ARTICLE BY GEORGIANN POTTS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Lynda McGehee has spent a lifetime building relationships, personal and professional. Whether caring for her family or for the thousands of individuals who have enjoyed the services of the Ouachita Council on Aging (OCA) during her tenure there, Lynda has always focused on others. She comes by that impulse honestly.
Lynda’s mother, June Golson Eby, is 102 years old and is the oldest living member of the Junior League of Monroe, back in the day known as the Junior Charity League. Lynda remembers as a child going with her mother (then in her 20’s) as she delivered milk to mothers who were unable to get it for their babies. Her maternal grandmother volunteered at Glenwood, and her father always volunteered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, working on anything that needed attention and mowing the lawn.
Today Lynda is preparing to retire from the Ouachita Council on Aging where she has spent her entire professional career. After 32 years of advocating for the seniors the Council serves, Lynda has decided that it is time to go. The prospect of celebrating her 81st birthday next month reminds Lynda that she needs more time to visit her children and her grandchildren. Lynda’s tireless devotion to faith, family, and area senior citizens is why she is BayouLife’s November 2021 BayouIcon.
Lynda’s parents came from different backgrounds, and those differences helped them create a family that blended well with people from all walks of life. Lynda’s paternal grandparents were Eugene Silver Eby and Stella Crosley Eby. John Christian Eby, her father, was born on Cottonport Plantation, one of several plantations the family built in the area. Cottonport encompassed virtually all of present day downtown West Monroe. His grandmother’s home was on Jackson Street in Monroe where St. Francis Medical Center is located now. In 1915, the family donated land on which Crosley Elementary School was built. In 1934, the family lost everything in the Depression. Even so, it left its mark on West Monroe in the form of street names — Stella, Crosley, Eby, Clayton, and Vernon.
Lynda’s maternal grandparents were Dr. John Wesley Golson and Neita Webb Golson. Dr. Golson was a dentist whose first office was in Mangham. Later he moved his office to West Monroe where he became a well-known medical professional. As was the case for so many at that time, the family struggled early on. Lynda’s great-grandfather, William J. Webb, owned a building in West Monroe where he operated a restaurant on the first floor and offered lodging on the second and third floors. That building in known today as the Hamilton House Inn and Lynda’s great-grandfather’s portrait hangs there.
The City Drug in West Monroe (where her father was a soda jerk) was the setting where Lynda’s parents first met. The two graduated from Ouachita Parish High School. Her mother went to Northeast Center, Louisiana State University (as today’s University of Louisiana Monroe was known then) and was featured in the 1937 Chacahoula as a favorite. Lynda’s dad went to Sewanee, The University of the South and graduated with a degree in chemistry.
Very Like the Waltons of Television Fame
It was on his way home after his graduation from Sewanee that Lynda’s father first learned that the family had lost Cottonport Plantation and were having to move. At that moment he became the family provider for them all. In 1938, Lynda’s parents married at the Golson home (at ten o’clock at night) in West Monroe on North 2nd. Lynda’s father had managed to buy the Bernstein home on Texas Avenue in south Monroe, and that is where the family moved. Here Lynda grew up, living with her great-grandmother, grandparents, her mother, her father, and her brother. Her sister Leah was born in 1958 and was reared on Marie Place where the family moved in 1957.
There are three siblings in the family, and Lynda is the eldest. Her brother, Chris, is an electrical engineer and worked in Texas before moving back to Monroe to run the family business. Her sister, Leah, has worked for over thirty years for a gas company. Both married (sadly, Chris’ wife is deceased) and have children. Their mother was a stay-at-home mom who managed a very busy household with both seniors and the young living together. “Mother has been a caregiver her entire life, and even now at 102, she asks her sitters if they are comfortable or need anything,” Lynda says.
Lynda remembers her childhood as being absolutely the best! Because so much of her family lived together, she had lots of attention. Her maternal grandparents took her and Chris fishing, to the movies, out to eat, and even bought her a horse! Lynda also enjoyed visiting her grandfather’s sister near Cadeville – the place where she would ultimately rear her own children for 22 years.
Although the family did not have a lot of material things, the children did not feel deprived. They were given a variety of “gifts” by different family members – each special in its own way. A love for music and poetry was one. Her maternal grandfather sang in a quartet so trips to visit family in Delhi were “filled with singing”, according to Lynda. One grandmother read poetry and nursery rhymes to the children, and another introduced them to classical music and ballet through concerts at Louisiana Tech and ULM. There were plenty of simple pleasures, too, such as building forts on the lot behind their house with Chris and neighborhood friends.
