Meet Joyce Spalding Leverett of Spalding’s Bakery
By Joshua Caudill
Joyce Spalding Leverett celebrates her 90th birthday by putting on a clean apron and working behind the counter of the bakery that her father Bowman J. Spalding and her mother Zelma started out of their home in Lexington back in 1929.
Daughter Catherine Leverett Barton began the day on facebook, “If you are one of her former students or a loyal bakery customer, remember my sweet mother on her 90th birthday. She will be at work as usual at Spalding’s Bakery. Stop in to wish her Happy Birthday. She taught 37 years before retiring, Bryan Station Junior High, Tates Creek Senior High…Truly a remarkable lady with a strong work ethic and a determined constitution!”
“Miss Joyce” as many customers and former students know her, smiles as she proudly leafs through all the 90th birthday cards made by the second graders at Christ the King School. “Time passes too quickly,” Leverett says.
Spalding’s Bakery, on Winchester Road, is a living scrapbook —from the photo of Leverett’s grandfather with his bakery delivery wagon in the early 1900s, all the way to her daughters and relatives who still work alongside her today.
When Leverett was a child, Spalding’s made bread, buns, pies, wedding cakes in addition to doughnuts, but there were very few supermarkets. There was only one large commercial baking place in town. They serviced all of the restaurants downtown in Lexington in those days with all types of breads that required the 24-hour opening.
She tucks the cards behind the cash register the bakery has had since 1935, the one she and her father got from a grocery store that went bankrupt, replacing the cigar box where they previously had kept the money.
On Mother’s Day, you’ll find her behind the counter as usual. “We always work on Mother’s Day,” she says. “We’re feeding other mothers. We’re pretty busy, but we’re together.”
When the bakery was downtown, Leverett recalls a time when they all lived over the shop — and daughter Martha would sneak downstairs to the bakery where her grandfather fed her glazed doughnuts early in the morning before her mother would wake up…and then wonder why Martha wasn’t hungry.
“When we moved, I suddenly began to eat breakfast again,” Edwards laughs.
Both of Leverett’s daughters, Martha Edwards and Catherine Barton, as well as her grandchildren, learned how to count money and how to make change and count the money back while at the bakery.
Edwards recalls, “I remember being taught how to write my name, standing behind the counter. My grandmother would show me how to write my name.”
“Then she went up into the living room with some sharp object and wrote her name in front of a cherry desk,” Leverett interrupts.
“And you’ll never let me forget that,” Edwards laughs.
Many decades later, Leverett still recalls the early days of the family business.
“This was during the Great Depression but I didn’t know that. It was hard times because everybody worked and everybody that I knew had plenty to eat. We were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Leverett said.
“Little Pies were a specialty item then. I learned how to write by writing the words ‘Apple,’ ‘Peach,’ ‘Pineapple’ and ‘Cherry’ in these little glassine bags that we put the pies in. I think they sold for a nickel,” Leverett said. “We sold doughnuts in this store, three for a nickel but those nickels were hard to get because grown men were working for $1 a day.”
After Leverett graduated from Transylvania University, she would go on to teach for 37 years, while also working the bakery with her brother and her father. Spalding’s is such an iconic landmark that every day is filled with customers from multiple generations who are well known to the bakers by their families, backgrounds, how many kids they have, and when their birthdays are.
Three generations of Spalding women have been known to laugh and cry along with customers, sharing moments of both joy and sorrow. “We had a customer who was buried with a doughnut in his pocket,” Leverett says. “Recently, at his celebration of life, one of our former customers had his three favorite foods served—hot dogs, Coors Light, and Spalding’s doughnuts… it was listed in the obituary.”
One of the most memorable stories was the phone call Leverett received at home several years ago. A woman said her husband had a heart attack, had developed pneumonia, and had been on a ventilator for four days, still unresponsive.
His doctor informed the family that it was time to call in the minister and close family members to say their goodbyes. They all delivered their heartfelt farewells… but still no response.
“His son said, ‘Pop, if you’d like a Spalding’s doughnut, wiggle your big toe.’ He flexed his entire foot,” Leverett laughed. “He called in the nurse and his son repeated it and he flexed his whole foot. I guess it was time for him to wake up and he wanted to hear something good.”
“I thanked her for calling and thought, ‘That’s a good story. I wonder if it’s really true?’ About three months later, this big, healthy looking man walks in and said, ‘My wife called you at home and told you I’m the one who wiggled my foot.’ So that kind of touches you.”
Lexington dentist Dr. Billy A. Forbess met Leverett over 20 years ago and will tell you firmly that Spalding’s has the best dessert in Lexington. But he’s impressed by more than just the confections. “It tells you something when there’s a line out the door from the time they open to the time they close. Where else do you see people wait 30 minutes in line to get a doughnut? It’s a real family business.” He adds, “There’s so many churches they serve and have doughnuts for every Sunday morning. If you went in there Sunday morning and saw how many people came by there and have preorders all boxed up, tied up and ready to go — I bet they’re feeding half the churches in Lexington! I don’t know if you could have church without Spalding’s.”
With a reputation like that, the Spalding family has heard many stories of how meaningful their donuts are.
In addition to the community impact, Leverett’s most cherished experiences are spending her days with her daughters and grandchildren and enjoying the life and business their family has built.
Leverett puts it simply, “My parents would be proud.”
This article also appears on page 5 of the April 2018 print edition of Ace.
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