Leola Twiggs Served Her Community

Leola (Doll) Twiggs grave marker 05-26-2023

Memorial Day weekend is the time when I usually stroll through the area’s cemeteries looking for men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. (You’ll find some of those at the end of this post.)

My ramble through the New Lorimier Cemetery in Cape landed me at this intriguing grave stone in Section 4, Lot 195, Grave 4. I figured that there had to be a story behind the sassy-looking woman on Leola (Doll) Twiggs’ stone.

I had no idea what a remarkable woman is buried there.

The first stop was Find a Grave, which had her obituary embedded in the listing.

Born in Luxora, Arkansas

Leola (I hope she’ll forgive me for using her first name) was born August 31, 1937, in Luxora, Ark., to Johnny and Hattie Mae Mack. The tiny town is sandwiched between the Blues Highway (Hwy 61) and the Mississippi River.

It had a population of 1,178 in the 2010 census, and only 942 ten years later. The satellite photo is from Google Maps.

Moved to a segregated Cape at 3

John S. Cobb School 08-26-2020

She attended the all-Black John S. Cobb School until the city’s schools were desegregated in 1954, after Cobb School burned down.

She was one of 24 Black students to attend Central High School in the fall of 1954.  She was the only student of color in many of her classes, and felt separated even within the integrated school, a Missourian story by Callie Clark reported in 2004.

Worked the fields in the fall

She entered Central as a senior, but, because she joined her father and siblings working in the fields for several months in the fall, she was required to attend an extra semester and graduated in January 1956. (Note: this is a picture of a man and his daughter in Immokalee, FL, on their way to the fields, not Leola.)

“My expectation was teachers are teachers, and they treat children alike. I found out they didn’t,” Twiggs said.

In one class, she remembers watching her white classmates gather around the teacher’s desk, laughing and joking. When she approached to ask for help with an assignment, the teacher asked her to sit down.

“I started thinking, ‘They don’t want me here,'” Twiggs said. “When they’d ask me a question, I didn’t want to answer anymore. It didn’t seem quite worth it.”

She lived in a number of places, including Dayton, Ohio, before returning to Cape Girardeau in 1969.

She joined East Missouri Action Agency in 1969

She took a job with East Missouri Action Agency, where, over the years, she worked as a site manager, bus driver and teacher. (Note: this was a picture of a Girl Scout Head Start volunteer in 1967, not Leola.

Head Start, created in 1965, is considered the most successful, longest-running national school readiness program in the U.S., providing comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low income children and their families.

In 2009, she was honored by the agency for 40 years of service.

Taught Sunday School and volunteered at Civic Center

She taught Sunday School at New Bethel Baptist Church, and before starting with Head Start, she volunteered her summers to work with children at the Cape Civic Center from 1965 to 1968. (Note: this was a Civic Center baking contest in 1967. Leola isn’t in it.)

She served her church in many roles over 60 years: Sunday School teacher, mission president, choir president, youth women’s group leader, and prayer meeting coordinator.

The Bridge – a community project

Second Baptist Church 428 S Frederick 09-03-2015

New Bethel Missionary Church – a predominantly Black church – and the largely White La Croix Methodist Church joined forces to launch a community outreach program in 2004.

In 2006, after the two congregations had been meeting in a vacant lot at the corner of Henderson and Jefferson, La Croix purchased the former Second Baptist Church at 428 S. Frederick so that a program called The Bridge could be open to the community.

A five-block processional along Jefferson Ave. preceded the building’s dedication. Leola was quoted in a  Missourian story by Jennifer Freeze as saying she hoped the march would send a message to the community.

Campaigned for safer Indian Park

After a young child dashed out into the street from Indian Park and was killed by a passing car, Leola, who lived three blocks from the park, had some suggestions for the city Parks and Recreation Advisory board to make the area safer and more pleasant.

  • Reduced speed limits on William and Lorimier in the areas of the park.
  • Signs warning motorists that children are playing nearby.
  • Parking restrictions on one side of the street during peak hours.
  • Improved or permanent bathroom facilities
  • Installation of a drinking fountain.

