Lillian Arizona Reed lived history in her 100 years.
"She has seen a lot of stuff," said son Duane Reed, whose mother died Aug. 8 after a monthslong illness.
As a child in Shuqualak, Miss., she endured segregation and the Great Depression. She was allowed to attend school just three months a year.
Her mother died when she was 5, and she and six siblings scattered to relatives, until the Great Migration and President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal carried her coal-miner father north, to a steady job in Chicago. Reed, who'd been whisked away to care for her sister's kids in Tennessee, was about 12 when the family reunited.
Uneasy at her fast-paced, integrated Chicago city school, Reed quit after the ninth grade. She worked at Canfield Beverages and later at a plant making ammunition for soldiers during World War II.
Being a "Rosie the Riveter" proved hard, but Reed liked working and abided the Depression era tenets of her family: Work. Waste not. And "pool your resources!"
She met Walter Reed at a church social. They married in 1945 and moved to St. Paul, which remained her adopted home until she died.
"Everybody loved her. She talked to anybody and everybody and treated everybody the same, no matter what you looked like or who you were," said eldest granddaughter Lisa Reaves.
Lillian and Walter moved in with his brother on Iglehart Avenue when they were new to St. Paul. She found assembly line work at the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in New Brighton and later at Honeywell, while Walter worked as an orderly at the veterans hospital.
They had three sons before buying a home in 1950 on Carroll Avenue, in the historically Black Rondo neighborhood. They lived two blocks from Pilgrim Baptist Church, where she brought the boys every Sunday and attended herself for 75 years,
On Carroll Avenue, Reed taught her small sons the tricks of joyful frugality. Walter Michael, Duane and Ronald remember with a chuckle that she'd buy them a single ice cream cone, and have them take turns licking.
But like ice cream, the treats on Carroll Avenue wouldn't last. The city took the Reed house along with 700 other Rondo houses under eminent domain in 1956 to make way for Interstate 94. The Reeds then built a house on Fuller Avenue for $15,000. To pay for it, she assembled Honeywell thermostats by day and waitressed nights at Road Buddy's Bar-B-Que.
Reed always said she was comfortable not being rich. She religiously balanced the family checkbook to the penny, grew and canned all her vegetables, and pooled resources to stave off "Old Man Poverty" and survive. Beyond that, what mattered most, she often said, was: "When you treat people right, you can sleep at night," Duane recalled. "That's what she really believed contributed to her longevity."
Reed retired from Honeywell in 1974 after 25 years, but didn't rest. She adopted her disabled, infant grandson Kevin, and went back to school to learn "the new math" so she could tutor him and be his advocate at school.
Reed instilled in Kevin and the rest of the family a love for the education she never received.
If given the opportunity, she would have been a teacher, said Reaves, who teaches English in the state of Virginia. "She loved teaching and history and that combination made her love everything about my profession."
At 85, Reed flew to Virginia to talk to Reaves' seventh-graders about the influences the Depression, segregation, the Great Migration and Roosevelt's New Deal had on her life.
Reed's talk became an annual history lesson for Reaves' classes for 15 years. "These 12- and 13-year-old students loved her stories and her struggle. They write her letters that are so heartfelt," Reaves said. "Now, I don't have that lesson anymore. But I will try and honor her in another way."
Funeral services have been held. Reed is survived by sons Walter Michael, Duane and Ronald, six grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.