Wichita community chronicler Annie Work dies at age 76

Whenever Annie Work went to snap a photo of a group of people with the camera she always had around her neck, she made sure others were done taking their pictures so that no one got in the way of her light.

“She was one of those (to whom) you said ‘Miss Annie.’ You got out of the way,” said Lavonta Williams, a City Council member who witnessed such a scene at many community events over the years.

Miss Annie would be at the events to chronicle them for the Urban News newspaper that she’d published since 2000. She lost the only election for office that she ever entered; she took it on herself to shine a light on her family, her neighborhood and her city.

Miss Annie died Sunday after being diagnosed in June with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. Her oldest daughter, Cynthia Work of Oklahoma City, said she had probably been sick for a year before that. She was 76.

“She was always smiling. She was always dressed and accessorized to the hilt and a lot of fun to be around because she was always, always energetic,” said Bonnie Bing, who as the fashion and social columnist for The Eagle was the recipient of many Miss Annie submissions over the years.

Miss Annie didn’t just chronicle events; she was part of them, but always with an eye to sharing them. The litany of happenings she attended is long, involving varied organizations and causes that she supported: the Urban League, the Senior Expo, KPTS, the Black Arts Festival, the NAACP, the American Legion, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the African-American Museum, the autism walk.

“She loved to let people know the things going on in the African-American community,” Bing said. Williams said she is pleased that Miss Annie was honored by the NAACP last year, while she was able to receive the accolades.

After moving to Wichita from Pittsburg in 1955 and graduating from East High School, Miss Annie married, later divorced and raised five daughters in a house on North Grove – the same house where she died.

“She taught us to be independent because she was,” her daughter Cheslea Mallette of Wichita said. “We looked up to her raising us five girls as a single parent. She made sure we had everything we needed. She was involved in all our activities. ... She made sure she was there for every program our kids were in. She took care of her sister Lavonia and her mother for years.”

Miss Annie had nine grandchildren. “She raised us to be good mothers to our kids,” daughter Janet Work of Wichita said.

For 21 years, Miss Annie was the person the public would first encounter at KWCH, Channel 12, where she was the receptionist. She also worked part time at the Sears store at Twin Lakes for 11 years, Work said.

And she did run for office once: the Wichita school board, in 2007.

She played tennis and golf and bowled, her daughters said, introducing them and her grandchildren to the sports as well. She volunteered at KPTS and the Orpheum Theatre.

Miss Annie quickly made friends with everyone she met, including Judy L. Young. The two were once in the front row of a Music Theatre production, and the performers invited them up on stage to dance with them, Young remembers.

“The entire audience was applauding her expertise doing the Lindy,” Young said of Miss Annie. Miss Annie practiced tap-dancing every day on an old piece of plywood, Young said. She would “tap-tap-tap her troubles away, as she would say.”

Miss Annie was a history buff who wanted to be sure the history of the community was available to its young people, Williams said. And she wanted to document the present through the Urban News, a publication she produced herself out of her house, printing about 200 copies a month. She recycled Eagle newspaper bags and would tuck pretzels or candy into the bags along with the Urban News for Williams.

June’s was the last issue Miss Annie put out herself; Work said she put out the latest edition, in July/August. Miss Annie had planned to pick up again with the November issue, but now there are no plans for the publication to continue.

Williams remembers the last time she saw Miss Annie at work, earlier this year. Williams was at an event with the mayor and with their spouses, and Miss Annie insisted on a photograph – with her between the mayor and Billy D. Williams.

“She was a good one,” Lavonta Williams said. “She was a great one, and we’ll miss her.”

Miss Annie’s other survivors include daughters Tracy Work and Janel Johnson of Wichita; a brother, Ronald Smith; and sisters Lavonia Revell and Mary Tolliver.

The funeral for Miss Annie will be at 11 a.m. Friday at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 1001 N. Ohio. Jackson Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.