A meeting of the literary minded: Local women’s club celebrates 125 years

Members of the Lesche Club and their guests met at the National Center for Preservation and Technology May 29 to celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary. They enjoyed lunch and a presentation on their founder, Agnes Morris. Seated from left are Ellis Melder, Beatrice Owsley, Donna Brewer, Peggy Fisher, Barbara Gillis and Gilen Norwood dressed as Agnes Morris. On second row are Jo Lapeyrouse, Ethelyn Millar, Rosemary Troquille, Polly Windham, Sharon Huey, Cathy Kathy Tate Davis, Sadie Dark, Nita Maggio, Joe Stamey, Gayle Fitzhugh, Toni Rushing and Adele Scott. On third row are Sue Keller, Alice Bryant, Martha Maynard, Cecilia Smith, Gina Puls, Julie Kane, Stephanie Kautz, Leta Brown, Lauren Kollar, Jeanette Gregory, Diane Temple, Carol Knott White, Beth Windham and Linnye Daily. Not pictured are Dianne Alexander, Diane Doughty, Elizabeth Hall, Elaine Johnson, Mary Frances Lowery, Ann Manger, Susan Massia, Kathy Meric and Mary Squyres. Honorary members are Judy Darcy, Elizabeth Johnson, Vicki Murchison, Evelyn Roberson and Brenda Robison.

By Hannah Richardson

The term Lesche (pronounced ‘les-key’) means “a meeting of the literary minded” and the local women’s club named after this term has been meeting for a grand total of 125 years. Over those years, members of the Lesche Club have honored their mission statement to “promote culture, to preserve local traditions and Louisiana folklore, and to foster the spirit of altruistic effort among the members and throughout the community.” The Lesche Club is the oldest women’s club in Louisiana and members meet every month at the Lemee House to uphold their traditions.

Bill Ellzey, the short story winner in 1960, and Leslie Gregory Gruesbeck, poetry winner in 1985, were guests of the Lesche Club’s 125th celebrations. Their works were recited to members at the National Center for Preservation and Technology.
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When members met at the National Center for Preservation and Technology May 29, they reflected on their history and the accomplishments of the club’s founder, Agnes Morris. Morris (1862-1933) was hired at the Louisiana Normal School in 1890 and as a professor of English, she established a reading club for students. In 1894, she chartered the Lesche Club of Natchitoches as the first president, serving nine years within the office. Under Morris’ leadership, Lesche became a federated club under the umbrella of General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1899. Their early improvements were to work for better sanitation, a stock law for city streets, rest rooms for the public and the education of the public on Louisiana State government.

The life of founder Agnes Morris was told through a slideshow presentation.

Original Lesche members pushed for pure water, municipal water systems, public baths, running water in every home, inspection of dairies, child care centers and playgrounds, homes for unwed mothers, town libraries. They opposed child labor, attacked prostitution, funded health mobiles and scholarships, planted trees cared for the blind and demanded garbage collections. Morris went on to publish a textbook for teaching state government entitled “Studies in Civil Law Government of Louisiana and the Constitution of the United States” in 1905 and accepted a position with the Louisiana State Department of Education in 1906.The Lesche Club established a scholarship fund in 1928 and began the creative writing contest in 1947.

Gilen Meibaum-Norwood captured the likeness of Lesche Club Founder Agnes Morris as she reflected on the history of Lesche Club and the accomplishments of Morris at the anniversary celebration.

In 1955, the club began meeting the first Monday of every month in the newly renovated Lemee House. Before this, they met in the President’s Room on the campus of the Louisiana State Normal School. NSU members of the Lesche Club played a role in raising funds for this project. The Lesche Creative Works Award was established 1973 to encourage mature citizens to express themselves artistically and to widen public appreciation of creativity. Lesche continued to grant this award until 1984. In ’84, the club donated a plaque with the names of all recipients of the Creative Writing Contest, which is on display at the Natchitoches Parish Library. In 1985, the Lesche Club changed the Literary Award competition to the Fine Arts competition for high school students.

To this day, students submit their fine arts works for this competition and Lesche members vote based on creativity, skill and originality. Earlier in May, winners Colin Serigne, Madison Griffin and Belle Brown were honored by the Lesche Club and were awarded monetary prizes. In 2014, the club celebrated 120 years and dedicated a bench in honor of Morris at the Lemee House, where it still stands.

Members still honor their timeless traditions to this day and hope to continue to honor their mission statement for many years to come. They are planning a community celebration of the club sometime this fall and will also have a booth at the annual Folk Festival in Prather Coliseum in July.

Sadie Dark is the oldest living member of the Lesche Club, having joined in the 1960s. She joined as her sister asked her to, which is a common way for members to join- making connections to ladies of like-minded goals.
Julie Kane, a member of the Lesche Club and Louisiana Poet Laureate in 2011-13, has been a guest speaker several times for the club. She became a member in the past year after she was asked the last time she spoke.