By Ann Cipperly
With her mother, grandmother and a great aunt being dedicated teachers who had a passion for encouraging children to achieve their best, Wanda Lewis followed in their footsteps to help children. After serving as the president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County for 22 years, Wanda is enjoying time with her husband, Rev. Morris Lewis, their children and grandchildren, preparing delicious meals and creating attractive tablescapes to enhance dining at their Opelika home.
Along with her younger sister and brother, Wanda grew up in a single-parent home in Auburn headed by her mother, Bertha Willis, who taught school for 33 years. Her mother taught at Carver and Jeter in Opelika. Wanda remembered that her mother would do home visits and bring children home for the weekend.
Throughout her childhood, Wanda also had the guidance and support of her grandmother, Lottie Mae Woolfolk, and great aunt, Leona Brooks.
“I witnessed these three women take great pride in their professions, as well as their extended care and concern not only for the children in their classrooms, but their families and the communities in which they lived,” said Wanda.
Her mother and great aunt were teachers who had a great influence on her eventual career, working with children and families. Her grandmother taught as well, but during most of Wanda’s time growing up, she was home and active in the community with civic and church activities.
Her grandmother enjoyed cooking and sewing. She made all their clothes and would cook a good meal every day. On Sunday, they would come home from church to a wonderful meal. During the afternoon on Sundays, her grandmother would often get in the kitchen and make a cake from scratch. She would bake a small “sample cake” that would be ready quickly for the children to try.
Wanda’s favorite meal has continued to be fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread. She also enjoyed her grandmother’s candied yams and other southern dishes.
On holidays her grandmother would prepare huge meals. Wanda wishes she had those recipes, but her grandmother did not use many recipes.
“Judging from the care that she put into preparing every meal, I think that the ingredients in every dish were measured straight from her heart and soul,” Wanda said.
After her mother retired, she began to cook more family meals. Wanda is sharing her mother’s Sour Cream Pound Cake, along with other family favorites.
Wanda’s husband, Morris, also grew up in Auburn, and they met in the lunchroom at Auburn High School, although he was a couple of grades ahead. After high school, Morris joined the Air Force and served a year in Vietnam, then was stationed in Montana. He came home on leave when Wanda was a senior to take her to prom. They were married a year later in 1972.
After graduating high school, Wanda attended Auburn University. Her work career began at Auburn Day Care Centers. After 15 years, she began working with Opelika City Schools as a parent coordinator, creating parent centers at elementary schools. The centers became popular venues where she conducted workshops to assist parents in developing parenting skills and offered resources for parents to support their children’s education.
Wanda later accepted the position of parent educator with Auburn City Schools. When school was out during summer, she felt that there was a need for children to continue their learning and also create cultural awareness with an emphasis on the arts. Wanda was the founder and executive director of the Center for Cultural Enrichment, Education and Experience (CCEEE).
Jane Walker and Marlene Muse, both board members of the Boys & Girls Clubs, attended dramatic productions performed by CCEEE youth participants. After seeing these programs, both board members felt Wanda was the perfect choice as executive director for the clubs.
“My hope was to impact the lives of more children,” Wanda said. “I saw this as an opportunity to fulfill my vision for my life’s work with the hundreds of children and their families served through this organization. I feel that through all of my previous work experiences, God was preparing me for work at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“I grew up in a time when there was a strong sense of community and neighbors looked out for each other’s children. Today, our children and families still need assurance that someone is genuinely concerned about their safety and well-being. My passion for my work with Boys & Girls Clubs came from my desire for all children to have experiences that will give them hope and opportunity for a great future.”
By the time she retired in August 2019, over 6,000 community youth had participated in programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County.
“When my own children were growing up, I repeated the same words of encouragement to them that my mother and teachers told me,” Wanda said. “I wanted my children to embrace their strength and pursue their dreams to the fullest.”
The Lewises have two children. Courtney is vice president of business development for their family business, Edible Arrangements. Their daughter, Danielle Allison, is an attorney, and her husband, Shannon, is a teacher at Auburn High School. They have three children, Peyton, 9; Liam, 6; and Noah, 22 months old. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Danielle is also CEO of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers.
While Rev. Lewis has been assigned to different churches in the area over the years, he is currently serving at the St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn, which was Wanda’s home church when she was growing up.
Shortly before Wanda retired, she began to work on a goal that started 50 years ago, which was completing her college degree.
“I kept hearing a radio announcement about an online program at the University of Alabama and felt God was telling me to check into it. I felt that I owed it to myself and my mother to complete this chapter in my life.”
She worked on her degree throughout 2020. Last December she graduated from the University of Alabama.
