Happy Birthday, Lil
On any given day of the week, except Sunday, 89-year-old Willow Springs resident Lil Lovan can be found tending the flowerbeds surrounding her gracious home. With its tall, colonial columns, her home is reminiscent of Lil's ancestral roots, which run true and deep through the rich, fertile farmland of the deep South.
The daughter of a Mississippi farmer who owned a general store, Lil inherited a love of nature from both her parents. During a visit with family in Missouri, Lil's mother was so impressed by the beauty of the flowering Dogwoods, she decided to pack up the six of her eight children still living at home and move to Willow Springs.
Tragically, a few years earlier, Lil's 39-year-old father had died of an infection resulting from injuries suffered in a farming accident. Though she was only 9 years old when he died, Lil's eyes still sweetly soften as she recalls her father's kind and gentle nature.
A year after moving to Willow Springs, Lil's mother remarried, but in the meantime, 14-year-old Lil entered high school where she unintentionally became the most popular girl on campus. Lil laughingly recalls how fellow students would ask questions for no other reason than to hear her genteel Southern accent.
But Lil's accent wasn't the only thing that intrigued everyone. They also loved to hear her sing and play the piano. For two years, Lil was the pianist at the local movie theater. With only an outline of a movie script to read, she would play an appropriate score of music during each movie scene. Unfortunately, her silent picture career was short-lived due to the arrival of what Lil refers to as "talkies."
Throughout high school, she sang with the school choir and various ensembles, garnering a music scholarship to Bolivar College. Her singing career took off as a member of the college's popular ladies quartet whose repertoire included hymns, spirituals and classical numbers. Almost every weekend the girls, along with the college president who served as the chaperone and chauffeur, traveled extensively, singing for audiences from Kansas City to St. Louis, including two radio shows.
Lil remembers those years as fun but very busy, leaving little time to study. She laughs as she explains she has no doubt she graduated only through the kindness of her professors.
Because it was during the Great Depression when Lil began teaching fourth grade in the Willow Springs School System, she was never sure if she would be paid. Times were difficult for everyone, including longtime neighbors, the Lovan family. Their son, who had attended Southwest Missouri State for three semesters, had to return home due to a lack of money, but Lil will tell you it was for the best.
Whenever Lil wanted to mail a letter to her sweetheart, she would ask the boy next door to escort her to the mailbox at the train depot. Before long, the sweetheart was forgotten; true love blossomed, and on Feb. 22, 1936, Lillian Maude Miers became Mrs. Harry Lovan.
During their 62-year marriage, Harry and Lil raised three children while running the Willow Springs Lumber Company. Deeply spiritual, Lil credits her parents with instilling in her a love of God, the same love she and Harry instilled in their children.
A few years ago, following the death of Harry, Lil began participating regularly in a senior aerobics program at the local YMCA. She says she can now bend over and pick things up with ease and feels better than she did 10 years ago at the ripe young age of 80.
With that in mind, on Aug. 24, 2003, Lil shouldn't have any trouble blowing out all 90 of the brightly burning candles on her birthday cake. I am certain she will be surrounded by plenty of family and friends.
As a former Mississippian, now Missourian, I am pleased to count myself among them. Happy Birthday, Lil.