COLUMBIA — Almeta Crayton, former City Council member and well-known civic servant, died Monday at the Boone Hospital Center. She was 53 years old.
Crayton devoted much of her life to service in Columbia, particularly the First Ward. She set out to create a safer environment for youth, and she wanted to close the economic gap in the city as a representative of the poor.
Crayton represented the First Ward on the City Council for three terms, but she was perhaps best known for her generosity at Thanksgiving, mustering volunteers to feed anyone who stepped through the door of her Everyone Eats! community dinner. Last year was the 15th meal, and she had already started to plan the one for this year.
She also led annual collections for Christmas baskets and school supplies, and she campaigned to give computers and jobs to local teens.
Much of Crayton's motivation for civic service was prompted by her son, Tyrone, who was born prematurely in 1989 and required consistent medical care. The two moved to Columbia in 1991 from St. Louis to be closer to treatment for him.
She was a native of St. Louis, born on Dec. 12, 1959, to a single mother. Growing up she lived with her grandparents and their seven children in a three-room apartment.
A graduate of Northwest High School and O'Fallon Technical High School in St. Louis, she studied health and human services at Florissant Valley Community College before leaving St. Louis in 1981 to attend Northwest Missouri State University. Financial problems forced her to return home after one year.
Crayton became active in Columbia politics a few years after settling in the central part of town, living first in public housing until she bought her own home on Oak Street.
She ran for City Council in 1996 but lost by 120 votes. In 1999, Crayton tried again and won, representing the First Ward until 2008 when she was defeated by Paul Sturtz. When elected the first time, she was Columbia's first black councilwoman.
At the time of her 1999 victory, Crayton was 39 and Tyrone was 9. She declared that her son was a key reason for her push to make neighborhoods safer and initiate more community activities to keep kids off of the streets.
"It's time to get to work. That's what I was saying I was going to do, and I'm going to do it," Crayton said after her election in September 1999.
The safety and well-being of children and teenagers were always a top priority. She tried several times to establish a curfew for minors in Columbia but failed to get it passed. She believed a curfew would help keep kids out of trouble.
She also wanted to be a clear voice for the people in the First Ward. She lived in the heart of the neighborhood, and her front porch was often a hub of activity. She met her constituents there and carried their concerns to the rest of the community.
Crayton believed that some of her goodwill returned in July when Fairview Road Church of Christ chose her house at 409 Oak St. for a home improvement project.
"She is a person that is in need, and at the same time, has given so much to the community over the years," said the Rev. Brian Hajicek, the church minister.
In her first year as councilwoman, Crayton opened a Neighborhood Resource Center; that's where Everybody Eats! began. That same year, Crayton started a Neighborhood Response Team to invest communities in their own success.
After Crayton left office, she continued as an activist and volunteer in the community. She was a longtime member of the Boone County Democrats, serving on its central committee. She belonged to the Muleskinners club, an organization of the city's Democrats; served on the board of the Family Health Center; was active in parent-teacher organizations where her son attended school; and belonged to the Order of the Eastern Star service organization.
Throughout her years in Columbia, she often worked in public schools, including West Boulevard Elementary School and Gentry Middle School.
"Columbia has been good to me, and I'm going to be good to Columbia," Crayton said in October 2011.