Viessa West had a life dedicated to guiding youth, loved ones say


Pine Bluff native Viessa Eloise West lived her life in service to others, according to those who knew her.

West, 91, died Feb. 10 at Sylvania, Ohio.

Jefferson County Assessor Yvonne Humphrey grew up with West acting as her spiritual guide and mentor.

“I grew up under her leadership when she was youth director at New Town Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff,” Humphrey said. “Back when I started as county assessor at one point I wanted to quit and Ms. West was very encouraging to me. She treated all of the young people well. She was so instrumental in helping us and advising us when we were growing up.”

Margarette Williams also fondly remembers her days growing up at New Town under the guidance of West.

“I grew up in and was a member of New Town up until about 12 years ago,” Williams said. “Ms. West was a formidable force in our church, especially with our young people. We had a lot of respect for her and she earned our respect. She never took no as an answer from us in her desire to see us grow and learn about who we were in Christ. She was a strong Christian educator in the community. I recall many years of her being there in that church.”

Williams said that West was a great influence in her life and provided her with inspiration.

“All of my brothers and sisters, all 11 of us and all of the other young people were touched by her teaching,” Williams said. “Even as she grew older she never seemed to grow tired of working with the young people.”

Former state Rep. Booker Clemons worked with West when they were both at the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Office.

“I worked with Ms. West for eight or 10 years back in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Clemons said. “She was a person who had a real feeling for the people of Pine Bluff and the community that she lived in. She was dedicated to her job. The Civil Rights Bill passed during her tenure and the two of us survived that period. We had some problems with the attitudes of some people in the office when that legislation passed.”

Clemons said that she frequently talked about her children and her church.

“She was very dedicated to her church,” Clemons said.

Kay Cromwell knew West from the years that both worked at the extension service and at Neighbor to Neighbor.

“My life was blessed because I knew Viessa West,” Cromwell said. “If any one sentence could describe Viessa it would be that she instilled, encouraged and expected those she loved to be all they were capable of being.”

Cromwell said that it was because of West’s urging that she applied for the position of Neighbor to Neighbor director, a position that she got.

“Because of her volunteer service at Neighbor to Neighbor, Viessa was awarded the distinguished service award for working with a non profit agency in 1990 at the All Civic Night ceremony,” Cromwell said. “Viessa was a blessing to me and I am so grateful that I can say we were friends.”

West is survived by her son, Thomas West; her brother ,Emmett Ruff; her sister, Doris Ruff Ivory; grandchildren DeNeese Nelson and Lee Artis Nelson II, Kevin West, Ashley Koch and Erik Koch, Aerin West and Alek West, and her great grandchildren Brandon Nelson, Mercedes Alissa-Marie Graves, Patrick Jordan Hardin, and Evan, Kathryn and Caroline West.

A memorial service will be held at New Town Missionary Baptist Church Saturday at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to: New Town Missionary Baptist Church Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1432, Pine Bluff, AR, 71603.