Wynna Faye Elbert remembered for her tenacious spirit

Saturday, February 15, 2014 | 7:42 p.m. CST
Wynna Faye Elbert, who was well known in the Columbia community for her involvement in advancing civil rights, died Sunday. Her funeral was held Saturday at the Missouri United Methodist Church.

COLUMBIA — At Wynna Faye Elbert's funeral Saturday, mourning gave way to joy as many recounted the innumerable ways that Elbert touched and changed lives.

Elbert died Sunday from complications related to diabetes. She was well known in the Columbia community for her involvement in advancing civil rights.

Those who gathered to celebrate her life recalled Elbert's unflinching spirit and her contribution to the community.

At Friday evening's visitation, many people gathered around a collage of photos, sharing favorite memories of Elbert.

Karen Enyard said Elbert's example was the reason she holds a master's degree and considers herself a professional today.

In particular, she remembered a time when she was a seventh-grader at Jefferson Junior High School and racial tensions were high. Elbert called a meeting in Douglass Park to discuss the cause of those racial issues and to look at how they might be solved. She suggested that everyone try to find cultural similarities.

"As a young girl, it was amazing to see a black woman in a leadership role," Enyard said.

Enyard said that at that time, it was unusual to see black women step into roles like this, and Elbert set an example for her.

Those who spoke at Elbert's funeral Saturday stressed how her indefatigable spirit inspired many and brought about change.

During the services, Lillian Jones called Elbert "my friend, my hero, my warrior for God."

When Jones was attending a training meeting for Head Start in Kansas City in the 1960s, Elbert volunteered to be her roommate.

"That's how I met my best friend," Jones said. "By the end of the night, I felt like we'd known each other for years."

Although the pair hadn't known each other long, when Jones' brother was hospitalized in Columbia for several weeks, Elbert insisted that Jones stay with her family.

"She said, 'No motels. We bunk together,'" Jones said.

Bishop Lorenzo Lawson grew up near Elbert, and he recalled her efforts to keep kids out of trouble at Douglass Park.

"When she shouted your name, you knew to stop what you were doing," he said.

Lawson called Elbert his mentor. She inspired him to found the Youth Empowerment Zone, a group that helps young people gain employment.

The Rev. Mary Hull-Lovett officiated the ceremony. She spoke of how Elbert was a "pace setter" in her community, setting the bar high for her siblings, friends and colleagues.

"She was the first to encourage you, and she was the first to let you know when you needed to get your act together," Hull-Lovett said.

Several people addressed how Elbert took an interest in combating street crimes, particularly violence among members of the youth community.

"She would ride with the law. Sometimes she would ride and she would be the law," Hull-Lovett said.

Bill Thompson, who worked with Elbert at the J.W. "Blind" Boone Community Center, recalled how Elbert once called him late on a Friday night and said, "Let's see what the kids are out doing."

Thompson also spoke of how Elbert's unyielding efforts spared the home of J.W. "Blind" Boone.

"This is what made her unique. She stood her ground and did what she thought was right," he said.

DaVett Jones, Mary Ryan and Wendy Pennington contributed to this article.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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