about five or six years of age!! (September 4, 1999)

Jeffery H. O’Keefe(b. 1956)

My memories of Aunt Mary differ drastically from other folks.  I have heard that she ruled with an iron fist at the school.  I remember going to her house where the Villa Maria’s asphalt parking lot is today.  She was always so pleasant and loved to visit.  Aunt Mary had those cut glass doors, which now hang on the funeral home, on the front of her house for many years.  She had some beautiful antiques in her home.(September 2, 1999)

Maureen O’Keefe Ward (b. 1945)

The words “Aunt Mary” immediately conjure up specific and rich memories-approaching her neat white picket fence which wasn’t so high that it scared a child, walking up onto her tiny front screen porch and immediately confronting her colorful Blackbeard figurines by the Andersons (the historical significance of which Aunt Mary was always happy to dramatize with great verve); and then entering through the front door into the wonderland of her small, but beautifully appointed, white frame house.  Aunt Mary and her petite house were always in perfect order-from antique wicker furniture covered in cozy pillows, to elderly oriental rugs topped by glass-front cabinets filled with jewel-like demitasse cups and saucers gathered patiently on her world travels, to the paintings and lovely Della Robia sculpture on the walls, through to her tiny dining room, kitchen and bedroom.

She loved to host my sisters and me at tea parties during which we got to select our favorite cup and saucer from which to sip.  Sitting around her dining room, we would nibble and drink and converse with our best manners on display.  Without ever needing to ask, Aunt Mary always called forth our most perfect behavior (we didn’t want to risk her displeasure).

During summertime, when our many Shreveport cousins came to visit, she’d invite two or three tables of us to her house for an afternoon of canasta and iced tea or lemonade and cookies.  In addition to expecting proper manners, she thought the well-trained great niece ought to know how to play bridge, canasta, hearts-ye gods—even battle, go fish, and old maid.  She taught us carefully and joined the raucous, girlish fun as we mastered her tutelage.

In later years, I got to know her as a formal teacher.  She taught my Sacred Heart classmates and me French for several years, trilling her rrrr’s with great gusto and openly admiring Charles de Gaulle and everything “Francais”.  Since we were typical young teenyboppers, though, I imagine that her majestic figure, perfect posture, fine clothes and blue-white hair made a far more lasting impression on us than her French vocabulary and culture lessons.

I was very sad when her home was torn down to make way for Villa Maria, though Aunt Mary apparently was at peace with the move and cheerfully adorned her two rooms there with furnishings from the old house.  Our routine during those years was to drive over each Sunday at noon, deliver a plate of our warm dinner to her and chat awhile, at least on the days when she didn’t come across to Biloxi and join in the family meal.

We were sad when she developed shingles and difficulty breathing and started mentioning to our mother that she was ready to “go home”, making it clear that she wasn’t describing her apartment at Villa Maria.  I’m sure Tante Marie is elegantly adorning heaven now and having teas with Mama, Ceci, and Nannaw from time to time.(September 5, 1999)

Mary Cahill O’Keefe

[Courtesy of Maureen O’Keefe Ward]

Retirement Haven-This vintage image generously provided by the O’Keefe family depicts Miss Mary C. O’Keefe (1893-1980) in front of her West Porter Street cottage.  In 1945, she resigned from a successful career as an educator-administrator in the public school systems of several cities.  The last eighteen years of Miss O’Keefe’s professional life were devoted to the students and faculty of the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School, the present Administration Building of the Ocean Springs Public School District.  When she was elected School Superintendent and Principal in 1929, Mary C. O’Keefe was the first woman in Mississippi to achieve this status.  During her tenure as School Superintendent, she instilled in the community the value of excellence in education, and raised the level of learning to a higher standard.  In Miss O’Keefe’s beloved memory, the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School was named the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education in December 1998, by the City of Ocean Springs. 

A Mississippi Historical Marker for this purpose was dedicated on the former school grounds of the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School at 2:00 PM on Saturday, October 9, 1999.  The public and all alumni of Ocean Springs schools were invited to the dedication and also encouraged to join The Friends of the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education. 




Ray L. Bellande, Ocean Springs Hotels and Tourist Homes, (Bellande: Ocean Springs, Mississippi-1994), p. 62.

Regina Hines Ellison, Ocean Springs 1892, (2nd Edition), Lewis Printing Services:  Pascagoula-1991).

T.H. Glenn, Mexican Gulf Illustrated, (Delchamps: Mobile, Alabama-1893).

