“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”
Central Louisiana boasts so many Super Seniors, it was hard for our panel of community and civic leaders to narrow it down to just twelve. Not content with sitting in a rocking chair just passing time, this group of dedicated citizens all exhibit a passion for life. Most of our Super Seniors are octogenarians who have seen decades of time pass. Upon reaching retirement age, this group did not go “gently into the night” nor become a shadow of their former selves. They are crossing items off of their proverbial bucket lists seemingly every day. They are vibrant and they are still weaving bonds of value into the fabric of our communities.
Vesta Mangun exudes grace, gentility and a humility rarely seen in today’s world. When asked, she does not hesitate to say what she wants her legacy to be. “I would want my legacy to be prayer and a student of the Word of God, ever and always, every day of my life,” Mangun exclaims, with a gentle smile on her face.
In 1950, she and her late husband, G.A., answered a call from God to serve as the pastors of The Pentecostals of Alexandria. The church has reached out to the community through continuous prayer, restoring homes, securing jobs, feeding the poor, supporting orphanages, the creation of Grace House and Mercy House, helping shut-ins and a host of other ministries. “We are building God’s kingdom out of redeemed people. That’s my heartbeat. Loving God and loving people–that is my life,” says Mangun. She maintains an intentional focus on “the Lord, the Source” and stays in an attitude of continuous prayer. Mangun, who wrote the song, “An Altar in My Life,” and five professionally recorded musical projects, including “Shoutin’on the Hills” and “I’m Thankful,” has also published two books and two pamphlets.
Not quite done yet, Mangun has no intention of slowing down. “I’m about to be 90 years old. I will never retire as long as there is someone breathing or one human who needs me. If I haven’t done well, the Lord will never say ‘Well done.’ And that drives me.”
Ivy Fant has spent a lifetime instilling life’s lessons to boys on the baseball diamond. In fact, Fant has devoted more than 50 years of his life coaching baseball and football on a volunteer basis. “I always thought baseball taught the boys all about life and commitment to each other, as a team. I taught them the fundamentals of baseball,” Fant recalls. He married his high school sweetheart, Lenora, in 1951. Retired from Bell South Telephone Company in Alexandria, Fant coached the Alexandria Dixie Boys summer baseball team for 30 years before coaching Little League, Dixie teams and Dixie Major baseball teams. In addition, he taught football for seven years to the junior high boys at Cabrini School. One year, his 15- and 16-year-old baseball boys’ team won their league’s World Series. “Back then, baseball was more family-oriented entertainment and everybody participated. I always let every kid play. If he hadn’t played in one game, then he would start the next game. Everyone was part of the team,” Fant recalls.
At age 84, Fant says he is not coaching these days, but he does still volunteer his time to cook for special events for the students at Cabrini Elementary. “I started cooking for lots of folks when I was 22 years old. I like staying busy, and plan on staying busy for as long as I can,” says Fant.
John Alley, pastor emeritus of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, prays every day that he will make a positive impact on people. “God and faith–that is what my life is about. Trusting God, caring about people and having a positive attitude. That’s the theme of my own personal life,” Alley explains.
A graduate of Louisiana College, Alley earned his theological degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He pastored five different churches before accepting the senior pastor role at Calvary Baptist Church, where he served for 29 years. One of the greatest highlights of Alley’s life, he says, was getting to know the people willing to sacrifice their time and talents to build the 22,000-square- feet educational space at Calvary’s present location. “We didn’t have enough money to build it; it was built with volunteer labor,” Alley recalls.
Today, Alley—at 81 years young—still teaches a Bible class every Sunday morning. Through the years, Alley has seen the church expand through various ministries he helped start. In 1975, Calvary began broadcasting their worship service on KALB-TV. “We were the only church service on TV in the state that broadcasted in color,” Alley recalls. A counseling ministry was started where people could call in, and a day care center was created. “We wanted to reach the community and make life better in Alexandria for a lot of people,” Alley adds. He has led mission trips to Korea and 24 trips to Israel. In total, Alley and his wife, Carolyn, have been in ministry for more than 50 years.
Harold LaHaye believes in promoting world peace and understanding. To that end, the 87-year-old has been involved in cultural exchange programs through the Rotary Club. He attended 21 international conventions and hosted 13 different group study exchanges abroad. “Through Rotary, I have been given the opportunity to learn what can be done and what should be done to improve world peace and understanding,” LaHaye says.
After working with the Louisiana Forestry Commission for 27 years, LaHaye, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, retired. In 1971, he joined and served as president of the South Alexandria Rotary Club. He and his wife, Sally, hosted high school students from South Africa, France and Mexico in a student exchange program through Rotary. For all his dedication, the Alexandria Rotary Club recognized LaHaye with the Distinguished Service Award in 2007. Likewise, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International awarded LaHaye with the Citation for Meritorious Service. “If you know something and you keep it to yourself, you are not in a position to help anyone. So I do what I can to help promote understanding and world peace,” notes LaHaye. For his exemplary humanitarian service, LaHaye was ultimately recognized with the Rotary International highest honor for an individual member as the recipient of the Service Above Self award.
