Category: Obituaries

Death Notices: Norman J. Dziedzic, Longtime Proviso East Math Teacher | Tyrone Crider Service, Obituary Available Online

Obit photo .jpgMonday, June 5, 2017 || Community Editor || @maywoodnews

Norman J. Dziedzic, of Norwood Park, died recently. He was 86.

Dziedzic was a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War and a beloved husband to the late Joanne Dziedzic (nee Borchardt); a loving father of Norman Jr. (Sonja), Christopher (Judy), Patrick (Leslie), and David (Deanna) Dziedzic; a proud grandfather of Scott, Wesley, Coleman, Alyssa, Grace, Tanner, Lauren, and Ava; dear brother of Mary Ann (George) Ancona, Pearl (the late John) LaCalamita and the late Dorothy Pilat; and fond uncle to many nieces and nephews.

Before retiring, Dziedzic taught math at Proviso East High School for 31 years. He was also a member of Park Ridge V.F.W., a community theater member at Rising Stars and the St. Eugene Players, and a tutor and “Coach” to many at Notre Dame High School.

A visitation will take place on Friday, June 9 at M.J. Suerth Funeral Home, 6754 N. Northwest Hwy. in Chicago, from 3:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.

The funeral mass will take place on Saturday, June 10, 10 a.m., at Immaculate Conception Church. Prayers will take place at Suerth Funeral Home at 9:30 a.m. The interment will be at St Adalbert Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, send memorials to: Notre Dame Wrestling Club c/o Coach Augie Genovesi, 7655 Dempster St, Niles, IL 60714; American Cancer Society, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1200, Chicago, IL. 60601; or Alzheimer’s Association, 8430 W. Bryn Mawr, Suite 800, Chicago, IL. 60631.

For more information call 877 631 1240 or suerth.com.

Rev. Tyrone Crider service, obituary available online 

Services for Maywood native and prominent Chicago pastor Rev. Tyrone Crider can be watched online here. Crider died from cancer on May 26. Click on the image below to access the obituary.

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Maywood Mourns First Black Mayor: ‘Because of Him We Thought More of Ourselves’

Mayor Joe Freelon Sr..pngSunday, November 26, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Hundreds of mourners gathered at Maywood’s Second Baptist Church, 436 S. 13th Ave., on Saturday to celebrate the life of Joe W. Freelon, Sr., Maywood’s first African American mayor. Freelon, who died on Nov. 18 of natural causes, was 87 years old.

Born on Sept. 15, 1929, in Grenada, Mississippi, Freelon was one of 13 children. He attended Grenada’s elementary and high schools before enlisting in the U.S. Army for three years and eventually enrolling at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.

After graduating from Tuskegee’s R.O.T.C. program with a bachelor’s degree in 1956, Freelon re-entered the military as an officer stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas. Eventually, he would move to Chicago and become a schoolteacher.

In 1964, Freelon and Gladys, his wife of 61 years, moved to Maywood and joined Second Baptist, where Freelon would serve as chairman of the church’s deacon board for more than 40 years.

The church was a magnet for former southerners and educators like Louise Denton-Jones, who was also born and raised in Grenada before moving to Maywood and starting a decades-long teaching career.

“Joe was what you’d call my homeboy,” said Denton-Jones, who officiated Saturday’s service. “We’re from the same hometown and we both graduated from Grenada Public High School. We’ve come a long way. Joe was no ordinary man. He was a great man.”

Freelon was in his early 50s, and had distinguished himself as a social studies and math teacher in Chicago Public Schools, as well as a key community figure, by the time a group of residents tapped him to run for mayor in the early 1980s.

“Joe was first and foremost an educator,” wrote U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), who sent a letter that was read by his former chief of staff and current Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) during Saturday’s service.

“He taught for many years in the North Lawndale community [and] children in the community at large loved him,” Davis wrote. “Joe was the kind of person who would always come when called. When a group of his neighbors, friends, colleagues and fellow church members called, he answered and ran for mayor. For the rest of his life, he has been a leading force in the governance of Maywood.”

Freelon entered the race as one of eight candidates, including six African Americans. One of them, Bill Hampton — the brother of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton — recalled in an interview on Friday that the 1981 race may have featured the most black candidates of any race in the village’s history.

According to newspaper accounts, some residents feared that, with so many blacks in the running, they would split the African American vote in what would amount to a missed opportunity at a time when the village’s black residents, who had comprised Maywood’s majority, were hungry for representation in the mayor’s office.

But Freelon prevailed over newspaper publisher Ron Saunders by just 23 votes, a result that Saunders contested in the courts.