The History of Jackson County, Mississippi, “O’Keefe First Generation” and “O’Keefe Second Generation”, (Jackson County Genealogical Society: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1989)

The History of Jackson County, Mississippi, “O’Keefe, Third Generation and O’Keefe, 4th Generation”(Jackson County Genealogical Society: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1989)

H. Grady Howell, Jr., To Live and Die in Dixie, A History of the Third Mississippi Infantry, CSA, (Chickasaw Bayou Press: Jackson, Mississippi-1991)

John H. Lang, History of Harrison County, Mississippi, (The Dixie Press: Gulfport, Mississippi-1936).

Lauren C. Post, Cajun Sketches, (Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge-1974),

Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home Brochure, pp. 1-2.

C.E. Schmidt, Ocean Springs French Beachhead, (Lewis Printing Company:  Pascagoula, Mississippi-1972).



The Daily Herald“Ocean Springs”, October 21, 1922.

The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs”, March 27, 1923.

The Daily Herald, “Robert Slattery”, March 27, 1923.

The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs”, June 23, 1923.

The Daily Herald, “Miss O’Keefe Returns”, September 5, 1924.

The Daily Herald“Miss O’Keefe Resigns at Biloxi High”, January 29, 1926.

The Daily Herald, “Fifth Annual Masques Ball Scene of Exotic Brilliance”, February 12, 1927.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe Back From Cuba”, April 19, 1927.

The Daily Herald, “Loses Father”, October 4, 1927.

The Daily Herald, “The Charter of Incorporation of the Biloxi Laundry Incorporated”, March 21, 1928.

The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs”, August 11, 1931.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe Leaves For East”, April 11, 1932.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe Dies From Injuries”, August 2, 1932.

The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs”, August 2, 1932.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe Funeral Tuesday Morning”, August 5, 1932.

The Daily Herald, “Funeral J.H. O’Keefe In Ocean Springs”, August 9, 1932.

The Daily Herald, “Ocean Springs”, December 16, 1933.

The Daily Herald, “Committee named to assist O’Keefe in Aviation work”, January 5, 1931.

The Daily Herald, “Resigns, as K.C. Head”, March 20, 1934.

The Daily Herald, “Resigns, as K.C. Head”, March 20, 1934.

The Daily Herald, “Biloxi names new officers”, August 14, 1934.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe Airport Dedicated Monday”, November 13, 1934.

The Daily Herald, “Siege at City Hall”, January 5, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe and supporters seize City Hall after midnight march”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “No requests for troops Conner says”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Chinn talks with attorney, declines to reveal plans”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, ““New officers hold meeting”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “City Bastille falls”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Chinn talks with attorney, declines to reveal plans”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “New attorney”, January 7, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Chinn’s plan for regaining office are not revealed”, January 8, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Vote authority to collect taxes and other moneys due”, January 8, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Biloxi quiet, books needed”, January 9, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Importance of missing books”, January 12, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Indict Chinn for assault upon Swanzy”, January 12, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Taxpayer’s petition sets forth need of records in conduct of Biloxi business”, January 12, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Judge delays decision as Guice disputes claim of fear for personal safety”, January 19, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Activities at Biloxi City Hall increasing; taxes being received”, January 19, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “Chinn fined $100 and costs on contempt charge; Parks freed”, January 24, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe back from Capital”, April 26, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “As next Adj. General", October 17, 1935. 

The Daily Herald, “Biloxi Mayor Will Succeed General Grayson, according To Jackson Announcement”, November 8, 1935.

The Daily Herald, “General O’Keefe returns from Camp”, August 24, 1936.

The Daily Herald, “Loses Brother”, November 11, 1936.

The Daily Herald, “General O’Keefe leads Guardsmen in Desoto County”, December 29, 1938.

The Daily Herald, “Gen. O’Keefe Marshal of Legion Parade”, July 31, 1939.

The Daily Herald, “Gen. and Mrs. O’Keefe come to Coast to vote”, November 7, 1939.

The Daily Herald, “Former Mayor in personnel division of National Guard”, April 15, 1941.

The Daily Herald, “Lt. Col. John A. O’Keefe returns to Washington”, June 26, 1941.

The Daily Herald, “Col. O’Keefe in Louisiana for maneuvers”, September 16, 1941.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefes Plan Party”, September 22, 1941.

The Daily Herald, “O’Keefe-Saxon”, March 13, 1944.

The Daily Herald, “Jerry O’Keefe”, April 22, 1944.

The Daily Herald, “Biloxi flier becomes ace on first combat flight in Pacific”, April 25, 1944.

The Daily Herald“Miss Mary O’Keefe (photo), April 6, 1945.

The Daily Herald, “Honor Miss O’Keefe”, May 28, 1945.

