Boone County Historical & Railroad Society, Inc.
Boone County Historian
Oak Leaves
Boone County Heritage Museum
250 see 'Lillie's in White' unveiled
August 10, 2004
'Lillie's in White'by Dwain Lair, Times Staff

A marble statue of Lillie Payne Wilson, dressed in a white dress designed by her mother and two aunts, was unveiled in the museum. Lillie, aunts Donna Daniel and Beuna Parkinson of Harrison, and the sculptor of the statue, Don Landes-McCullough, were joined by relatives from across the country for the unveiling and family reunion. "I am thrilled," Don said of the donation. "Lillie's statue, a part of your heritage, will be a part of Boone County's history for years to come."

The statue's heritage dates back 55 years to a time when Lillie's family didn't have the money to buy a white dress for her graduation. Her mother and aunts bought material and sewed a dress, and pictures were taken at her graduation. Don turned those pictures into a marble statue. He said her pose, her eyes and her smile all make a statement: "No matter how hopeless life may seem, there is always hope."
Don said the statue, entitled "Lillie's in White," is too big to fit in a home, more of a historical piece. "It portrays the story of people pulling together when times are hard. They come up with something when they have to ... a Boone County kind of thing. "As I grew up, the heritage that I was given by my family and my 'growing up' experiences in Boone County were some of the most cherished moments of my life. It is fitting that I would want to create a tribute to the strength, pride and heritage of Boone County and the people who have grown from here."
"Lillie's in White" is a simple looking statue, a young lady dressed in white dress, her long hair hanging down the front of the dress. Don said the statue's expression was taken from an old snapshot he found in a box of pictures.
As an artist, he was drawn to the picture by its "classic pose of a beautiful young lady." But as he researched the print, he became fascinated by the story behind the photograph.
In 1949, his Aunt Lillie had earned the honor of graduating from the eighth grade at Alpena. The teacher asked all of the girls to wear long white dresses for the formal ceremony.
But Lillie, a 13-year-old girl at the time, her parents Tom and Rhoda Payne, and her five brothers and sisters were so poor that they still lived in a log cabin built by her parents at Batavia. "She knew a white dress would be too expensive for the family to buy," Don wrote in a letter to museum curator Marilyn Smith.
As every other girl in the eighth grade obtained white dresses, "Lillie decided that she would not attend her graduation as the only girl without a white gown," he wrote.
That's when her family intervened.
Lillie said she first saw the white dress a couple of weeks before graduation, "laid out on the floor" of Aunt Beuna Parkinson's living room. Her mother and two aunts, Donna Daniel and Beuna Parkinson of Harrison, "had pooled their resources and found the material for a white dress and created a surprise for Lillie," Don wrote.
Fifty years later, Lillie still had a small snapshot of her modeling that graduation dress in 1949. The tiny photo looked directly at her face.
Don also had a snapshot of the occasion, a tiny profile of his aunt's face and dress. He said the picture was unusual because most pictures of his Aunt Lillie showed her without shoes.
"I didn't know it was important to her," he said of the photograph during an interview Friday.
He enlarged and copied the picture and mailed it to his aunt. The enlarged photograph brought back memories to Lillie, deep emotions of her family's work and sacrifice to dress her properly for graduation.
Then when Don lived in Pietrasanta, Italy, last summer and studied with Italian master marble carvers, he used the picture of his aunt as a model for the marble carving. As he asked his aunt to described more details about her hair and the dress, more feelings developed.
Don said he developed a closeness to his Aunt Lillie almost from the time of his birth. "My father was a minister and we moved to a lot of different churches," Don remembered, and "her family often moved with us" to Pratt, Kan., and Washington state. She became someone he could talk to about issues and emotions, topics he couldn't discuss with his own family. "I struggled personally with our religion," he remembered. "The beliefs I was raised with have gone through gobs of translations of what I believe personally.
"Aunt Lil was always the one who had an open mind, listened to my thoughts and was supportive. She was always a little left of center," Don smiled as he sat beside Aunt Lil, who wore a guardian angel on her collar. "She was more tolerant, according to our religion, a little more rowdy and pushed the boundaries of the religion.
"We were a close ... still are," he said of the family. "A close knit family can have squabbles but not let that stop them from coming together."
Sitting side by side, Landes-McCullough laughed about innocent times more than 30 years ago when all 16 cousins would gather at Aunt Lil's for "cousin parties" every two years. She remembered games and activities he helped create, events that often cluttered her house. The children even picked "Mr. and Miss Cousin.
"He was different in many ways," she said of Don. "He was very talented and could always think of things to do and could do anything. He led the other cousins. We had a great time."
Now 52, Don sat beside his beloved aunt Friday afternoon and they shook their head and smiled at the number of relatives expected at Saturday's ceremony. "I was thinking 20 or 30 relatives," Don said, "or maybe 50," Lillie, now 68, added.
When he left his home at Vancouver, Wash., a week ago, 120 relatives had confirmed they would be in Harrison, traveling from California, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington and neighboring states, "as word of the event spread like wildfire."
Like a close family, Don and Lillie said they were looking forward to "renewing relationships with relatives we haven't seen in 40 to 50 years, even though we've known them all our lives."
After the ceremony, the crowd moved to the museum to view the statue and share refreshments, regrouped at a church for more visiting, then several visited Pilot's Knob.
More News Back to Top