My dad, S. Henry Bundles, Jr., died a few days ago on March 26.
Since then I’ve had a few tears, of course, but at the moment I am feeling more grateful than sad because he lived 92 very beautiful and productive years.
He was president of the Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis from 1977 to 2000, a community leader, an institution builder and a fantastic father.
My brothers, Lance and Mark, and I are so fortunate to have had his love and guidance for so many decades. “He was a good father and a good man, who loved his children unconditionally,” Lance reminded me as we began to process our loss.
At Daddy’s 65th Birthday Party in 1992
I called him every Sunday morning at precisely 11:30 a.m. I knew he was waiting by the phone and I knew he would say, “Hello to the world’s greatest daughter!”
I truly will miss that cheerful greeting.
Daddy was born on February 15, 1927 in Indianapolis, the seventh of Mary Ellis Davis and S. Henry Bundles, Sr.’s nine children. He graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1943 when he was 16 years old. A 1948 graduate of Indiana University, he is believed to be the first black student to earn a degree from IU’s School of Journalism. It was a sign of the times that despite this degree and his experience as a photographer and reporter during his stint in the Navy during World War II no Indianapolis daily newspapers would hire him in an editorial position because he was black. Undeterred, he became a circulation manager and learned the business side of journalism while mentoring and managing the young Attucks students who delivered papers.
Henry Bundles and A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles circa 1957 at the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company offices in Indianapolis.
He and my late mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, married in June 1950. A few years later, he became sales and advertising manager for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, the firm founded by her great-grandmother. He was so successful at sales and business development that he was hired away as president and CEO of Summit Laboratories, an international hair care company, that he led to regular rankings on the Black Enterprise 100.
After my mother died in 1976, Daddy helped launch CLD, an organization designed to prepare youth of color to become professional, business and community leaders. When he retired in 2000, he and his team had mentored more than 5,000 Central Indiana students including more than 80% who went on to college. When he was honored at CLD’s fortieth anniversary celebration in 2017, the organization had grown to serve more than 2,000 students each year. It is a testament to the institution he helped build that CLD recently awarded more than $5 million in scholarships at its annual Minority Achievers Awards and Scholarship Gala.
Three generations of CLD alumni hold leadership positions throughout the world in medicine, law, education, finance, media, ministry and other professions. They all remember the mantra Daddy quoted at the beginning of every session: “In Time. On Time. Every Time. Except when ahead of time, and that’s better time.”
It no longer surprises me when I’m making a speech and someone in the audience comes up to let me know that they’re a graduate of CLD. In fact, last week at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, Gwynth R. Nelson, the school’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Development, introduced herself as a proud CLD alumna.
Henry Bundles and Helen Baker Bundles with the 2017 Center for Leadership Development Scholars.
Daddy was a long-time community leader who broke barriers on many boards and organizations as a director of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, a founding director of Midwest National Bank and chairman of the Indianapolis Business Development Foundation. But I think what he enjoyed most was being an Indianapolis 500 Festival director because a perk of the position was getting to drive one of the 33 limited edition convertible pace cars.
Daddy at Crispus Attucks High School (first row, second from right). He graduated in 1943 when he was 16.
He was a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi, having joined the Alpha Chapter while a student at IU. After he and his wife, Helen Baker Bundles, moved to Sarasota, Florida in the early 2000s, he became active with the local chapter and was recognized as one of the fraternity’s oldest living members.
He remained devoted to his alma mater, joining other graduates as a co-founder of the Neal-Marshal Alumni Club that was created in 1980 to increase African American alumni participation.
This afternoon all I could do was smile as I looked through photographs from Daddy’s 65th birthday party in 1992. He was surrounded by family, friends and business colleagues. My friend John Gentry, a professional photographer, captured the evening perfectly. And my friend, Tony Artis, provided the music.
Of course we ordered a fancy cake and served lots of champagne. But the highlight of the evening was surprising Daddy with a huge platter of red jello with his childhood nickname – “Junebug” — written in whipped cream.
Long ago he’d told me that his family was so poor during the Depression that they couldn’t afford a birthday cake. Instead his mother made a bowl of red jello for her “Junebug” during one of the toughest years.
It was a testament to how far my dad had come and to how much he had helped others realize their dreams. He lived his life as a servant leader. I hope his legacy will be one of inspiring others to do the same.
If you are so inclined, we’d welcome contributions in memory of S. Henry Bundles, Jr. to the Center for Leadership Development (www.cldinc.org/donate/)at 2425 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street, Indianapolis, IN 46208 and to the Neal-Marshall Cultural Center, Indiana University Foundation, PO Box 6460, Indianapolis, IN 46206-6460).
The men of the Alpha Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi at Indiana University in 1948.
Daddy on the track team at IU.
Daddy receiving the Outstanding ROTC Cadet Award in 1944 from Indiana University president Herman Wells.