The Daily Herald, “Westergard to launch trawler Friday morning”, June 21, 1945.

The Daily Herald, “Col. John O’Keefe invested with St. Gregory medal”, October 15, 1946.

The Daily Herald, “Speakers praise Col. O’Keefe at banquet held in his honor”, October 16, 1946.

The Daily Herald, “O'Keefe celebrates 25 years in Biloxi”, June 4, 1948.

The Daily Herald, “Long illness is fatal to J. Ben O’Keefe”, November 19, 1954.

The Daily Herald, “Smith-O’Keefe”, July 8, 1959.

The Daily Herald"Dr. O'Keefe opens practice in Biloxi", November 16, 1959.

The Daily Herald, “Move of funeral home by July 1”, June 17, 1960.

The Daily Herald“Miss Mary Cahill O’Keefe”, January 21, 1980.


The Daily Picayune“Society”, April 1, 1888.

The Daily Picayune“Southern States Items of Interest”, February 18, 1895.

The Gulf Coast Times“Miss Mary O’Keefe Entertains”, August 25, 1950.

The Gulf Coast Times, “Miss O’Keefe Returns From Eastern Visit”, December 15, 1950.

The Gulf Coast Times, “Personal Items”, January 12, 1951.

The Gulf Coast Times, “Personal Items”, February 22, 1951.

The Gulf Coast Times, “Mary O’Keefe Tea for Ann O’Neil”, November 27, 1952.


The Jackson County Times, “Local News Interests”, October 28, 1916.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News”, November 18, 1916.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News Interests”, June 2, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News Interests”, August 25, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, November 24, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, “Fast train smashes O’Keefe hearse returning from funeral”, November 24, 1917

The Jackson County Times, “Ocean Springs Boys Win Commissions at Training Camp”, December 1, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News Items”, June 15, 1918.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News Items”, July 27, 1918.

The Jackson County Times“Local News Items”, April 5, 1919.

The Jackson County Times“Local News Items”, May 31, 1919.

The Jackson County Times, “Local News Items”, September 7, 1918.

The Jackson County Times“Local News Items”, September 20, 1919.

The Jackson County Times, Sudden death of Mrs. J. O’Keefe”, January 8, 1921.

The Jackson County Times, “O’Keefe-Slattery”, May 7, 1921.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, June 18, 1921.

The Jackson County Times"Local and Personal", July 23, 1921.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, May 19, 1923.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, June16, 1923.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, July 7, 1923.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, June 14, 1924.

The Jackson County Times, “To visit Niagara Falls and other points”, July 4, 1925.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, June 20, 1925.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, August 29, 1925.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, October 31, 1925.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, January 30, 1926.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, July 10, 1926.

The Jackson County Times“School Board Fixes Budget For 1927-1928”, September 24, 1927.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, February 25, 1928.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, June 23, 1928.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, March 16, 1929.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, August 24, 1929.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, February 3, 1934.

The Jackson County TimesLocal and Personal”, April 21, 1934.

The Jackson County Times, “Mayor O’Keefe Takes Office by Force”, January 12, 1935.

The Jackson County Times, “Mayor and Mrs. John O’Keefe Injured In Auto Wreck”, March 9, 1935.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, December 28, 1935.

The Jackson County Times, “Gen. John A. O’Keefe”, January 25, 1936.

The Jackson County Times, “O’Keefe to resign as Biloxi Mayor, Feb. 10”, February 1, 1936.

The Jackson County Times, “General O’Keefe and family take Jackson apartment”, February 1, 1936.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, July 25, 1936.

The Jackson County Times, “Gen. O’Keefe to address Ocean Springs graduates”, May 29, 1937.

The Jackson County Times, “Local and Personal”, September 4, 1937.

The Jackson County Times, “O’Keefe is always for NY”, September 18, 1937.

The Jackson County Times, “Gen. O’Keefe hopeful of maneuvers for Coast”, December 4, 1937.

The Jackson County Times“Ocean Springs Advances Plans To Present Pageant”, January 28, 1939.

The Jackson County Times, “Alice O’Keefe wins scholastic award to Newcomb College”, June 10, 1939.

The Jackson County Times, “Miss Mary C. O’Keefe School Superintendent Honored By Fraternity”, March 30, 1940.

The Jackson County Times“O’Keefe named to Washington post”, June 1, 1940.

The Jackson County Times, “Miss O’Keefe Talks to Rotary Club”, November 16, 1940.

The Jackson County Times, “Sebastian-O’Keefe”, May 22, 1943.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, July 3, 1943.

