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Bettye Poignard championed education, youth, community


Bettye Poignard, a longtime champion of education and an influential mentor and role model in the Fort Wayne community, died Wednesday evening. She was 75.

A former Fort Wayne Community Schools board member, Poignard was the director of multicultural services at IPFW and chaired the school’s Future Academic Scholars program.

Poignard was known for her quiet and dignified, yet resolute, attitude.

“The thing I admired about Bettye was the way she was able to handle any conversation quietly and with a lot of dignity,” Steve Corona said Friday. Corona is a longtime Fort Wayne Community Schools board member and served with Poignard in the 1980s, a time of turmoil for the district.

“The district was going through changes and trying to move away from schools that were still racially segregated at that time,” he said.

The board also changed during that time from appointed members to an elected board, he said.

After being appointed to the school board in 1987 by then-mayor Win Moses, Poignard voted for the federally supervised desegregation agreement between the school district and Parents for Quality Education with Integration.

In 1990, she lost her bid for re-election by 36 votes.

“She labored over running for election,” Corona said. “She hated that aspect of it.

“When Bettye lost by only a few votes, I think she regretted not running a more aggressive campaign,” he said. “Clearly, she was well-versed on the facts of education – it was so unfortunate that she lost.

“There were some tense meetings at that time,” Corona said. “Bettye never raised her voice, but always managed to get her point across. She was a great lady.”

Moses also recalls Poignard’s poise and grace under duress.

“Bettye made many positive contributions in education, always quietly and respectfully, but firmly,” he said. “I knew of no one who disliked her.

“She was a wonderful lady, with an interest in helping children and people in general,” Moses said. “She always helped with enthusiasm, aplomb and a contagiousness that made everyone want to jump in and help her.”

Poignard again served on the school board in 2000 when she was appointed to a two-year term to fill an unexpected vacancy.

She took great pride in her family, including her husband, Charles, and children, Nichole Austion of Atlanta, and Anthony Poignard of Fort Wayne. Poignard was quoted more than once saying her family was her greatest source of pride and accomplishment.

When her children were young, Poignard took time out of her career as a speech and hearing therapist and Head Start teacher to be a stay-at-home mom. A few years later, when the children were older, Poignard had no trouble diving right back into community activism.

She served for years as the vice president of Workforce Development for the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, where she initiated the job fair, as well as being active on boards for the YMCA; Fort Wayne Board of Park Commissioners, United Way, McMillen Center for Health Education; American Cancer Society, Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Greater Fort Wayne, Visiting Nurse Service, Allen County Society for Crippled Children and Adults and the Junior League of Fort Wayne.

She served as a speech pathologist for Fort Wayne Community Schools and for the Fort Wayne State Developmental Center.

In 1992, she was appointed to the Indiana Youth Institute, a foundation that serves as a center for research, training and information for organizations serving youth.

In 1997, Poignard was the recipient of the Helene Foellinger Achievement Award, an honor to recognize women for career excellence, positive community impact and outstanding achievement as a role model.

“She was a key person in my life as a role model and mentor,” said Jonathan Ray, president and CEO of Fort Wayne Urban League.

Ray was working as a case manager at Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana on a new program, Project Mentor, when Poignard took him under her wing, he said.

The Project Mentor program was honored at the Big Brothers-Big Sisters national conference, and Ray remembered that Poignard created a lot of fanfare in his honor.

“She treated me like a top executive and made me feel that I could accomplish anything I set out to do,” Ray said.

Ray and Poignard worked together when she became a member of the initial Urban League Charter Board team just a few years ago, Ray said.

“She was extremely strong, positive and intelligent,” he said. “Someone who found ways to make people feel good about themselves.

“She did not mind telling people what they could do better, but she was always the first to congratulate them on what they were doing right,” Ray said.

Funeral arrangements are being made by Carmichael Funeral Service.