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[Photograph by Karen Mackey, Diocese of Louisiana] Marilyn Hines is one of the 2021 Honored Women of the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Louisiana. The two other honorees are Alice Strausser and Cecile Torbergsen, not pictured.

For 25 years the Episcopal Church Women have recognized three women each year for their ministry and service to the Church. The recipients of the Honored Women Award were announced at the 134th Annual Gathering of the ECW at Trinity Church, New Orleans.

Marilyn Hines

“But now bring me a musician. And when the musician played the hand of the Lord came upon him,”  Psalm 104:33

Marilyn Hines of Church of the Holy Communion in Plaquemine is blessed by God with the grace of beautiful music: singing, playing, and dancing. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”  1Peter 4:10

A cradle Episcopalian, Marilyn grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and later married Rodney Gascon becoming a member of Holy Communion. Both leadership and servanthood are two qualities Marilyn exemplifies while working as a full-time educator and raising three children. Her involvement in the church is varied, like her talents. When women were first allowed to serve on the Vestry, she served as Clerk; continuing over the years performing Vestry duties and responsibilities of Senior Warden even when there was not a priest. She is the church organist and choir director who also plays the guitar praising our Lord with inspirational music. She received a diploma from the Presiding Bishop’s Program on Church Liturgy and Music; additionally, participated in CRUSILLO and Diocesan Choir for Ordinations. Marilyn gives of her time at Holy Communion by serving on the Clergy Search Committee, Sunday School teacher and Vacation Bible School director. She teaches the Children’s Moment at church every Sunday as well as provides children’s coloring kits for pew art during Sunday services. She has led an Ecumenical Bible Study with the Methodist Church and continues with the Leadership Program for small church musicians She led music at the local nursing home including displaced nursing home residents from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Marilyn played on the team for the Iberville Parish Community Prayer Walk for three years. She has carried meal kits in her car that she put together to distribute to homeless people. She can readily give them when she sees someone in need. Her heart is huge, but her strength is tremendous. In addition to her active music ministry,

Marilyn has helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity with Holy Communion church members and two other local churches. Also following hurricanes, Marilyn organized a relief center for local people suffering from lack of supplies and air conditioning, fed, and housed Red Cross mental health workers following Katrina, helped with rebuilding, and delivered and prepared food and supplies. 

As an Episcopal Church Woman, she has been President, Vice President, and Secretary at Holy Communion all the while serving on the Diocesan ECW Board as Recording Secretary, Musician, and Historian.

She is a master rummage sale organizer, has been a faithful Gumbo volunteer serving to the local community during Lent, and has prepared then served innumerable Sunday refreshments. All of this has been done with a servant’s heart. Working quietly in the background to accomplish these many ministries, in such a way many have never even realized how much she has been accomplishing as Marilyn is a person that loves the Lord and never seeks reward for her service to church, family, and community.

An educator for over fifty years, Marilyn is retired, but continues to tutor children and work with those in need. She is a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and one could not ask for a better friend.

Fr. Chris Capaldo, past priest at Church of the Holy Communion, names Marilyn an Ambassador of Christ who at Holy Communion was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. He added, “She is the core, the heart of Holy Communion”.

When you discover and use your gifts for the good of those you love and have chosen to serve, your life takes on beauty.

It inspires others. It points toward our Creator.

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live, and I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”

Psalm 104:33

Alice Strausser

Alice Strausser is, and has been, a vital member of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Thibodaux and the ECW for many years. Growing up in the Catholic Church, the middle of five children, she credits her mother with introducing her to the joys of volunteering. She worked at Camp Onward in Bay St. Louis as a counselor-in-training and taught swimming where she met her future husband, Mike, who passed away in 2017. They have two sons and two grandkids.

After earning a BA in Math Education and MS in Mathematics from the University of New Orleans and teaching for a year, she switched gears and worked at Cameco/John Deere for thirty-seven years doing a variety of work, retiring in 2012. This is what she also does for St. John’s and the ECW. She will do just about anything that needs to be done and will do it well. Often Alice does things we did not even realize needed doing until she made it happen. She works with the Altar Guild; English Tea; Lenten Gumbo; Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas; and the Cemetery Association; has served on the Vestry; and does just about any other worker bee job that comes up.

In a recent bio for our church newsletter, Alice state that she truly cannot imagine getting along without her church family. I think I speak for her church family when I say we cannot imagine getting along without her either. She is truly a servant of God, and we are all blessed to know her.

Cecile Costley Torbergsen

Cecile certainly displays the talent of getting people involved in the church, according to nominator Sudee Campbell, who met Cecile the very first time when she walked into Christ Church, Slidell to get her letter transferred from The Falls Church. Cecile introduced herself, asked Sudee’s name and how could she help her. Cecile said that the office was just down the hall pointing. Instead, she guided her toward Comfort Hall and asked if she would climb a ladder to hang balloons from the Parish Hall’s ceiling to decorate for the Fall Garage/Christmas/White Elephant SALE. After many balloons were tucked and hung from the drop ceiling, Cecile introduced her to the women of Slidell’s ECW, who became her Church family. Oh, she made it to the office and as she was leaving Cecile walked her out thanking for the help and, said to her that she “was going to be her little sister”.  A Sister in Christ is an extraordinary person.

Cecile has a leadership quality and style that lets people grow and develop their cause, skill or ideas with solid guidance and gentle advocacy. She has served her community through Slidell Junior Achievement, at various leadership levels including President. Cecile and husband Butch taught adult Sunday school for years and were the first EFM mentors in the Diocese. She is that mentor helping others grow exponentially in thought and knowledge through the EFM process. She has joyfully taught, sung, and played during a lifetime of Vacation Bible Schools and EYC activities. Her signature character for years was being the Angel who taught the morning “Welcome”. Cecile’s service includes the ECW in her parish from a worker bee to being President of the ECW of the Diocese of Louisiana 1983-1986, and continues to serve on Board committees since.

Cecile loves music sharing her joy by singing in the choir at Christ Church Slidell since the mid-seventies. She served on the Vestry numerous times as Secretary, as well as performing duties of a LEM, VEM and Lector. Cecile served the Altar Guild and has been its director. She is the best tour guide in the city of New Orleans! She loves her hometown, its history, museums, art galleries and restaurants like no other.

When she really wanted to take time off and focus on business and family, Cecile helped the underserved of her community by volunteering and doing advocacy work on the Board of Sunshine Village and was a founding member of the local NAMI Board, all the while running her travel agency with a personal touch that gave countless moments of joy and pleasure to people in their travels throughout the world. She shares the travelogues at ECW meetings describing special moments that made you feel like you were there with her.

Cecile has had her share of personal heartbreaks and has always met these times with a spirit of God’s grace, unshakable faith, and good humor. She is a steadfast servant to all whether family or friend. And thankfully she has been that “big sister” she promised so many years ago.