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I am an Elk - Meet Jason Darden

Not knowing what he wanted to be when he grew up never let Jason Darden from enjoying life, work, or volunteering. Throughout his life, Jason has been devoted to service to others from his early days as a Royal Ambassador as a child to his now dedication to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. And the hopes of a young Portuguese girl for a better life in America more than a century ago are the reason he is now here to make our lives better by being in them.

In 1915, thirteen-year-old Hortense Lescault lied to immigration officials that she was fifteen when she arrived in the United States aboard a steamship, leaving her native Portugal. She did not give her true age because, at the time, an unaccompanied thirteen-year-old would have been returned to Europe. She settled in Bristol County, Rhode Island where she would marry and raise her family, including a son, Charles Lamora. When the United States entered World War II, Charles and his bride Eloise moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where Charles would receive training as a member of the Army Air Corps. They would have a daughter, Mary, Jason’s mother.

Jason was born in the early 1980s to Mary and her husband, Rickie Darden, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Rickie retired as a Master Shipbuilder after a forty-plus-year career at Ingalls Shipbuilding. Mary spent thirty-eight years in nursing, a career that influenced her son. The family, including Jason’s sister Rachel, lived in a home in the old Navy housing neighborhood called Chipley near 13th Street and Parsley Avenue. As Jason’s mother, Mary, was extremely close to her identical twin sister, Jason refers to having had “two moms and two dads” and considers his two cousins as extended sisters.

His childhood was full of love from his parents, and he was the typical kid living near the beach. He would play in the bayou that is now known as Buffett Bayou where the singer Jimmy Buffett once played as a child. Jason would splash around and catch minnows as young boys often do there even now. Darden would ride his bicycle to Bozo’s Grocery on Ingalls Ave before it ever became the tourist attraction it is now and buy half a pound of shrimp to take to the beach and fish from the seawall or pier.

Jason attended South Elementary School on Ingalls Ave. He often liked to be dropped off around the corner from school to be able to walk the remainder of the way to the campus. “The rumor is that Elvis Presley went to school here briefly,” Jason says. Vernon Presley and his family, including the future King of Rock and Roll, did live in Pascagoula for a moment from May to June 1943. Vernon had found work with the Works Progress Administration’s Ingalls Shipbuilding expansion project. But the Presley family returned to Lee County after becoming homesick for Tupelo after only a few months. It is likely that Elvis lived in one of the homes built by the Navy to support the population boom that Pascagoula was experiencing during the war. South Elementary was right in the middle of that housing development.