The Jackson County Times, “Jerry O’Keefe Becomes ‘Ace’ in first combat flight”, April 28, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, “Miss O’Keefe Is Honored by School”, May 26, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, “Miss Jessie Boyd Honored at Supper”, June 16, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, “S.S. Wall Elected Superintendent of Local Public School”, July 28, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, “O’Keefe Funeral Service”, December 15, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, “Col. John O’Keefe accompanies the Secretary of War”, October 12, 1946.

The Jackson County Times, “Speakers praise Col. John O’Keefe at banquet in his honor”, October 19, 1946.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, July 4, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “Ocean Springs is growing”, November 27, 1909.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", March 19, 1910.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, June 25, 1910.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", July 23, 1910.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, October 15, 1910.

The Ocean Springs News“Local News”, September 30, 1911.

The Ocean Springs News, “Community mourns death of Jerry O’Keefe”, November 11, 1911.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, July 4, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “Prest-o-lite Tanks”, July 4, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, July 14, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, August 1, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “J. O’Keefe”, September 26, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, “Local News”, September 26, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News“Local News”, December 30, 1915.

The Ocean Springs News, Perk classes beginning here in O’Keefe home”, May 27, 1959.

The Ocean Springs News, “Now a college center”, August 27, 1959.

The Ocean Springs News, “J. O’Keefe”, August 6, 1964.


The Ocean Springs Record“Photo of Villa Maria”, April 16, 1970.

The Ocean Springs Record“Mary C. O’Keefe”, January 24, 1980.

The Ocean Springs Record, “Ocean Springs family celebrates homecoming”, July 3, 1986.

The Ocean Springs Record, “O’Keefe’s come home to Ocean Springs”, July 10, 1986.

The Ocean Springs Record, “O’Keefe’s come Home”, December 3, 1987.

The Ocean Springs Record, “O’Keefe Foundation give $10,000 grant to 1927 school”, November 12, 1998.


The Pascagoula Democrat-Star“Ocean Springs Items”, February 4, 1881.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star“Ocean Springs Locals”, September 20, 1895.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star“Ocean Springs Locals”, August 14, 1896.

 The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, “Ocean Springs Locals”, November 3, 1905.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, “Ocean Springs Locals”, December 8, 1905.

The Pascagoula Chronicle-Star, “Death of Mr. O’Keefe”, November 11, 1911.


The Progress, “Local News”, May 28, 1904.


The Sun Herald, “Mrs. Rose Annette Saxon O’Keefe”, May 21, 1998.

The Sun Herald, “Joseph O’Keefe Sr.”, March 20, 1999.

The Sun Herald, “Big Man on Coast”, October 22, 2000.

The Sun Herald, “O’Keefe trying to rally ‘silent support’”, October 16, 2001.

The Sun Herald, “Spadework”, July 28, 2002.

The Sun Herald, “Pro repertory Company ready to return to Coast”, July 28, 2002.

The Sun Herald“South Mississippi Neighbors-A Woman of Character”, July 25, 2003.

The Sun Herald, “Dr. John B. O’Keefe”, March 17, 2004.

The Sun Herald, “Dr. John O’Keefe was a great humanitarian”, March 17, 2004.

The Sun Herald, “WW II Marine unite”, November 5, 2007.

The Sun Herald, “Jody O’Keefe dies”, December 5, 2007.

The Sun Herald, “Mr. Jeremiah Joseph (Jody) O’Keefe IV”, December 6, 2007.

The Sun Herald,   “Patricia O'Keefe Obrimski”, October 4, 2009.

The Sun Herald, “Adam C. O'Keefe [1980-2010], January 14, 2010.

The Sun Herald, “James 'Jim' O'Keefe”, December 5, 2011.

The Sun Herald, “Helen Granberry O’Keefe”, November 20, 2011.

The Sun Herald, “Community leader [James 'Jim'] O'Keefe lived a ministry of giving”, December 17, 2011.


The Times-Picayune“John L. Cahill dies, after long illness”, January 9, 1926.

The Times-Picayune“Margaret Cahill Connors widow Michael Connors died”, January 28, 1931.

The Times-Picayune“Funeral today for Mrs. Connors”, January 29, 1931.


The Times-Picayune“Thomas J. Hill’s mother, long ill, dies here”, July 9, 1940.

The Times-Picayune“”,


Personal Communication

Elizabeth Lemon Roberts-notes of August 20, 1998, transcribed and rewritten by the author.

Lurline Schrieber Hall-telephone conversation of August 28, 1998.

Susan O’Keefe Snyder-telephone conversation of August 31, 1998.

Maureen O’Keefe Ward-electronic mail of September 9, 1998.

Maureen O’Keefe Ward-electronic mail of July 22, 2013.