Community matriarch, 'From Whence We Came' author Marguerite Stanley dies at 98

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Denise Crochrell, right, looks at the James Sr. and Marguerite Stanley Legacy Wall with her mother, Marguerite Stanley, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, at the Port Huron Museum's Carnegie Center. Marguerite Stanley died Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. She was 98.
Denise Crochrell, right, looks at the James Sr. and Marguerite Stanley Legacy Wall with her mother, Marguerite Stanley, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, at the Port Huron Museum's Carnegie Center. Marguerite Stanley died Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. She was 98.

Marguerite Stanley, a well-known community and familial matriarch, local historian, and chronicler of local Black history, died on Monday at the age of 98.

Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Stanley was raised from early childhood in Port Huron, later working a host of jobs and raising seven children, including six with her second husband James Stanley Sr.

The legacy wall that was unveiled with the Port Huron Museum’s Black history exhibit in early 2021 is named for the couple and honors living community representatives who contributed to local Black culture. The exhibit shares a name with the 1970s’ book, “From Whence We Came,” that Stanley authored to detail the history of Port Huron’s Black families and contributions.

“She had a knack for making people feel special. She had a gift for making people feel included. Anyone who had a chat with her walked away thinking they were surely her favorite,” her granddaughter Kameel Stanley said in a statement on behalf of the family Wednesday. “She taught us so much, instilling the importance of family, friendship and community.

“We are who we are because she was who she was. We know she meant a lot to many people, and that her legacy lives on through all of us. We appreciate the outpouring of love and privacy as we work through our grief. We will miss her terribly.”

Marguerite Stanley held jobs in Port Huron that ranged from industrial work to educational counseling with the local school district, lastly going door to door looking for students for the adult education program. She was involved with the local faith community, dedicating time to the congregation at Faith Christian Community Church.

Frequently called Mother Stanley by supporters and loved ones in the community, she was also heavily involved in local schools as a Black history speaker and the Port Huron chapter of the NAACP.

Stanley used her own expertise to put out an annual themed calendar as a local narrative, help the Port Huron Museum organize previous Black History Month celebrations entitled “Collections in Black," and for several years prior to completing “From Whence We Came,” host a local TV program about minority issues called "Across the Tracks."

“I just want people to be aware of the contributions made by blacks,” she told the Times Herald in 1982 when asked about her efforts and putting together local programs. “… If they see that, they can say, ‘Hey, there’s hope for me. I don’t have to be satisfied with nothing. I can go on and do something with my life.’”

Stanley inspired others to affect change, community members say

Kevin Totty, a Port Huron pastor and also a community figure, remarked on Stanley as someone who used her power to help others embrace the bigger picture.

"It’s wild for me to call her Marguerite Stanley because I know her as Mother. She had that type of way to use the power that she had, that power to make change in any position or wherever it was. … She used her power to impact not only her family but generations. She held the position of power that impacted and inspired folks and encouraged folks to give back, to make the place that they live better and better. Mother Stanley’s power superseded race, superseded gender, socio-economics, all these other barriers that prevent folks from using the power they had.”

Port Huron NAACP President Kevin Watkins embraces Marguerite Stanley after being named an honoree to the Stanley Legacy Wall during the James Sr. and Marguerite Stanley Legacy Wall honoree ceremony held at the Port Huron Museum Carnegie Center in Port Huron on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.
Port Huron NAACP President Kevin Watkins embraces Marguerite Stanley after being named an honoree to the Stanley Legacy Wall during the James Sr. and Marguerite Stanley Legacy Wall honoree ceremony held at the Port Huron Museum Carnegie Center in Port Huron on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

NAACP chapter President Kevin Watkins, this year's Stanley Legacy Wall inductee, said each time he encountered or visited Stanley was "a special time" for him, particularly within the last few years.

And when he heard of her passing, he said he meditated on a "magical moment" the two shared in February at his induction ceremony when he leaned in close, "staring into her eyes."

"She was like passing the baton to me and carrying the NAACP's role," which among many roles, Watkins said, "was very much a part of her." Like other community matriarchs, he said, "They've run their race," and that now, it was "for us to pick that up."

Totty also recalled meeting Stanley through church and once serving communion at her home, where he said she "pulled a piece of vinyl out," and they listened to the clear beats and swinging rhythms of jazz for hours.

“That’s when I fell in love with her right there,” he said Thursday with a quick laugh, “and that was one of the fondest moments I have because I see her — her life organized in the rhythms to keep everything going.”

Smith Family Funeral Home is handling the arrangements with a viewing set for 1 to 6 p.m. on Monday at the funeral home, 1525 Hancock St., and services at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at Restoration Christian Community Church, 3201 Gratiot Ave. The service will be live-streamed through Stanley's obituary page under the photos and videos tab.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Community matriarch, 'From Whence We Came' author Marguerite Stanley dies at 98