In May 1982, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ordered  Freelon to vacate his position as mayor due to “large-scale voting irregularities in the April 7, 1981 election that put him in office,” according to a May 28, 1982 Chicago Tribune article.

Among those irregularities, the judge noted, were failures by election judges to “initial ballots” and “check registration cards” — oversights the judge said were due largely to “lack of knowledge of the election laws and the rules of the election board.”

After he stepped down, the village board appointed Freelon acting mayor until a special election could be held on Nov. 3 1982. Freelon would go on to comfortably defeat Saunders by several thousand votes in a head-to-head matchup.

“It is abundantly clear tonight that the people are saying, ‘Take your programs and move forward,’” Freelon said when he was elected to an historic first term for the second time.

The Maywood mayor’s victory in 1981 predated a wave of major black mayoralties across the country. Two years after the village first elected Freelon, Chicago would elect Harold Washington, Philadelphia would elect Wilson Goode and New York City would elect David Dinkins.

Race played a critical role in urban politics in those years, with blacks jockeying for more local political power while whites fought to maintain their tremendous political advantages against a demographic surge that worked against them.

Months after his historic win, Mayor Washington attended a rally at the Maywood Community Center in order to galvanize support behind an all-black slate comprising four candidates for District 89 school board seats.

“Maywood is a focal point of a lot of attention,” said Washington, who was introduced by Freelon. “You know what you want. You don’t need me to tell you how to do it; but … I am bringing you this message from the good people of Chicago.”

The all-black slate, called the Citizens for Representative Education, claimed that the board’s white majority from Melrose Park “restricted public comment,” among other allegations of discriminatory practices.

Washington, the Tribune reported, called the majority white board of a majority black school district “a travesty on common sense.”

Donna Felton, a lawyer who was running on the CRE slate that year, spoke in religious terms when describing the movement to elect more black officials to the school board, among other local seats of power.

“What this says to the people is a crusade is still going on,” Felton said. “Many black people who never heretofore voted now realize the power of the collective vote and specifically the black vote. Harold epitomizes the movement. His presence here will have a tremendous impact on our race.”

Long before Barack Obama, Washington, and the other trailblazing black mayors like him, Freelon included, were models for young African American men, particularly in the South, who had never seen themselves in those positions of power.

David Core, Gladys’ nephew, was a young man in Alabama when his Uncle Joe was first elected mayor.

“I used to drop his name a lot,” Core, who eulogized Freelon on Saturday, said of his uncle. “It made me feel like I was a little more than what I was, because I had an uncle who was a mayor. In Alabama at that time we didn’t have black mayors. So I’d drop his name around. That made me feel a little bigger on the totem pole. He was an encouragement to us young, black men looking for an example. Because of him, we thought more of ourselves.”

Freelon’s election was also a boon to local religious leaders, some of whom found a sympathetic ear in the longtime deacon.

One pastor, who spoke briefly on Saturday, said the mayor helped alleviate a conflict related to Sunday parking near the pastor’s Maywood church.

“In 1993, God began to bless the church in such a way that we were taking up all the parking on 14th Avenue; so much so that we got tickets,” said the pastor. “It’s good to have saved people in political arenas. He cleaned up all my tickets and fixed it so we would have one-way parking on 14th Ave. on Sunday. We just need those kind of people in office today. He set a precedent and a legacy and I encourage all of us to pick up the cross.”

The village’s first black mayor, said another pastor during brief comments on Saturday, was a church leader before he was a politician.

“I met Deacon Freelon 27 years ago,” the pastor said. “Every time that I came here or met him in public, he was Deacon Freelon. I happened to call him a couple of times when he was in office and he would say, ‘Son, I’ll take care of it.’ I’d just like to encourage the church and the community to follow the footsteps and pattern of Deacon Joe Freelon. Serve with dignity, with excellency and with commitment.”

Freelon would need to tap into reserves of that commitment during the long, drawn-out battle for greater representation that local black leaders were fighting throughout his first term.

In addition to the prolonged legal battles he endured after his 1981 election, the mayor also had to confront a lull in that electoral crusade Felton referenced.

The four-member slate that the first black mayors of Chicago and Maywood supported with such vigor lost the campaign to unseat the predominantly white District 89 school board. According to a Nov. 9, 1983 Tribune article, Washington’s visit to the suburbs may have created a “backlash in the white community.”

“Tell Harold Washington to stay home,” then-Melrose Park Mayor C. August Taddeo told Tribune reporters. “Tell him to stay on that side of Austin Boulevard. I think he’s a great man. He’s got his own problems. He should solve them.”

The Tribune reported that the “slate of white candidates was winning 80-to-1 margins in some Melrose Park precincts that reported early results.”

