Tuesday, September 20, 2016
TOP STORY >> Food & MUSIC
By DEBORAH HORN
Leader staff writer
Even before climbing the first step to Woodlawn Community Center on at 10070 Hwy. 31, the smell of home cooking and music fill the air. Once inside, center members Dorothy Henry and Anita Weathers pop out of the kitchen long enough to greet people with a smile, welcoming them inside.
It’s an invitation that’s hard to resist.
From there, the two women usher visitors into a large assembly room, filled with long benches and a stage.
A few minutes later, Henry, who is famous for her deviled eggs prepared with jalapeno pepper relish, has her arms elbow-deep in dishwater. She’s on kitchen cleanup duty as Cecilia Anderson and Weathers are uncovering the various dishes and putting a spoon in each, slicing desserts and setting out Styrofoam plates for their weekly potluck luncheon.
Despite the prep work and cleanup, Henry says, “I come for the fellowship and fun.”
Marilyn Lewis seconds Henry’s endorsement.
Every Thursday starts with live music or speakers at 10:30 a.m. in the center’s large assembly room and is followed by potluck at noon. After lunch, there’s a spirited game of Mexican dominoes, except the second Thursday of each month—that’s bingo day.
By the time the usual crew of about 12 to 15 arrive, the 20-foot island running nearly the entire length of the large kitchen is filled with casseroles, strips of perfectly breaded fried chicken, cauliflower in a cheesiest of sauces, tasty great northern beans and old favorites that are now a rarity like liver and onions.
There’s more, like white and wheat rolls, warm and ready for a pat of butter, and a bevy of homemade pies and cakes, already sliced and there for the taking — although it can be a tough decision.
Henry adds, “I always enjoy coming.”
SINGING FOR THEIR MEAL
From the other room, riffs of George Strait’s “The Fireman,” played by the Larry Weathers Band, fill the kitchen. They are a few members short this day, but it doesn’t seem to hurt their performance.
Anita Weathers, who is the mother of Larry Weathers and known for her egg custard pie and other mouthwatering dishes, says, “I’m Larry’s No. 1 fan.”
And from the number gathered — Dorothy Williams says the crowd of about 25 is larger than usual — it seems the band has plenty of fans.
In fact, Larry Weathers is known throughout the region for his covers, as well as the gospel and country songs he’s penned.
While proudly admitting her bias for her son’s music, Anita Weathers says, “He always draws a crowd.”
David Neal, a first year member, says, “The music keeps me coming back,” but he also enjoys the companionship.
With his plates and hands full, Ray Cass made his way from the kitchen into the dining room to find a seat. Just about the time he was ready to sit down, he announced he had to return the kitchen for a glass of sweet tea.
He says he’s been coming to the center “for quite a while,” and goes on to say, “I always enjoy the programs and the potluck.”
He says some members make a small donation instead of bringing a dish to share, but he won’t comment on who is the center’s best cook — safer that way.
Andy Childress, who rarely misses a Thursday lunch, gets around the question of the best cook by saying, “We have the best cooks. The food is the best.”
Diana Weathers says, “It’s all good. They take care of us.”
FROM SCHOOLHOUSE TO COMMUNITY CENTER
Originally, the Woodlawn Community Center was the Woodlawn School, a two-room schoolhouse built in 1921.
Martha Dawson, then Martha Coleman, remembers those days well while sitting in the center’s dining room before last Thursday’s lunch — it was the fifth, sixth and seventh-grade classroom back in the day.
She points to a corner, saying that’s where she received her only “lickin’” by, now deceased, teacher Hartford Harris while in grade school.
Seems day after day, she lingered outside instead of hurrying in when the bell signaled it was time to take her seat.
She says she tried to get out of the way of his paddle that day by jumping over a rail but Harris still managed to nail her behind.
The kitchen, she says, was the first-, second- and third-grade classroom, and during Dawson’s second-grade year, her boyfriend, JE Fields “went through a lot of pencils.”
Dawson’s desk was positioned next to the pencil sharpener that year.
She also remembers jumping through the large windows that lined the south side of the upper-grade classroom in order to beat the boys to the baseball field. The kids played ball nearly every day, she remembers.
During holidays and other times, kids put on plays, sang and competed in math and spelling bees, and the school was a source of community pride, but that all came to an end in the spring of 1950, when, Dawson says, the school’s doors closed for the last time.
The school was a center of the community, so it’s not surprising that “It was like a funeral that day,” she says.
The schoolhouse sat empty for several years, says Anderson, who was Woodlawn Community Center president for 10 years.
Then a few years later, the Woodlawn Community Center was founded and one of its missions was to maintain the building. It still is, Anderson says.
Members donated their money and their time to a kitchen redo, including putting the island, a new refrigerator, stove, freezer and icemaker. They replaced old floors, bad wiring and painted the place inside and out, and put on not one roof, but two, “because the first new roof leaked and had to be redone,” Anderson explains.
Behind the stage, there’s an original mural and outside by the front door, the old school bell remains at the ready should it ever be needed.
Williams, a local writer who occasionally writes about the Woodlawn community, keeps the center’s written and photographic archives updated, while member Ruby Kittell made curtains for the two classrooms and the large assembly room. She also covered the assembly room bench seating and dining room chairs, with help from her husband, Roy Kittell.
It took her about five days a week for six months to finish the entire project.
Ruby Kittell says, “It was a small contribution compared to what this center means to me and the whole community.”
Anderson says, “So far, we’ve put about $160,000 into it.”
The money has come from donations, fundraisers and a little grant money that the nonprofit was eligible for because the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
“We’re still working on the building,” Anderson says.
More than that, she says they’re looking for new members and welcomes all to their Thursday activities and potluck luncheon.
“Whether you bring a dish or not, everyone is invited,” Anderson says.
For more information about activities at the Woodlawn Community Center, call Cecilia Anderson at 501-676-3695.
Posted by THE LEADER at 11:59 PM