For the former director of the Calcasieu Council on Aging, Grace Savoie is notably “a legend of her time.” Savoie, who is now 93, has spearheaded local programs, like Miles for Meals, and advocated for seniors on the federal level to make Southwest Louisiana a better place for the elderly. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, November 03, 2012 8:00 PM
For the former director of the Calcasieu Council on Aging, Grace Savoie is notably “a legend of her time.”
Savoie, 93, has spearheaded local programs, like Miles for Meals, and advocated for seniors on the federal level to make Southwest Louisiana a better place for the elderly.
“Not very many people like Grace come along in a lifetime that we get the privilege of knowing,” Toni Caraway said. “There are very special people that come into the world and make it a better place by being here, and she is one of those people. She is an extraordinary woman and has been all her life.”
Savoie has invested a lot of time in making the community a better place for the elderly to live in and seeing to it that their needs are met.
She served on the board of directors for the Calcasieu Council on Aging, as president and area coordinator of the local AARP chapter, and with the Southwest Louisiana Senior Olympics.
She also spent several years volunteering at the Sulphur Senior Center and was a member of the Civic Club for the Senior Citizen Center.
While working with the Council on Aging, Savoie spearheaded a Miles for Meals walk to raise funding for the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers hot meals to the elderly who otherwise wouldn’t have one.
“Money was getting low and these people needed meals, so I organized a walk where we would collect money to buy food for the elderly,” she said. “I really enjoyed taking care of the elderly, so many of them had no one to help them so I came along and spoke for them.”
Savoie also played a prominent role in Washington, D.C., for the elderly, serving as a Silver Haired Legislator — citizens 60 and older advocating for seniors — and, she said, being “the voice” for the elderly in Southwest Louisiana.
“I loved every bit of every moment that I was helping people that needed to have a voice,” she said. “I wanted to take care of them.”
Caraway, who has known Savoie for nearly 20 years, said she contributed “everything she could” to ensuring the well-being of the elderly.
“She’s just a wonderful and extremely brilliant lady,” she said.
Savoie was named the 2004 Mardi Gras Queen for the Council on Aging, and her face lights up with a broad smile as she recalls her reign as queen.
“I was the queen and it was a great time,” she said. “I didn’t have a king though; my seven children were my kings and they were good at being kings, too.”
Savoie has an extensive list of awards she has received for her contributions to the community, including the Louisiana Ageless Heroes Award from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana; a Walk of Fame honor from the Brimstone Historical Society, which honors Sulphur residents who have made a difference in the community; and the Citizen of the Year award from the Chamber Southwest.
Caraway said she and Savoie met through the Council on Aging and quickly became “inseparable.” She said Savoie became like a “second mother” to her.
Some of Caraway’s fondest memories with Savoie, she said, were weekly dinner dates at the Boiling Point in Sulphur.
“Every Friday night, I would go and pick her up and we would go eat boiled crabs,” Caraway said. “Grace loved boiled crabs; she could eat a half dozen crabs in no time flat. We did that for years.”
Caraway said Savoie “always had the elderly’s best interest at heart.”
Savoie has also been recognized by the Family and Youth Counseling Agency with the Family Humanitarian award and was named Volunteer of the Year by the Sulphur Mayor’s Commission for her involvement in helping meet the needs of handicapped residents.
When asked about her community service, Savoie laughs and, with a smile, simply says, “I just always want to help people.”
Savoie has wanted to helped people her entire life.
She was a teacher in Cameron for two years. She and her husband, Garfield, moved to Sulphur 70 years ago after he left his job as the deputy clerk of court in Cameron for another in Orange, Texas.
Savoie taught in several Calcasieu Parish public schools and at Our Lady’s Catholic School in Sulphur. She retired in 1986.
“I loved everything about teaching; it was a wonderful profession,” she said.
Being one of the first white teachers to teach at a predominantly black school is what she said she remembers most fondly about her career.
“I taught at Reynaud (Middle School), and I was the first white teacher those children had,” she said. “I took those kids on trips to Lafayette and Baton Rouge to help them learn ... they had never been taken anywhere before. That was one of my greatest experiences of teaching. No one ever took the time to take an interest in those children, but I did because those kids needed to have the same opportunities everyone else did and they just loved it.”
“I very much enjoyed it myself, too,” she added. “I always felt that it was my duty to teach.”
Savoie is a member of the University of Louisiana Home Economics Club and the Red Jackets, Delta Kappa Gamma, the Calcasieu Home Economics Teachers Association and Calcasieu Vocational Teachers Association.
She spent several years tutoring students.
Aside from having a hand in every volunteer opportunity she could find, Savoie and her husband raised seven children — Ronnie, Kent, John, Pete, Joseph, Celeste, and Annette.
When asking about her children, she’s quick to say that 14th Judicial District Judge Kent Savoie and University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie are “my boys.”
“My kids didn’t get in my way. I just kept going,” she said, laughing. “I have wonderful children. They were always willing to do whatever it was that I wanted them to do so that I was able to do what I wanted to do and help people less fortunate than we were.”