Now that she has completed her degree goal, Wanda has been enjoying time with her family and creating seasonal and special-occasion tablescapes for her dining room table. At the holidays, she may decorate the table two or three times. Last year on Mother’s Day, she decorated the table in honor of her mother, using a couple of her hats and handmade lacey handkerchiefs. She is teaching her granddaughter, Peyton, how to decorate tables.
Before her mother passed away, the family gathered at her house, but now they all come to the Lewis home after Christmas for a yearly reunion. Red Velvet Cake is the family favorite. Wanda once made 200 small cakes as favors for a family wedding.
When Courtney was in the fourth grade, he made and entered the red velvet cake in a 4-H Club contest and won.
Along with the special cake, Wanda enjoys cooking fried catfish, collards and cornbread dressing. She serves a great deal of fresh or frozen vegetables that she cooks in chicken broth or with smoked turkey wings to embellish the flavor.
Wanda has always enjoyed being active in the community and serving on boards. She has received many honors and awards over the years.
While she is enjoying retirement and planning what to do next, she is catching up on reading, recording family genealogy and thinking about writing her memoirs.
“My life’s work has been for the sole purpose of preparing my children and others to become productive, responsible and caring citizens and to contribute in some small way to making my community a better place to live for future generations,” Wanda said.
Cipperly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bertha’s Sour Cream Pound Cake
Recipe from Wanda’s mother, Mrs. Bertha W. Willis
3 cups sugar
2 sticks oleo (margarine)
6 eggs, separated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3 cups White Lily all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cream sugar and margarine together.
Add egg yolks and cream a little more.
Sift salt and baking soda together three times. Add to flour.
Alternate adding flour and sour cream and end with flour.
In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff and fold into to flour mixture at the very end.
Pour into greased Bundt pan.
Start baking the cake in a cold oven set at 300 degrees.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake
Francesca Danielle Allison
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
Zest from 1 large lemon
1 cup sugar (set aside 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling on top)
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (set aside 1/4 cup of this to toss with the blueberries)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, cream butter with the lemon zest and the 1 cup minus 1 Tbsp. of sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss blueberries with ¼ cup flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt.
Add half of the flour mixture to batter and stir with spatula to incorporate. Add all the buttermilk. Stir. Add remaining flour and stir until flour is absorbed. Fold in the blueberries. (Leave excess flour from the blueberry bowl behind.)
Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan (or something similar—I prefer this 8-inch pan because I like the thicker pieces) with butter or coat with non-stick spray. If you have parchment paper on hand, line the pan with parchment on top of the butter.
Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle remaining Tbsp. of sugar over batter. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. A 9-inch pan will be done in closer to 35 minutes; an 8-inch pan usually needs 40 to 45 minutes. Check with a toothpick for doneness. If necessary, return pan to oven for a couple of more minutes.
(Note: Baking for as long as 10 minutes more might be necessary, especially if you are using a smaller pan such as an 8×8-inch. It is not unusual for this cake to take 50 minutes, so just be patient.) Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
Country Style Chicken and Dumplings
1 fryer, cut up
1 tsp. fresh bacon grease
Salt and pepper
In a large pot, boil chicken in water, salt and pepper to taste; add bacon grease. Boil until tender.
Add enough water to broth to cover chicken about 2 inches above chicken pieces. Bring to a rolling boil and begin dropping dumplings (recipe following) one at a time on top of rolling hot broth. Do not overlap. When hot broth has first layer, continue adding dumplings until all have been dropped in. Keep boiling hot. Cover pot with lids slightly ajar.
Stir with a wooden spoon once or twice. Stir only dumplings, chicken should remain on bottom of pot. Boil approximately 10 minutes or until you think they are done. Add only hot water if more liquid is desired.
Dumplings will look glossy and will not look starchy when done. Never let chicken and dumplings sit without a tight fitting lid. This will cause dumplings to tear up.
¾ cup water
2 cups self-rising flour
In a medium size bowl add flour. Make a well in top center. Pour in water; stir and mix, forming a dough ball. Work with hands until quite smooth. Dough will be tough. Flour hands occasionally.
Place a floured pastry cloth and roll out crust thin. If you have time, let set 1 to 2 hours before cooking.
Cut into approximately 2 inch squares. For freezing, place dumplings on cookie sheet after they have been dried and cut. Remove after freezing and layer in a plastic box and store in freezer until ready to use. Drop frozen dumplings into broth.
Mary Alice Mullis
Southwest Laurens Elementary School
Courtney’s Red Velvet Cake
Courtney M. Lewis
1½ cups Crisco oil
1½ cups sugar
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2½ oz. red food coloring
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 stick butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
For making cake, combine and mix well; first three ingredients.
Combine the next four ingredients in a small bowl.
Mix the next four ingredients in a 2-cup measure.
