By Donna Cornelius
Journal features writer
Building a new house in Shoal Creek wasn’t a tough decision for Lisbeth Cease and her husband, Larry.
Making sure their new home would turn out just the way they wanted it was a little harder.
“We decided several years ago that we wanted to live in Shoal Creek, so we looked and looked at houses and lots,” Lisbeth Cease said. “My husband wanted a different look—nothing cookie-cutter. I drove all over Atlanta, the Southeast, Red Mountain and English Village to look at architecture.”
Cease didn’t limit her research to houses.
“I looked at churches, too,” she said. “I love Gothic architecture.”
As well as taking field trips, Cease spent hours poring over books by Betty Lou Phillips, the award-winning author of more than a dozen books on French and Italian design.
“I’d dog-ear pages showing things I liked and put together big notebooks of elements that I loved,” Cease said. “We sent pictures to our architect, Durham Crout of Atlanta, and he put everything together.”
Although the house took about three and a half years to complete, the Ceases’ careful planning gave them just the house they wanted.
The French Normandy-style exterior has stone walls with limestone accents, steep roof pitches and a mix of window shapes, from dormers to Gothic pointed arches. As is traditional in this type of architecture, the house looks as if the family who lives there added onto their home over many years rather than constructed it all at one time. The result is a mellow, welcoming façade that captures the charm of a well-loved family home.
Soaring ceilings and light-filled rooms make the interior equally inviting.
“I want people to feel this is a place where they can come in, sit down and relax,” Cease said.
The couple paid as much attention to details as they did to larger elements.
The rose motifs on the tall, wooden front doors are repeated on the walls above the doors and outside in the limestone accents.
Ornate wrought iron railings that line a floating staircase and the third-floor walkways overlooking the library have an intricate design that includes fleur de lis motifs, medallions and crests.
“The railings were made by Weldon Welding in Sterrett. I told them what I wanted, and they did a wonderful job,” Cease said.
In the Fairway Room, one of the family’s favorite gathering spots, flying buttresses draw the eye up to the lofty ceiling. Some of the other rooms have French farmhouse-style beams.
Cease said she was particularly pleased with the woodwork in an upstairs bedroom. Rough-sawn pine boards line the walls and continue onto the ceiling.
The lowest level of the three-story structure includes a workout room and theater room. Also there are some of Cease’s most prized possessions: her father’s rocking chair and slippers. As another tribute to her dad, she framed and hung ration stamps from the World War II era.
More formal spaces—the living room and dining room–are on the house’s main level on either side of the foyer.
The house also include nine fireplaces, which are all wood-burning except for those in the living and dining rooms, Cease said.
Larry Cease had very definite ideas about the design of the wood-paneled library, a large room in the center of the house’s main level, his wife said.
“He wanted a room like this, with bookcases—and gun cases. The guns here are just a smidge of his gun collection. I told him he could display some of them—but only the pretty ones,” she said with a smile.
While her husband loves the library, one of Cease’s favorite rooms is the kitchen.
A six-burner Viking stove with a griddle, double ovens and a rustic travertine sink made in Mexico give her all the tools she needs to feed a crowd as well as her family.
“I like to cook, and I like to cook for a lot of people,” she said. “”We entertain not just for the sake of entertaining. We’ll have our church Bible study group, which includes about 60 people, and our Shoal Creek Bible study group, which has about 35.”
Among events the Ceases have hosted was a “surprise wedding” for their daughter Meghan Cease’s friend. Guests thought they were coming to an engagement party, Cease said.
“We had the engagement party set up out front, with Shindigs food, strings of light and a band,” she said. “It started at 6 o’clock. Then at 7, we invited everyone to go to the backyard. We had chairs set up, rose petals on the ground and a string quartet.”
Cease’s creativity and gift for hospitality have served her well in her role as vice president for fundraising for the Legacy League, a Samford University auxiliary group. The Legacy League has become a cause that’s close to her heart—even though only one of her family members is a Samford graduate, she said.