The CRE slate of four blacks, Freelon told reporters, wasn’t generating anywhere near as much support, a disappointing reality that was compounded by low voter turnout.

In majority black precincts in Maywood, voters “were giving the black slate margins of only 5 of 10 votes,” and “only 25 percent of the voters in Maywood came to the polls, about half the turnout that the black slate estimated it needed,” the Tribune reported.

All wasn’t lost, however. Some black political leaders, like CRE candidate William Frayser, considered the losing effort just a start in a larger war for greater political representation.

“It was lost, technically, but I see this as a victory,” Frayser said. “It is long past time that this [victory] should come to us as a racial group. We have here the foundation of an organization.”

By 1984, Freelon was looking beyond Maywood and even Chicago for a glimpse of the future of black political representation. In those days, much of that future hinged on Jesse Jackson.

In April of that year, while attending the National Conference of Black Mayors in Missouri, Freelon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that, even if the civil rights leader and presidential candidate “did nothing more than get people registered and out to vote who have never voted before, the impact will be great.”

Many blacks “who thought of running for higher office before but didn’t are going to run for office now,” Freelon predicted. “And I think you’re going to see black candidates seriously running for president from now on.”

Familiar crises 

Maywood municipal workers picket village hall.png

Mayor Freelon’s election came in the wake of drastic racial change in Maywood. In 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maywood’s black residents comprised roughly 41 percent of its total population. By 1980, blacks were 75 percent of a village that had lost more than 2,000 residents — from around 30,000 in 1970 to around 28,000 a decade later — and thousands of jobs.

In 1975, the 18-acre American Can Co. plant, once the largest employer in town, closed its doors. Around the same time, a Canada Dry bottling plant also closed. Those two companies, according to estimated accounts published by the Tribune, employed around 8,000 people.

When those major local employers closed, smaller businesses that depended on the incomes gained from them closed, too.

The loss of stable jobs, small businesses and homeowners in the village, the cumulative impact of which residents are still living with now, precipitated a loss of tax revenue and all of the complications that come with that loss.

A 1976 work stoppage among Maywood police officers was followed by another one in 1983, while Freelon was two years into his first term.

That year, Maywood patrolmen were demanding a 7 percent salary increase and permanent shifts. The village, the mayor said at the time, simply didn’t have enough money to fund that large of a pay raise. A full-blown police strike was averted after the village offered a graduated salary increase.

There would be more work stoppages and strikes to come, including a massive strike by village employees in September 1986 that nearly “shut down village hall and the police station but had little immediate effect on city services,” the Tribune reported.

Many of the problems that Freelon confronted are eerily similar to those pestering village officials now.

In February 1983, the mayor and his colleagues confronted around $750,000 worth of overdue water bills and up to $1 million worth of overdue parking tickets by implementing shutoffs for delinquent customers and attaching boots to the cars of people with the most outstanding parking fines.

Within less than five months of implementing the shutoffs, the Tribune reported at the time, village officials had collected $322,000. That figure is similar to the estimated $333,000 that the village collected within several days after sending shutoff notices to residents more than 60 days behind on their water payments last June.

That more recent collection attempt was to address what current Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet called “the extreme delinquency” of unpaid water bills that amounted to more than $1 million.

And just as current residents often complain of the village’s crime rate now, the issue was no less pressing more than two decades ago — dominating, and perhaps ultimately upsetting, Freelon’s bid for a third-term in 1989, which he lost to State Farm insurance agent Don Williams.

Williams and Solomon Smith, the third candidate in that race (who was a retired Maywood police chief under Freelon’s predecessor), hammered the sitting mayor on the village’s increasing crime rate.

But Freelon’s four terms in office (after losing in 1989, he would later win his seat back in 1993 and serve for eight more years) may be characterized as much by the precedents the former mayor established as by the problems that dogged the village back then and that persist today.

Freelon presided over the construction of the police station at 125 S. 5th Ave., where the current mayor’s office and village council chambers are also housed. In addition, numerous committees and commissions, such as a beautification committee and a Water Service Commission, were created during his tenure.

“There’s been a change in attitude in recent years,” Mayor Freelon told the Tribune in 1997, when the village bought and demolished the decaying American Can site on St. Charles Road.

“In the past, we were trying to reconstruct the American Can Co., and that wasn’t going to happen,” he said, expressing the sense of optimism and resilience amid relative decline that would also be the late mayor’s legacy. “Now, we’re looking at other options and we’re positive about those.”

Articulating an approach to economic development that would be followed by mayors and elected officials who would come after him, Freelon told the Tribune that the village would focus on attracting a diverse array of businesses from smaller industries.

