Merna Llorens was born Merna Smith on October 4th 1939. To put that in perspective, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were in theatres that year. She grew up on a farm in central Mississippi. Her parents Junior and Birdie were very entrepreneurial and instilled a strong work ethic and a passion for education to all of their children. Merna – Mom was no exception. In fact, Mom often reminisced about school at Wesley Chapel, Piney Woods, and Manchester College. All stepping stones in her coming-of-age story. She later attended Western Michigan College where she finished her teaching degree and ongoing enrichment education.
Merna and Ray met in Chicago and married in 1960. They lived in Harvey Illinois for a period before moving to South Haven. She got a teaching job at Saint Basil Catholic school and that’s where her teaching career began.
People often debate whether the word teacher is what one is or what one does. I would say for Merna Llorens, it was what she was. Whether in the 3rd grade classroom or in town she was always teaching. From the time my sister Regina and I were old enough to learn, we were being taught life lessons we surely live by today.
Merna’s 3rd grade class evolved into something students looked forward to, and students still speak of today. The 3rd grade was a year of change and enlightenment. One learned to write in cursive just like the grown-ups. Once you could write in cursive, you could also read in cursive which opened up a whole new world of understanding. Things like the Declaration of Independence were no longer just scribbles on paper. Then there was the study of rocks and minerals and the famed Hardness Scale, which 50 years later some students can still recite. There was the famous reading of Charlotte’s Web. And Mrs. Llorens went above and beyond the standard history and sociology text books and introduced Black History and Native American studies. Anyone who had her class was years ahead of the curve on the understanding of cultural diversity and inclusion in society.
As I said earlier, teaching didn’t stop in the classroom. She joined forces with a group of local women in forming The Black History Leadership Society. Their goal was to educate the public, and promote peace and fairness within the South Haven and surrounding communities.
Mom was always working, she would come home from school, make dinner and then start working the phone lines. She was always planning the next event, she had the ears of many community leaders, pastors, and even the mayors. I remember a time when some of the community churches decided to break down some of the long-established religious barriers and hold joint services for the Lenten season. Merna Llorens was right in the middle of the planning, she was an important liaison, because she already had rapport with most of the participating priests and pastors.
Mom taught us from a young age to respect everyone, it didn’t matter how much money one had, how they were dressed, what they did for a living or what race or religion they were. We were taught to respect people for the content of their character. Mom had a special place in her heart for her people, but I would dare say she believed to her very core “All Lives Matter”.
Merna also enjoyed the outdoors. She always said she never wanted to be a farmer, but she liked working the land. She grew a garden just about every summer and would share the bounty with family and friends. She like getting out and picking fresh strawberries, then spent all night making preserves. She enjoyed traveling and always wanted to learn Spanish. Mom liked dressing up like Minnie Pearl and doing what she could to bring happiness to others. She liked country music, she loved sunflowers and dogwood trees. She liked Sherman’s Black walnut Ice Cream. She made the best fried chicken in the world. She always talked about how she used to have to make a fire in the stove to fry chicken as a girl growing up in Mississippi. Mom liked wearing fancy clothes, especially in the 70’s when the styles were way out there. She always shopped local. Hale’s, N&R, McKimmies, Wolverine Hardware, The Rose Shop etc. One of her favorite places for special events was May’s Dress Shop. May always had something special for her to wear for the Black History Programs. Merna was a member of the Benton Harbor Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Covert Lions Club.
Mom was an activist, a mover and shaker, some might say over the top, but she was never radical or destructive. She chose to work within the system, she was always the peacemaker, even if the peacemaker had to be a bit stern sometimes.
We see on the internet, a lot of people like to talk about it, voice their opinion and start arguments. Mom didn’t stop there. If she identified a problem she would get involved, form a committee, talk to the people who could address the problem head on. Mom was a doer.
Mom worked tirelessly throughout the years, fighting the good fight, fighting for others more than herself. She didn’t have to dedicate so much of her energy to the cause, but she was a teacher and a teacher has to teach. It’s what they do.
This World, this Country, this State, this Town, and our Family and Friends.
We are all the better for having had her in our lives.
Merna was preceded in death by her parents, Birdie and Junior Smith and her mother and father in-law, Ruby and Earl Llorens.
Merna is survived by her husband – Ramon Llorens, Sr. of South Haven; children – Regina (Dwight) Shamburger of Aberdeen, North Carolina and Ramon (Carolyn) Llorens, Jr. of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; grandchildren – Reina Dominguez, Lamora (Joel) Llorens-Brantley, Francois Llorens, Simone Llorens, Jean-Pierre Llorens; siblings – Myra (Alva) Peyton of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Gerald (Anne) Smith of Chicago, Illinois, Ferr (Shirley) Smith of Ofahoma, Mississippi, Carriette (Clifford) Weddle of Brown Deer, Wisconsin, and Terry Fox (Mary) Smith of Ofahoma, Mississippi.
In-laws - Tony Llorens of Los Angeles, California, Louise (Peter) Ford of Grand Junction, Michigan, Michael Llorens of South Haven, Michigan; and a host of nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Friday, March 19, 2021 at the Filbrandt Family Funeral Home. Funeral services will be held at 2:00 PM on Saturday, March 20, 2021 at the St. Basil Catholic Church in South Haven. Contributions may be made in Merna’s memory to the Black History Leadership Society, 875 Kalamazoo Street, South Haven, Michigan 49090.