Savoie’s daughter, Annette, said she believes her mother’s Catholic faith was the driving force behind her being so involved and wanting to help.
“My mother was always going and always helping people; she was always involved in something,” Annette said. “I really think (her faith) played a big role in her wanting to give back and help people so much.”
As a child, Annette said her mother instilled in her and her siblings to “be kind and get along with people.”
“It was always we had to get along with others and help others,” she said. “Mom wanted us to help others as she was doing and I believe that my brothers, my sister, and I have done that throughout our lives as well because she instilled that in us.
“She has always been a good example for us to follow. If I don’t think that I can do something, I just think, ‘Well, Mama did that.’ I think we have all done that in our lives,” Annette said. “She’s always been a perfect example to look up to; she’s a remarkable woman.”
Savoie said her involvement with Catholic Daughters of America (she was both a state and local president of the organization) opened doors leading to more opportunities for her to help people.
“Being a part of that was very rewarding,” she said. “There are always opportunities to help others. My driving force has always been just to help people.”
Savoie has a lengthy list of awards she’s received for her community involvement through the church, including the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice — the highest medal awarded to an “ordinary individual” by the papacy; the Diocesan Distinguished Service Award for her acts of charity and evangelization from the Diocese of Lake Charles; the Maple Leaf Award from the church for her continuous work into her retirement; Outstanding Citizen by the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus for her work for church and country; and the Award for Work in Evangelization and Charitable Works for the Diocese of Lake Charles from the Department of Social Services.
She was also a member the Serra Club, the Altar Society, Young at Heart, past president of the diocese’s Lay Honoree Organization, and chairperson of the Evangelization Ministry in Working with the Fallen-Away Catholic.
Celeste, who said she’s more like her late father — quiet and reserved, echoed her sister’s remarks that her mother is “an extraordinary example.”
“Watching how my mother reacted to people, I think, helped all of us be more open and kind to everyone,” she said. “Children learn by example and she was a good one to have.”
Growing up, Celeste said their house was “always open.”
“We always had guests,” she added. “If someone wanted to come and eat, then Mom loved to have them.”
Another way Savoie and her late husband helped the community of Sulphur was by opening Savoie’s Frozen Foods, where they sold meats and had “meat lockers” for people to keep their frozen goods.
“I don’t know where Garfield got the idea from or why he wanted to open the store, really,” she said. “At that time, though, people didn’t have freezers in their homes so a lot of people rented lockers. I think a lot of people in Sulphur remember us by that.”
Savoie laughed and said, “It was a very good business. We didn’t make any money, but people had a place to keep their frozen food. We lived well though.”
“Those lockers were a necessity for some people, and we enjoyed having the store.”
Savoie’s son, Kent, said he feels “fortunate to be able to live in the same community my mother raised our family in.”
“People stop me all the time to ask how my mother is doing, she has touched so many lives,” he added. “She’s been involved in so many different things.”
Kent said he became aware of how involved his mother was when he first got his driver’s license.
“At that time she was the state president of Catholic Daughters of America and was traveling to visit with various groups throughout the state,” he said. “It was my job to drive her so that I could get experience driving and by doing that I became more aware of how involved she was and how much it meant to her to give back to people.”
Kent said his mother has been an inspiration to him and his siblings.
“My mom has done everything; she has always been an inspiration to my brothers and sisters and I, and to her grandchildren,” he said. “They have all gotten involved in various activities because of the example their grandmother set for them.”
Savoie said her advice to people is to “get involved.”
“Get started helping others on a small scale, and it just materializes and all these opportunities come up,” she said. “I never waited to be told to do something; I just did it. You can’t wait to be told. There are opportunities everywhere; they aren’t hard to find.”
Savoie said, “There are people everywhere who need help, and most people don’t even realize it.
Posted By: Virginia Honish On: 11/12/2012
Title: American Press - Savoie, Sulphur's Legend in her own time
Like my sister Kay Peschel I also spent summers with Aunt Grace and my cousins. It was a happy time in my life and a learning time. I learned how to get along with people and left there a happier person. She has always inspired me to do my best. Whenever we stopped by for a visit she always was willing to share whatever she had cooked that day and it was so good. I have so many wonderful family memories of her and her children. Love ya'll, Ginger
Posted By: Kay Peschel On: 11/4/2012
Title: american Press - Savoie, Sulphur's Legion in her own time
I know I'm prejudiced, but Aunt Grace, my mother's younger sister, has always been like a beacon in the night for all her nieces and nephews. She always had time to listen to our problems and was always wise enough to solve them! She always has a meal for you and can whip up a quick crawfish ettoufee in 15 minutes. Her large black cast iron pot is too heavy for her to lift now, but Pete will accomidate her any time. Her jambalaya is always perfect...not too dry and not too liquidy...just right with perfect seasoning! I spent a lot of time with her as a child, as she was my God Mother, and really took the job seriously! She indeed is a legion in her own time!