For more than 40 years, Virginia "Miss Virginia" Schrantz served Fort Wayne’s inner-city poor, leaving a lasting mark on the lives she touched.
Seventeen years after her death, Miss Virginia’s work continues to be recognized. The Fort Wayne Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved a request – led by Fort Wayne resident Debra Butler – to designate a portion of Hanna Street the "Miss Virginia Memorial Parkway." The four-block portion of Hanna Street is between Lewis and Hayden streets just southwest of downtown.
"Really, I’m overjoyed," Butler said. "This lady has done so many wonderful things for so many people."
Born in 1956, Butler’s memories of Miss Virginia stem throughout her entire childhood. Butler noted that Miss Virginia "knew me before I knew myself."
The kindly woman’s charity extended far beyond supplying food, clothing and shelter to residents in need. Miss Virginia’s home also provided comfort and care for area children, Butler said, describing Miss Virginia as a stabilizing force for the neighborhood.
"She taught us a lot of crafts. Different people would come over there and would teach the girls different things to do like sewing, crochet and knitting," she said. "The boys, she had a wood shop, and men would come over and show the boys how to build things like birdhouses or shelves. At Christmas time they would make Advent wreaths."
Neighborhood parents didn’t have to worry about where their kids were, because they were always at Miss Virginia’s house, Butler said. She said many of the children who spent time with Miss Virginia share a special connection even today.
"We all bonded, to this day we see each other, and it’s a love we still share between each other that we all have," she said.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said Butler brought the idea to him several years ago.
"I can remember back in the 1980s and ’90s when Miss Virginia Schrantz was opening up her home for those in need for food and clothing and shelter just out of the goodness of her heart, and she was recognized at the time for being generous and trying to help the poor," he said. "I remember Miss Virginia, I remember her generosity, and it seemed like a nice gesture, particularly on the block where she used to live."
Miss Virginia might be gone, but her former home at 1312 Hanna St. is still there, operating as Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry, providing food to needy residents from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Standing outside the food pantry on the porch Wednesday afternoon, Joe Miller, the organization’s director, grinned from ear to ear as he relayed the news to anyone who passed by – volunteers and visitors alike.
"That’s great, it’s truly a blessing," one visitor remarked on her way inside.
Once known as Miss Virginia’s Mission House, the food pantry served 2,799 individuals last month. By Miller’s estimate, that translates to food for 9,418 family members. He also estimated that last month alone, the food pantry distributed more than 50,000 pounds of food to area residents.
The not-for-profit organization gets its funding from grants and individual contributions, as well as donations from area businesses. About 40 volunteers help keep the pantry running.
"We provide supplementary items to people’s grocery shopping," Miller said, noting the pantry mainly provides staple foods such as meat, bread, beans and eggs. Whatever the organization can get a hold of, it gives away.
The pantry’s suppliers include Tim Didier Meats, the Community Harvest Food Bank and the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, among others, Miller said.
All in all, Miller is ecstatic the city decided to honor Miss Virginia’s years of service to the community.
"Miss Virginia certainly deserves to be remembered," he said. "We have people coming through the food line all the time that remember her generosity and her kindness."