Lansing Historian and teacher Louise Pier Bement died at the Ithaca Hospicare residence on June 30, 2022, attended by family and friends, after an extended illness. Louise was 89 and had lived in Lansing since 1969.
Louise was born in Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania. An accomplished musician, Louise played and taught clarinet and was a frequent member of all-state band concerts during high school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Mansfield State College, majoring in science, Louise taught junior high science in Bath and elementary special education in Elmira.
“I looked about the age of my eighth graders and so I wore heels and never stood close to any of the students until the second half of the year!”
Louise met William “Bill” Bement during her senior year in college. Bill and Louise were married in 1955 and they raised three daughters, Margaret Marks, Elizabeth (William Martin), and Ann (Pat) Hennessy. Her husband Bill died in 2014.
Louise taught 4th grade in the Lansing elementary school for over 19 years. While teaching full-time and raising a family, Louise completed her master’s degree in Reading and Language Arts at Elmira College in 1972 and became certified to teach K-12 in New York State.
“I never expected to teach in the elementary school and hadn’t the least idea how to do it, but a job was a job, so I sailed in and learned how as I taught.”
During Louise’s teaching career, she and her students produced four books on the history of Lansing: The Portland Point Cement Company, The International Salt Company that was located on what is now Salt Point, Cayuga Lake, and The Cayuga Rock Salt Mine now operated by Cargill. Louise was proud of the books written by her young students, which were packed with facts from primary sources. She often referred to them when she gave talks about Lansing history.
“The last few years I taught I was Department Head of grades 3-4 and I also was assistant chorus teacher for the 3-4 grade chorus. I loved helping the music teacher with the chorus and I kept that job for three years after I retired.”
Louise was as loved by students and their parents as she loved teaching.
“As a teacher, there is no greater feeling than to give students, who were once written off as unmotivated or unintelligent, a reason to believe in themselves.”
When Louise retired from teaching, she continued with her interest in local history. The Lansing archives consisted of many uncatalogued boxes of records that had been stored for many years in the historian’s barn before being transferred to an attic at the Lansing town hall. Louise said, “There might have been a historical society, but it had been inactive for a long time. When I needed to access the archives to work on the Portland Point book, I needed to climb a ladder into the attic of the town hall to access the material. The attic was either unbearably hot or cold depending upon the time of year.”
Recognizing a need to preserve Lansing’s history, Louise asked the town to make her town historian. Later, as the archives grew, Louise convinced the town to build a proper archive building to house the collection and she helped create the Lansing Historical Society to catalog and curate it. The Lansing Historical Association was founded in 1988 when interested people got together to form a board. Louise liked having the town history organized. It is wonderful to have an archive building where the archives could easily be accessed by many people at once.
Louise researched Lansing’s connections to the Underground Railroad and created a historical plaque identifying a house that she documented in a diary to have harbored runaway slaves. Rogues Harbor Inn received its historical landmark status due in large part to Louise’s research.
The relocation and rehabilitation of the Field School, a forlorn one-room schoolhouse, was her crowning achievement. Leveraging every resource she could identify, Louise planned and orchestrated the relocation of the school house to a site at the Lansing town hall. The utility company raised overhead electrical wires so the building could pass under them. Louise’s optimism and belief in the project enchanted scores of volunteers, highway department workers, tradespeople, and her husband Bill, to donate their skills and time to move, rehabilitate, and furnish the Field School. Now a beloved Lansing historical treasure, the schoolhouse project would never have happened without Louise’s boundless faith and spirit.
In 2017, Louise wrote a ‘Lansing Bicentennial Minute’ for each issue of The Lansing Star, short paragraphs with interesting snippets of Lansing history to celebrate the Town’s 200th birthday. These minutes are compiled in a book available at the Town Hall. Louise also contributed newspaper articles and wrote frequent letters to the editor of The Lansing Star.
She helped countless people find information about their roots in Lansing. She was a fountain of information about the town. Whether conducting county graveyard tours or speaking about people and events that happened long ago, Louise made it fun and fascinating. She focused on the people in Lansing’s past, making their stories come to life. Whether it was the Indian princess buried in the Asbury Cemetery, the postmaster of Ludlowville, or “The Witch” at the bottom of Syrian Hill, you felt like you knew the people she described. She was always up for an adventure to an overgrown cemetery or a trip to her archives.
“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” she said. “I’m retired, but I love to teach people. So as town historian, I’m teaching all the time.”
In 2018, Louise was among five honorees to receive an award from the History Center of Tompkins County. In 2019, the town of Lansing named Louise Bement Lane after her in honor of four decades of service to the community.
Louise enjoyed spending time hiking and boating with family and friends.
Louise was always very respectful to each person she met, no matter their situation. Much of this philosophy came from her childhood, Louise took great pride in how her parents would give Black out-of-town hunters a place to stay when their neighbors would not. The Piers children even gave up their own beds so the hunters would not have to sleep on the floor. Similarly in the community, the Pier store would often extend credit to those in need when other stores would not. Store bills were often repaid in coal or piano lessons rather than in cash, impacting the family’s finances.
The Pier children’s education was always the highest priority, not matter the state of the finances. In order to pay for college, Louise worked as a summer camp counselor and waitressed in restaurants and her college’s dining hall. When Louise was promoted to head waitress during her senior year at Mansfield, she earned enough to able to pay for her entire tuition and room and board.
Louise enjoyed witty humor and enjoyed laughing with others, but never at others. She maintained many strong friendships.
She was a wonderful cook. She found beauty in all areas of nature and loved to garden.
Louise’s eagerness to learn new things was perfectly matched, often out of necessity, by her husband Bill’s equally boundless ingenuity and ambitious projects. No matter what was required, Louise could confidently drive, sail, lift, or understand anything with minimal instruction or preparation. “Well, you’re going to learn now” was Bill’s usual answer if Louise claimed she had never done something before. As a team, Bill and Louise achieved the impossible.
Louise met challenges head-on and would find a way to make things work out well.
Louise was most thankful for having had the opportunity to live a wonderful life, and enjoyed and was thankful for all those who supported her as her health fell behind her get up and go attitude.
Memorial services for Louise will be announced at a later date. Lansing Funeral Home is handling arrangements for the services.
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