It’s been some time since I took a close look to see if any or all of her recommendations were accepted.

Links to information about Leola

I have confessed that I committed research in pulling this together. I learned in school that if you steal from one source, it’s called “plagiarism,” and you’ll get a failing grade; if you steal from a bunch of sources, it’s called “research,” and you’ll get an A.

Here are some of the sources I tapped.

Previous Memorial Day posts

Since this project started out as a Memorial Post and I got sidetracked, here are links to other stories I’ve done about veterans and memorials.

Girl Scouts and Head Start

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967

I wrote a story for the July 15, 1967 Youth Page about Senior Girl Scouts working with Cape Girardeau’s Head Start program. Here’s the story and some photos that didn’t run. You can click on the photos to make them larger.

This is the caption for the one photo that WAS published: Johnnie Bell enjoys an apple snack under the encouraging smile of Miss Barbara Heye, one of five Senior Girl Scouts working with the Cape Girardeau Head Start program as volunteer teachers assistants. Johnnie is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Bell, Pecan Street, and Miss Heye is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Heye, 1651 Perryville Road. There are 176 children enrolled in the federally-financed program designed to prepare young children for regular school experiences.

Girls “dearly love it”

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Five Senior Girl Scouts who have been working with Head Start at Jefferson School this summer “dearly love it,” Mrs. Stanley G. Diehl, troop leader, said today.

The Misses Carmen Anderson, Louann Diehl, Barbara Heye, Mary Jane Seay and Susie Fox have been working full time as volunteer teachers assistants.

They are members of Troop 100.

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967“I really liked it,” commented Miss Seay. “From the first day I enjoyed working with the children.”

The Central High School senior added, “When you first look out and look in this thing, you’d think it wouldn’t work. I think it helps them a lot!”

Miss Fox agreed: “I think it’s great! The kids love it – and I’m having a great time, too.”

Have seen change in youngsters

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Most of the girls have noted a change in the youngsters since the program’s start four weeks ago.

“The first week I was here, the kids were kind of shy,” Miss Fox observed. “Now we get along just great.”

“Getting along really well”

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Miss Anderson also found this shyness a barrier initially, “but lately we’ve been getting along really well.”

“The children are a lot more forward now,” Miss Seay has found. “The first day they kind of shied away, but they’re more outgoing now and they’re talking more.”

Need note of authority

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967One thing the girls have learned from their experiences this summer is the psychology of dealing with young children. “You have to be nice to them, but you also have to have a note of authority so they’ll respect you,” Miss Anderson discovered. She found the experience particularly valuable because she hopes to teach at a private camp next summer.

“Great opportunity: for girls

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Mrs. Diehl said that working with Head Start has been a “great opportunity” for the girls.

In addition to the five full-time helpers, there are a number of other Girl Scouts who help in the Head Start program.

Miss Anderson is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. G.L. Anderson, Kage Road; Miss Diehl is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley G. Diehl; Miss Heye is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Heye, 1651 Perryville Road; Miss Seay is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Seay, 1520 Jane;, and Miss Fox is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Milford Fox, 415 South Missouri.

Head Start prepares for regular school

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Head Start, the official explain, is meant to help some children from moderate income families gain experiences they need to get full value from regular public school programs.

Specifically, the program is “planned primarily to help children who who lacked opportunity and encouragement to develop mentally, physically and socially to the maximum of their potential.”

Ride buses to school

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967In the morning, the Head Start youngsters are picked up by bus at their homes. After they arrive at school, they are given breakfast to develop group eating habits. [The boy’s name tag reads “Luther Howard – 748 Giboney.]

The half-day sessions alternate play periods with learning and resting periods.

Field trips

Girl Scouts work with Head Start 07-12-1967Field trips – by bus and by foot – give the the children a chance to see what goes on on a farm, at the airport, at a grocery store. Visits by policemen, firemen and other city officials give them an opportunity to learn about the roles of these community helpers.

About 180 Cape Girardeau children are taking part in Head Start.