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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

Teacher offered haven for many foster children

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE -- Mary K. LaPointe, of Temperance, a former nun at the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, a retired lifelong teacher, and a licensed foster parent who helped hundreds of children through emergency foster-care programs, died of pneumonia and kidney failure Monday in Mercy Memorial Hospital in Monroe. She was 74.

"She was very Irish, with an electric smile, and a loving heart," Bridget Winkelspecht, her daughter, said. "She served children her whole life, be it through teaching or through helping them in every way."

Mrs. LaPointe taught elementary grades for the Archdiocese of Detroit schools in Detroit, Monroe, and Erie, Mich., from the late 1950s until her retirement in the early 1990s. Most recently, she was a substitute teacher at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Erie.

She was with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from the late 1950s until the late 1960s, when she left the convent. The family does not know why she left, Mrs. Winkelspecht said.

She married Gilbert LaPointe in 1971.

She served on boards of several nonprofit organizations Monroe and Wayne counties that dealt with the health and well-being of children. In the 1980s, the state of Michigan named her and her husband Foster Parents of the Year twice, her daughter said.

Born Aug. 12, 1937, in Detroit into the family of Irish immigrants, she grew up in a strict, religious home, her daughter said.

Mrs. LaPointe graduated from St. Rose Catholic High School in the mid-1950s and then from Marygrove College, both in Detroit. In college, she got her bachelor's degree in education and was studying toward her master's degree, also in education, when she became a teaching nun for the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent in Monroe, Mrs. Winkelspecht said.

Mrs. Winkelspecht said her parents temporarily fostered hundreds of children -- sometimes just overnight -- in what is called emergency child placement in Monroe and Wayne counties.

The children came from homes were they were physically or mentally abused. The couple licensed foster parents in Wayne and Monroe counties, she said.

"Say when a police officer removes a child from an abusive home, they would call my mom and dad and I would wake up and there would be a couple of kids sleeping in our spare bedroom," Mrs. Winkelspecht said.

They adopted four of such children, three formally and one de facto because her injuries were so severe that authorities would not issue adoption papers, saying the health-care costs would be prohibitive. That child stayed at her adoptive home from when she was 3 months old until dying of pneumonia at age 30 in March this year, Mrs. Winkelspecht said.

The service as foster parents started at the end of Vietnam War. "There was information [in 1975] about a rescue airlift to war-orphaned Vietnamese children to bring them over from Vietnam," Mrs. Winkelspecht said. "When my mother inquired, she found out that all of them have been placed in homes; then she went to the social services in Monroe and inquired about becoming a foster parent."

In 2001, Mrs. LaPointe had a spinal cord injury and 10 years later was diagnosed with breast cancer, but remained spiritually upbeat, her daughter said. "When things were real hard, she was supportive of her fellow patients, being able to lift them up spiritually. She was that kind of person," Mrs. Winkelspecht said. "Her favorite song was 'Forever Young' by Rod Stewart. She always had a positive attitude, she always saw the glass as half full."

Mrs. LaPointe enjoyed shopping, camping, and reading. "She would take us camping from Memorial Day through Labor Day," her daughter said.

Mrs. LaPointe is survived by her husband of 40 years, Gilbert LaPointe, daughters, Bridget Winkelspecht, Renee Cousino, Andrea LaPointe, LuAnn Bogart, Melissa Adkins, and Tonya Lammers, sons, Bryan LaPointe and Steven LaPointe, 13 grandchildren, and several great grandchildren.

Visitation is to be 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Michael W. Pawlak Funeral Home, 1640 Smith Rd., Temperance. A Memorial Mass is to be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Motherhouse, 610 W. Elm Ave. in Monroe.

The family suggests tributes to the Mercy Memorial Cancer Connection or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, or 419-724-6089.



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