By Madeline Marcelia Garvin
There is so much I could say regarding the Bettye I knew; and I will share some of that later. However, I decided to talk to some of the people who crossed the path of Mrs. Poignard, my sorority sister and one of my friends, while she was making her journey on God’s Earth.
Yes, I developed a rapport with Miss Bettye, because she understood the passions of others, and I thank God for that.
I was going to celebrate Thanksgiving with a childhood acquaintance John Dunbar and extended family. When I arrived at the residence, I was immediately informed by Mrs. Rosemary Dunbar-Jackson that “Sister P,” (how Miss Bettye was affectionately called by her fellow church members) had crossed over.
I was taken aback, because I had just been to Bettye’s residence last Saturday and visited with her husband Chuck after being informed of Bettye’s illness. I wasn’t ready for that announcement. However, Bettye Jean Pinkston Poignard who was the only child born to Lizzie Edwards Pinkston and Gordon Pinkston in Hawkinsville, Georgia on July 28, 1938, departed this world at home Wednesday night, Nov. 27, 2013, surrounded by her loving family and was embraced by her heavenly Father, for she had lived a full life serving God and others.
Rosemary said she first met Bettye when she presenting at a program for the Chamber of Commerce, and Sister P, not only became her spiritual confidante and Sunday School teacher; but she also became her friend. Because Bettye worked so diligently in the community and touched the lives of so many, I decided to share with the community some of those voices that had the pleasure of hearing and interacting with Bettye throughout her earthly life.
Of course, that Thursday afternoon, I telephoned Audrey Sharpe, Ed.D., because Audrey was not only a friend of Mrs. Poignard’s, she also was a Hamptonite and a Delta Sigma Theta sister for 54 years. The two of them also majored in the same discipline, Speech Pathology; so according to Audrey, she and Bettye had numerous classes together. Audrey indicated their lives became forever intertwined because the two of them were both employed in 1960 at the Fort Wayne State School, which later became the Fort Wayne State Development Center. Audrey and Bettye later met their spouses in Fort Wayne, married a few days apart and birthed their daughters in the same year. Though some of this may seem uncanny, one has to realize that it is destiny and the workings of the Spirit when people come together and when people leave this Earthly world.
Having an older sister, the Rev. Peggy Garvin Turner, who is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., I was able to meet Miss Bettye, when I was an undergraduate in 1971 at IU-Bloomington, when the Fort Wayne Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was being chartered. At that time, I did not say much to Bettye or anyone else because I was not affiliated until 1973, when I was invited to membership along with Faye Dees, Arbelia Epps, Gwendolyn J. Morgan, Esq. and Vera Scruggs. Later that same year, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of her entire immediate family, because I babysat for Bettye’s two wonderful children, Nichole and little Tony, who is Anthony to most of the public and not so little anymore.
Nevertheless, as I shared with the managing editor of Frost Illustrated, everyone remembers Bettye for her service on the FWCS Board of Trustees, but I remember Bettye as one who was able to encourage others to do what was needed to accomplish the mission. True, I remember her for the service she rendered to Delta Sigma Theta, where everything touched by the hand of Bettye was done exceedingly well and very meticulously, especially “The Wiz” after party and “Cocktails and Canvasses,” which were held at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, all of which were masterminded by Mrs. Bettye Jean Poignard, who incidentally did not miss a Founders Day, as a dynamic Delta, setting the pace as a Charter member, committee chair, past president and sisterly friend. Bettye was able to do it all.
Because I taught composition at IPFW in the 1980s, Cookye Rutledge, who taught speech, sought me out, and said, “I want to get on in FWCS.” At that time I told Cookye to go see Bettye Poignard, who is on the FWCS Board of Trustees and the Director of the IPFW Multicultural Department, and within a short period of time, Cookye began working in FWCS. Later in 1992, at the end of the school day, I remember being paged to come to the office; everyone knows it takes me awhile to get anywhere, no less than traipsing to the office as soon as school is dismissed. I was tired and did not feel like going to the office to take a call from anyone. But, the office secretary told me Bettye Poignard was on the phone, and I went immediately to the phone, because she was a Delta. Yet, I thought, “Oh, no, what did I do now?” When I answered the call, Mrs. Poignard then stated that she wanted me to teach in the F.A.S.T. Program that summer at IPFW, a program which commenced shortly after school was out, and I had to submit my syllabus to her. I immediately asked Bettye why she contacted me, and her response was, “You know the literature.” Yes, Bettye had a way of getting one to do—even me.
As I sat and listened to her Omega Omega Service at the Carmichael Funeral Home Tuesday evening, I could not hold back the tears, for Bettye has touched the lives of so many, and I wish I could name them all. Fortunately, I knew many who traveled from afar, and they were willing to share their memories of Bettye.
Mrs. Marvalene Cheek, who traveled from Flint, Mich., to attend the ceremonies, is a long time friend of more than 40 years, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and a founding member of Fort Wayne’s Chapter of Jack and Jill, a family organization. Marvalene indicated that she, Jacqueline French and family, along with Bettye Poignard and family lived in Canterbury Green Apartments when they first moved to Fort Wayne. There the bond began, for all of them were Deltas, and they did so many things together. As far as Bettye’s personality, Cheek said, she was always pleasant, but firm with a smile. According to Cheek, who worked at IPFW as a counselor, she also interacted with Bettye on a professional level.
