Gazebo lighting ceremony honors Monnie Landis

Suzette Lowe
Monnie Landis 

A phrase common in the south describes a woman of great strength who also has a gentility and grace that is apparent to all who meet her.

Monnie Landis, who recently passed away at the age of 88, epitomized this type of woman known as a “steel magnolia.”

With her sweet, quiet voice and her willingness to reach out to anyone, Landis became the force behind many improvements in her beloved Ripley.

As her close friend, Linda Dickirson says, “Those of us who knew Monnie found it impossible to say no when she asked us, in her gentle way, to do something. It was one of her special gifts.”

To fulfill her vision for Ripley, Landis sometimes had to fight to be heard, working years before achieving success.

The effort to renovate and preserve the historic Alpine Theatre began in 1998 when Landis became a founding member of Main Street Ripley. She and then-Mayor Ollie Harvey worked as a team to write grants and work with state agencies and private donors to gain funding.

“Mom was so proud of the Alpine,” her daughter, Marsha Humphrey said. “She was also passionate about Main Street Ripley. She felt strongly that the downtown was and is worthy of revitalization. She wanted to see flowers, music, and people shopping.’’

Part of that beautification can be seen on the courthouse lawn and at Ripley City Park.

The gazebos at both locations can be attributed to Monnie Landis.

“As we light the courthouse gazebo this Christmas season,” Dickirson said, “we will be honoring Monnie with a small ceremony. No one loved seeing Ripley glowing at Christmas more than she did.”

When the small gazebo at the park needed renovation, she and the GFWC Women’s Club of Ripley, of which she was a member for 35 years, gave that structure a much-needed facelift.

Landis was interested in far more than the beautification of Ripley. She cared about its safety. She helped write grants and secure funding for underground utility lines. Uneven sidewalks on Court Street caused her concern as well. That led to improvements completed recently to that part of town.

“I truly hope that Monnie got to walk down the new sidewalks and see the lights on South Court Street,” Mayor Carolyn Rader said. “Oh, how I hope she got to sit on a bench and smile to see one more accomplishment in her life.”

The list of achievements that have led to this community leader’s legacy is a lengthy one.

The memorial bricks along Court Street, the banners hanging from the lights, the chiming of the courthouse bells, all came from Landis and her ability to work with others to achieve a goal. She was also a charter member of the Pilot Club of Jackson County and remained as active as possible with the dental program as an emeritus member.

To her family and friends, though, she was more than a community leader. She was mom, grandma, Scout leader, avid sports fan, faithful member of Calvary United Methodist Church, and master of crochet.

“When I think of my grandma, the first word that comes to mind is love,” Tabby Craddock said. “My fondest memories involve her with Christmas breakfasts, shopping for school clothes, and spending Saturday nights staying up late watching ‘Dallas.’ I loved having her undivided attention and listening to advice she was never shy about sharing.”

That sharing of advice and knowledge was part of her friendships as well.

“My connection to Monnie goes back to the 1980s when my son and her grandson became friends and we traveled a lot of miles together for ballgames,” Paula Casto said. “A few years later she approached me to be the Director of Main Street Ripley which turned out to be four of the best years of my life. She loved her family, and she treated her friends like family too.”

Landis was a full-time working mother in a time when that was not the norm. Her daughter recalls that this did not prevent her from having meals on the table, attending her children’s events, and having family time and travels together.

“Mom and dad worked shift work at Kaiser Aluminum, so one of them was usually home,” Humphrey said. “Honestly, mom working was just normal to our family. As for travel, she and dad wanted us to do things they never got to as children.”

Humphrey said her mother loved her job as a payroll clerk at the plant.

“She talked with the workers to fix any problems long before computers,” she said. “And years later she could still recite payroll numbers when she’d meet someone she worked with.”

That skill came in handy many times for Sally Blessing who worked closely with Landis as part of Main Street Ripley.

“I soon found out that the rolodex of Ripley was Monnie’s mind,” Blessing said. “Whenever I’d call her to get an idea of whom to contact, she’d give the name, number, and history to make the interaction a smooth one. She used her energy and focus to make Ripley the charming town it is today.”

For Mayor Rader, the love that Bo and Monnie Landis shared is the memory that stands out in her mind.

“I’ll never forget seeing them walking down the streets of Ripley holding hands,” she said. “Their romance never ended.”

Her son, Terry Landis, recognizes the role his mother played in the growth of Ripley.

“It may be a long time before the city of Ripley will have a more loyal, enthusiastic, and driven citizen,” he said. “She was the same way as a mother. Her passing is a loss for her family but also to many others.”

As people stroll around Ripley and see the Christmas lights, listen to the bells, and read the names on the bricks on Court Street, perhaps they will feel the way Mike Ruben, the director of the Ripley Convention and Visitor Center, does.

“Ripley is absolutely a better place because of the dedication of Monnie Parsons Landis,” he said.

The courthouse gazebo lighting ceremony will be at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28 (tomorrow).