Village People: Betty Lemons At 100

Sunday, July 15, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Betty Lemons, who turned 100 in June, on her porch in Maywood last week. | VFP 

There is likely no other person in the world who has lived in Maywood longer than Betty Doris Lemons, who turned 100 on June 3. 

One afternoon last week, I ventured over to the 200 block of South 11th Avenue in Maywood, where Lemons resides in an apartment above her 74-year-old daughter, Nedra Lemons Fox.

The two women are among the last people on their block who knew Maywood back when you could point to a home and name, with quick precision, the family who resided therein.

I asked Lemons and Fox to name the families who once stayed on their block. With their fingers motioning to some homes that were boarded up, they did.

The Watsons. The Freemans. The Carsons. The Greens. The Rays. The Gordons. The Pincketts. The Baileys. The Blacks. Uncle Bob … 

“Am I talking too fast for you?” Lemons asked.

Lemons was born June 3, 1918 at 610 S. 13th Ave. in Maywood — the home, she said, where Canaan AME Church, one of Maywood’s oldest, was started.

Her father died when she was just 3 years old. So it was left to her mother, “Mama Mae” Logan, to anchor the house and raise Lemons and her four older siblings — many of whom were born in nearby Oak Park. 

Lemons’ older sister, Gladys Logan, died a few years ago in Maywood at 98. She would’ve been 102 if she were alive today, Lemons said. 

“I’d never saw my mother with a man,” Lemons recalled. “She was a widow with five children. She paid all the bills. She’d always say, ‘Jesus is my husband.’”

Lemons attended Washington Elementary School (“our class was the first class to graduate from that building in 1932”) and Proviso East High School.

“When I went to Proviso, we couldn’t belong to any of the social clubs because we were black,” she said.

When she graduated from East, in 1936, she went to work in a high-end Oak Park retail store before eventually working as a school bus driver for 20 years.

In 1939, she married her husband, Obie H. Lemons, who worked at Illinois Bell Telephone Company for 43 years. Obie had perfect attendance by the time he retired. The Lemons had three children. Nedra is the only child alive. Obie died some two decades ago.

When Lemons wasn’t working, she was anchoring her house and her community. Twice she’s been diagnosed with cancer. Twice she’s beaten it. 

People around the community know her as Bett — her preferred name — the woman legendary for giving new life to things others might throw away.

“I’ve picked up a many of stuff,” Lemons said, adding that she even helped furnish former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene “Gene” Moore’s first apartment.

“Plenty of people I’ve given things to, but I don’t remember,” she said. “When you give from the heart you don’t remember what you did for them.”

Lemons is comfortable in her old age, sporting the wit and alertness of someone decades younger. Life, in turn, has been good to Lemons.  

“I’ve been a rich poor woman all my life,” she said. “I’ve never wanted for anything. I’ve never been without a penny or unable to pay my bills. Anything I’ve wanted I’ve been able to get it.”

There’s just one more thing she wants, now that she’s been alive for a century.

“I didn’t think I’d live to 100,” she said, “but I’m ready to live to 200 now.” VFP

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6 thoughts on “Village People: Betty Lemons At 100”

  1. Bett told me several years ago “WHEN MY TIME COMES – tell them “this was NOT part of my agenda – I like it here”.

  2. I would love to have a talk with this woman. I’ve lived here for some time and wondered about our village in those days. I met a man named Tom some time ago and he would tell me stories over cups of coffee. These stories where about him running after the train as boy and gathering chunks of coal to heat his home in the cold winters. He also said that the village was mostly German people. His words seemed to take me back in time. I might stop by and visit Ms Bett and go on those great trips to the past again. It’s great to have these keepers of those times. Much love to you Ms. Bett, you are a treasure in my eyes.

  3. Ms. Lemon has been a blessing to the community, while living on the block. I knew her son Tryron who grew up on the block and attended washington grade school. Ms. Lemon always kept her property nice and showed others on the block how to maintain there’s. She had that big picture window where you saw everything that went on the block, she brought created the word the “neighborhood watch.” She always been a loving lady who deserve all the love from the original Maywoodians.

    1. Mrs Lemons was my late mother best friend she is like a mother to me she is my aunt friend Merque Polk

  4. Bett as she was known by is one of the nicest human beings i have ever known. She is a strong pillar in this community and has been blessed to be still around. God bless her soul and HAPPY BIRITHDAY TO YOU AND MANY MORE.

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