Leila Case: The faithful five honored for volunteer service

Published 11:05 am Monday, February 27, 2017

Lela Belle Turner had her first date with her then-future husband, Lewis Wilson, at the Rylander Theatre when she was 16. That was 80 years ago.
“I can still remember where Lewis and I sat — about mid-way on the orchestra right,” said Wilson.
After the movies, they had a Coke at Abbit’s on the Hill, a popular gathering place for young people in the ‘30s and ‘40s near where Granny’s Kitchen is today. But there was no time for the couple to linger. Lela Belle had a 10 p.m. curfew and if not met, her father, H.C. Turner, was on the front porch waiting for her return.
The couple wed five years later and celebrated 72 years of marriage. The Wilsons’ had two daughters Kerri Wilson Untch, who presently resides in Birmingham, and Kim Wilson Mountjoy of Lake Blackshear, and two granddaughters, Kristen Perry Gordon and Nally Mountjoy.
Wilson has a long and storied legacy with the historic Rylander Theatre.
A youthful 96, Lela Belle continues to be actively involved with the historic theater. She is among the theater’s five most dedicated volunteers that were recognized for distinguished service to the theater at the Friends of the Rylander’s annual meeting Thursday. Others honored are Betty Bendimire, Edna Mae Hendricks, Faye Knight, and Mary Jane Ward. They received handsome engraved plaques given for the longest serving and most active volunteers at the Rylander Theatre during the 17 years it has been re-opened. “These five, remarkable ladies have a combined total of almost 4,000 hours of service at the Rylander and remain active today,” said Heather Stanley, managing director, in presenting the plaques.
Bendimire and Ward also served terms on the Americus Theatre and Cultural Authority, having been appointed by the mayor and members of City Council.
“Each and every volunteer is essential to the success of the theater and highly valued, but this year the Friends chose to honor those who have served our patrons the longest, Stanley said. “The volunteers are an essential and treasured part of the Rylander Theatre family. We rely so heavily on our volunteers and these ladies keep us going. We are so lucky they share their time with us; we couldn’t do this without them.
“Their faces greet theater guests at almost every show and often the line backs up a bit because everyone wants to stop and get a hug and say hello to them,” said Will Dozier, administrator.
I totally agree. I was the Rylander’s director of marketing (1997-2001), working closely with others involved with getting the theater up and running again. This was a fun but hectic time and I enjoyed every minute.
The late Betty Shattles, the first to volunteer, walked into my office when the theater was still under renovation and asked what she could do to help. Shortly afterward she was put to work stuffing envelopes and compiling a mailing list. As time approached for the actual re-opening on Oct. 1, 1999, the late Johnny Sheffield was enlisted to assemble a basic group of dependable people to serve as volunteers for various events. And because of his efficient business acumen, the volunteer corps ran smoothly and has since.
I personally salute the Rylander Theatre volunteers for their time and talent and expertise along with the thousands of others that volunteer with varied organizations that are too numerous to name.
Elsewhere, Tom and Dianne Harrison moving into their home on West College Street; sisters Liz Turpin and Faye Knight (Lela Belle Wilson is also their sister) celebrating birthdays; Virginia Lanier turning eight Tuesday; Michelle Gatian Andrews observing a birthday at a family dinner at the Windsor Hotel; Rick and Genie Powell celebrating their wedding anniversary in New York City; their daughter, Hanna, and her fiancé Kyle Richards, honorees at a pre-nuptial party at the home of Mike and Andrea Perry Powell on Taylor Street. Other hosts Jane and Ricky Arnold, Karen and Greg Austin, Jean and Jim Buchanan, Marcia and Ben Dupree, Jan and Darrell Hobgood, Jarrett and Joe Hooks, Janet and Hulme Kinnebrew, Mary Marshall, Elaine and Burton Thomas, Traci and Rusty Tondee, Katherine and Jeff Waldrop, Ginny and Rick Whaley, and Cathy and Al Williams; Jim and Jean Buchanan and son Jay Buchanan attended a pecan convention in Biloxi, Mississippi; former residents Fred and Lisa Simpson of Atlanta enjoying their vacation cabin at Lake Blackshear.

-Leila Sisson Case lives in Americus.