Lane mini-cedar chest

A treasured box … resident hold priceless memories in Lane mini-cedar chests

By Joan Hershberger

El Dorado News-Times

A treasure box. A graduation gift. An incentive to purchase something much larger. A small memento from the past that many women (and men) have kept with them for years.

In the 1920s, the Lane Furniture Co.,began offering girls graduating from high school a mini-cedar chest. The mini-chest was free. Inside the chest, the company included a certificate for a reduced price on the much larger, cedar hope chest. The cost for a Lane Cedar chest in 1943 was $19.99, according to the magazine ad at the time. Today, a simple chest retails for $229 at Ivan Smith, and a more elaborate chest with a hidden jewelry panel costs $528 at Blackmon Furniture. Hope chests reflected the expectation for centuries that young women would marry and need to set up a house. With that in mind, the family would fill the hope chest with linens, dishes and other household items.

Through the years, Lane furniture Co., distributed the mini-cedar chests through the local furniture companies.

Nancy Reid, 83, received her mini-ceder chest on the occasion of her 1948 graduation from El Dorado High School She took the box with her to Ouachita Baptist University, where she studied for two years and met her husband, who became a pastor. They adopted two children: Marilyn and Marcus.

They first served at Three Creeks Baptist Church on the Haynesville Highway later transferring to churches in Kansas, South Dakota and finally to one in Illinois where her adopted daughter settled down.

In her later years, Reid returned to El Dorado as a widow to assist her aging mother. When her mother passed, Reid inherited the house on Liberty Street. Through 65 years of raising a family and moving back and forth across the country, Reid has always taken her Lane mini-cedar chest.

“This is one thing I am holding onto,” she said. They can put it in the casket with me.”

Reid smiled as she remembered having grown up in that home as a member of the Liberty Street Gang.

“There was a child in every house,” she recalled. “We were close in age. It was a good time to grow up. We always found something to do.”

She was living in that house when she finished high school and received the Lane graduation box. She still lived there when her health mandated she move to Courtyard Health and rehabilitation. Moving from a seven-room house to a room and a bed meant letting go of most everything, including all the family furniture that Reid had gathered over the years. She had not idea what happened to the cherished furniture from her husband’s parents nor to any of the other items. Except for volumes of photos, Reid has only her most treasured items, which she holds in the Lane mini-cedar chest she received from the McWilliams Furniture Co.

“if I had to leave quickly, this is the one thing I would grab to take with me. It holds what is important to me,” she said.

And what is important? A few odds and ends: a piece of costume jewelry, a not -mementos of her life.

She was especially pleased to discover that Joseph McWilliams, son of the late Joe Carol McWilliams, the owner of the McWilliams Furniture Store also resides at Courtyard.

“I wanted him to see that I have saved it and use it,” she said. “It sparked something in me. What a strange happening – to be in the same place and have this connection.”

McWilliams’ father retired in 1952 after 26 years in the furniture business.

IN researching this story, the New-Times Staff posted a query on Facebook asking if others had received a lane min-cedar chest. Dozens responded with the year they graduated and the school.

Heath Waldrop, coordinator of marketing and communications at South Arkansas Community College said, “By the time I graduated in 1993, it was a near the end of this promotion, I presume and it wasn’t a giveaway just for girls but for any high school senior who would sign an anti-drunk-driving pledge. I still have mine and the key, which was kind of a laugh since the chest never actually locked.”

Shawna Pill, class of 1992, said, “I still have the key somewhere.”

Marsha Parham, EHS 1972 from Garrett Furniture Co., said, “I also got a lane Cedar (hope) chest for graduation from my parents. I still have it, too.”

Shelly Johnson, a 1971 graduate of EHS, said she received one, as did her mother, a 1958 graduate.

Ellen Narramore, a 1974 graduate said she had her Lane chest, as well as her mother’s from her 1937 graduation.

Other responses to the Facebook query included graduates from 1960 through 1993. Most still had their in-cedar chests.

Respondents graduated from El Dorado, Junction City, Norphlet, Parkers Chapel Smackover, Parkview High in Little Rock, Bradley High School, Pine Bluff, South City. There was even a 1995 home school graduate. The question continues to be asked by respondents on their own Facebook pages. A simple gift, given to so many for decades .. and still cherished as Nancy red has shown.

Nov. 30, 2013