COLUMBIA — Wynna Faye Elbert, a community activist and a pillar of Columbia's African-American community, died Sunday of complications related to diabetes. She was 69.
Elbert, whose work has been recognized by the Missouri House of Representatives, helped to create several organizations that preserve Columbia's African-American heritage. She was also known to walk down to Douglass Park to break up fights, MU professor emeritus Gene Robertson said.
"If there was one person that had respect in the community, especially the black community, it was Wynna Faye," Robertson said. "There was no one she was afraid to address."
Elbert co-founded the J. W. Blind Boone Heritage Foundation, which, among other things, maintains the home and belongings of the famous ragtime pianist.
Along with Almeta Crayton, Elbert helped create the "Poor Man's Breakfast" and "Everybody Eats" charity meals.
When Douglass High School closed in the wake of desegregation, she co-founded the Frederick Douglass Coalition to care for the school's artifacts. She also helped organize "Silver and Gold," a group of Douglass alumni that communes weekly to discuss what's going on in the city.
Along with some of the other women in "Silver and Gold," she helped direct the Black and White Ball for fellow Douglass alumni.
Elbert was a 30-year veteran of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. As a recreation supervisor, she helped create the Fourth Squad, a group of police officers tasked with attending community functions in the First Ward and tackling residents' issues in a more holistic way.
"She was the pillar of the African-American community," said Parks and Recreation Department Director Michael Griggs.
Elbert created and hosted "Straight Talk" on KOPN for more than 20 years. Her listeners called in from "all over the country," Robertson said, even from prison.
Elbert co-founded and helped direct the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Association award, which recognizes the work of Columbia's community leaders. She has also served as a Worthy Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star's Amos Johnson Chapter No. 30, a member of the Missouri Ethnic Minority Society and the Judicial and Law Enforcement Task force, according to Missouri House of Representatives resolution No. 3251.
"She wasn't out for any kind of gain except for a resolution to the problem. She didn't ask for physical rewards," Robertson said. "Not as much as I think she deserved."
Listen to Elbert talk about her life in these audio clips from an interview in 2011.
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