Erma Williams, retired educator and community leader, dies at 100 years old

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Editor’s note: This feature is part of a weekly focus from The Star meant to highlight and remember the lives of Black Kansas Citians who have died.

A pioneer in education, Erma Williams, saw the world as a big place for her students to imagine themselves anywhere they wanted to go through reading.

“She filled our house with books and reading,” Williams’ daughter, Margaret Williams—Barrett, said. “She felt if you couldn’t get to see the world, you could get there by reading.”

Everything she knew she learned from reading, her children said; from the Encyclopedia of Negro History to the complete works of William Shakespeare.

“She came from humble beginnings,” Warner Williams, her son, said. “She did not have access to all kinds of books as a kid. Some of the children she taught didn’t have access and she provided that through reading.”

Williams died on July 17 at Kansas City Hospice House after a brief illness. She was 100 years old.

Erma Williams at a piano.
Erma Williams at a piano.

Born on March 17, 1921, to Eddie and Edrena Carson in McGehee, Arkansas, Williams moved to Kansas City at the age of 13 to live with her aunt and uncle, Margaret and Isaiah Bell. In 1944, she graduated from Lincoln High School with honors and as class valedictorian.

Williams attended Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, receiving her degree in sociology and psychology in 1948, and graduating with honors. She also did graduate work in education at Central Missouri State University and at the University of Kansas City. Williams later received an advanced certificate in Biblical Studies from Calvary Bible College.

Before becoming an educator, Williams worked as a social worker at local, public and private child welfare and service organizations. She worked with first offenders, seniors with special needs and neglected children. Her family said she also cared for children whose parents worked, helping clients develop social and occupational skills. Through this role, she also provided spiritual guidance.

“Initially, she wanted to help people,” Williams’ youngest daughter Ermette Williams said. “Her heart is so large. She just had a heart for people and that was part of her heart for God. It was like a ministry.”

In 1952, Williams began working with the Kansas City school district as a kindergarten teacher. She taught for more than 20 years.

“She encouraged the children to share what they learned. She made sure kids were exposed to all kinds of books,” Williams’ friend Delories Gines said.

Erma Williams wedding photo.
Erma Williams wedding photo.

As a teacher, Williams was active in professional education organizations — including the Kansas City Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association, the National Education Association (NEA) and Phi Beta Kappa. Her family said she provided expertise on issues key to supporting and furthering education professionals, such as standards for teacher education and jointly addressing concerns of urban and rural teachers.

An advocate for education and experiencing other countries and cultures, Williams accepted an opportunity in 1973 to teach in Kitzingen, Germany, at the U.S. Department of Defense Dependent School. The DoDDS is a network of schools, both primary and secondary, serving families of United State military and civilian United States Department of Defense personnel.

“It was an opportunity to represent African Americans in a foreign country to give the sense of others who they were and not what was negatively portrayed in the media,” Warner Williams, said.

Williams was described by friends and family as a unique individual who lived for what she believed in — in every way. She not only taught children, but served her community through ministry and found ways to mentor others.

“She mentored so many people. My mother made me feel like I could do anything. I never felt any sort of limitations that I couldn’t achieve anything,” Ermette Williams said.

Ermette Williams said her mother strived to be obedient to God through her work.

“She was a woman of God, service and legacy to the community,” she added.

Williams led the Paseo Baptist Church Learning Center for 38 years, preparing preschool children for kindergarten, and them for first grade.

“She took difficult and complex ideas and thoughts from the Bible and reduced them to their basic element when talking to the children,” Gines said.

The learning Center is now called the Erma L. Williams Learning Center, receiving recognition from former President Bill Clinton who in a letter wrote, “your life dedication to others is a blessing and inspiration to all those who know you, especially the generations of students whose futures you’ve helped to shape.”

Williams is survived by her son Warner Williams; daughters, Margaret Williams—Barrett and Ermette Williams; her grandchildren, Harry Robottom, Erik Williams, January Williams, Nicole King, James Maxwell Purce, Margaret Purce, Lauren Williams; and great grandchildren, Kaleb Williams, Harry Robottom, IV, William Robottom, Alexander Robottom, Zara King, and Anthony King, Jr.

Other remembrances

Frances Shoats
Frances Shoats

Frances Shoats

Frances Henrietta Eudell Shoats, a retired head pastry chef, died on July 9. She was 95.

Shoats was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, to Mary Margaret Magdelene Mulwee and Henry Mayes. She was affectionately called “Metha Momma” by her family and friends.

Shoats dedicated her life to Christ at an early age and was a member of the Glad Tidings Assembly of God (AOG) Church located in Kansas City until her health failed.

Shoats graduated from R.T. Coles High School. She later worked for the Kansas City School District where she retired as the Head Pastry Cook in 1991. She was also employed as a cook at Glad Tidings AOG Christian Academy.

Family said she enjoyed cooking her famous cinnamon rolls, writing, shopping at thrift stores and spending time with family. She also loved music.

From the time her children were small, she would sing songs from “wy back when,” and dance with her children. Some of her favorite songs at that time were performed by Nancy Wilson and Jackie Wilson.

Shoats was also a fan of playing Jacks. Her family says she was always the winner and would end the game by throwing the ball up to what seemed the ceiling, hit the floor with her fist (about 3 or 4 times), after which she would catch the ball as it was on its way down from the ceiling, and declare she was the winner.

She is survived by her daughters; Margaret Brown, Alfreda Lewis, Sheila Urum-Eke and Carla Middlebrooks: grandchildren, great, great-great and great, great--great grandchildren, and other family members.

George Conner Jr.
George Conner Jr.

George Conner Jr.

Army veteran George Conner Jr. died on June 26. He was 61.

Conner was born on March 6, 1960, in Kansas City, Kansas, to George Conner Sr. and Maxine Wright.

He attended Sumner High School, joining the United States Army afterwards on April 15, 1977.

After serving in the Army, Conner began work as an over the road truck driver for Harris Trucking Company.

He married Margie Smith on December 12, 1981 in Edwardsville, Kansas. They had three daughters together.

In 1991, Conner earned his certification in HVAC. He worked for many more years in property maintenance and as a general handyman.

He married his second wife Suncia Reed around 2010, and together they had a son.

Family said Conner was always up for a good debate about anything and everything from religion to politics. He was a very caring and giving individual who loved to be surrounded by family and friends.

He leaves to cherish his memory his sisters, Karen Harris, Vera Conner- Abanishe, and Glenda Groves; brothers, Warren Conner and Keith Conner; children, April Ibizugbe Osayande, Gloria Brown, Carmen Conner and Jedidiah Conner; grandchildren, Isaiah Dismuke, Nehemiah Taylor, Phillip Brown Jr., Elijah Brown, Rochel June, and Eghosasere Ibizugbe Osayande; a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and other family and friends.

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