Orange mourns loss of leader and friend
By Debby Schamber
For the Record
The Orange community mourns the loss. of Elaine Meyers, 74, who was known for her inner strength, love for others and grace.
Meyers was a successful business woman in Orange for close to 50 years. She was the owner of the 12,000 square foot Horseman’s Store, Safety Wear Ltd., and Boots Etc.. Since 1969, Horseman’s Store and its’ affiliates have become the leader in industrial footwear. They not only have the latest style of western boots and clothing clothing, but also welding caps, safety glasses and other accessories.
Meyers expanded her business to three stores by opening stores in Slidell and Gonzalez, La. in 1992. She took it a step further when she started Safety Wear Ltd, in 1997, and began marketing custom fit safety boots in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi from a fleet of mobile units as well as two Houston locations and one in Port Arthur. The company has enjoyed incredible success and has grown to include over 600 accounts with notable customers like Exxon, Motiva, Shell and International Paper.
At one time Meyers had five retail outlets located from Baton Rouge to Houston and four shoemobiles which serviced the Petro Chemical and related industries. The company was honored with the opportunity to be the sole provider of safety shoes and clothing for the Houston Exxon Mobile International Facility. Upon completion, the facility employed about 11,000 employees, according to Meyers in a previous interview.
The shoemobiles are like traveling stores and carry up to 1,100 pairs of safety shoes. The units travel to various sites and can custom fit on the spot. In addition, Meyers developed business relations with off-shore oil companies and furnished products all over the world.
While her businesses were thriving, Meyers faced personal battles. However, she looked cancer in the eye and defeated the deadly disease twice before it ultimately took her life.
One such time was in March 1989 when she found a lump under her left arm while on a business trip in California.
“It was just a lump near the surface that felt like a round circle about the size of a quarter,” she said during a previous interview. “I had no pain.”
Meyers had always been in good health and didn’t have a history of cancer in her family and underwent annual mammograms. But, she knew something was wrong. Her doctor in Orange sent her for another mammogram before confirming her worse fears. It appeared she not only had breast cancer, but it was already widely spread.
Telling her then 70-year-old mother and children about her cancer was one of the hardest parts about her illness, Meyers said during a previous interview.
“I knew I was tough, but I didn’t know what it would do to my family,” Meyers said.
Meyers jumped into her recovery the best way she knew how – with both feet. Meyers was given a 25 percent chance of survival. In her mind, that meant 25 people out of 100 would survive and she would be one of the 25 people who survived.
When she called the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment, the receptionist said the doctor had been waiting on her call. Dr. de Ipolyi had learned of Meyers’ condition through her daughter’s professor’s son. The son was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston where de Ipolyi is a member of the Stehlin Research Foundation.
When de Ipolyi looked at her mammogram and examined her, he said there was no need for a biopsy.
“Your cancer is so widespread, we just need to take care of the problem tomorrow,” he told her.
The following day, she had surgery.The doctor determined Meyers was a candidate for a lumpectomy which requires just the removal of the cancerous tumor and a small margin surrounding the breast tissue instead of a radical mastectomy which removes the entire breast.
The medical team discovered 16 of the lymph nodes under her left arm were positive for breast cancer, so all 22 were removed. She started chemotherapy four days after surgery and the doctors scheduled radiation treatment to being a month later.The chemotherapy treatment was worse than she had anticipated, Meyers said during a previous interview.
“For two days, they would give me IVs with the chemical in it and I would vomit non-stop,” she said of the chemo therapy. “Then they would give me a day to recover.”
On the fourth day, she was sent home.Meyers was told her hair would fall out within 30 days, and it did. Losing her hair was traumatic, but, she learned to cope.
Meyers made the initial choice to have assistance when washing her hair after a treatment because she wanted someone near her since she lived alone. As Meyers washed her hair it fell out into the sink and what was left she had cut by her friend Gayle Peveto. To this day, Peveto still has the scissors which hold the memories of her closest friend and the times their endured together.
Meyers put on a wig she had bought before starting chemotherapy. Although she was still very weak, she called her office for someone to come pick her up.Meyers boldly went to the office wearing her “beautiful” wig. Through tears she told them about losing her hair.