Arnold Task, an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University at Alexandria teaching about the Holocaust, recently completed his book, “Life’s Amazing Lessons.” At 83 years old, Task seems busier than ever with new projects. “I am not retired, I am just re-wired,” Task says with an easy laugh.
A few years ago, Task was named Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim, the Jewish Temple in Alexandria, after serving as the senior rabbi for 22 years. Currently, he serves on the Human Services Committee at Pinecrest and on the Ethics Committee at Rapides Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Task received the Alexandria Arts Council Arts Awareness and Education Award in 2014, and recently was the recipient of the Human Relations Commission Lifetime of Service Award.
He is the past president of the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum at Camp Beauregard, and was recently presented with the Distinguished Citizens Award from the Louisiana National Guard. Task and his wife, Judy, are Alexandria residents and strong believers in “giving back” to the community. Task serves as the chairman of Alexandria Holocaust Memorial annual commemoration. “I would encourage everyone to volunteer and get involved in the community. It gives you a reason to get out. It is good for your health and good for the health of the community,” Task says.
Olla Rae Chicola is happiest when she is helping others. Known throughout the state as a “natural-born giver,” Chicola, at 89 years old, is still instrumental in the smooth operation of Manna House, a place that serves up free hot, nutritious meals 365 days a year to anyone hungry. “Manna House is my joy. It’s been a blessing from Heaven,” Chicola explains about the soup kitchen located at 2655 Lee Street in Alexandria. Manna House feeds about 250 people daily, and since opening its doors, has served more than 3.5 million meals. “We’ve never ran out of food. The Lord has always provided,” explains Chicola.
From 1946 to 1986, Chicola, and her husband Nick, who died in 1985, owned a family grocery store. She closed the store in 1986, and when Father Gerard Foley of Cabrini Catholic Church needed a place in 1990 to open a soup kitchen, Chicola enthusiastically offered her grocery store building. “We served 65 people that first day, then 400 people a day three weeks later, and then within six months, we were serving 600 people a day. There were so many homeless in the streets when we first opened. But we feed anyone who comes through the doors, and we want to let them know God loves them,” Chicola says.
Manna House serves the homeless and the “working poor”, Chicola notes. “It’s made me a more humble person serving others. It feels wonderful to give of yourself.” Manna House is community-supported and volunteers come from all church denominations and from all walks of life, Chicola adds. “We started out with just a small apartment stove, but we have a beautiful kitchen and a refrigerated truck now. We are always looking for volunteers. It is truly a blessing to help others,”
Ethel Dixon often sings and dances as she encourages students at her art studio on Jackson Street Extension in Alexandria. “Art is in the eye of the beholder. There is such joy in seeing a smile on someone’s face when they finish a composition,” Dixon enthuses.
For more than 40 years, Dixon has been in the art business. At Ethel’s Studio, she offers 14 different classes each week where she teaches techniques of different art mediums. “My artwork has a folk-like quality, yet with a certain dimension. It’s impressionistic folk art,” laughs Dixon. She teaches classes in watercolors, oils, acrylics and ink and water, but emphasizes her own techniques. “I teach technique. I move out of the way, and let them create their own,” Dixon says.
In elementary school, Dixon discovered she had a flair for art. She went on to study art at Texas Southern University and continued to develop her working knowledge while traveling and living in Europe with her husband, El. Her artwork is currently on display throughout the United States. She has garnered many accolades, including Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities and first place for paintings at the Melrose Art Show. Dixon, who at age 72 does not show any signs of slowing down, has also authored three cookbooks, which are on display in her studio.
Carlos Mayeux, who serves as president of the La Commission des Avoyelles, dedicates his time and energy to promoting and preserving the French Creole cultural history in Avoyelles Parish. A resident of Hamburg, Mayeux is also the president of the Louisiana Colonial Trails.
Mayeux was instrumental in helping to restore the Sarto Old Iron Bridge, which was built in 1916, as well as helping to preserve the Big Bend Post Office, which dates back to 1847, and the Adam Ponthieu Grocery Store. “I want to continue working hard so people can come visit and appreciate our history and culture,” says Mayeux. He has co-authored three books, including a history of Moreauville and a book on the Great Flood of 1927. His projects continue to distinguish Mayeux as a community standout, now into his late 70s.
Most recently, Mayeux was key in establishing Ft. DeRussy in Marksville. In addition, Mayeux has worked on helping to establish the Northup Trail from Avoyelles to Rapides. A former assistant superintendent, Mayeux served in the education realm as a teacher, assistant principal and as the director of curriculum and instruction. For 22 years, he worked in the school board’s central office in Marksville.
