LIMA — The Napier women can be relied upon to do what's necessary.
Aree Martin was born in 1923 in Alabama and married John E. Napier in 1941. They grew to have a large family, and once moving here, embraced their new “hometown.” Aree Napier is listed as being president of the usher board at New Hope Baptist Church in a news item published March 8, 1969. She was mentioned as being leader of a community garden project by the Mizpah Center in an item published Aug. 2, 1974.
Quality projects, certainly. But when she retired, Aree Napier increased her involvement. She became instrumental in the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Association, working on a team that installed handicapped ramps at homes in the late 1990s. She became vice president, and was a major distributor of the group’s fliers. She also kept busy taking older people to doctors’ appointments. She was a board member at the Salvation Army, and she helped during election season. She earned her high school diploma when she was in her 60s.
“They are described as backbones of the community, hard workers and role models. That’s why Pat Miron, Aree Napier and Leslie Long were named 1997 Women of the Year,” a Dec. 17, 1997, newspaper story reported. The awards were given by the Central State Alumni Chapter of Iota Phi Theta.
“’Look at these ladies. If more people were like them, Lima would be a better place,’ said Derry Glenn, fraternity president and award presenter,” the story continued.
Aree Napier, mother of seven, is quoted in that story as saying, “You have to love the people if you say you love God.”
In a May 31, 2004, story, she shared more of her desire to help others.
“I just don’t like to stay home all the time. I like to help people, if I can,” she said. “After I retired, I wanted to volunteer and do some good for someone. After (John) passed three years ago, I didn’t want to sit at home.”
Aree Napier passed her community-minded spirit to her daughter, Frances Napier. As early as 1966, Frances Napier is mentioned in a newspaper item about a United Church Women event. The news of her election as secretary of the Head Start Parents’ Community Council was published March 9, 1967.
Also during that time, she became involved in the Allen County Welfare Rights Organization. She read a statement representing the group at a meeting in February 1970 to hash out capital improvements in the area the commissioners were planning. (Those projects included replacing the courthouse with a city-county building, a new school for developmentally disabled people, a new juvenile detention center and the replacement of Memorial Hall.)
Her statement demanded “welfare recipients receive more benefit from it and other taxes. … Here is your opportunity to meet your obligations. Change your priorities. Put people before roads, children before buildings, hunger before bridges.”
Frances Napier took that battle to the state level, as well. A story published April 8, 1976, reported she served on the state Social Services Council.
“In her talks with state legislators concerning the welfare funding crunch, she learned it will continue until those legislators get answers to questions from State Welfare Director Raymond McKenna. Ms. Napier, who also represents the Lima-Allen County Community Action Commission, told those present that the Social Services Council will recommend that Title 20 funds not expended in a county be redistributed to other counties which can provide the local matching funds,” the story reported.
She also spoke up against school boards to protest fees levied against students.
Frances Napier was also involved as treasurer of Helping Hands Credit Union. Although she was forced to admit in court that the finances were disorganized when another employee was accused of check forging, she continued working there. She is listed as manager of that organization on a meeting notice of Church Women United in March 31, 1974, where she was the featured speaker.
In 1977, she ran for city council in the 5th Ward. A profile published June 5, 1977, explained she holds an associate degree in business administration and higher accounting, was the financial officer for the Lima-Allen County Community Action Commission and was mother of five. She had lived in Lima for 32 years, the previous five years of which in the 5th Ward.
“Every citizen has a civic duty to become involved in the workings of the city government. I feel that I am qualified to offer specialized services that would lead to fiscal responsibility in our city government," Frances Napier said.
She lost that election, but eventually won the 5th Ward seat on council.
In 1991, she came under fire again because of fiscal management problems with the Lima-Allen County Community Action Commission. A debt of almost $1 million was found, but it was mismangement, not criminal activity. The group relinquished administration of Head Start shortly thereafter.
Frances Napier did not stop working in the community, instead diving into big social issues and continuing on city council. She was on the scene of a drug raid in October 1991, as she lived just four blocks away.
“How many times have you heard us ask for this? It’s a start, but I can’t tell you if it will help this area or not. But it’s better late than never. I think it shows some force," she said.
She remained busy, bringing up the issue of noise from car stereos, working on racial understanding, and trying to help the city raze dilapidated properties.
A story published Oct. 29, 2001, shares insight:
“Frances Napier has been performing public service for so long she can’t even remember who it’s all been for. There was the Community Action Commission, the study circles, the Cub Scout troop, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, welfare rights.
“I’ve done it all my life. I’ve done so much, I can’t remember all that stuff,” she said.
As a city council member, she continued to run for the seat when she saw no one was stepping forward to replace her.
“I think that I was well known in the community and people felt that I would do the right thing,” Frances Napier said.
She said people in her neighborhood are typically overlooked by government, even literally being cut off from medical care when a train crosses town.
“I saw all those people mistreated. I saw all those people done wrong. I just thought it was wrong, and I figured this was one way I could do something about it," she said.
The Rev. Dr. LaMont Monford Sr. eulogized community leader Furl Williams at services in 2008 at the Civic Center. Monford promised the lessons Williams taught wouldn't be forgotten.
"Furl, it’s time to pass the baton, and LaMont Monford is willing to take it and run with it. Pass the baton, Furl. Mayor Berger can takeit and run with it. Pass the baton, Furl. Keith Cunningham can take it and run with it. Ulysses Washington, Frances Napier, Leonard Boddie, they can all take it and run with it," Monford said.