The razing of the old American Can plant — long a symbol of a bygone economic reality — would make way for Aetna Plywood, a wood and laminate products distributor, and Cintas Corp., a laundry and distribution center along St. Charles Road.

Although they did not begin to replace the amount of employment that American Can and Canada Dry provided, the two facilities would generate close to 200 jobs, according to one estimate published by the Tribune.

More, perhaps, than most places, current and former residents of Maywood have an unyielding faith in the town’s people — a belief that Freelon often touted.

“Maywood is a community where most people not only know each other but take care of each other,” the mayor told the Tribune. “People may think of us as a blue-collar place, but that makes us a very rich place indeed.

“If I had to pinpoint it, I guess I’d say our families are what have held the community together, despite what some people say was a bad economic picture in the past.”

An even greater service

Long after he retired from public service, Freelon could often be found in the basement of his church, teaching Bible study.

“He was one of the best teachers we had,” said Evangelist Frances Harris, a longtime minister at Second Baptist, during Freelon’s funeral on Saturday.

The former mayor, who served as chairman of the church’s deacon board for more than 40 years, was also a longtime board member for the church’s Maple Tree Child Care Center.

He also served in various civic capacities until his death. In 2014, he was appointed to the fire and police pension board by sitting Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins. In October, the police department honored Freelon for “initiating a turnaround” for the village.

Freelon’s post-retirement accolades would also include, perhaps most prominently, a bust of his likeness that was installed in the entrance to Maywood’s administrative building at 40 Madison St.

But although he received lots of public praise, loved ones said Saturday, the late mayor really lived to serve his wife; his two children, Joe Jr. and Gawana; his five grandchildren, including Dannie, Joe III and Alice, and his five great-grandchildren.

“Many times you wouldn’t have to tell him that you had a need because if he knew it, he would just step up and take care of it,” said Freelon’s goddaughter, Benita Thomas Leon.

“Through the years, I saw him serve without complaining, doing everyday things such as going to the grocery store for the family [and] during the times he chauffeured my godmother and me to the shopping centers, knowing he’d probably be there all day and half the night,” she said.

It’s a legacy of quiet greatness that his relatives will always be striving to live up to, said Freelon’s grandsons Joey III and Dannie, the latter of whom read a poem often cited by members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, of which the late mayor was a member.

“The test of man is the fight that he makes / The grit that he daily shows,” his grandson said. “The way that he stands upon his feet.  / And takes life’s numerous bumps and blows.”

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin recalled Maywood’s motto, ‘The village of eternal light,’ when describing the late mayor.

“He was like the light of the world,” Boykin said. “He was like that city set upon a hill whose light could not be hidden.” VFP

Maywood’s first black mayoralty in newspaper clippings

April 1981

May 1982

February 1983

June 1983

August 1983

November 1983

December 1984

September 1986

March 1988 

March 1989 

June 2000 

Hundreds Remember Iberia Hampton, Mother to Fred and Everyone Else

Iberia Hampton_Jesse Jackson_Bill Hampton.jpg

Iberia Hampton, far left, with her oldest son William Hampton, center, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., during a 1971 news conference. | John Filo/Associated Press | Below: Hundreds crowd into the Maywood Park District’s gymnasium to remember Iberia Hampton, who died last week at the age of 94. 

Hampton .jpgSunday, October 23, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

A crowd of at least 100 people packed the gymnasium inside of the Maywood Park District, 921 S. 9th Ave., on Sunday to remember Iberia Hampton — the mother of Black Panther icon and Maywood native son Fred Hampton — who died on Oct. 16 at the age of 94.

Her oldest son, Maywood Park District Commissioner William “Bill” Hampton, said that his mother had been recuperating from a stroke at the time of her death, which reverberated well beyond Maywood — the Hampton family’s home since 1958.

Jeffrey Haas, the Hampton family’s attorney for more than four decades and who spoke briefly at the Oct. 23 memorial service, said that people are invoking the Hamptons rather often nowadays.

Haas said he’d just returned from a ceremony in Oakland commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panthers — the black nationalist political organization that was founded in 1968 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and for which Fred served as Illinois chapter president.

“Iberia’s and Fred’s names were mentioned quite a few times [in Oakland],” said Haas, the author of “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther.”

A year after Fred’s infamous assassination on Dec. 4, 1969 by Chicago police officers, Haas and a team of attorneys, which included Flint Taylor and James Montgomery, brought a $47.7 million lawsuit against Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, and other local and federal officials.

Hanrahan authorized the police raid that resulted in Hampton’s murder. Another Black Panther leader, Mark Clark, was also killed in the raid, which authorities claimed was conducted in order to search for illegal weapons.

