Minden Press-Herald

Sep 30th

Remembering Zenobia West

Juanita Agan-1The pale October sun cast a patterned shadow on the carpeted floor as it came through the lace curtains at the window. There she stood in the beautiful purple dress with the matching feather hat.

Goldrings in Shreveport had coordinated the hat, dress, shoes and gloves for an afternoon wedding. The colors suited her fair skin and silvery blond hair that lay in waves against her head. Like a little girl she waited for my approval of the clothes she had selected for her wedding. They were perfect and I told her so. That October of 1944, my friend, Zenobia Camp, was married to Wilmer West. He passed away in 2001.

As we talked recently, I thought back over the years of our friendship that had developed after she had finished college and returned home to Minden. She had finished high school in 1936 and I had finished in 1939, and we had not been close friends back then.

She had attended LSU that fall of 1936, majoring in music until about her Junior year when she changed over to Fine Arts. Her first degree was in Fine Arts. That had not been the wishes of her parents. It was to be music as far as they were concerned. She played the pipe organ, the piano, the violin, the cello, saxophone, and clarinet and was good enough to play with the LSU Symphony Orchestra and to play saxophone with an All Girl Dance Band, and had played clarinet with the high school band. Still that was not her desire for her life's work. To please her parents she did post-graduate work in music.

I came to know her as my friend after she had finished LSU and returned to Minden in January 1941. She lacked the skills for an office job such as I had.

To prepare herself she hired a private tutor and learned typing and the other skills that were required. For a time she worked in the office of Minden Mayor Floyd Culbertson. In December of that year war came to America and Minden.

In 1942 she was hired to work for Mr. E. S. Richardson (this was the same man who was president of La. Tech and also has an elementary school named for him here. In the twenties and thirties he had been Superintendent of Schools for Webster Parish). Minden had organized the Webster Council, which was a forerunner of a Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose was to find housing for people who came into Minden with the "shell plant" as we called it, and to aid the influx of new families in any way to make Minden their homes. She assisted Mr. Richardson that year.

In 1943 she went to work in the Clerical Department of the Safety Department at the La. Ordnance plant. This was still not her niche in life. All her life she has set goals for herself such as adding a new word to her vocabulary each day. During her "growing up" years she practiced these new words on her family. All went well until one day her new word was "chic". She complimented her sister on her "chic" look, her father sternly asked her to either leave the table or to refrain from saying words like that. She had a kind, loving and gentle father, but that new word did not sound exactly like a good word to him. He never expected to hear anything like that from his daughter. Perhaps it didn't come out just right. That concluded her trying out new words at home.

There came an opportunity in 1943 to enter a government sponsored educational program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. This would equip her to be a college trained registered nurse.

This cadet nursing program began in November 1943. When she wrote me and sent me her picture in her new uniform, I saw that it was so becoming - a soft blue-gray with a beret in the same color that was worn at such a jaunty angle. When she would graduate in November of 1946 she would receive a B.S. degree in nursing and a diploma.

Back in the late thirties when she had attended LSU she had met a young man who was studying dairying. When war came he entered the U. S. Navy and served as a Pharmacists Mate. They kept in touch during the war. When it was over he came to Minden to see her. He was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.
The romance that began in college, and continued during the war years culminated in their wedding. On October 7,1944, she and her only sister, Margery, flew to Illinois for the wedding with Margery being her matron of honor. Later, her husband transferred to St. Louis where she was in the Cadet Nurse program at Washington University.

When his tour of duty was over and he came out of the military, he went to work for the City of St. Louis, and lived in Greenville, Illinois.

After her graduation in 1946, they moved to Greensburg, La. and here their only child, a daughter, Alicia, was born. Later that year they moved back to Missouri, to a town named Cabool.

They both worked here for about two years. Her husband decided to go to Medical school and prepare for a career in medicine as a doctor. He attended a college there before applying to N. O. Medical School. This college was in Springfield, Missouri, and my friend worked for a year in the hospital there in the OB-GYN division.
As her husband's education took him to LSU Medical School and an internship in New Orleans, she nursed at many hospitals. In Baton Rouge she was a nurse at the Baton Rouge General Hospital, and when they moved on to New Orleans in 1950 she worked at the V A hospital on the lakefront. She did four and one-half years of general nursing. There were many other moves over the next few years before they returned to Minden in 1961. Their daughter attended school here and graduated in 1965.

Her life has been full, interesting, and very busy. In addition to her own family duties she has been the caretaker of her parents and her maiden aunts who lived next door to her parents.

Miss Maggie Moess, her aunt, was ill and died in 1973, during a terrible ice storm. She had prayed not to be a burden to her family, and God answered her prayer. The other aunt, Treeby Moess, who was also ill, died in 1976. That year her father had a stroke and she cared for him from that time until his death in 1980.
Her mother became ill that very same year and my friend nursed her until her death in 1986. Because Zenobia's sister, Margery, lived and worked in Baton Rouge, La. her help with the parents was limited.

Our friendship spans over six decades and we still have not had time to just sit down and remember together. Her health (as well as mine) has not been good lately.

In fact there are three sets of sitters who care for her as she is now partially bedridden and travels by the City Wheelchair Van. Her mind is still clear and she is such an interesting person to talk to.

In 2000 she was Minden's "Woman of the Year" and in 1999 received the Cultural Crossroads' "Visionary Award for the Arts."

Even though it was sixty years ago this October (2008) when I put my stamp of approval on the wedding clothes, I can still see so vividly the slender, girlish figure in the purple dress and the off-the-face feather hat that capped the blond curls.

To me she'll always be just Zenobia - Zenobia Camp West, my friend and an interesting person to know.

Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her deathin 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan's Cameos column every Wednesday.






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