My Mama’s love shaped all our lives

October 14, 2021

Pictured above are Mother Louise McKinnie (seated center) with her children (from left) Linda Ponds, Stacy Stinson, Richard Allen, Sr., Yvonne Greer and Rita Cox.

By: Yvonne D. Greer

Recently I joined my brother and sisters for a photo session with “My Mama,” Louise McKinnie, in celebration of our family’s longevity. We took pictures as a group and then each individually. As I looked at her, I realized that this one individual not only raised five of her own children as a single parent (mom and dad divorced when I was a young child), but also gave of her heart to many grand-and-great-grandchildren, several foster sisters, and adopted family-friends. I felt so blessed to have her in my life. I have always proclaimed her as “My Mama” even to my siblings as I’ve felt we had a personal and special bond that I acknowledge daily (but I’m sure all of my siblings feel the same way).

So, just who is this phenomenal woman who goes by the name of Miss Louise? I put my writer’s hat on to interview her so she could enlighten us on her life’s journey as a successful mother, friend-mom, foster-mom, wife, bowler, lay historian, seamstress, baker, health care provider, and so much more.

YG: So, could you tell us about your life and how you came to live in Milwaukee, WI?

LM: I was born in Sandford, Florida. I had no sisters or brothers, but spent my early childhood, until 7-1/2 years, in Pelham, Georgia with my great-grandmother. And then, my mother brought me to Milwaukee, WI and I spent my 8th birthday here with my grandmother, Tahirah Muhammad, and never left. I am now 86 years old. I will always be grateful to my grandmother for teaching me manners and the love of reading, newspapers, and books of all kinds, even cookbooks. She also taught me cooking, canning, baking bread, and cakes. I married young and had four children from this union. But after 7 years, this union ended in divorce. I was blessed to have one more child to complete my family unit. In 1976, I married George McKinnie and was happily married for 43 years until his passing in 2019.

YG: With the acknowledgement that all of your children are accomplished in their chosen professions, what are your keys to raising successful adults?

LM: First given that I was an only child, I really enjoyed the comradery I shared with each of my children and took advantage of every teachable moment. I maintained current sets of encyclopedias, the Highlights, and the National Geographic magazine subscriptions, discussing their content and meaning (I still get the National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines today). In addition, we viewed television documentaries together and I passed on family and cultural history by relaying events, both positive and negative, at every opportunity. At school, I attended recitals, PTA/PTO meetings, chaperoned field trips, and allowed all of my children to explore their choice of musical instrument (i.e., the violin, saxophone, piano, drums, flute, and harp). And now as adults, we continue to learn from our travels together and family events as we share our reactions to difficult situations in our quest for peace, happiness, knowledge, understanding, and compassion.

YG: What prompted you to become a foster parent?

LM: My first husband’s sister’s daughter was living in a group home but yearned to be with family. And, when she was asked who she would want to live with, she stated she wanted to live with Auntie Louise. So, I proceeded to obtain my foster care license and took her in. Over the years, I fostered 17 more children, several of which I still stay connected with, now parents of their own children. We get together as family at holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions.

YG: How did you manage raising children of various ages and homework, while also working two jobs? Yet still being able to send cakes to school for bake sales, bowling on leagues, and keeping everyone moving forward?

LM: With determination, I worked the graveyard shift, 11 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., so that I could be there to send my kids off to school with a hearty breakfast before going to sleep. And I was there every day to prepare a home cooked meal for dinner and get homework done, before going to my second job three days a week and on weekends. Once the children were older, I was able to plan a little time for me and I became a top league bowler with a 180 average.

YG: With so many personalities to nurture and having different ambitions, how were you able to guide us all to follow our dreams?

LM: Each child was treated different, towards their own strengths. Getting to know each child as an individual is key. The basics to all was education. All were encouraged to follow their dreams and get a good education. All completed several degrees in their chosen professions.

It’s important to set a good example. Although I was home schooled during the war years, I always had a zest for knowledge. While working as a nurse’s aide, I took classes and became a Surgical Technician at St. Luke’s Hospital and was on the surgical team of the first heart transplant patient.

YG: What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who are raising children today?

LM: Turn off the phones and the TV and do some activity that includes reading!!! Learn the strengths of each child and help them develop into the best that they can be. Let your child talk to you and listen to what they have to say about their thoughts, hopes, and dreams. And see if there are any ways you can help them to excel. Let them know that you are for them, that you love them, and will help in any ways that you can.