In many ways, Lynda’s childhood and family influence were two key factors that led her to her successful career with senior citizens. “My mother gifted me, through her example, of the importance of caring for others,” Lynda recalls. “My father gave me the example of a good work ethic coupled with a good education.” Both of these served Lynda well later in life when she cared for her daughter, June, who has Multiple Sclerosis and her husband, Harry, after a long illness.
Lynda’s father started John’s Trading Company in 1943 to support the family. It started with “a handful of stove parts he had gathered up” which he sold and then bought more. Over time (over 75 years) it became a well-known hardware and furniture (new and used) store in the area. He financed his own accounts, allowing those who were less fortunate to pay over time. Her dad supported the community, often supporting baseball teams and buying the players’ uniforms. “Most importantly, Mama and Daddy taught me racial equality,” Lynda says. “I try to incorporate that in both my personal and professional life every day.”
An abiding faith was also among the gifts the family gave. Today Lynda realizes how much she has relied on her faith in God throughout her life. “One of my fondest memories is of getting ready for church every Sunday and waiting with my great-grandmother, Kate,” Lynda remembers. “We would be ready, waiting for everyone else so we could go to Grace Episcopal Church for worship. We always sat on the third pew on the right – Grandma Kate’s pew.”
In 1954 Lynda’s father was asked by The Reverend John M. Allin to start a church on the southside of Monroe. That church, St. Alban’s Episcopal, remained on the southside for years until the congregation moved to the present location on Deborah Drive.
Love Comes Calling
After graduating from Neville High School, Lynda attended Mississippi State College for Women for two years. She loved every minute there, even as she faced the truth that medicine was not going to be her career based on the challenges that math and chemistry posed. “When I got to Organic Chemistry, it was like Greek to me!” Lynda recalls. “I came home, enrolled at Northeast Louisiana State College, and majored in sociology and minored in English.” That decision was to change her life.
It was there that Lynda met Thomas Harry McGehee (aka “Harry”) at the Presbyterian Student Center. Harry was from Zachary and a pharmacy student. Lynda says that it was not love at first sight. However, there was something about Harry . . . and so she asked him out on their first date (a boat ride for a college church group on the Ouachita River). Six months after they graduated, they were married at Grace Episcopal Church. Following their reception at Bayou DeSiard Country Club, the two honeymooned on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. Harry had less than a week off, so after a brief wedding trip they went to a rented apartment in Shreveport to begin married life. Not long after, Harry accepted a job from E.W. Thompson Drugs in Delhi and they happily moved there. “It was a great move since my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived there,” Lynda says. “Our son, Lionel, was born in the Delhi Clinic.”
When Lionel was two and Lynda was pregnant with their second child, the family moved to Monroe and Harry bought a store in Sterlington. Their second child, Beth, was born at home – delivered by Harry! In 1966 the family was on the move again, this time to Zachary, Harry’s hometown. They had two more children, Amy and June, and lived there until 1975. That year they moved to West Ouachita parish and built a home where they lived over 20 years.
It wasn’t until Harry developed some serious health issues that the family moved to Country Club Road in Monroe. Lynda lost her beloved Harry in 2016. Harry had practiced pharmacy for 50 years. “He supported me in everything I did, be it work or otherwise,” she says. Today their children are all doing well and are happy. Lionel is an Episcopal priest and interior/exterior designer, Beth is an occupational therapist, Amy is an archivist, and June has worked in drafting and design. All live out of state, so visits aren’t as frequent as Lynda would like. “My dream – for our children and grandchildren — is that they will find whatever it is that makes them happy and fulfilled,” Lynda says.
A Career Finds Her
From 1962-1988, Lynda was a married, live-at-home mom – her earliest dream. Although she had gone with her father to their store on occasion when he would show her the different things that he did, she never worked there. When she was 48, she decided to enroll again at Northeast just for personal enrichment – not for credit. After that first semester and convinced that she could work towards a second degree, Lynda was ready to get credit for the work she was doing. Dr. Chris Johnson talked with her and suggested that her having grown up in a household of older people might be an excellent background for enrolling in the gerontology program. Lynda took the GRE and began taking classes.
