BY DAVID FISHER & JASMINE WILLIAMS
Weakley County mourns the death of Mrs. Lou Ann Powers, who passed away at her home on Friday, March 17, 2023, at the age of 83.
For over six decades, Lou Ann Powers of Dresden has been a pillar of the community with her volunteer spirit and generous heart.
Mrs. Lou Ann retired in 2010, after having taught elementary school children for 41 years.
Lou Ann was born on April 29, 1939, in Martin, Tennessee. Her parents were the late William Carmack and Ima Mae Adams Anderson.
Her family moved to Alabama for a year. However, the majority of her childhood was spent in Dresden. Lou Ann, who resided on Evergreen Street, attended school in Dresden and graduated from Dresden High School in 1957. She attended the University of Tennessee at Martin where she earned her teaching degree in 1961.
After college, Lou Ann moved to East Prairie, Missouri, where she began teaching school in 1962. She was hired two weeks before the start of the school year, and was tasked with visiting families at their homes. During those visits, Lou Ann saw that some of the students lived in homes with dirt floors.
Lou Ann began teaching kindergarten and first grade, where she saw many students coming to school without having any breakfast and not enough clothing. After her first week of teaching, she approached a church for clothing. From that day forward she would bring snacks for breakfast, and every Friday, donated clothes would go to the students.
Later that same year, Lou Ann started to bring food for the children to take home for dinner.
One student in particular that she taught, lived in a dirt floor house, never scored well in tests, and was always made fun of. He died in the second grade. After hearing of his death, Lou Ann sent money to the family for a new suit, flowers and to help cover the funeral costs.
When talking about her year teaching at East Prairie, she said, “I was not from a rich family, but I did not know what poverty meant until I went to that school.”
Lou Ann met Alvin Ray Powers at an East Prairie basketball game while he was home on leave from the U.S. Army. They married only a few months later on November 26, 1962, in Dresden, Tennessee. Together they would visit her students’ families, giving food and clothing. These experiences began her life-long service of caring for families in need. After teaching for one year at East Prairie, the couple moved to Memphis.
There, Lou Ann taught at a school in the Memphis area known as “Hurt Village.” This area of the city was known for its high poverty, drug, gang and crime rates.
While teaching in Memphis, Lou Ann saw that many students were living in poverty. She continued to bring food for the students and had parents privately approach her for children’s clothing. Again, Lou Ann received clothing from local churches for the students. After teaching in Memphis for a year, Lou Ann and her husband moved back to her hometown of Dresden.
Lou Ann taught special needs students in Gleason, Tennessee. She then joined the staff at Dresden Elementary, where she served as Assistant Principal, and taught a special education class for younger students.
Some of the students she taught did not have enough good clothing for school and some did not practice regular hygiene.
For the next two years, every Friday, Lou Ann and her husband started to take the children to shower, receive clean clothes, brush their hair and did the girls’ nails. At that time, people in the community heard what Lou Ann was doing for students in need and began donating clothing.
In the late 1960’s Lou Ann, along with other teachers, began the after-school program in Dresden. As the after-school program started, Lou Ann was given a closet in the Dresden school to store clothing and toys that were donated for students. Later, she was gifted a storage unit in Dresden for more storage space.
In 1971, Lou Ann began to give Christmas presents to families in need.
In 1975, a parent approached Lou Ann with $100, wanting to sponsor four children in Dresden in need of a good Christmas. That year, those four children received toys, books, and clothing. The following year, that same parent donated for eight children. In the third year, many organizations in the community approached Lou Ann wanting to sponsor children in need of Christmas presents.
Lou Ann made sure no family felt ashamed or insulted for received gifts for their children.
Lou Ann said, “It is never to insult a family for their financial situation. But it’s to help those during Christmas, which is a time for helping and giving back.”
Every year, the sponsoring of children during Christmas helped more families in need.
Lou Ann continued to help children throughout the year. After the construction of the new Dresden Elementary and Middle School building, she and fellow teachers came together to raise the funds for a playground. The school had no playground for the students and the teachers held many fundraisers to have one built.
Lou Ann said there were many years when more than 500 children would receive clothing and toys through donations and sponsorships.
Mrs. Powers founded Santa’s Helpers when she was an elementary school teacher. What started out as a seasonal charity, formed to ensure less fortunate children in the area would have presents for Christmas, evolved into a thriving non-profit organization of volunteers that works with several local agencies to provide clothing, household items, school supplies, and operate a food pantry to help as many families as possible to have enough food to eat. Santa’s Helpers also assists victims of fires, floods and other natural disasters, as well as the homeless and those in nursing homes. These benefits are made possible through the generous donations from local citizens.
Through grants, community donations, fundraisers, and many dedicated volunteers, Santa’s Helpers has provided Christmas gifts, Easter baskets, school supplies, food, clothes and home items for children and families in need for nearly a quarter of a century.
Over the years, Santa’s Helpers has seen a drop in the number of children being sponsored during Christmas due to many organizations in the county starting fundraisers of their own.
Santa’s Helpers has expanded to include not only Christmas gifts, but back-to-school supplies, fans during the summer, Easter baskets, Thanksgiving food baskets, Halloween costume giveaways, as well as helping adults with clothing, furniture and household items.
There have been occasions where homes have burned down and Lou Ann would give the family clothes, toys and food. Santa’s Helpers also received calls from foster families in need of clothing and toys on short notice. When interviewed about her years of service to the community, she talked about the needs of Santa’s Helpers before her own achievements. She stressed that Santa’s Helpers needs younger volunteers and monetary donations.
Santa’s Helpers is located at 216 W. Main Street in Dresden. If anyone requires assistance or would like more information about volunteering, contact Santa’s Helpers through Facebook or at 731-364-3130.
In addition to serving as the founder and director of Santa’s Helpers, Mrs. Powers was a lifelong member of Dresden First Baptist Church. Through the years, she taught the pre-K Sunday school class, assisted in the youth group, cared for babies and toddlers in the church nursery and was a member of the church choir. In the 1990s, Mrs. Powers and her husband began volunteering at Hillview Nursing Home. They enjoyed leading Sunday morning devotions and assisting in providing activities for the many residents. Mrs. Powers loved to serve others. She could often be seen shopping for the needs of the community, packing goods and clothes at Santa’s Helpers, writing cards to those who may need to be cheered or delivering homemade treats to a sick friend. Her desire was always to share Jesus with those around her and love on those in need.
Mrs. Powers has been recognized with numerous awards throughout the area for her tireless efforts in helping those in need. Her life of service to her community is evidenced by her good works. The love she has shown toward others over the years, especially the children, is written on the hearts of those she has helped get through hard times.