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Wynna Faye Elbert known as community activist, community mother

Monday, February 10, 2014 | 9:24 p.m. CST; updated 7:21 p.m. CST, Friday, February 14, 2014
Wynna Faye Elbert cuts the cake at her birthday party at The Armory Sports and Recreation Center on October 25, 2011. Elbert died Sunday at 69 due to complications from diabetes. Ms. Elbert was a long-time employee of the Parks and Recreation Department and prominent member of and advocate for Columbia's African-American community.

*CORRECTION: Wynna Faye Elbert's teacher was Gene Robertson, an earlier version of the story gave the incorrect name.

COLUMBIA — Years before Wynna Faye Elbert hosted a radio program or worked to get Almeta Crayton elected  or fostered 23 children, she fought for a basic right: to sit next to her white neighbors.

It was the 1960s, when a white-owned Columbia restaurant called the Minute Inn refused to serve black people. That didn't sit well with Ms. Elbert, then a student at Douglass High School.

She helped organize a sit-in at the restaurant. Several members of the black community picketed in front of the restaurant and sang "We Shall Overcome." Others entered and tried to sit down. Black and white students from MU joined in. The police were called.

In the end, the owners threw everyone out, but the protesters were noted in the next morning's newspapers.

Years passed and times changed, but Ms. Elbert continued to serve her neighborhood as a community activist her entire life. When senior citizens needed meals, she was there. When parents needed a mediator between their children and the courts, she was there. When the children of her community needed her, Wynna Faye Elbert was there.

The time of day didn't matter; Ms. Elbert was the community mother. She was always available.

Wynna Faye Elbert died Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, from complications related to diabetes. She was 69.

Born to Savannah and Ernestine Tapp on Oct. 25, 1944, Ms. Elbert grew up in a small, two-bedroom house on Fifth Street not far from Douglass High School. She shared the house with her 10 brothers and sisters. For family fun days, the Tapp siblings took trips to the drive-in with their parents and played baseball in the front yard with their father.

Growing up with a large family and a father who cared deeply about the black community was a stepping stone for Ms. Elbert's activism, her sister Alma Lynn Tapp said.

As the years progressed, her passion for protecting her community grew and activism became a large part of her life, said Bill Thompson, a recreational specialist for the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department who worked with Ms. Elbert. "She was able to reach out to a lot of people of different ages to help them do things in a positive way."

Ms. Elbert earned an associate's degree and bachelor's degree from Stephens College and a master's degree in community development from MU.

What she was learning in the classroom mirrored her life experiences, her friend and teacher *Gene Robertson said. Instead of writing a thesis, Ms. Elbert collaborated with the State Historical Society of Missouri to develop an archive for Columbia's African-American history.

"Nobody realized the importance of the local community, the local history," Ms. Elbert said in 2011. "So, it's important that I keep fighting it, and that I keep the heat on and to make sure there are people when I am gone to keep the heat on, to make things happen."

Listen to Ms. Elbert talk about her life in these audio clips from a 2011 interview.

In 1973, Ms. Elbert was hired by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. She organized leisure activities for youths and adults, such as Midnight Hoops in Douglass Park.

"It was never a job for her," said the Rev. Raymond Hayes, a pastor for St. Luke's United Methodist Church. "She worked for the city, but if she never got a dime she would have done the same thing."

Ms. Elbert worked for Parks and Recreation for 30 years. When she retired in 2003, the city honored her with a heritage tree plaque in Douglass Park.

"She was the heart and soul of Columbia, and Columbia was deeply imbedded in her heart," Hayes said.

Ms. Elbert's accomplishments have been recognized by the City of Columbia, MU, the Missouri House of Representatives and a bevy of civic organizations.

She hosted "Straight Talk with Wynna Faye," a weekly radio show on KOPN that covered local and national issues.

Ms. Elbert's love for her community did not overshadow her love for her children. A mother of four, her home was always open to children in need. During her life, she fostered 23 children.

"She had unwavering devotion to her family and her neighborhood,"  Hayes said.

Ms. Elbert is survived by her children, Larry Tapp, Kevin Elbert, Robin Tapp, George West, and Debra Tapp-Williams and her husband, Mark; her siblings, Cheryl Bell and her husband, Tommy, Howard Tapp, Alma Tapp, Melva VanBuren, Marvin Tapp and his wife, Katrina, Freda Tapp, Teresa Lankford, Maurice Tapp and his wife, Joann, Gary Tapp, and Jackie Cody and her husband, Jonas; one aunt, Jeanette Hardiman; one great-aunt, Mildred Brooks; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Her parents and her son, Dwayne Tapp, died earlier.

Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St. Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the church.

Memorial contributions can be made to the National Kidney Foundation, 30 E. 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016, or the American Heart Association, 3816 Paysphere Circle, Chicago, IL 60674.

Condolences can be posted at millardfamilychapels.com.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.


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