During the week of October 19, 2014 the National Trust for Historic Preservation featured Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker’s Irvington-on-Hudson, New York estate, on all its social media platforms. This piece that I wrote for the Trust’s Preservation Blog also appeared on Huffington Post and Jet.com
Inside Villa Lewaro, Madam C. J. Walker’s Irvington-on-Hudson, NY mansion (David Bohl/Historic New England)
Every time I walk through the doors of Villa Lewaro—the mansion my great-great-grandmother, Madam C. J. Walker, called her “dream of dreams”—I always take a moment to imagine the pride and magic the ancestors must have felt in these rooms. From the columns of the majestic portico to the balustrades of the grand terrace, the original stucco façade sparkled with marble dust and glistening grains of white sand when the laundress-turned-millionaire took possession in May 1918.
Villa Lewaro 1920s
The New York Times pronounced it “a place fit for a fairy princess.” Enrico Caruso, the world famous opera tenor, was so entranced by its similarity to estates in his native Naples that he coined the name “Lewaro” in honor of A’Lelia Walker Robinson, Madam Walker’s only daughter.
Walker told her friend Ida B. Wells, the journalist and anti-lynching activist, that after working so hard all her life—first as a farm laborer, then as a maid and a cook, and finally as the founder of an international hair care enterprise—she wanted a place to relax and garden and entertain her friends.
She also wanted to make a statement, so it was no accident that she purchased four and a half acres in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York not far from Jay Gould’s Lyndhurst and John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit amidst America’s wealthiest families. She directed Vertner Woodson Tandy—the black architect who already had designed her opulent Harlem townhouse—to position the 34-room mansion close to the village’s main thoroughfare so it was easily visible by travelers en route from Manhattan to Albany.
Villa Lewaro Aerial (Courtesy Madam Walker Family Archives)
Indeed, the Times reported that her new neighbors were “puzzled” and “gasped in astonishment” when they learned that a black woman was the owner. “Impossible!” they exclaimed. “No woman of her race could afford such a place.”
The woman born in 1867 in a dim Louisiana sharecropper’s cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River, now awoke each morning in a sunny master suite with a view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. The child who had crawled on dirt floors now walked on carpets of Persian silk. The destitute washerwoman, who had lived across the alley from the St. Louis bar where Scott Joplin composed ragtime tunes, now hosted private concerts beneath shimmering chandeliers in her gold music room.
But the home was not constructed merely for her personal pleasure. Villa Lewaro, she hoped, would inspire young African Americans to “do big things” and to see “what can be accomplished by thrift, industry and intelligent investment of money.”
“Do not fail to mention that the Irvington home, after my death, will be left to some cause that will be beneficial to the race—a sort of monument,” she instructed her attorney, F. B. Ransom. As the largest contributor to the fund that saved Frederick Douglass’s Anacostia home, Cedar Hill, she understood the importance of preservation as a strategy to claim and influence history’s narrative.
Invitation to the August 1918 Villa Lewaro gathering honoring Emmett Scott (Courtesy Madam Walker Family Archives)
For her opening gathering in August 1918, Madam Walker honored Emmett Scott, then the Special Assistant to the U. S. Secretary of War in Charge of Negro Affairs and the highest ranking African American in the federal government. At this “conference of interest to the race”—with its Who’s Who of black Americans and progressive whites—she encouraged discussion and debate about civil rights, lynching, racial discrimination and the status of black soldiers then serving in France during World War I. After a weekend of conversation, collegiality and music provided by J. Rosamond Johnson—co-composer of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”—and Joseph Douglass, master violinist and grandson of Frederick Douglass, Scott wrote to her, “No such assemblage has ever gathered at the private home of any representative of our race, I am sure.”
After Madam Walker died at Villa Lewaro on May 25, 1919—barely a year after moving in—her daughter continued the tradition of hosting events, occasionally opening the home for public tours to honor Walker’s legacy. Later dubbed the “joy goddess of Harlem’s 1920s” by poet Langston Hughes because of her impressive soirees, A’Lelia Walker feted Liberian President Charles D. B. King and his entourage in 1921 with a Fourth of July fireworks display and concert by the Ford Dabney Orchestra. In November 1923, limousines lined Broadway as several hundred bejeweled and fancily dressed wedding reception guests arrived from Harlem’s St. Philips Episcopal Church where my grandmother Mae had married her first husband, Dr. Gordon Jackson. The following summer, more than 400 sales agents and cosmetologists journeyed from all over the United States and the Caribbean for the eighth annual convention of the Madam Walker Beauty Culturists Union.
A’Lelia Walker in Villa Lewaro’s Music Room (Courtesy of Madam Walker Familly Archives)
In the late 1970s, as I was beginning to research the Walker women’s lives, I made my first visit to the house. Sold soon after A’Lelia Walker’s death in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, it had been a retirement home for elderly white women for several decades. Even with its beauty then obscured and its furnishings meager, I still could see the lingering grandeur in the hand-painted murals and the marble stairs. When I interviewed blues legend Alberta Hunter a few years later, she told tales of elegant weekend parties and of playing the Estey organ as she gently awakened the other guests.