Add dry ingredients to oil and sugar mixture alternately with the wet ingredients. Mix well.
Pour into three prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes. Do not overbake.
Test with a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake and remove from oven immediately.
Cool layers completely on wire racks.
Combine cream cheese frosting ingredients. Fill and frost layers withe frosting.
Lewis Family Christmas Breakfast
This has been a family favorite for over 35 years. Every Christmas morning begins with this menu.
Wanda’s Pancake Casserole
Grilled Grapefruit Halves
Hot Apple Cider
Wanda’s Pancake Casserole
½ lb. link sausage
2 cups Aunt Jemima light pancake mix
1 jar spiced apple rings
2 cups maple syrup
In medium hot skillet, brown link sausage and set aside.
Drain spiced apple rings reserving juice for use in syrup.
Prepare pancake mix according to package instructions and pour into a 9 x12-inch casserole dish.
Cut sausage links into 1-inch pieces and sprinkle on top of pancake mixture. Arrange spiced apple rings on top of pancake and sausage mixture covering the entire casserole.
Bake on middle oven rack at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until top is lightly browned.
Spiced Apple Syrup
½ stick margarine
1 Tbsp. corn starch
Juice from spiced apple rings
2 cups maple syrup
In saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine. Alternate adding corn starch and spiced apple juice stirring constantly until smooth and thickened.
Add maple syrup and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and serve over Wanda’s Pancake Casserole. Serves (6)
3 pink grapefruits, halved
Red or green maraschino cherries
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, optional
Cut grapefruits in half and arrange in an oven safe baking dish. Using a paring knife or grapefruit spoon, loosen grapefruit sections leaving fruit in the rind. Remove the core of each half and insert a cherry.
Sprinkle desired amount of brown sugar and cinnamon on each half. Place in oven on middle rack and cook at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm or cool. Serves 6.
Morris’ Butter Pound Cake
Rev. Morris E. Lewis
1 cup butter
3 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. lemon extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour one 9 or 10 inch tube pan.
Use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix well.
Add flour, one cup at a time while adding cream a little at a time until all flour and cream is mixed well.
Add vanilla and lemon extracts and blend well. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for 1½ hours or until center springs back from small amount of pressure. Immediately turn out on cake rack to cool.
This rich pound cake is delicious alone or served with ice cream or a fruit topping, such as peaches or strawberries.
Wanda J. Lewis
This is a great dish for a potluck supper and can be made the night before.
12 oz. package of broccoli slaw
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 cup Vidalia onion dressing
Chopped pecans, optional
Gently mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Top with chopped pecans, if desired.
4 large baking apples, such as Honeycrisp
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and core apples, leaving enough of the core at the base of the apple to contain the filling.
Combine butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped pecans in a small bowl. Roll log shapes of the mixture and press enough into each apple to fill the core.
Fill a 2-quart baking dish with about 3/4 cup water, or enough to cover the bottom. Place the apples upright in the dish. Bake until the apples are soft, and the filling is browned, 1 hour.
Add your favorite ice cream and enjoy.
Shrimp And Grits
1 lb. bag of large shrimp (peeled, deveined, tail-off)
Old Bay seasoning
Red bell pepper
Orange bell pepper
Yellow bell pepper
Green bell pepper
1 – 2 cloves of crushed garlic
2 Tbsp. chicken broth
Season shrimp with Old Bay seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for about 30 minutes.
While shrimp is marinating, cook grits according to package and number of servings desired. Stir grits constantly to prevent sticking and lumpiness.
Cut bell peppers and onions into strips. Sauté peppers, onions, and andouille sausage until sausage is browned and vegetables are slightly softened. Add crushed garlic, marinated shrimp and chicken broth. Continue to sauté until shrimp turn pink. Do not overcook shrimp.
Serve shrimp mixture over grits.
Breaded and fried whole okra, hushpuppies or jalapeño corn muffin, and your favorite fried fish.
B-Strong’s Garlic Parsley Potato and French Onion Pot Roast
Bryan Lysandus Willis Sr.
1 pot roast, seasoned and rubbed with:
1/2 Tbsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt
1/2 Tbsp. Lawry’s garlic salt with parsley
1/2 Tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole seasoning
1/2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
Store seasoned pot roast in a 1-gallon Ziploc storage bag 24 hours before cooking.
The day of cooking, mix the following in the crockpot:
1 can Campbell’s French Onion
1/2 cup Kroger Zesty Italian dressing and marinade
2 cups water
2 large potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 – large yellow onion, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes
Submerge seasoned pot roast into crockpot mixture.
Add to top and sides of pot roast:
2 large potatoes, cut into 2 inch wedges 1/2 large yellow onion, peeled
Close lid and cook for 5 hours on high and 1 additional hour on low or until tender.