“Bettye was one” said Cheek, “who always shared her leadership skills, and sometimes it is difficult to share one’s experiences with others; but, Bettye did this, because she wanted to make sure that you were the best you could be, and she would help mold that. One thing I remember Bettye writing to me is, ‘Although you have moved away, we’re friends forever,’” stated Cheek, and that is significant.
That same friendship was extended to Chris Moore, a Parkview Dietician, who like Marvalene, worked with Bettye in Jack and Jill, and has nothing but high praise for Bettye’s prowess.
Still another who holds “Sister P,” in high esteem is Delores Stuart Johnson, the 2012-2014 president of the Fort Wayne Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Delores, who began matriculating on the IPFW campus in 1984, shared that she first met Mrs. Poignard as the director of the Multicultural Services Department, when she went to Mrs. Poignard’s office for guidance and assistance.
Later in the late 1990s Mrs. Pognard’s path and that of Delores crossed again, because Mrs. Poignard started attending the East Chestnut Street Church of Christ. At church, Delores indicated that she and Mrs. Poignard worked on numerous projects; such as: the Women’s Day Programs, programs for guest speakers and other recognition programs and services. According to Delores, Mrs. Poignard envisioned them, and she carried them out and helped fulfill Bettye’s vision.
“And,” said Delores, “when Sister P,” as Delores and her fellow church members lovingly refer to Bettye, “no longer had a secretary, I became her assistant, and she was very instrumental in my affiliating with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 2006, and running for president of the sorority.” “Over the years,” exclaimed Delores, she has coached and mentored me, and she will be sorely missed.”
Being who I am, I, of course, could not omit the males who were in attendance. So, I approached Attorney Louis Griffin and Mr. Willie French. Both gentlemen hold Bettye in high esteem, and Willie said his family has been close with the Poignards because they both lived in the same community since 1971, and their children were the same ages. Whereas, Louis shared that he met Bettye in 1986, through Jack and Jill. What was so very significant regarding that was his sister in New Jersey and Bettye both were Hampton alumnae.
“And I,” said Griffin, “had always viewed Bettye as a quiet, reserved woman; however, when I introduced these two Hamptonites, I really enjoyed knowing another side of Bettye, for Bettye erupted with exuberance.”
In speaking with 5th District City Councilman Geoff Paddock, who replaced Bettye on the FWCS Board of Trustees in 2002, when she vacated her seat, I learned that he made Bettye’s acquaintance when he was district director for Congresswoman Jill Long, and he interacted with Bettye on numerous occasions, especially after she was appointed to fill Atty. Payne Brown’s unexpired term when he relocated.
Geoff said, “I ran for the seat she vacated, and when I visited with her and discussed public school polices and issues, I was pleased to accept the baton and run for election because she and I both had a passion for public education, and it became very important to me to carry on some of her philosophies.”
So many things became important to others because of that which Bettye espoused, and so many are fortunate to know and see another side of Bettye. Jomare Bowers- Mizzell is one of those. Mizzell interacted with Bettye when Bettye’s office was housed in the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, and Jomare was the director of the Small Business Center. Maueen Reidenbach, who was an ESL teacher within Fort Wayne Community Schools, graciously approached me while leaving Wednesday’s service at the New Haven East Allen County Church of Christ December 4th Service indicated that she too knew and treasured Bettye. And then there was her great niece, Johneva Stikes-Jenkins, who is related to Bettye from her mother’s lineage, who stated, “Aunt Bettye was always very kind and welcoming. She was always smiling. I will definitely miss her cheerful spirit.”
Favorite selections, “It Is Well with My Soul,” “If I Can Help Somebody,” sung Tuesday evening by Kim Shade, and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” sung by Geoffrey Kelsaw at the service were all a tribute to Bettye’s devoted service to God and the community; for she embraced everyone with a loving heart and a pure spirit.
Finally, another community matriarch who knew and will miss Bettye’s cheerful spirit is Mrs. Edna Smith, the executive editor of Frost Illustrated. I sat down with Mrs. Smith at her residence, and she informed me that she made Bettye’s acquaintance at the home of a mutual friend, and they liked each other immediately. Often they would go on trips together, and Bettye would drive, and she and Bettye would do a lot of shopping together because as Mrs. Smith said, “Bettye had good taste. And, when different organizations had various functions, Bettye would provide insight regarding etiquette, often demonstrating unique and fashionable table settings which could be displayed on holidays and during the changing seasons.”
As John DiMarzio Sr. shared at Bettye’s Going Home Service, one of Bettye’s favorite scriptures was Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, which expresses, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose… under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” And, though this was Miss Bettye’s time, some of us still weren’t ready. But, this I know for sure: when the roll was called up yonder, Bettye Jean Pinkston Poignard, my sister, my friend was there. Like Nelson Mandela, Bettye will remain “the gold standard of leadership” in the Fort Wayne community. “She walks in beauty like the night,” and she had the ability to walk among kings and paupers. Now, Miss Bettye walks with the one true King, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Goodbye my friend, we all hope to see you in “the sweet by and by.”