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History loses pioneer Poinsett

We will miss this 'grand lady of Lakewood.' Celebration of her life is set for Saturday.

People often forget that history is not about places and buildings. It is about people, those who change lives for future generations and share their lessons of life with others. A City Hall, battle site or farmhouse might get a historical preservation plaque, but it’s the people who are truly worth remembering.

Such is the case with Elizabeth Poinsett. She will be laid to rest this weekend. The Lakewood pioneer recently celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 13 with a big bash at The Little Church on the Prairie. She died a week and a half later after falling in her home and breaking her hip. She could not recover from the surgery and died at St. Clare Hospital. 

Elizabeth "Betty" Wheeler Mann Poinsett was the daughter of Iva Alice and Julius Mann. Her mother is the namesake for Mann Junior High School for her work in helping form the Clover Park School District. Her family moved to an area around Steilacoom Lake, what is now Lakewood in 1918.

An article in the Lakewood Historical Society newsletter shows a glimpse of what life was like back then: “Sheep outnumbered trees on the prairie then, and Elizabeth and her sister Katharine would put their dolls in a tiny makeshift covered wagons made of shoeboxes and set off across the prairie like pioneers. Other entertainment would be devising plays and circuses with their neighbors (complete with rope-swing trapezes), or hurling balls to each other over the roof of the house in games of ‘Annie-Over.'

When Elizabeth reached high school age she had to go to Stadium High School in Tacoma. She often got a ride with her father, and sometimes took the streetcar from just north of where the Colonial Center now stands. However, her mother wasn't happy about young girls having to wait at the station in Tacoma with its unsavory cast of characters. After Elizabeth left home, her mother, Iva Alice Mann, began a quiet crusade to form a unified school district in the Lakes District.

She graduated from the University of Puget Sound in 1933 and the University of Washington in 1936. She married Raymond "Ray" Poinsett in 1944. She raised her children in the Lakewood house where she would spend the rest of her life. She was a member of many local and educational clubs and associations, arts groups and the Lakewood Historical Society, where she served as a docent, teacher and subject for the society’s oral history project.

Want to attend Poinsett's celebration of life?

Poinsett leaves her loving sons, John and Joel. A "Celebration" of her life will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the Prairie Hall at the Little Church on the Prairie. Contributions may be made to the Lakewood Historical Society.

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