“So, does that make people love you any less?” they asked.
These were simple words of encouragement touched her heart. During the month following her surgery, she had a setback which delayed her radiation treatments. She had pricked her finger with a crawfish shell during an event her friends and customers had thrown for her. The cut turned into a severe infection and before it could be controlled her temperature soared to 106 degrees. Without white cells to fight the infection, her fever raged. She remained in the hospital for several days before the fever finally broke.
Meyers finally began her radiation treatments in May. For more than five weeks, church members, friends and family members picked her up from work by noon to make the trek to Houston. They would return home around 6 p.m.
The treatments made her feel very tired and weak but the determined business woman was going to see it through. The radiation treatments did not cause her any pain, but the burn which occurred gradually was a lot to endure.
After a lengthy treatment process, Meyers was given the word that she was cancer free. In fact, she began putting a portion of her profits aside for cancer research each year starting in 1989 because of the experience she had and knew others were dealing with as well. Meyers contributed each year to the Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research.
“This is a great research group,” she said.
The group has a program where they work with nude mice which are the only animals that can grow human cancer. Therefore, they can treat an individual’s cancer growing in the mice and zero in on the proper treatment for the patient.
“I always say I buy mice food,” she added during a previous interview. “If I know just one person is saved, all of this is worth it.”
On a trip 12 years ago to Las Vegas and Denver, Meyers developed a condition known as lymphedema in her left arm. The incurable condition allows fluid to collect in her arm. Therefore, she was forced to wear an elastic sleeve or a heavy elastic bandage.
For a while she had a support group of lymphedema sufferers in the area. She also attended other support groups in other areas. In addition, she was a member of the National Lymphedema Association.
“You can’t let fear rule your life,” Meyers said.
Meyers continued to look back on her illness and valued each day. She also took every opportunity to reach out to others who have cancer by even approaching strangers in public places when she thinks she may be able to offer some sort of comfort.
“There are times when I come in from trips and on my answering machine will be a meek little voice that says,’” Elaine, you don’t know me, but I need to speak to you,’” she said during a previous interview. “I know at that moment that it is someone who needs encouragement and is going through the same thing that I did.”
The kind and generous woman continued to reach out to others even as her own illness grew increasingly worse. She developed dermatomyositis which is a sign cancer was once again in her body. Once again she researched for answers, but never let the diagnosis rule her. In addition, as she was fighting cancer, she was also fighting a disease. But, her determination would not allow her to give up easily.
Peveto describes her as ‘kind and generous” but also as “always willing to talk to anybody.”
During her career, Meyers has hired and trained hundreds of high school and college students. She was given the opportunity to proudly instill the work ethic taught to her by her mother which began on a small farm in Louisiana. Meyers took pride in mentoring these young students and as a result, developed a scholarship program granting four scholarships annually.
Meyers faith and members of her church were important to her. She was one of the founders of the Trinity Baptist Church. She also served on the finance, building and personnel committees.
In 2016, Meyers was honored by receiving the Athena Award. The Athena Award is inspired by the Greek goddess of the same name. Athena was known for her courage, strength, wisdom and enlightenment.
According to the Athena International Web site, the Athena Award is presented to a woman or man who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.This award annually recognizes a person within the community who embodies those characteristics in his or her quest for professional excellence and service. Meyers was such a person.
“Orange has always been very special to me and that is why it is where the home office is for my businesses,” Meyers said after receiving her award according to archives.
While battling the cancer, Meyers continued to work day-to-day and keep her businesses moving along just like any other day. Even with the flooding which occurred along the Sabine River in Orange County and southern Newton County, which damaged her business, Meyers continued to work hard with her valued employees.
“The store had one-and-a-half feet of water in it for five days,” Meyers explained, according to archives. “So, we moved over to Northway Shopping Center because I had employees who needed to work and inventory building up. Even though we weren’t open, the inventory was still coming in because some of it had been ordered nine-months prior.”
Since then the store has returned to their original location of 519 Lutcher Drive.
Meyers was known for being a successful business woman, but she was also a mother to two children, grandmother to three children and a great grandmother for two children. But, she was also a beloved friend
“She was deeply loved and will be missed by many,” Peveto said.