Elzona Trosper dedicated her life to helping improve the status of blacks and minorities in Sioux City. A social worker, wife, mother, and community activist, Trosper was tireless in her efforts to help those in need.
Elzona Trosper was born Elzona Harris on April 27, 1898, in Gallatin, Missouri. She graduated from Western Baptist College in Kansas City, Missouri and the University of Kansas. She completed additional graduate work at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago.
Trosper moved with her husband Thomas to Sioux City in 1927. She quickly became involved in the community and was instrumental in the creation of the Booker T. Washington Center, a community center for blacks. She was the first president of the board of the Booker T. Washington Center.
The Booker T. Washington Center was founded in 1933 for Sioux City blacks, though both blacks and whites in the neighborhood took advantage of the programs. Its founders included the Men’s Booster Club, a black men’s organization, several black women’s clubs and several community leaders, including Mary Treglia and Stella Sanford. Trosper became director of the Booker T. Washington Center in 1937.
The Booker T. Washington Center began with few funds and few amenities. Its location was at 712 ½ West Seventh Street. The club women scrubbed and cleaned the facility, hung curtains and decorated as best they could. With donations of a cook stove, furniture and a stove for heating, the center began operations. It was a success from the start.
Programs were developed with classes in reading, writing, games, crafts and other activities. Neighborhood meetings were held at the center, and clubs were organized for people of all ages. Although the facility was founded to serve the needs of the black population, soon as many white as black neighbors were using the facility.
The Center found new, larger headquarters at 922 ½ West Seventh Street. Though not modern, it allowed for expanded activities. Stella and Arthur Sanford donated an oil heating system for heating the hall.
The Booker T. Washington center quickly became too small for its needs. During World War II, the center provided a nursery school for children whose mothers were employed in war effort and a USO site for black servicemen stationed at the Sioux City Air Base.
Stella Sanford saw the need for expanded facilities. She and her husband decided to make a gift from their Stellart charitable foundation for the benefit of the Booker T. Washington Center. Their $100,000 gift made the new community center a reality, and the Booker T. Washington Center’s board of directors unanimously voted to name the new building the Sanford Center in honor of the donors. The Sanford Center was dedicated on June 17, 1951, and Trosper continued to guide that organization until her retirement in 1972.
The plaque near the entrance of the building is inscribed:
“Given to the people of Sioux City by Stella and Arthur Sanford to further interracial understanding and better community living. The building was inspired by the ideals and work of Mary J. Treglia, administrator, and Elzona B. Trosper, director.”
Mrs. Trosper was a pioneer in the civil rights movement in Sioux City and was active in the Sioux City Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1975 she was honored for holding the record for the longest continuing membership in the Sioux City chapter. She worked tirelessly to improve the position of black people in the community.
In a 1975 interview, Trosper credited the NAACP for the lack of racial violence in Sioux City. “If it wasn’t for the NAACP here, I wonder what would happen. It was done in a quiet unassuming way.” She added that the Sioux City Chapter had an excellent relationship with the community.
Trosper remained active in community affairs after her retirement from the Sanford Center. She continued to be a human rights advocate and served on many boards including the Minority Advisory Committee of the Sioux City School District and the Woodbury County Bureau of Family and Children. She received many awards for her efforts to bring equal rights to all the people of Sioux City.
Sioux City Journal, February 13, 1975
Sioux City Journal, August 15, 1981