Geraldine Alexander, a minister at Second Baptist Church in Maywood, says a prayer for educators on Sunday. The day was conceived by W. Delores Robinson, bottom center, as a way to honor the educators who came before her. Robinson will retire in July after nearly 50 years as an educator. | Michael Romain
Sunday, June 12, 2016 || By Michael Romain || UPDATED: 11:45 p.m.
Karen Jones Walker, 45, scanned the sanctuary of Second Baptist Church in Maywood this Sunday and admitted a bit of anxiety.
“I’m a little nervous this morning, because my teachers are present,” said Walker, a Maywood native who graduated from Irving Elementary School and Proviso East High School.
Walker, the director of student success and retention at Rockford University, was the guest speaker at the June 12 service dedicated to local educators, most of whom are members of the Maywood church — long a bastion of classroom legends like Gladys Freelon, Walker’s 1st grade teacher and the wife of Joseph Freelon, Sr., Maywood’s first African-American mayor.
“I saw her this morning and tears rose up in gratitude,” Walker said. “It’s so important that we honor our educators.”
Walker recited a litany of former teachers she had while attending District 89 schools, where she said the seeds of her own motivation to teach were planted. Freelon, she recalled, was “graceful” and “set a standard” in ways both large and small — from her air of dignity to the way she dressed.
“The Mrs. Freelon you all see this morning is the first grade teacher I [saw everyday],” Walker said.
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Walker’s 4th grade teacher, Neacy White, who was a pioneering musician and music director at Second Baptist, taught students Gospel hymns before such instruction was considered taboo. In the 7th and 8th grades, Walker’s teachers were Beverlyn Ivory and Louise Jones-Denton, both longtime active congregants.
“This church has such a rich history and legacy of teaching and equipping the body of Christ within this community,” Walker said, before describing what, to many in the audience, might be considered something of a golden age in District 89.
“We experienced excellence as students growing up in District 89,” she recalled. “We had the best programs. It was phenomenal.”
In her 7th grade classroom, Walker said, Ivory made them recite poetry without error. If you made an error you did it again.
On Sunday, Ivory was among nearly 30 educators honored with certificates and white roses. The veteran educators — who included administrators, support personnel, teachers, college professors and specialists — represented over 600 years of total experience in the field.
The length of their careers ranged from a retired instructional aide who worked in District 89 for 12 years to W. Dolores Robinson, a Chicago principal who will retire in June after 47 years in education.
Robinson, a longtime church member whose daughter is also a principal, organized the Sunday event as a way of celebrating the men and women who made her long career possible.
The educators were also honored by a prayer delivered in earnest by Geraldine Alexander, a minister at the church and the mother of twins, Monica Alexander Hawkins and Marsha Alexander — both of whom began their careers as reading specialists 15 years ago before becoming a top administrator and principal, respectively, in District 89.
The sisters talked glowingly about Walker — who they considered a role model and mentor when Walker worked in the district — just as Walker talks about her former teachers. It’s a virtuous cycle, Geraldine Alexander said, that doesn’t get enough attention.
“It’s something when you can honor these educators,” Alexander said. “We honor the ballplayers, but the ballplayers [wouldn’t be possible] without the educators.” VFP