Saturday, May 19, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 5/20/18
Featured image: Rev. Wallace W. Sykes, center, during an event at his Maywood church in 2016. | File
Rev. Wallace Wyatt Sykes, the longtime pastor of the more than century-old Second Baptist Church in Maywood — who was so influential in the village that a portion of Washington Boulevard, as well as a post office, were named in his honor — died on Saturday. He was 94 years old.
Sykes’ death was confirmed by multiple relatives and congregants, including his nephew, Vincent Poole, who in a Facebook post called the Maywood pastor his hero. A cause of death has not been confirmed yet.
Born Dec. 21, 1923 in Starkville, Miss., Sykes moved to Maywood in 1943 and joined Second Baptist Church shortly afterward.
The breadth of his pre-pastoral activity in the church was wide, deep and tailor-made for a would-be pastor: deacon, church trustee, superintendent of the Sunday School department, choir member and the church’s financial secretary for 12 years, among many other roles.
In 1957, Sykes entered the ministry, studying at the Chicago Baptist Institute. He was ordained in 1961 and would become pastor a year later. For the rest of his long pastorship, Sykes would preach to his congregants the values of both formal education and self-study alike.
Sykes had the mind and curiosity of an autodidact and stretched it at a range of institutions, including Crane Junior College in Chicago, the Chicago Teachers College, the Chicago Baptist Institute and Elmhurst College. He did postgraduate studies at Northeastern Illinois University and the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard.
In 1965, he was given an honorary doctorate from the board of trustees of the Easonian Baptist Theological Seminary in Birmingham, Ala.
Under his leadership, Sykes’ church, one of Maywood’s oldest, grew into the town’s most prominent — boasting enough educators (from preschool teachers to college professors) to fill classrooms.
Sykes’ emphasis on education flowed from his sermons to his church’s organizational activity. Sundays featured regular offerings for the Hayden Memorial Educational Fund, which provided college scholarships to young congregants, and Pam’s Pennies, a fundraiser designed to complement the scholarship fund.
The church also established the Maple Tree Child Learning Center, a daycare and nursery housed in a building next to the church’s current sanctuary.
Sykes also counted among his congregants a retinue of local notables, many of whom would serve prominent roles in the church.
Joe Freelon, Maywood’s first African American mayor who died in 2016, was the longtime chairman of the church’s deacon board. The village’s second black mayor, Don Williams, is still a minister there.
The village’s first black clerk, Venida Perkins, was on the mother’s board at the time of her death more than a decade ago. Some of the first blacks to move into the top brass within the police and fire departments were also members.
The church was home to the black families who comprised what many longtime residents often refer to as ‘old Maywood’ — families whose roots extend back multiple generations.
An exemplary congregant was Quinella W. Hathaway, who lived past 100. According a brief online history released by the University of Kentucky, Hathaway was born in Kentucky before her family moved first to Indiana and then to Maywood, where they settled in 1907.
Hathaway was “the only African American student in both her elementary and high school graduating classes; the Watson Family was among the first African American families to live in Maywood. Hathaway was also one of the first African American students at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“Her husband, Walter Hathaway, was the first trustee in Maywood. Quinella W. Hathaway was the grandmother of Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers, former NBA basketball player and coach of the 2008 NBA champions, the Boston Celtics.”
There were many other congregants with roots and legacies similar to Hathaway’s. Northica Hillery Stone — the founder of the West Town Museum of Cultural History in Maywood who died last week at 85 — was also a longtime member of Sykes’ congregation.
In 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Sykes was among a group of religious leaders interviewed by the local newspaper for an article that assessed the emotional pulse of the village.
That same year, Stone’s husband, George, founded Operation Uplift, a prominent Maywood nonprofit that helped place hundreds of blacks into careers in Corporate America, inside of Sykes’ home. Northica opened the museum in 1995 as an extension of the nonprofit. Photographs of Sykes and many members of his congregation line the museum’s walls.
Sykes’ influence was felt beyond the walls of his church and acknowledged on several major occasions, including several decades ago, when the village named a portion of Washington Boulevard in his honor and in 2007, when Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) helped get the Maywood Post Office named in his honor.
In 2014, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch filed a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives in Sykes’ honor to commemorate his 52nd pastoral anniversary.
In recent years, Sykes had stepped away from daily pastoral duties and in 2017, after serving in the role for nearly 60 years, formally resigned from his position as pastor. So far, funeral arrangements are still pending. VFP
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Sykes’ placeof birth. It is Starkville, Miss., not Starksville. VFP regrets the error.
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