LEESVILLE — Turning 80 certainly has its share of ups and downs.
But for the Leesville community, Sunday’s 80th homecoming was anything but a downer as people of all ages gathered at the Methodist Church and cemetery for not only a celebration of the community’s past, but a nod to its future as well.
Over the past 80 years the town’s populace has drifted from where the church and cemetery sit alongside FM 1682 to the west along Highway 80. But to this day folks convene on the grounds for a variety of events including the annual Leesville Fair, flag ceremonies and homecoming.
Paul Oncken, President of the Leesville Cemetery Association, says the homecoming is an important event in the community as it welcomes young people to the church and cemetery to help continue the grounds’ legacy.
“This has been going on since 1935 — our 80th year,” Oncken said. “We’ve had less turnout since those days because people have gotten older,” he said. “That’s why we try to get our youngsters out here to keep it going.”
Bill Lott spoke at the event, leading the community in a moment of prayer before serving a sumptuous lunch.
“Each year we have a different speaker from the area who can give some history on the community,” Oncken said. “Used to be, a couple of thousand people lived in the area. There were two barbershops, two grocery stores, a cotton gin and a drug store.”
Oncken said the flood of 1936 caused hardships that changed the dynamics of Leesville’s development in forcing people to move elsewhere.
“The town used to come up here by the creek,” he said. “Now it’s altered back along Highway 80 to the west. A lot of small towns receded in that way, but we’re trying to keep this part with the cemetery and church up because people from the area still love to come out here.”