Zillah Burson

After a long life of 98 years and six months, Zillah S. Burson, a resident of Minden for many years, has died at a Southern California hospital. Funeral services will be in Minden at Rose-Neath Funeral Home on January 9th, Tuesday, at 11 AM.  A graveside service and burial will follow at the Gardens of Memory.

For over forty years, Zillah and her husband, Claude Burson Jr., owned and operated Service Parts Co., Inc., an auto parts company located at their business headquarters – a four-building complex on East Union Street in downtown Minden.

Zillah is survived by her two sons, James and John Burson; her four grandchildren, Laura Burson, Alicia Burson Riding, Stewart Burson, and Olivia Burson Sebald; and her eight great-grandchildren.

Zillah’s long and interesting life began when she was born to James Oliver Stewart and Zillah Jones Stewart, the youngest of their six children, on June 20,1919, in South Webster Parish, an area where her family had long been established.

Her middle name “Virginia,” in fact, was for her paternal grandmother, Virginia Madden, who was herself, in turn, the daughter of Reed Madden, a prominent Civil War era planter in the Black Lake community near Heflin. (There were many prosperous plantations along Black Lake back then. Once Captain Henry Miller Shreve removed the log jam from Red River, however, the life-giving waters of Black Lake drained away.) Zillah’s first name, “Zillah,” was for her other grandmother, her maternal grandmother, and also for her mother as well; both of them were named “Zillah.” She herself was her family’s third generation “Zillah.” (“Zillah” is a Biblical name, the name of the wife of an Old Testament patriarch.)

While she was growing up, Zillah’s father, Oliver Stewart, 
was a business man with insurance and timber interests in nearby Shreveport. For part of his week, he lived in a hotel in Shreveport but spent the rest of his time with his family at their home in the country.

Especially in her youth, Zillah received considerable notice for her rare and perfect beauty. She always said she knew she was blessed to have – and enjoyed having – perfect looks in her youth; but when she grew old and lost her looks, she said she always felt she had lost an important part of her identity.

When Zillah was fifteen, a modeling agency in New York persisted in trying to get her family to let her come to New York and become a model. The agency offered to send her to school there to finish her education and furthermore offered to pay for family members to move to New York with her.

None of her family wanted to leave their lives in the South just so the fifteen-year-old daughter could become a model in far-away New York City. Consequently, Zillah in her young years stayed where she was and decorated the world around her. People used to say they just went to church on Sundays to look at her.

After high school graduation, Zillah enrolled in nursing school in Shreveport, the city where her father was based. Because of her father’s objections to that profession, however, she instead studied business courses for the next two years. For awhile afterwards, she worked as an office manager for a Shreveport business. Nevertheless, she retained her interest in medicine her whole life and always helped to monitor and supervise when any of her family members were ill or hospitalized.

In 1938 at nineteen Zillah was married to Claude Burson, Jr., the son of a South Webster Parish landowner, and thus began her long and happy marriage of sixty years to Claude Burson, Jr. until his death in 1998. For awhile the couple lived on the Burson family’s property but soon moved to Cotton Valley, where Claude worked for several years as the manager for Coast Oil and Butane Co. While they were in Cotton Valley, their older son (James Claude Burson) was born on February 26,1944.

Just before the birth of their second son (John Stewart Burson) on June 2,1947, Claude moved his family to Minden after buying Service Parts Co. there. The business at that time was housed in a small building on a corner of the town’s Main Street.

In the years to come, the business moved to its four-building complex on East Union Street downtown. Footprints of the two toddler sons were cast in concrete beside the front door. The sales outreach of the business greatly expanded through the addition of a branch store and sales through trucking. Salesmen in trucks filled with auto and truck parts called on and sold to garages and filling stations in all the smaller towns and villages in the whole surrounding area. Service Parts rapidly became one of the premier auto parts stores in that part of the world.

After her sons grew a little older, Zillah worked full-time as a bookkeeper and as the office manager for the business. She also assisted her husband in managing the oil and gas and timber interests on his family’s large tract of land, which fronts Burson Road about seven miles south of Minden – land owned now by the Burson family for nearly two hundred years.

While she was at work, Zillah’s loyal friend and confidante of many years Bessie M. Lewis ran her household and served as both her personal assistant and also the nanny for her two sons.

After many years on the job, Bessie fittingly called herself “the second mother” to Zillah’s sons.

Zillah was a family person totally devoted to her husband and sons, to her parents and siblings. She cared for all of them during serious illness and cared for her parents and her much older sisters in their old age and saw them through their lives.  

She did the same for Bessie Lewis, her friend and helper for many years, as well as for her husband, Claude, who was an invalid and very sick for the last years of his life. Earlier Zillah also helped nurse both her sons through very serious illnesses.  Largely because of her watchful, diligent care, both sons fully recovered and without any further trouble have now lived into old age themselves.

Zillah worked very hard helping to manage the family’s business and land. She always kept herself looking beautiful, and with Bessie’s help always maintained a lovely home for her husband and sons at the family’s five-acre property on Gladney Street in Minden. Always generous with her time and money, she helped put one of her granddaughters through law school and finally gave her residence on Gladney Street to another granddaughter.

In her last years Zillah spent much of her time in Southern California with her older son, James, and his daughters and grandchildren. She loved the mild California weather and being driven around in the California sunshine in her large, roomy, smooth-riding Lincoln town car. She enjoyed visiting with family and friends, dining out frequently and going to the movies often.

Somehow Zillah managed to do it all, and now her children and grandchildren celebrate her almost hundred years of life and her many years of productive service to her family.

Certainly, Zillah’s life was a long life, a life well lived – very well lived indeed.

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