Eula Pray: Fiesty and Caring Teacher Wrote Earliest History of Rochester
The first in a year-long look at some of Rochester's most fascinating people.
Each month this year, “A Patch of History” will profile a fascinating local person who made a significant contribution to the history of our community or the preservation of our history.
Twelve months. Twelve people.
Their names may not be as familiar as Dodge, Van Hoosen or Woodward, but their stories and impact on local history is undeniable.
This month's selection is a teacher and historian who wrote a major work detailing the history of Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) and Rochester – and who possessed my all-time favorite name in Rochester history – Eula Pray.
Born in Mable, MI on Sept. 13, 1911, Pray was in her late teens when she moved downstate to attend a county normal school where she received her teaching certificate at age 17. Normal schools, now called teaching colleges, were so named because they set the standards or “norms” for training future teachers in the United States. 
In the 1930s and 1940s, Pray attended Colorado State School of Education where she earned a master’s degree in history, political science and education. To complete her degree, Pray wrote a master’s thesis entitled, “History of Avon Township, Oakland County, Michigan,” in which she told the story of the township’s founding and development between the years 1820 and 1940.
In 1944, Pray, who was teaching social studies in the Rochester schools, agreed to have the thesis printed as a series of articles in the Rochester Era newspaper. The agreement, however, caused quite a controversy in the small town.
According to an Oct. 10, 1986, article in the Rochester Eccentric, the project was stalled and eventually dropped because Pray’s thesis referenced articles from a competing newspaper, the Rochester Clarion, which protested their inclusion in the Era.
“They let me know in no uncertain terms they didn’t want me to use material I had obtained from their newspaper,” Pray told the Eccentric.
As the Eccentric also noted, Pray continued with the project “undaunted, even though the original draft was riddled with deletions.”
The thesis, however, remained unpublished.
“I guess Mr. Swords (the Era’s publisher) never raised the money,” Pray remarked.
Pray taught in Rochester until 1945 when she moved to Battle Creek where she taught eighth grade English and social studies until 1975.
Her thesis remained fairly unknown until 1969 when it became the basis for “A Lively Town” 152 Years in Rochester, a book published that year by the Rochester Centennial Commission to mark the 100th anniversary of Rochester’s village charter.
It took another 17 years before Pray’s thesis would be published in its own right.
In 1986, the Avon Historical Preservation Committee was formed to help preserve historical records from the greater Rochester area and make them available to the public as part of many local activities organized to help celebrate Michigan’s 150th year of statehood the following year.
Members of the committee included Betty Black, the first director of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm; current museum director Patrick McKay; and local history supporters Robert Gaylor, Mildred Knudsen, Margaret Norton, Phyllis Soule and Patricia Wilson.
The committee collaborated with local researchers and genealogists, including Sally Cieslik, who rediscovered Pray’s thesis on a shelf at the Colorado State School of Education. 
With funding from the Rochester Hills Economic Development Corporation and assistance from the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, the Rochester Historical Commission, the Rochester Hills Public Library, the Rochester Hills Historic Districts Commission and Oakland University, Pray’s thesis was published in 1986. Several pages of photos were added to the publication.
Pray, now 75, returned to Rochester for a gala book debut held in her honor at Meadow Brook Hall on Oct. 23, 1986.
In an article highlighting the event and the book, Pray told the Rochester Eccentric, “I’m glad people are going to get a chance to read it after all these years.” 
The History of Avon Township 1820-1940 is a detailed historical report about the township with chapters about its public services, cultural and industrial developments, educational system and recreational outlets. Pray used maps, graphs and statistics along with cited sources that included manuscripts, public and private records, surveys, newspapers, books, magazines, letters and personal interviews in her report, making it an incredible resource for current and future historians.
The book is filled with many fascinating facts about Rochester’s early years.
- In 1934, “the Village of Rochester and the state highway department contracted . . . to maintain, jointly, M-150 [Rochester Road] within Rochester. Each pays about one half the cost.”
- “During World War I the [Western Knitting Mills] had large government orders for Khaki gloves.”
- Rochester pioneer James Graham came “from Scotland to New Amsterdam as an indentured servant and had served the doctor who paid his passage until he was granted his freedom.”
- Rochester’s first telephone was installed in “John T. Norton’s drug store on the southeast corner of Main and Fourth streets in 1881. The service was crude. A customer had to shout into the transmitter . . ."
- They weren't big, bright lights, but in 1884 “Rochester installed oil burning street lamps . . . and the lamplighter became a common sight as dusk.”
- In 1930, 6,960 residents lived in Avon Township.
Years after her retirement from teaching, Pray moved to Traverse City, MI. She passed away in the fall of 2010 at age 98.
An obituary published by the Grand Traverse Area Retired School Personnel stated that Pray was a “lifelong learner” and a teacher with a “rare insight and a wonderful sense of humor.”
It was also noted that Pray was “feisty” and expected much from her students who knew her to be a “kind and caring person who would push them to reach their highest potential.”
The History of Avon Township 1820-1940 is available for purchase through the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm. "A Lively Town" 152 Years in Rochester and many other local history books are also available at the museum and through the Rochester-Avon Historical Society.
 Eula Pray File, Archives of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm.
 Rochester Eccentric, Oct. 10, 1986.
 Bay Leaf, Grand Traverse Area Retired School Personnel, Local Chapter of Area 5, MARSP for all retired school personnel, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, Sept. 2010.