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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 8, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bible available in a high-tech format
Bishops praise court for its Prop 8 decision
107-year-old woman celebrates
life with faith, resilience, verve
Lavinia Lundy will celebrate her 107th birthday June 16 with a New Orleans-style party in Minneapolis.

“Laissez les bons temps rouler” — French for “Let the good times roll” — is a phrase that’s associated with New Orleans, and an attitude that’s embodied in the 107-year life of one of that city’s favorite daughters.

Lavinia Strong Lundy will celebrate her 107th birthday on June 16. The Louisiana native was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and moved to Danville in 2006 to live with her niece, Gwen Evans, and Gwen’s husband James. The Evanses are 28-year parishioners at St. Columba in Oakland.

The venue for Lundy’s celebration will be Minneapolis, but the theme will be New Orleans, she said — gumbo, red beans and rice, “non-stop music, dancing, kissing, hugging and non-stop talking.”

Her family and friends “might even pull out our umbrellas and handkerchiefs and do the second line,” Lundy said, referring to a type of jazz parade famous in the French Quarter.

“Then, somebody will have beads, wearing them and maybe throwing them. We just let the good times roll. ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler,’” she said.

They haven’t always been good times for Lundy, who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. “I lost my home and most of my furnishings, as well as important papers and photos. I had no place to return to. My home was a total loss,” she said.

Lundy evacuated to a niece’s home in Beaumont, Texas, where a month later, the family had to flee Hurricane Rita. She moved to Danville a few months later.

Her faith has always gotten her through. “My faith has been constant throughout my life. If one does not have faith in God, there is no hope. Never lose sight of the fact that faith is an important part of our daily lives,” she said. “Faith is what gets us through tough times.”

Lundy was born in 1902 near Baton Rouge, La., and moved to New Orleans at age five. She was educated at Catholic schools, including Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in the 1930s.

She then earned her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Chicago in the 1940s, and was a teacher and assistant principal in the New Orleans School District for 42 years, she said.

Lundy said she was also an elections commissioner in New Orleans for about 10 years.

She was married to George Lundy for more than 50 years, before he died in 1977, she said. They ran Lundy’s Creole Coffee for about 18 years. “We lived in a three-story home. The basement was where we made and packaged the coffee. We had a profitable clientele of residents and businesses all over the New Orleans area,” she said. It is that house which Katrina claimed.

Lavinia Lundy stands with her niece Gwen Evans (right) and Gwen’s husband James during Mr. Evans’ mother’s 90th birthday party in Baltimore in February..
The couple had no children, “but we were fortunate to have nieces and nephews, who are like our own,” Lundy said. In addition to Gwen Evans, she said she has generations of nieces and nephews in Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Minnesota.

Lundy’s pace has slowed little since she left Louisiana. James Evans quotes her as saying, “This old mare ain’t what she used to be,” but he and Gwen said “Auntie” has no illnesses, needs only a four-pronged cane to get around, has perfect vision and boasts “a phenomenal memory.”

She is also a fixture at St. Columba. “You can count on me being at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass every week,” Gwen said.

The Evanses make the drive from Danville to St. Columba, James said, for reasons like the focus on African-American spirituality, diversity and social activism.

As for Lundy, “I enjoy the choir and the fellowship. I enjoy Father Jayson’s homilies. The friendship of all the members is very special,” she said.

Parishioners at the May 31 Mass returned the sentiment, giving Lundy a standing ovation to honor her upcoming birthday.

Father Jayson Landeza, St. Columba’s pastor, said Lundy’s “life is a testimony of faith and resilience. She is a powerful presence to us here at St. Columba.”

That presence speaks powerfully to the parish’s many New Orleans natives and Xavier alumni, he said.

Lundy was raised Catholic, but joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church after she began teaching. “When I was very young, I made my first communion and confirmation at the Blessed Sacrament Church in New Orleans,” she said.

It wasn’t until after Katrina that she returned to the Catholic Church. “(W)hen I evacuated to Beaumont . . . I started attending Catholic church regularly with my niece, Tanya Tanner, with whom I lived,” she said; she continues to attend with the Evanses.

“The Catholic Church today has changed a lot from what I remember years ago,” Lundy said. “I recall lots of rules about what Catholics could and could not do. The Masses seemed sterile. Today, Mass is a lot more alive and there is more interaction and participation . . . I feel the spirit at Mass today, much more than ever in years gone by.”

Lundy said President Obama’s election shows the country has also changed a lot, coming “a very long way” in dealing with racial prejudice.

As an African-American southerner born closer in time to the end of slavery in 1863 than the end of segregation in 1964, she said that “Never in my wildest imagination did I think that I would live to see an African-American president of these United States of America. The thought alone was so far-fetched. When the reality of Obama’s presidency hit me, I still kept thinking that this was all a dream, a joke. I simply could not believe it.

“Maybe we are seeing Martin Luther King’s dream come true that we will become a society in which people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by their character.”

Despite its strides, the country’s current difficulties call for a return to faith, Lundy said.

“We all need to turn to our maker, pray to God, and renew our faith. We have strayed far from our spiritual roots. We want to do things our way instead of the way our religious teachings have taught us,” she said.

It’s that kind of faith that inspires Gwen Evans, who said Lundy reads the Bible daily. “Her belief and faith in God are ever present in her life. Her dedication and faith inspires us all.”

Lundy’s body and mind seem as sharp as her soul is deep. “I admire her dedication to keep active physically and mentally,” James Evans said.

“I enjoy dancing and going to the theater, the movies and summer concerts outdoors. I love to walk, travel, read and go to the casino,” Lundy said.

She also loves to knit and attends arts and crafts and bingo at the San Ramon Senior Citizen Center twice weekly. “Sometimes I attend St. Columba activities, such as the Chili Bingo and the Zydeco Dance,” she said.

“I enjoy public speaking…My memory is pretty sharp,” she said. Lundy recently spoke at Danville Elementary School about what school was like decades ago.

When she’s actually home, the Evanses said, “Auntie” is a joy to have in residence, for them and their children and grandchildren.

Gwen said her aunt is a card player who taunts her opponents as enthusiastically as she cheers for contestants on Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune—her won’t-miss game shows.

And there’s the gravy. Lundy loves fried seafood, with “lots of gravy she can sop with bread,” said Gwen. “Sometimes when I serve a gravy-less dinner, she gives me that ‘where-is-the-gravy’ look, and I have to tell her, ‘Not tonight, Auntie.’”

The Evanses also keep Lundy’s social plate quite full and she wants to be ready for any invitation. “My plans are to keep living and keep up with my family. They keep me young, traveling and taking me to different functions. I want to be ready when they say ‘let’s go,’” she said.

Is there a formula for that kind of living? Lundy advises, “Live one day at a time. Obey God and keep his commandments. Remember to thank God for all blessings, especially family. Do a good deed every day for someone to make a difference in his or her life. Take joy in giving, not in receiving.”

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

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