Blontas 'Winkie' Mitchell is remembered by friends, family and colleagues
Blontas was her given first name. But Springfielders of every strata knew her as "Winkie" Mitchell. She was 70 when she died September 1, two days after a brain aneurism. In interviews with WYSO Clark County reporter Tom Stafford, Mitchell’s friends described a life lived in love, advocacy, sacrifice — and the belief that all of us can learn to be a little more human.
(Editor's Note: Transcript lightly edited for clarity.)
Tom Stafford: Winkie Mitchell never fully realized the impact she had on others. But it struck her sister Marcia Pearson on every visit home.
Marcia Pearson: We would go to the grocery store and four, five, six, seven people would come up to her and give her a hug and tell her thank you for something she did for them or for their child or for someone they knew. She was always that way, from birth.
Stafford: Pearson called it the Wonder of Winkie.
Pearson: Her drive in life is to ensure that nobody felt like they weren't important. Helping the underdog. I always felt I was an underdog, and she was always making me bigger than life. She saw the future of who you could be.
Stafford: In a career spanning 40 years, Mitchell helped physically, sexually and emotionally abused or challenged children. Said Ellen Stickney, a long time colleague.
Ellen Stickey: She was so focused whenever she was talking to a child. They had her attention, and she had their attention. It’s so healing for people to have someone hear and accept what they have to say.
Stafford: And most everyone, herself included, sensed something deeper.
Stickney: I could feel the love. It was always there, in her interest in sharing the things that were important to her.
Stafford: That people-magnet quality drew Cheryl DeGroat Dover and others of Springfield’s Global Peace Network into gatherings that included Mitchell.
Cheryl DeGroat Dover: I thought it was going to be a fun group when I first got into it. But after every meeting, I was like, all tensed up, because people had said things that were offensive to me. And I had probably said something that was offensive to them.
Stafford: Mitchell’s response?
DeGroat Dover: She didn’t do a lot of speaking. She did a lot of listening. She was engaged.
Stafford: Engaged trying to get her friends to listen, to speak and ultimately to love one another.
DeGroat Dover: There were so many different personalities and instances that had happened in all our lives that we had to fight it out, you know, just talk about it. And at the very end, she would throw her two cents in, and it was always a big two cents.And it was always a big two cents.
Stafford: When she died, Mitchell was working with Beth Dixon of the social service agency WellSpring to help high schoolers find their voices through WYSO’s Dayton Youth Radio. Dixon had already seen Mitchell manage that in a room at the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center with 10 youths facing gun charges.
Beth Dixon: So, they’re like, laying in their seats with their legs stretched out and their arms folded across their chest, and she says, “What do you guys think about when I say the word gun?” And she was really good at staying quiet and letting people think. One by one, each of the boys had a word to say: protection, family, pain. Within 20 minutes, every boy in that room was sobbing. And then they felt listened to and cared about. And I won't ever forget that.
Stafford: Psychiatrist Jim Duffee also has a vivid memory o Mitchell walking into the Rocking Horse Federal Qualified Health Care in announcing she had to work there.
Dr. Jim Duffee: There was no equivocation. There was no hesitancy. She said, I need to work here. Winkie knew what she was here for.
Stafford: She helped children with mixtures of mental illness, developmental disabilities, autism and severe behavioral disorders, usually while embedded with their families.
Dr. Duffee: Winkie would spend lots of time with parents to help their kids during times of crisis. Untold people in the community really depended on her for a long time.
Stafford: She also worked with the Peace School and Project Woman; fought for racial and LGBTQ rights; and was active in Lincoln Elementary School’s Promise Neighborhood program. All that and more made Mitchell a community super connector. Which brings us to her sister Marsia’s thoughts about Mitchell’s legacy.
Pearson: I just hope that everybody in Springfield, they don’t drop the ball She left something. She left something in each and every one of us -- all ages and colors. We just can't allow that to stop.
Stafford: Even if Springfielders can no longer thank and hug her in the grocery store.