Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Nell Patten Roquemore. She was very gracious and welcomed me into her beautiful, two-story home overlooking Lake Irma in Lakeland Georgia.
This elegant ninety-four year young lady was dressed casually in a family reunion t-shirt and shorts, along with tennis shoes, and her hair and makeup were freshly done. She’s a very beautiful woman whose appearance does not tell her age.
She contributes her long life to getting up first thing every morning and walking a half mile on her treadmill. I suspect that may just be a small part of it. She’s active in a variety of things in this local community and she and her family have a had a big hand in putting Lakeland on the map, literally.
Mrs. Roquemore’s great great great grandfather was Joshua Lee and was one of the founding fathers of Lakeland. He bought some acreage, and with the help of some neighbors created a millpond. He then built a cotton gin and grist mill near Banks Lake in 1825, which became a local gathering place for families to come and do business. They could get their corn ground and cotton ginned. This helped to form a “village” known as Alapaha, which then became Milltown and then finally, Lakeland.
You see, Mrs. Roquemore is literally rooted in this little town that she loves so much. She has been considered Lakeland’s ambassador for many years and has spearheaded many projects over that time.
Her main focus for the past twenty years has been the Mill Town Murals. Initiated in 1998, these historical creations are found on the walls of downtown buildings in Lakeland in over forty different locations. Mrs. Roquemore came up with the idea of the murals after seeing individual murals of people on buildings in South Carolina. The first mural created featured her father, Lawson Patten, who was a Mayor of Lakeland. He, along with the city councilmen, approved the resolution on September 15, 1925, to change the name of Milltown to Lakeland.
Another mural features her mother, Clyde, at the historical Ed Rivers home. There are others that feature Mrs. Roquemore and her siblings, Betty and Robert, at their playhouse built as a surprise by their grandfather. Her brother was not originally painted in the mural, but was added later peering out of the window, by an artist who did restorations to the mural.
More than 20 years ago, as a spry young lady in her 70’s, Mrs. Roquemore resurrected the L.I.L.A. program which is an acronym for Let’s Improve Lanier’s Appearance. It was formed by the Garden Club of Lakeland and is made up of representatives of each of the local businesses. An award is presented to a local business or residence which the group feels has beautified Lanier County with their landscaping.
Currently she serves as a hostess to out-of-town tour groups who wish to have a tour of Lakeland and see the famous Milltown Murals. Mrs. Roquemore is more than happy to show Lakeland’s guests the sights and educate them about the history of Lakeland while aboard the Milltown Trolley.
And in April of this year, Mrs. Roquemore was asked to participate in the “Dancing with the Stars” charity event. Her dance partner was a 19 year old college student who was “quite handsome”. She was surprised and honored to be chosen “Audience Favorite” and was presented with a silver mirror ball trophy and bouquet of flowers. She beamed, “That’s the most exciting thing I’ve done lately!”
Mrs. Roquemore is also a published author as she has written two books. One book about Lanier County and family; “Roots, Rocks and Recollections,” written in 1989, and “Lanier County — The Land and Its People,” written in 2000.
This lady never stops and has no plans to do so anytime soon. Her love for Lakeland is obvious and infectious. But what is most important to Mrs. Roquemore is her family.
After graduating from the Georgia State Women’s College, now Valdosta State University, Ms. Patten met and married the love of her life, William “Bill” Roquemore on May 8, 1947. Together they had five children, four sons and a daughter; William Jr. (Rocky), John, James, Robert, and finally Lee.
One of Mrs. Roquemore’s favorite family traditions is the annual family dance held on the 9th day of March. They have used the same band for the past 18 years. She looks forward to spending time with her family, sharing food and making lots of happy memories. Her children have blessed her with several grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren and one on the way!
Her family means everything to her and she shared with me that last weekend something special took place. She had all five of her adult grandsons spend the entire weekend with her. It was their first time together as a group. “They all have female siblings” she said. “So it was a first to have them together, just them, in my home.” During their stay, they all went out to Ray’s Millpond to enjoy a meal together.
Nell Roquemore is certainly a special lady, with a special love for her family and her community. If you’re ever over in Lakeland, you will see the fruits of her efforts all over the city. And if you ever have an opportunity to meet and talk with her, you will be a better person for having done so.