Through the years I’ve watched as ownership has moved from the Companions of the Forest to Ingo and Darlene Appel and then to Harold and Helena Doley. They all have been stewards in their own caring way. For more than two decades, the Doleys have invested considerable resources and patience to restore the home and the grounds, even hosting a designer show house benefitting the United Negro College Fund in 1998.
In May 1922 the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Rockefellers Brothers Fund hosted a gathering of preservationists, developers and entrepreneurs to discuss the future of Villa Lewaro.
Among the earliest and most notable mansions built and owned by an African American and by an American woman entrepreneur, Villa Lewaro is one of the few remaining tangible symbols of the astonishing progress made by the generation born just after Emancipation and the Civil War. Without this evidence, our history can be intentionally misinterpreted and easily dismissed. Having walls to touch and doors to open helps our children and grandchildren verify the ancestors’ accomplishments and connect themselves to their rich heritage.
It is vital that we work to find ways to imagine Villa Lewaro’s future so that it can continue to inspire others and to be, as Madam Walker dreamed “a monument to brains, hustle and energy…and a mile stone in the history of a race’s advancement.”
To support these efforts, please click here to sign the pledge to preserve Madam Walker’s Villa Lewaro and here to make a monetary donation through the National Trust.
A’Lelia Bundles is Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. Her website is www.aleliabundles.com
It has to be more than coincidence that so many clues and links to my family history just keep being placed in my path.
Last Saturday I was at a Columbia University alumni luncheon, leaving late, as usual, because I had lingered to talk to just one more person! I found myself in line at the coat check behind three people who seemed to be together. As it turned out the group included a very stylish older black woman and a younger couple who were dressed in matching navy blue jackets with white piping. And as black people usually do when we’ve just spent the day in a setting where we are in the distinct minority, we exchanged pleasantries while waiting for our belongings.
Obiora Anekwe, Yvonne Foster Southerland, A’Lelia Bundles and Alexis Southerland Anekwe at Columbia University
Because they seemed friendly, I was inclined to keep the conversation going. “Were you here for the luncheon?” I asked.
“We were here for the alumni book fair,” the man answered.
As we shook hands and exchanged names, the older woman—who by now I’d surmised was the mother of the younger woman and the mother-in-law of the man—said, “A’Lelia Bundles? You’re kidding!”
“No really!” I smiled.
“I knew your mother,” she said. “And your Uncle Walker!”
Walker Perry circa 1948 at Lincoln University
So what are the chances of this? Coincidence? Serendipity? Or the universe working its magic? Yvonne Foster Southerland indeed had known my mother’s older brother, Walker Perry, who was born in 1926, and who was a student at Lincoln University from 1944 to 1948, when her father Dr. Laurence Foster, was chairman of the sociology department. I learned that Yvonne, who was born in 1937, and her younger brother considered my uncle as their “adopted big brother.”
A few days ago when I received a copy of her book, Legacy: Seven Generations of a Family, I read the following paragraphs:
“Never was there a student at Lincoln who was as close to us as he was. He became involved in every aspect of our daily lives,
Legacy by Yvonne Foster Southerland
having dinner with us several times a week, often driving our parents to appointments and taking us on Saturday mornings to Oxford for ice cream and comics.”
“When our weekly pay for household chores was insufficient (and it usually was due to fines imposed by our father), Walker would take pity on us and chip in for the ice cream and comics.”
A’Lelia Mae Perry at Howard University 1949 (from aleliabundles.com)
About my mother, she wrote: “He had a very charming sister named A’Lelia Perry, who was a student at Howard University. When she came to Lincoln for dances, we were thrilled that she stayed with us, as we had the same affection for her as we had for Walker.”
“When Walker graduated from Lincoln in May of 1948, his father Marion Perry stayed with us, so we became close to his whole family.”
My uncle’s graduation marked the third generation of Perry men to attend Lincoln. My great-grandfather, Marion R. Perry, Sr, was valedictorian of his class in 1883. His sons, Marion, Jr. and Henderson, graduated in 1912.
Yvonne told me of subsequent reunions and visits through the years and of how she still cherishes the hostess gifts my late mother always sent after her visits.
A’Lelia Mae Perry, Marion R. Perry and Walker Perry at Lincoln University graduation 1948
And then there was the bonus of meeting Yvonne’s accomplished daughter Alexis Southerland Anekwe, a graduate of Spelman and of Union Theological Seminary, and her son-in-law Obiora Anekwe, an educator and artist, who received his masters in bioethics from Columbia in 2014.
He had been at the Columbia Alumni Book Fair that day to present Ancestral Voices Rising Up: A Collage Series on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a book of art and essays chronicling the tragedy of one of the most unethical medical experiments ever conducted in America. His work is stunning.
I am thankful for this serendipitous encounter and, once again, can’t help but think that the ancestors are guiding my steps.