Marc Dupuy’s motto is: “Think young and keep moving.” And that is exactly what Dupuy does. The 88-year-old attorney goes to work at his Marksville law firm every day. An avid sportsman and conservationist, Dupuy earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and his juris doctorate from Louisiana State University. “I’ve helped to preserve wildlife, land and history. I have had a lifetime satisfaction of being able to contribute to preservation,” Dupuy says. He is the recipient of the Acadiana Sportsman League Sportsman Emeritus award in recognition for a lifetime of dedication to wildlife and natural resources. Dupuy also helped to create three Louisiana wildlife management areas and two national wildlife refuges. A recipient of numerous awards, Dupuy was recently honored with the LSU Mineral Law Institute’s first Annual Distinguished Service Award in energy law. He has been in continuous private law practice since 1961.
A past president of the Marksville Chamber of Commerce, Dupuy is also the past president of the Marksville Chamber of Commerce. He is the recipient of the Louisiana Archaeological Society Roger Saucier Award of Lifetime Archaeological Conservation Achievement.
Jim Bob Key, recently named as the recipient of the Natchitoches Treasure Award, does everything he can to encourage young people to pursue the arts and music. He was inducted into Northwestern State University’s Creative & Performing Arts Hall of Fame, and recently a scholarship was created in his name to honor him and the memory of his late wife, Betty Sue. “I had mentors when I was 8 years old ask me if I listened to the Metropolitan Opera. I had never heard of it. So, instead of going out to see Roy Rogers, I would sit and listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio,” Key recalls. Today, Key serves on the National Council for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Key was instrumental in the creation of the NSU Symphonic Orchestra and has served for more than 50 years with the Symphony Society. A graduate of NSU, Key is the owner of Choate’s Interiors furniture store in Natchitoches, in which four generations of his family have worked. Key, who will turn 84 in July, still goes to work every day. “I’m not the type to just sit around at home. I like meeting new people and staying involved,” Key says, adding that he does not plan to retire anytime soon.
Linda Frazier Harris moved to Leesville from Tennessee with her husband, Frank, in 1997. He was chief of housing at Ft. Polk, and Harris taught school at Ft. Polk Elementary. When her husband died four years later, she decided to remain in Louisiana. After four years of teaching first grade, she was asked to be the music teacher. “I don’t sing and only play the piano a little bit, but I’m a show off. I wrote plays and operettas. We would perform for the whole school with two plays a year,” Harris laughs.
As a member of the Kiwanis club, Harris created a program for fourth-grade students called “Terrific Kids,” which taught students how to be good citizens in the community and in the classroom. Altogether, Harris taught school for 36 years. Nowadays, Harris volunteers her time working at the Leesville Museum and serves on the Mayor’s Women’s Commission. She is helping to spearhead the upcoming Spring Trash Bash, and aims to get the whole town involved. At age 70, Harris says she does not plan to retire from life. “I don’t know why everybody does not get involved and do something. I don’t want to just sit home and vegetate,” says Harris. Keeping a schedule that belies her seven generations, she gives bridge lessons on Thursday, performs with a group of line dancers on Mondays, and is currently taking jewelry making lessons.
Maurice Johnson, senior pastor of Johnson Temple Church of God in Christ in Leesville, feels called by God to be a servant. “Everything I do, I do out of love and respect. It humbles me that I’m still working. I am not just a preacher in a suit and tie who says a prayer and walks out the door. I want to roll up my sleeves and be a servant. It’s a calling from the Lord,” Johnson explains.
After daily prayer and Bible study, Johnson heads out to the Vernon Council on Aging for some hands-on ministry. At 82 years old, Johnson on the board of directors for the council, where he helps prepare food, fix trays and serve food to other seniors .Recognized by too many organizations to name with awards for his humanitarian and volunteer services, Johnson, and his wife, Virginia “Judy”, are both humble about their time spent “giving back”.
For 22 years, Johnson served in the U.S. Air Force, specializing in communications and administration with several tours abroad. He later worked an additional 25 years in civil service communication jobs. Since moving to Leesville in 1987, he has been involved with several community organizations and has served on the Community Action Council. “I got named ‘Man of the Year’ and it was nice to be recognized, but I do everything I do for the love of people. It’s my life and I want to continue helping others as long as I live,” notes Johnson.
This outstanding group embodies the spirit, tenacity and strength the characterize the Greatest Generation. Collectively, they represent what can be achieved with focus and through a keen sense of determination. Having seen adversities like war or the loss of a spouse could have knocked many of the seniors out of the game of life; it did not. Instead, our Super Seniors continue to embrace life, give of themselves and shine as bright examples for the generations that follow.