When the family of Estelle Powers gathers to honor her this Mother’s Day, it promises to be a party of no small proportions. With seven children, 29 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, this dynamic French-born St. Louisan is accustomed to boisterous celebrations. Even a ‘small party’ required a dozen chairs when four generations recently shared a lively lunch at McKnight Place Assisted Living, Powers’ home since 2007. The opportunity to entertain her large family in style is just one of the reasons she chose McKnight Place when she moved from her home in Clayton. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to move, but I truly love it here,” she says.
A St. Louis resident for decades, Powers’ life story began in Lille, France. The eldest of five children, she has fond memories of her childhood home. In 1939, after World War II erupted in Europe, Powers’ American-born mother took all five children to stay with her family in Memphis. “I was thrilled because I had always wanted to come to America,” says Powers, who was 20 years old when she left France. “It was a dream come true.”
After arriving in Memphis, Powers continued her travels, serving as an interpreter during the war at the French Consulate in New Orleans and with the French Mission in Washington.
An Officers’ Club soiree in Memphis put her on the path to St. Louis. “I was dancing with a rather tedious older gentleman when a handsome young officer came to my rescue,” she says with a smile. “His name was Pierce and we were married in January, 1944.” Dr. Pierce Powers, a major in the Army Medical Corps, was sent to Normandy shortly after the wedding, where he witnessed the D-Day landings. After his return from France, Dr. and Mrs. Powers settled in his hometown of St. Louis. In the Midwest city named for a French king, Powers began her lifelong efforts at promoting the history and heritage of her birthplace.
She served as president of Alliance Française, establishing the organization’s French Language School in 1964. Explaining the school’s philosophy, Powers says, “We always emphasized that grammar doesn’t matter when you are first learning the language. We encourage students to speak French any way it comes to them.” Powers still attends a French class every week, saying, “I love visiting the school because I enjoy hearing people speak French.” That same year she was honored with the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, one of France’s oldest civil awards, for her contributions to promoting French culture.
Powers was captivated by St. Genevieve, Mo., and worked as a volunteer for many years in the historic town. “Preserving the history of the only French Colonial village left in the United States is very important!” she says. On the annual bus trip there offered by McKnight Place, she’s been known to pick up the microphone and narrate from her unique perspective.
An avid gardener, she appreciates the southern exposure of her courtyard apartment, where she can continue to enjoy this favorite pastime.
Even though family parties already draw a big crowd, Powers’ generous spirit has enlarged the family since her move to McKnight Place. One Christmas season, after learning that another resident would be spending the holiday alone, she invited him to join the Powers celebration. He accepted and has been ‘part of the family’ ever since.
When everyone gathered last December to celebrate Powers’ 90th birthday, the guest of honor reflected on the milestone with her trademark enthusiasm: “When you just keep on living, there’s always something new to experience!”
On the Cover: Mother’s Day will have a French accent at McKnight Place Assisted Living, when the family of resident Estelle Powers, who came to St. Louis after World War II, gathers to celebrate this May. Set on the 12-acre campus of The Gatesworth, McKnight Place Assisted Living offers an elegant lifestyle for seniors who want to remain independent. For more information, call (314) 997-5333 or visit www.mpassistedliving.com.