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Local mentor, volunteer Owens dies at age 88

Saturday, February 18, 2016
By Clayton Hardiman

Giving seemed to be a lifelong habit for Myrtle Owens -- one she could never break.

She taught crafts to senior citizens, counseled underprivileged young people, was adult adviser to young people in her church and volunteered for everything from Little League baseball to Connie Mack football, to her neighborhood improvement association, to the Muskegon County Museum.

Along the way, she and husband Willie devoted themselves to raising their four children.

So when she was named Muskegon County's Mother of the Year in 1981 -- the first African American to receive that honor -- it seemed to surprise to no one except herself.

"She was the kind of person who would always take time out to talk to you and give you godly advice," said Betty Cheeks, remembering the life of Myrtle Owens. "She was just a loving, caring kind of person."

Owens died Feb. 9 in West Covina, Calif. She was 88.

Cheeks, who was Owens' goddaughter and knew her all her life, found it appropriate that she departed this life in February. "It's Black History Month," said Cheeks, who is an employee of Muskegon Community Mental Health. "And her life was black history."

Born in Princeton, Ark., the granddaughter of a slave, Owens left central Arkansas in 1946 with her husband and two sons to seek a better life in Muskegon. Their move was part of a great migration of African Americans during the period, spurred by the industrial boom surrounding World War II.

In Muskegon, Willie Owens worked at the Campbell, Wyant and Cannon foundry until his retirement. Owens was a surgical technician at Hackley Hospital before she retired following the birth of their third son.

While they were raising their children, Owens was a tireless volunteer, working as an aide at the Senior Citizens Nutritional Center, a booster for the Little League, a teacher of macrame and needlepoint for senior citizens and a transportation coordinator for neighborhood youth.

She also held numerous volunteer positions at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church, where the family worshipped.

And yet Owens, whom family and friends knew as "Red," was caught by surprise when she was selected by Hardy Herpolsheimer's department store as its 36th Mother of the Year.

In an interview, Owens, who grew up in the segregated South, expressed incomprehension at the idea of racial bigotry. "I don't understand discrimination," she said. "I believe as long as someone else is a person and acts like a human, then they are all right to me."

After retirement, she and her husband returned to the South in 1981, mirroring another national trend. They lived in Camden, Ark., and then moved to Sparkman, Ark.

Owens was preceded in death by her son, Willie Plas Owens Jr., and by her husband, Willie Sr., who died in 2005. She is survived by sons Charlie James Owens Sr. of Diamond Bar, Calif.; Melvin Allen Owens of Phoenix, Ariz.; and Raymond Lee Owens of Duluth, Ga.; four brothers, Cornelle House Sr. of Princeton, Ark.; Edgar House of Muskegon Heights; Morse House of Little Rock, Ark.; and Orlander House of Princeton, Ark.; three sisters, Willie Jackson of McNeil, Ark.; her twin Mable Higgs of Princeton, Ark.; and Lee Williams of Lansing, Mich.; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services were to be at 1 p.m. today in Sparkman, Ark., at the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church, where Willie and Myrtle Owens worshipped.




A Celebration of the Life of
Sister Myrtle Owens

May 30, 1917  -  February 9, 2016

“Don’t Cry For Me, I’ve Done My Best, I’ve Earned My Rest”

                Sister Myrtle Owens, was born May 30, 1917, in Princeton, Arkansas to the late Charlie and Cattie Harrison House. She departed this life on February 9, 2016 at San Dimas Community Hospital in San Dimas, CA.
                She became known by many friends and family as “Red.”  She joined Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church at an early age and remained a devout Christian throughout her life.  On August 4, 1939 she was joined in holy matrimony to the late Deacon Willie Plas Owens, Sr.  To this union four children were born; Charlie James Owens, Sr., the late Willie Plas Owens, Jr., Melvin Allen Owens, and Raymond Lee Owens.
                In order to provide a better life for their family, in 1946, they moved with their two sons to Muskegon, Michigan. There they united with the Beulah Missionary Baptist Church where Sis. Owens served as chairperson of the Deaconess and Mother’s Board, Membership Chairperson of the Choir, Assistant Chairperson of Communion, and Advisor to the Youth Church.  Sis. Owens was employed by Hackley Hospital as a Surgical Technician.  She retired with the birth of their third child.  While in Muskegon, she volunteered as a teacher of crafts for senior citizens, a transportation coordinator for neighborhood children, for the Muskegon County Museum, the Reeths-Puffer Neighborhood Improvement Association, the Little League, and the Connie Mack Sports Association, as well as a counselor for underprivileged youth.  In 1981 she was named Muskegon County’s “Mother of the Year,” the first Afro-American to be bestowed the honor.
                When her husband retired in 1981 they returned to Camden, Arkansas where they united with the Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church.  Upon moving to Sparkman, Arkansas they united with Harmony Missionary Baptist Church where they maintained their membership until death.
                Sis Owens throughout her life exemplified the spirit of volunteerism, the gift of selfless charity, and a passion for helping others.  She, up until the very end, was always looking to do good for and to bring out the best in others.  She lived her life by example according to the dictates of the Lord.  She was a faithful wife, a loving mother, a giving sister, a cherished friend and a shining example not only to her family but to the entire community.
                She leaves to cherish her memory three sons: Charlie James Owens, Sr. (spouse Rose Marie Lucas Owens) of Diamond Bar, CA, Melvin Allen Owens of Phoenix, AZ, Raymond Lee Owens of Duluth, GA; eight grand children: Charlie James Owens, Jr., Lisa Revee Owens, Stephanie Michelle Owens, Shana Marie Owens, Jason Plas Owens, Keli Nicole Owens, Matthew Raymond Owens, Jordan Lee Owens; two great grand children: Christopher James Owens, Brittani Cheyenne Skinner; four brothers: Cornelle (Bro) House, Sr. of Princeton, AR, Edgar Bryon (Buddy) House of Muskegon Heights, MI, Morse Evan (Moss) House of Little Rock, AR, Orlander (Boy) House of Princeton, AR; three sisters: Willie B. (Sis) Jackson of McNeil, AR, Mable (Dutch) Higgs (her twin) of Princeton, AR, Lee Ethel (Lil Sis) Williams of Lansing, MI; and a host of nephews, nieces, cousins and friends.



Mom and Dad
Willie P. Owens, Sr. and Myrtle Owens


Twins Myrtle and Mable
Twins Mable (Dutch) and Myrtle (Red)'s 86th Birthday Party



Myrtle House Owens  and her Brothers and Sisters
Myrtle House Owens and her Brothers and Sisters


Myrtle Owens and Willie P. Owens, Jr.
Myrtle and Willie, Jr.


Myrtle's Sons
The Sons: Willie Jr., Mel, Chuck and Ray



Family Reflections
It is not what the world give me in honor, praise or gold.
It is what I do give the world, so others do unfold.

If by my work through life I can another soul unfold,
Then I have done what cannot be made good by praise or gold.

One tiny thought or tiny word, may give a great one birth.
And, if that thought was caused by me, I lived a life of worth.
- Anonymous

(Background song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Thomas A. Dorsey)

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