The Leaders Before Us
They had careers when many thought the only position a woman should hold was homemaker. They valued education, and they volunteered countless hours to improve the lives of their neighbors. The impact these women have made on Lake Highlands has only become evident with time, even though they aren’t alive to see the work they’ve accomplished.
Mary Frances Walne
Mary Frances Walne was ahead of her time, although she probably didn’t suspect it. She was the only woman who lived in the L Streets to own her own car in the 1960s. At about 56 years old, she started her career as the voice of Herb’s Paint & Body on the radio. “My dad passed away at 58,” says her son, Alan Walne. “She had not been actively involved in the business and wanted to know what else she could do.” Besides reading radio advertisements, Walne served on Wallace Elementary and Lake Highlands Elementary, Lake Highlands Junior High and Lake Highlands High School PTA, as well as the Lake Highlands Women’s League. “She was fun,” Walne says. “She enjoyed having a good time but was a hard worker.”
Walne died in 2008.
Marietta ‘Miss Rita’ Greenfield
You may remember Marietta Greenfield as “Miss Rita,” Lake Highlands High School’s revered receptionist. Neighborhood natives already know Miss Rita was a local icon of sorts. In 2004, she received the Exchange Club’s Unsung Hero award. The “Voice of Lake Highlands High School” responded to “How are ya?” with “Fit as a fiddle and ready for love.” She was awarded her own parking spot at the high school and kept a list of every family’s football seats. Greenfield was known for her forgiveness and grace, particularly during the “muffin prank” of 2006 in which she ate two marijuana-laced muffins. The incident made national news, and Miss Rita landed in the hospital, but she maintained a sense of humor about the ordeal.
Greenfield died in 2013.
If Dallas had an official historian, it might’ve been Sadye Gee. Her grandson, Clayton Claridy, remembers how often Gee, a second-generation Dallasite, was consulted about the city’s history. Gee even contributed to “Hamilton Park: A Planned Black Community in Dallas.” When World War II broke out, Gee worked as a senior clerk typist at the Pentagon, yet the majority of her career was spent as an educator at Dunbar and K.B. Polk elementaries. “Education and history was very important to her,” Claridy says. Gee moved to Hamilton Park in 1958, where she served as the first president of the Hamilton Park chapter of National AARP, community historian for the Hamilton Park Civic League and was a member of the Willie B. Johnson Recreation Senior Advisory Council. “She was very loving but a strong disciplinarian,” Claridy says. “She was a mother and grandmother to a lot of young people in the neighborhood.”
Gee died in 2009.
Billye Faye Dillon McSpedden
Billye McSpedden was known for her volunteerism, but she could also host a heck of a party. “She was a real asset to Lake Highlands,” says longtime friend Lynn Pitts. “She took part in everything.” McSpedden not only was the president of the Lake Highlands PTA and Lake Highlands Women’s League, but also volunteered with the Dallas Arboretum, Meals on Wheels and Little People of America. She served two terms on the Dallas Grand Jury and received the Girl Scouts of America Tejas award, says her daughter, Melissa McSpedden. “She was a positive influence,” Pitts says. “She made you want to do things for Lake Highlands.”
McSpedden died in 2016.
Lake Highlands Women’s League founders
Since 1969, the Lake Highlands Women’s League has raised money for college scholarships and local nonprofits. Its first meeting was held in the home of Barbara Hunt, who invited about nine neighborhood women to establish an organization that would support the community without interfering with already established groups. “We had a lot of women who were outstanding, and I thought it was worth a try to get them moving in the same direction,” Hunt says. “I think Lake Highlands has taken its name and identification partially because of the women’s league.” Of its founders, Betsy Dryden, Nell Guest, Jane Hamilton, Peg Koelling and Mary Nell Royer are now deceased. “Those were the women who worked, and they worked hard,” Hunt says.