Both Lisbeth and Larry are University of Tennessee alumni. Their children attended Auburn University, Ole Miss and Wake Forest. Daughter-in-law Allison, who is married to their son Alan, is the lone Samford grad.
Alan and Allison now live in Jackson, Miss., where Alan is an ER/trauma physician in his third year of residency. The couple’s wedding was at Samford’s Reid Chapel.
Daughter Meghan evidently inherited her mother’s gift for event planning; she’s the owner of M. Elizabeth Events in Birmingham. Son Jeff Cease, the lead guitarist for Eric Church, lives in Nashville, Tenn., as does daughter Christy Perkins.
Cease first learned about the work of the Legacy League about six years ago, she said.
“Our Sunday School class at Shades Mountain Baptist had some members who had traveled to Iran and the Holy Land,” she said. “They told us about meeting an Iranian girl named Bita Farrakhroo, who was their tour guide. She wanted to be a doctor, and as a female, she couldn’t do that in Iran.”
Dr. Thomas Corts, Samford’s president from 1983-2006, was on the trip and was determined to find a way to get Bita to the United States, Cease said.
“It took two and a half years to work it out, but she came to Samford,” she said. “I wanted to help this girl. When she came to Samford, I decorated her room. She had to spend a lot of time there reading calculus books and trying to prepare for exams. She ended up graduating from pharmacy school near the top of her class.”
The Legacy League, Cease said, extends the opportunity to attend Samford to young people who couldn’t do so otherwise.
“Becky Seay, a friend of mine, said, ‘You need to come and be a part of this group,’” she said.
“It just struck a chord in my heart.”
Legacy League Opens Doors for Students
While Lisbeth Cease was deeply affected by Bita Farrakhroo, the young Iranian woman who came to Samford, she realized she couldn’t “give everybody a scholarship,” she said.
But through the Legacy League, a volunteer organization which works to provide scholarships to Samford University for deserving students with financial need, she and other members can make a difference.
“Our goal is to endow a new scholarship every year,” Cease said. “These students are much like Bita. They have no financial means to go to Samford.”
Scholarship recipients have included homeless young people, those who have spent years in foster care or who have a parent in prison and some who are struggling to shoulder the burden of caring for siblings, Cease said.
“Their heart’s desire is to go to Samford,” she said.
While Samford had had an auxiliary support group for many years, the Legacy League has taken the organization’s efforts to new levels.
“At the time I got involved, we had a scholarship luncheon in January and a dinner and gala in the spring for corporate donors,” Cease said. “We needed more events to attract a broader section of the community.”
Changing the organization’s name in 2011 from the Samford University Auxiliary to the Legacy League also represented the group’s desire to involve more members of the Birmingham community, Cease said.
One of the Legacy League events aimed to attract more supporters is the Sunset 5K, set this year for Oct. 25. The group’s fall luncheon on Oct. 9 will feature guests speaker Sophie Hudson, the author of “A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet.”
Samford parent Darla Hall, author of “Angels Yell Roll Tide,” will headline the Legacy League’s Nov. 13 meeting.
And one of the group’s most successful ventures is its annual Christmas home tour, which will be Dec. 11 this year.
“It’s always a one-day event,” Cease said. “It’s the same week as the Independent Presbyterian Church holiday home tour, but we have our tour on Thursday so we don’t conflict with the IPC tour, which is on the weekend.”
The Legacy League now has 300-350 active members,” Cease said.
Membership is open to anyone interested in supporting the work of the Legacy League. Dues are $25 a year.
“We have about six meetings a year,” Cease said. “They’re at the President’s Home, and it’s a delight to come to the meetings.”
Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland, wife of Samford President Dr. Andrew Westmoreland, is the Legacy League’s executive director.
For more information about the group or about membership, call Sharon Smith, administrative director, at 726-2247, or visit www.samford.edu/legacyleague.–Donna Cornelius