When her courses were completed and it was time to do an internship, Lynda was placed at the Ouachita Council on Aging. It was a superb match. Here Lynda found not only her career, but also a job that would allow her to grow. She reported to OCA Director Joe Nastasi for 12 years and then applied for the directorship when he retired. Thirty-two years later, she is preparing to retire from an extremely important tenure there.
There have been major challenges at OCA that Lynda has had to address. One was finding enough money to build a new facility (OCA had $1.5m and the lowest bid was $2.2m). “We met that challenge by writing letters asking for donations and by getting a line of credit at a local bank,” she says. “The whole community stepped up!”
Another was how to furnish the new facility with the furniture and supplies for the seniors to use when they came in for activities. “Met that challenge by seeking donations of furnishings and landscaping,” Lynda remembers. “Again, the community stepped up and agencies offered furnishings that they were no longer using.”
A third major challenge was paying off the loan for the building and contents. “We met this challenge by making all of our loan payments on time and establishing the Shindig – our major fundraiser,” Lynda says. “And we ‘burned the note’ at our third Shindig!”
Meeting major challenges was just one part of the job. Lynda was also responsible for advocating for the seniors that OCA serves. She worked tirelessly with the Northeast Legislative Delegation to keep them apprised of issues important to seniors and often traveled to Baton Rouge on behalf of the senior population. “Because we are federal- and state-funded, every year it seems councils on aging must present at the Legislature in order to seek funding for the population that was ‘the greatest generation’,” Lynda explains. “Some legislators don’t seem to grasp the idea that when seniors come for activities, the real reason they are here is for socialization – or as I like to put it –fellowship.”
There is one memory that Lynda especially loves about her time at OCA. She and the late Shirley Cagle (OCA Assistant Director) took a tour bus of seniors to New Orleans. Their driver, Denver Populis, was a memorable character who made everyone’s trip more fun. Shirley and Lynda nicknamed him the “Greek Cajun” because he was Greek but spoke like a Cajun. Late one afternoon when a tour was finished, Populis asked if they wanted to go to Fats Domino’s home. They laughed and said, “Sure!” Populis drove to a small house, parked, and walked up to the fence gate. He spoke to a gentleman on the porch and within moments Fats Domino came out and climbed up in the bus. “He had on navy blue silk pajamas and walked the aisle of the bus, shaking hands,” Lynda remembers. “When he was about to leave, I asked him to sing a little bit of ‘Blueberry Hill,’ it was unforgettable!”
Pandemic Complications Require Creativity
The need for seniors to be able to congregate and enjoy one another’s company became even more obvious with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding creative ways to continue both providing services to their seniors and communicating with them was at the top of the list of “to do’s” for OCA. Using guidance from the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, they created a “grab and go” meal. Their caterer provided nutritionally balanced frozen or pre-packed meals that participants could pick up at the OCA drive-through. OCA also enlarged their calling list and engaged others to help make calls just to check in and make sure they didn’t need anything.
In spite of every challenge – financial or natural disaster — OCA has not had to cut services completely. They have been able to sustain programs in spite of losing 40% of their funding when Hurricane Katrina hit. Transportation costs rose as gas prices went up. “Sometimes you have to get creative,” Lynda explains. “Several years ago, we realized that we could serve frozen meals and deliver more efficiently by giving our Meals-on-Wheels participants 5 meals for the week instead of one hot meal a day. The frozen meal may not be as attractive but the recipient knows it is nutritionally balanced and that there is food for five days.”
Life After OCA
With retirement looming and a heart filled with love for the seniors and OCA staff, it is time now for Lynda to think about herself for just about the first time in her life. At the top of her personal “to do” list is traveling to visit family in Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Florida. Sometime in the future, Lynda plans to establish a permanent home in Florida.
Lynda doesn’t have a hobby per se, but she admits to being a huge sports fan. She loves to spend “down” time watching football, tennis, golf, college basketball, and volleyball. Hockey and soccer have yet to charm her.
A self-described “cradle” Episcopalian, Lynda was baptized, confirmed, and married in Grace Episcopal Church. The high altar there was given in memory of her grandmother’s sister, and the cross there was given in memory of Stella Eby’s son, Vernon. There is even a window there that was rescued from a fire in the original church on St. John. No doubt, following her family’s tradition, faith will continue to be at the center of her life.
Confucius wrote, “Old age is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” Countless citizens in our area aged 60 and older have been “gently” helped in their transitions into the world of the elderly by Lynda McGehee for over three decades. They and their families are deeply grateful for the care and meaning to their lives that she has given to each and every one.