Eleanor Gremillion of Marksville has created quite a legacy in her hometown. A recipient of many accolades, Gremillion has been named Cenla-ian of the Year by a panel of community leaders and the Cenla Focus editorial board. “I am deeply honored. I have received a lot of awards, but when you get to be 91 and have a very notable magazine like Cenla Focus recognize you, that supersedes everything else,” Gremillion said upon hearing that she was selected for the prestigious recognition. The Cenla-ian of the Year award is reserved for the Cenla resident who exemplifies noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts.
Born and raised in Marksville in Avoyelles Parish, Gremillion is widely known as an icon of involvement who believes in giving the lagniappe, that something extra, for the betterment of her community. “I’m not one to sit around in a rocking chair waiting to die. I am still active and plan to stay as active as I can be,” Gremillion says with a laugh.
After decades of serving, today she is still an active board member of the Marksville Chamber of Commerce and on the board of directors of the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism. Gremillion began impacting her community shortly after graduating from Marksville High School in 1940. “Back then, we graduated after the 11th grade. And two months after graduating, I went to work for an attorney,” Gremillion recalls. Although only 16 years old, Gremillion’s hard work with her first job helped pave the way for her to begin a career in finance. “I had been an exceptional student. In high school, I had teachers who were very interested in teaching,” she says, adding, “and as a child, the nuns at Presentation Convent School taught us how to live, be reliable and how to behave.”
While working for the attorney, Gremillion worked a side job as a court reporter. At that time, she was the only court reporter who could hear testimonies in French and write the notes in English. Gremillion’s diligence opened doors for her to land a job with Gulfco Finance Company in Marksville. She climbed the proverbial ladder of success in the company and served for 32 years as the manager. “It’s like I just walked in and took over. I had an excellent staff, too,” Gremillion recalls. As the top finance director out of 37 offices, Gremillion was able to manage her time to allow her to pursue her passion to travel. “I have traveled extensively, and that has been a very fun-filled part of my life. I have taken 38 trips to 19 different countries, and I have been to every state in the union,” she says, adding, “I really liked Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It was amazing to see how those people lived. New Zealand was captivating and beautiful.”
Her love of travel and learning about other cultures made Gremillion a natural to become involved with her local tourism industry. When the Marksville Chamber of Commerce was in its infancy, its telephone number was Gremillion’s home phone number. She served as the director of the chamber for years, and recently helped create the Economic Development Committee. “In 1959, Marksville celebrated its 150th anniversary as a town. Every ten years since then, we celebrate Marksville’s birthday. I have served as the chairwoman of Marksville’s birthday celebrations since 1959,” Gremillion enthuses.
The friendships Gremillion has formed through the last 60 years have brought her great joy, she says. “Appointing me as the chairman shows you the faith the people of Marksville had in me,” explains Gremillion. “That’s been my greatest accomplishment.” In addition, Gremillion served 51 years, until 2005, as the chairman of Marksville’s July 4th celebration and parade. Her can-do attitude afforded her the opportunity to serve as Marksville’s civil service director for 28 years. Having given back to the people and the city she loves, it is no wonder Gremillion has been recognized for her volunteer spirit. She served for years as a board member of the Avoyelles Society for the Developmentally Disabled, and has served as a member of the Hypolite Bordelon Home Society. For years, Gremillion served as a national officer for the American Legion Auxiliary, and was the state president in 1965-65.
In 1969, she was named Avoyellean of the Year, and was named Citizen of the Year in 1974 and 1989. In 2005, Gremillion was named a Woman of Excellence by the Rapides Foundation and the Alexandria Town Talk. She received the Will Mangum Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 from the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association for her decades of work in promoting the state’s tourism industry.
Gremillion is also a woman known about town for her storytelling flair. One of Marksville’s local legends that explains how it rained fish from the sky one day in 1947 is a true tale, she says. “I was outside hanging out clothes when I felt something hit me on the shoulder. I looked up and there were fish falling everywhere, about eight to 10 inches long. There were thousands of fish, all different kinds, falling from the heavens. I hollered for my mom and sisters to come see,” Gremillion recalls. She says experts at that time attribute the occurrence to a small tornado losing strength. But the happenstance was faithfully reenacted for elementary school children for years on the anniversary of the event, and Gremillion recounted the story with drama. “We had the school children brought to the courthouse square and I would tell them my story. Men on top of the buildings when toss out thousands of imitation fish on top of the children, and they would laugh with delight,” she adds.
Although the storytelling event has not been held for years, Gremillion continues to reach out to hometown students seeking to excel by chairing the chamber’s scholarship committee. She also heads the American Legion Auxiliary’s committee that chooses delegates to Louisiana Girls State each year. Gremillion has authored a booklet about the history of Marksville, and is now helping to work on a supplemental historical pamphlet. At 91 years young, Gremillion is not retiring from community life. In fact, she is busy at work on the next chapter in her very own “book of life”.