The Lives and Times of Extraordinary Athenians: LaGrange Dupree
By Jess Edwards, Oral History Project Intern
The 1994 Athens Clarke County Heritage Room Oral History Project "Rendezvous with Destiny” features interviews from World War II Veterans of Athens, as well as people who helped in the war effort. One exciting aspect of this project is discovering that many of the interviewees played pivotal roles in the community during as well as after the war. In this series of blog posts, we’ll take a closer look at the individuals interviewed in this collection.
LaGrange Dupree and her husband Dan were both natives of Athens. During the war, Dan was a member of the Air Force although he did not earn his wings until spring of 1944. He was thus called to serve in Europe as a pilot shortly thereafter in September. According to LaGrange, Dan flew 13 successful missions but on a mission in Vienna, the Germans shot him down, forcing him to become their prisoner of war in a prison by the Baltic Sea. On the home front, LaGrange received a telegram declaring Dan to be missing in action the day after Christmas 1944. As the interview progresses, LaGrange remembers that “everything was in slow motion” throughout the war, as she constantly worried about the state of her husband. However, her fear did not hinder her daily life in Athens as she continued her job at Gunn's Men’s Shop while Dan was gone. Dan himself even understood LaGrange’s perseverant and independent character; Lagrange recalled he told her, “I knew you were ok even though you didn’t always know if I was alright.”
Fortune favored LaGrange in February of 1945, as she received a phone call from the War Department stating that Dan was alive in a German prison. Throughout the duration of the war, Dan remained in the prison until Russians liberated it on May 10, 1945. For the couple it was a joyous time. LaGrange remembers Dan saying how they had a celebration barbeque with the Russians after they were freed. Smiling, LaGrange recounts how the Dupree family even celebrated Christmas in July of 1945 once Dan returned from Europe since he had missed the holiday in the past year. Dan and LaGrange’s memories of World War II would forever stay with LaGrange as she recalls their both triumphs during the interview.
After the war Dan and LaGrange became community leaders in Athens. Both were involved with Emmanuel Episcopal Church through teaching Sunday school. Dan eventually worked as the head of the Sunday school department. The couple also busied themselves with other charitable organizations. According to LaGrange, Dan was so dedicated that he worked at the food bank and the church thrift shop the day before he passed away in 1985. LaGrange was a member of the Athens Junior League and later served as its president. She held positions on the Athens school board from 1955 through 1965, in 1970, and again from 1973 to 1978. From 1976 to 1978 she held the position of the school board’s chairman. She served on the school board during integration, and she recalled sending her daughter to a previously African-American school. On this thought, she remembered the school being a far walking distance away from their house on Milledge Avenue, but she voiced no true complaints about the time. She simply accepted it, establishing herself as a strong role model during the chaotic era of integration.
LaGrange was also the chair of the Athens Library Board during her lifetime. In her interview, LaGrange joked how she had been on the board for 12 years although the maximum number of years a person could serve was 10. However, she was an exception to this rule because she initially filled an empty seat. For her fellow Athenians, her prolonged time on the board was welcomed. In fact, on September 14, 2003, the mayor of Athens established that the day would be LaGrange Dupree day because of her generous efforts to better the Athens community. Today, her portrait remains in the library and there is a bench dedicated to her outside the facility as well.
It is clear that up until her death in 2011, LaGrange dedicated her life to the well-being of her fellow Athenians. Although she faced hardship during the time of World War II, she remained positive and did not let the challenges she encountered define her life in Athens. Her energy and kindness was undeniable during her interview, and LaGrange’s legacy will forever resonate in the community and inspire its people. More on LaGrange Dupree and her Athens experiences can be found in the Rendezvous with Destiny Oral History recordings on YouTube.