A few weeks ago I mentioned how delighted I was to hear from a long-lost friend. I hadn’t heard from Lydia Walker in nearly 40 years and didn’t know where she was or even if she was still alive.
I’m happy to report that she is alive and well. And at 92, looks like the picture of health. From our first conversation, I learned that Lydia was up to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Pinochle Association in New Orleans this weekend.
"Playing Pinochle makes you forget the world around you. Once you start playing, you have no going-home-sense," Lydia said with a chuckle.
She credits her dad with instilling in her the love of the card game. "I started playing cards when I was 6. My dad used to give each of us $2 a week allowance and then he would turn around and win it back."
I’ve learned from Lydia that pinochle players are in a league all by themselves. Die-hard players eat, sleep and breath the card game. For Lydia, the love affair with pinochle began back in 1954, when she was a nursing student at Tuskegee’s V.A. Psychiatric Institute in Alabama. She said she was taught the basic skills of game by three of the patients.
Lydia, a former WAC in the U.S. Army, later followed her husband Leroy to Kaiserstautern, Germany, where they were stationed for 42 months.
While in the WACs, Lydia was responsible for the first beauty parlor for black women. She once told me that when she entered the service, she noticed that the white WACs had a special place to get their hair done. "But not the black women." Lydia went to her superior and asked for a room, but not before she had attended beauty school to learn the trade herself.
After their tour of duty in Germany, Lydia and her husband came back home to Miami, where she worked for a while as a registered nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The couple later founded Walker’s Funeral Home.
It was in 1975 that Lydia and her pinochle partners started playing weekly tournaments at Homestead Air Force Base. The players formed the Hard KnunkPinochle Club, hosting the tournaments until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed the base . The club ten became the Awesome Chastisers Progressive Pinochle Enterprises, and in 1994, joined the National Pinochle Association. The national tournament and convention was hosted by the Miami club for the first time in 1996.
The award Lydia is receiving this weekend will be bittersweet. Her great nephew and devoted pinochle partner the late Andre Leon DeBose, will be inducted posthumously into the Pinochle Hall of Fame. DeBose died in 2012 of colon cancer.
Lydia, who now lives in South Miami-Dade, said one of the greatest joys of her life was when she and partner Steve Brown "pulled" three consecutive pinochles on Ray Vickers and Anthony Collins. (It was Collins, who wrote the book Winning Pinochle Strategies.)
"Playing Pinochle has given me the greatest memories of my life," Lydia said.
Fraternity honors local students
When the National Sigma Beta Club, the youth affiliate of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity had its National Leadership Conference July 10-13 at Temple University in Philadelphia, two of Miami’s own were honored for their excellence.
Edward Leonard, a freshman at the New World School of the Arts, won the oratorical contest, speaking on the topic of the effects of childhood obesity and how the Sigma Beta Club could solve the problem.
William Thomas Gilmore, a freshman at Coral Reef High School, won an academic achievement award for maintaining a high grade point average during the 2012-2013 school year.
The Sigma Beta Club of Theta Rho Sigma meets at 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month in the Gibson-Bethel City of South Miami Community Center. Membership is open to boys in middle and high school.
For more information on the club, contact Jermaine Brogdon, director at 786-440-0002.
Democratic women hold luncheon
The Woman of Action luncheon, hosted by the Democratic Women’s Club of Miami Dade County, will be at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14, at El Portal Village Hall, 500 NE 87th St. The luncheon will kick off the 2014 local, state and federal election cycle, said Daisy Black, president of the organization.
The event will honor Venghan "Winnie" Tang, who, said Black, was "Instrumental in getting out the Asian American vote in Florida in the 2012 presidential election." Tang also is an advocate for immigrant rights and reform as well as citizenship and family reunification, black said.
Former state senator Nan Rich will be the guest speaker. For tickets and for more information call Black at 305-754-6141 or email her at email@example.com.
Laser shows at science museum
An evening of laser lights, stars and more will be presented by Miami Science Museum on Sept. 6 and Oct. 4 at the museum.
Called the Fabulous First Friday, the event is to be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, and includes a free planetarium star show and rooftop observatory viewing (weather permitting), and the museum’s famous laser shows in the planetarium. There will also be hands-on activities and demonstrations for children ages 3 and older in the Space Gallery.
The show will begin at 7 p.m. with the free planetarium star show. Laser shows will be at 8, 9, 10, and11 p.m. and midnight each night. The museum is at 3280 S. Miami Ave. in Coconut Grove. Admission is for the laser show is $4 per child ad $8 per adult. Each show will require a separate ticket.
For more information about Fabulous Free Friday and other events at the museum, visit www.miamisci.org or call 305-646-4200.