Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area (HFHMCA) is mourning the loss of its founder, former Mississippi First Lady Elise Winter.
“It is with great sadness that we learned of Elise Winter’s passing,” said HFHMCA Executive Director, Merrill McKewen. “We extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Winter family and her many friends.”
While Governor and Mrs. Winter were lifelong champions of public education and racial reconciliation, Mrs. Winter’s true volunteering calling was as founder of Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area in 1986.
“Mrs. Winter has been the ‘heart and soul’ of this organization, working tirelessly for more than three decades so that more families in Jackson and the tri-county area will have a decent place to call home and a brighter future,” McKewen said.
Over the years, Mrs. Winter demonstrated her dedication with a hammer and a paintbrush as well as a phone and a Rolodex. “Potential sponsors, donors of building materials and volunteers could not overlook her enthusiasm for an organization doing so much good,” McKewen said.
Even in her nineties, Mrs. Winter was still active and visible on Habitat worksites, in the board room, and as an ambassador for Habitat in the community. She even arose early on a Saturday morning in February 2015 to help with the exterior painting on the 600th Habitat house built in the Mississippi Capital Area.
That build site was a far cry from the first one in 1986, Mrs. Winter noted. She often shared her vivid memories of the bitter cold day when she and a small group of volunteers gathered in front of a Bratton Street plot to bless it for HFHMCA’s first home.
“It had rained the night before and the lot was dirt. So we ended up blessing a big mud puddle,” she said. “I would have never dreamed that day that we would ever get to more than 600 houses.”
“Through her faithful ‘love in action,’ she has breathed life into Habitat’s ministry, helping it grow from a prayer around a mud puddle on a gray, somber, cold day, into a vibrant ministry offering families decent, affordable homeownership,” said Slade Exley, president of HFHMCA’s board of directors. “More than 2,500 adults and children in the Mississippi capital area wake up every morning in a Habitat home. Her involvement with Habitat also has afforded thousands of Mississippians the opportunity to give back to their communities and to their fellow citizens through one of the nation’s most effective charities.”
For six years, Mrs. Winter also served on the Habitat for Humanity International Board with former President Jimmy Carter. Working in 2006 with Dick Molpus, former Mississippi Secretary of State and president of the Molpus Woodlands Group, she helped secure a $100 million award for Habitat for Humanity International as a part of the historic U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement. This award supported the construction of more than 19,000 homes by Habitat affiliates throughout the U.S.
Her commitment inspired HFHMCA to create the Elise Winter Founders Award on the non-profit’s 25th anniversary in 2011, and she was the inaugural recipient.
The late Governor Winter was a steadfast supporter of his wife’s work with HFHMCA, offering this praise: “Elise has helped to interpret this state to those outside Mississippi and to fellow Mississippians in its best light, showing its best qualities, sharing her own sense of public service.” Mrs. Winter’s response: “I’ve seen the plight of so many people and I’ve thought about mothers rearing children in horrible conditions. The need just cried out to me,”
Memorials honoring Elise Winter’s service to HFHMCA may be sent to Habitat for Humanity MISSISSIPPI CAPITAL AREA located at 615 Stonewall Street, Jackson, Mississippi 39213 - or call 601-353-6060 or donate at www.habitatmca.org.