There are not many people who leave a legacy like Lansing’s Lucile Belen. You might think I’m referring to the huge hat collection that Belen left her beloved Zonta Club of Lansing. However, those beautiful hats are only a part of her legacy. Belen had asked the Zonta Club of Lansing to hold an auction and donate the proceeds to her favorite charities — which is exactly what they did, Tuesday evening, Oct. 12 at the Country Club of Lansing. The ballroom was lined with Belen’s beautifully maintained collection of hats. She had a hat for every occasion: mink, wool, felt and straw — to name a few. There were berets, and turbans, hats with brims, rhinestones, ribbons and flowers. The sale of each cherished hat provided additional funds to support some of Belen’s favorite charities, including Lansing Community College’s Women’s Resource Center, Reading is Fundamental [RIF] and others. As I walked around the ballroom looking at the hats, many were displayed with paperwork noting their designer or label name and description. Others sat along side a picture of Belen wearing that particular hat. What a wonderful walk down memory lane for all of us who had the privilege to know her. Belen had kept details on each hat, from the white mink turban to the fuchsia flowered one with the burgundy bow. I was impressed — I can’t remember where I got the sweater I wore yesterday. As we took turns trying on the different hats, we wondered how Belen got started wearing hats. The conclusion was this: in her era, all proper women wore hats. Someone shared that Belen’s mother would save old hats and donate them to women in the community who couldn’t afford a new one. All these beautiful hats, designed by the likes of Adolfo II-George Bollman NY & Paris; Mr. Henri New York and many more … were they really Belen’s legacy? Or were her hats her trademark, as she was making her mark as a community leader? Belen was a lady; a pillar of our community who mentored many men and women throughout the years. As a businesswoman, she owned Belen’s Flowers, established in 1936. In 1951 Belen established Belen’s School of Floral Design, one of the first design schools in the nation. Elected to Lansing City Council in 1957, she served continuously for 39 years. Belen lived what she believed, she served on many boards including Ingham County Board of Supervisors, Capitol Area Transit Authority (CATA), Lansing Area Safety Council, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Zonta Club of Lansing, Lansing Economic Development, Lansing Symphony Board of Directors and the list goes on and on. Where there was a need to serve, Belen was there. In 2001 Lucile was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She was truly a pioneer in our midst. Never without her hat, Lucile Belen, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 97, left her legacy as a leader, friend, entrepreneur, mentor and philanthropist. Our hats are off to you Lucile!
Deborah Ginsburg is a community volunteer and is employed with Sparrow Health System.