It felt as if nearly everyone on Joyce Irene Acosta's walking routes knew her. As Acosta made her way from her home in Brooklyn Center to the transit center or the nearby Cub Foods, the 84-year-old, known for her signature hats and affinity for the color yellow, often chatted with the people she encountered.
"She never met a stranger," said her nephew, Kevin Underwood.
Acosta was walking one of those routes June 1 when she was hit by a car. She died at North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale a week later. Police have since charged Tammy R. Olson, 59, also of Brooklyn Center, with criminal vehicular homicide.
"She was not supposed to go yet," said Marquita Acosta Fox, Acosta's daughter. "She was all over the place."
Acosta was strong, quick-witted and fearless. She was funny, sweet, innocent and yet mischievous, family members said. The tiny woman had a large personality that drew others to her. When Underwood went to his aunt and uncle's home, "she was top billing."
Acosta was born in Minneapolis in 1938, near the end of the Great Depression. While some of her relatives had been born in Minnesota, others had moved here from mining towns in south-central Iowa. Much of the family settled in Twin Cities neighborhoods to which Black Americans were restricted before the Fair Housing Act took effect in 1968.
"She was a true North Side original," said Acosta's niece, Jacquelyn Underwood Smith.
The racism she endured and the financial difficulties of her childhood stayed with Acosta, who recounted the stories for her relatives and sought to ensure that the younger generations in her family had opportunities that she didn't.
Acosta and her husband, Phillip William Acosta, an iron welder, married in 1960. Years later, when they were expecting their first child, they moved to Brooklyn Center, becoming one of the first Black families to move into their neighborhood.
"She had a vision for her family," said Acosta Fox. Acosta made sure her daughter had access to the piano lessons she'd wished she'd had as a child. She tended to her daughter's sports uniforms and gave her a big red bow to wear on top of her head. She was the first to advocate for her children's education, to make sure they received proper attention in the classroom.
As her children and their friends played in her home, Acosta lovingly referred to them by the goofy nicknames she'd given them, names like Hot Dog and Wiener. She often had yeast rolls prepared for visitors, but also for the bus driver and the other families who waited each morning to catch a ride to school.
Nothing went wasted. Milk boxes turned into birdhouses. Egg cups held paint for art projects. To help make ends meet, Acosta sometimes worked as a hat model for Dayton's or sold artwork she'd created using watercolors or charcoal.
Not long before her death, on a stormy day, Underwood visited his aunt to make sure she was OK. He offered to drive her if she ever needed help with errands and she insisted on walking. Being able to walk was a sign she was still strong. He remembers thinking she would live to 100.
Acosta's family held services for her on Monday, as the nation marked Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It was a coincidence, but one her family found fitting. The attendees wore hats, some from Acosta's own collection. And loved ones sent her daughter yellow flowers.