The rain was falling lightly out in Leesville this week, as if Mother Nature knew that the place needed some greening up ahead of the Leesville Country Fair next month. Inside the old Methodist Church, a group known as the Happy Quilters were hard at work on the premier attraction for the auction — a handmade quilt that brings in big bucks for the annual fundraiser.
There are two quilts actually. One was already made and stood in as the backdrop for a group photo. The other is still a work-in-progress as the Quilters — Margie Rice, Ruth Newberry, Charlene Anderson, Janyce Littlefield, and Terri Porter — poked and threaded the piece from all sides as it slowly came together. The only thing that could make them pause was to chat about their creations and enjoy a big pot of delicious bean soup that was on the stove for lunch.
“We don't work but once a week,” said Anderson when quizzed about their work ethic, “so it takes quite a while.”
“Too damn long,” Littlefield said with a big laugh.
The design is pinwheel, which looks like a patchwork of scraps culled from other pieces of work.
“Pinwheels out of the trash,” joked Littlefield again. You can tell that she's the rascal of the bunch, and the other women agree. She keeps a certain level of vitality going in the room. Even she admitted that she had a fun side.
The quilt auction has been a mainstay at the fair since 1998. The bunch meets Mondays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to work on the project, and they are often joined by grandkids, babies, and sometimes men. The goal is to make two quilts annually, but that mark has been harder and harder to meet as Quilters have passed on through the years.
“We used to make three, but there were 12 of us then,” said Newberry.
“It's dwindled down to the four of us,” replied Anderson.
While there were a few young women visiting that day, including an infant child, time takes up a lot of the younger generation's schedule and interest hasn't been gathered from those looking to continue on this tradition. So for now, the Quilters keep on quilting and hold out hope that maybe a grandkid or two will take up the skill.
All agreed that the quilt is the big auction item that everyone looks forward to at the fair, with the highest bid fetching $2,000 one year, but the average is $1,000 or so. The money raised from the quilt and the fair goes to two scholarships for Nixon-Smiley students, upkeep of the old Methodist Church building — which is now used as a community center for the Leesville Cemetery Association — and upkeep of the cemetery next door.
“And we also buy three or four monuments for the cemetery for the unknown graves,” explained Littlefield. Those are for the old, unmarked grave sites where families were unable to purchase a headstone and are now marked in some cases by a simple rock with no information. The new markers are to let visitors know that someone is buried there, even though their identity is lost to time. It's a simple gesture but one that stands out in the nicely kept cemetery. You can tell that it is a spot of pride for the community.
“The little red school house is what started this little fair,” said Anderson. “It was in a terrible disarray. A man was using it for a hay barn. No floor, some of the walls had crumbled. The roof was gone. It was just in bad shape. And one of the men that had gone to school there as a child, he said 'I would like to see that building restored.'”
The school had closed in 1919 when a new building was constructed, so it had been a while since anyone paid attention to it. A painting in the community center shows how bad the scene was, with one wall fallen into ruins.
So in the late 1970s, community members spoke with the historical society in Gonzales to figure how much they needed to raise to save the small building and bring it back to its appearance as a school house. The Leesville community needed to raise $15,000 which would be matched.
“And that's how it got started, to restore that little building,” Anderson said.
Now it has a fence around it and a historical marker. A small herd of cattle stood under a tree nearby as shelter from the rain, which adds to the ambience. It is open on the day of the fair for all to admire what this little community was able to accomplish. Littlefield used to make a display in the school house for fair day, but hasn't been able to as of late. She promises to get back to it soon, though.
As for the fair for which all of this hullabaloo exists, expect lots of food, silent auction, country store, free activities for the children, petting zoo, face painting, and pumpkin decorating.
And if you can, put up a good bid for that quilt. The ladies will appreciate it.