Saturday, November 10, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Gick Schmidt, who helped found Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization, recalls the organization’s history during a September gathering held to commemorate NOMCO’s 50th anniversary. | Shanel Romain
In 1968, Steve and Gick Schmidt were planning to move to New York City temporarily so that Steve could pursue his doctorate degree. The couple agreed to rent their home at 807 N. 5th Ave. to Robert King, a black professor at Concordia University in River Forest, his wife and their two children.
“My husband and I went to all of our neighbors on our side of the street to explain that we’d be back in a year and a half and that we were renting the home — they weren’t buying, they renting,” Gick recalled 50 years later. “When we came back a year and a half later, every home was changing hands, including that of a doctor who had lived here for 40 years.”
The Schmidt’s lived experience with what would later be known as “white flight” was one reason why the North Maywood Community Organization, or NoMCO, was founded inside of the couple’s 5th Avenue home, Gick said during a 50th anniversary gathering held Sept. 21 at the Maywood Multipurpose Building, 200 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood.
“That really helped us understand why NoMCO was so very important to the future of Maywood,” she said.
The Schmidts had moved into their home on the north side of the railroad tracks in 1965 because “we really wanted a diverse neighborhood for our daughters and we wanted to be close to St. Paul Lutheran School, where they were going to go to school.”
The Schmidts, however, would soon discover that the neighborhood “was not quite as diverse as we had hoped,” Gick recalled.
The purpose of NoMCO was summarized in an April 7, 1968 edition of the Proviso Star Sentinel, which Gick read during the September gathering.
The organization wanted “to open the lines of communication among ourselves and other Maywood groups, governing bodies and individuals with similar concerns. We support the Maywood Fair Housing ordinance both as the law of the village and as an enactment of our Judeo-Christian moral principals.”
Those principals were forged in a swiftly changing racial climate. The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, was the catalyst that prompted Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed on April 11.
The law prohibited discrimination in housing and expressly outlawed practices such as redlining (denying people financial assistance like home mortgages because of their race or ethnicity) and blockbusting (persuading white owners to sell their properties at depressed prices by inciting fears about black neighbors).
The law, however, was not enough to stanch the flow of white residents from Maywood just as federal housing policies were allowing black residents to move beyond the handful of blocks south of the tracks where they were forced to live for decades.
Between 1970 and 1980, whites would go from roughly 60 percent of Maywood’s population to around 25 percent of the population.
Nomco’s newest officers, left to right, president Mike Rogers, communications chair Laura Rogers, treasurer Viola Mims, secretary Loretta Brown and vice president Gary Woll. | Shanel Romain
Lois Baumann was born and raised in Maywood. Her grandfather built homes here, some of which, Baumann said, are still standing.
“When we were growing up, there were beautiful elm trees that formed an arch going down 5th Avenue,” she said, before reminiscing on now-defunct local institutions like Freedman’s and Sears and Montgomery Ward’s and the Lido Theater (where “you could go on Saturdays and for 10 cents watch cartoons all morning”).
Baumann’s family was among those rare whites who stayed behind. As with the Schmidts, Baumann said that she was prompted to do more than sit idly by and watch the exodus.
“My parents said to me when my block was moving out, ‘This is so wrong,’” Baumann recalled. “That’s all I needed to hear. ‘This is so wrong.’ It’s a great sentence. I was inspired then. I thought if it’s wrong, then I could make it right. I started teaching dance lessons for .25 cents in my garage.”
Baumann, along with her husband, Ernie, founded Maywood Fine Arts — which includes Mr. Ernie’s Flip, Flop tumbling and Fly and Stairway of the Stars Dance Studio — a half-century ago.
“As NoMCO was, ‘Let’s get together, let’s make this better,’ Maywood Fine Arts is ‘let’s get together, let’s make this better,’” Baumann said in September. “It’s not easy, but it can be done. It just takes constant enthusiasm and a lot of love.”
For NoMCO, change took a variety of forms. Wally Saunders — whose husband, newspaper publisher Ron Saunders, would lose a close race for mayor to the village’s first African American mayor, Joe Freelon — said that the Schmidts were among the first families they met when they moved into their home on 4th Avenue.
“We would have meetings to figure out ways we could make the community better,” said Saunders, who flew in from out-of-state to be at the September gathering.
Saunders said that the contingent of residents who made up NoMCO’s members were “all of these young, educated, independent activists.” Initially, she said, there was some tension between the young liberals and the more conservative white families on the north end.
Lois Baumann, the co-founder of Maywood Fine Arts, speaks during September’s gathering. | Shanel Romain
“We tried not to have animosity, but for years it was touch and go,” Saunders said. “But we all got along. NoMCO is still here.”
Along with collaborating with organizations like Head Start and the Proviso Council on Aging, NoMCO also hosted events like the Maywood Renaissance Housewalk, blood drives and summer potluck parties.
The group also became a political force in its own right. In 1977, NoMCO’s first president, Gary Woll, was elected village trustee. Woll would serve in the position for more than three decades before serving one term as village clerk.
Over the years, NoMCO’s membership would diversify, as more and more residents of the village’s south end got involved in the civic group. Eventually, the organization would change its name to Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization and drop the lower-case ‘o’ in its acronym (it is now known as NOMCO).
The organization’s mission and model, however, remains, Saunders said.
“With the crazy government we have,” she said, “I would hope that people would still be enthused about being kind to one another, helping one another, and being about diversity and equality.” VFP
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