The case was initially dismissed by a federal district court, but the attorneys appealed the decision all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided 5-3 in 1980 to send the case back to the lower courts for a new trial.

In 1982, the city, county and federal governments agreed to a $1.85 million settlement to be distributed among nine plaintiffs, including Iberia and the mother of Clark.

“Iberia was a mama to so many,” said Taylor at Sunday’s memorial service. “She was my second mother. She was Jeff’s second mother. And she stood with myself, Jeff and Jim when we tried to bring justice to her family. The strength and understanding she had — she gave some of it to all of us.”

“I canceled a four-day trip to Bermuda to be here,” said Montgomery, “and I’d do it 10 more times to be here … Fred Hampton was Iberia’s legacy and a freedom fighter who was second to none.”

Montgomery, who said he was deeply influenced by, and admired, Fred, said that the slain activist died fighting “for a cause that’s never going to die.”

Steward for justice

Iberia Beatrice Hampton was born on Feb. 5, 1922 to Elihue and Lizzie White in Haynesville, Louisiana. She was the oldest of the couple’s four children.

Haas writes in his 2009 book that the families of Iberia and her husband, Francis Allen Hampton, “farmed the land their great-grandparents had worked as slaves.”

In the 1930s, Francis moved to the Chicago area seeking opportunity. He found a job at the Corn Products Refining Company in Argo, a southwest side suburb.

While Francis worked, Iberia stayed home to care for their three children — William, Delores and Fred. In Argo, she would sometimes babysit a “curious and quite rambunctious” child nicknamed Bobo, whom Iberia called “a handful,” according to Haas.

In August 1955, Bobo, whose birth name was Emmett Louis Till, would be found dead in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, his body — beaten and bloated beyond recognition — tied with barbed wire to a cotton-gin. He had allegedly whistled at a white woman, invoking the wrath of the woman’s husband.

Maywood Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton and mother Iberia Hampton

“I couldn’t stand going to his funeral and seeing him like that,” Iberia would tell Haas. “I wanted to remember him as the active and saucy kid I babysat for.”

Three years later, in 1958, the Hamptons moved to Maywood, where Fred attended Irving Elementary School (now Irving Middle School) and Proviso East High School.

“All the kids loved Fred,” Iberia told Haas. “And the teachers, too. Seems like he was never alone.”

Iberia recalled that Fred’s rhetorical promise was made clear in his deft ability to signify, or to jokingly insult other students, some of whom, Iberia recalled, teased Fred about his physical appearance.

“They called him peanut head and watermelon head,” Iberia told Haas. “He was upset for a while, but he learned to defend himself with words.”

Along with his way with words, Fred also showed a gift for bringing different people together. He would often herd the kids in the neighborhood into Iberia’s kitchen on weekends and they “would cook breakfast together for themselves and all of us,” she told Haas.

Before, and well after, her son’s death, Iberia’s kitchen on the 800 block of South 17th Ave. in Maywood, would often become the scene of political conversations — philosophical and strategic.

But they were more than armchair deliberations. Iberia’s own history of grassroots and workplace organizing may have helped inspire her famous son. 

When she eventually got a job with Corn Products in 1956 (“doing quality control on the bottles and caps as they came down the assembly line,” Haas writes), Iberia was selected to be a union steward. 

“I loved it,” she told Haas. “Once we cooked meals at the Union Hall for over seven hundred people, every day during a two-month strike.” 

During Sunday’s memorial service, mourners still salivated at the thought of Iberia’s meals, which she would fix for the activists, entertainers, politicians and everyday people who would make regular sojourns to her Maywood home.

Her oldest son Bill, who has shepherded his younger brother’s legacy since the latter’s death in 1969, would host regular political and social gatherings contoured by his mother’s cooking.

“I don’t think there’s been a year that’s gone by that I’m not spending time in the Hampton home,” said U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) at Sunday’s memorial. “Mrs. Hampton was an activist, a mother and a tremendous cook.”

Relative Martha Allen recalled Iberia’s peach cobbler, banana pudding, collard greens, fried fish and other southern fare.

“Everyday was Thanksgiving at her house,” said Allen.

Everyday at Iberia’s was also a continuance of the struggle that claimed the life of her son. Davis said the Hamptons would regularly produce a list of “progressive people running for office” in the community, so that area voters could “select who they thought were best fit for office.”

Among those officeholders who made trips to the Hampton’s home were state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough.

“I spoke with her many times and she’d always tell me we all had to be the change we want to see in this community,” said Welch, who noted that he shares a birthday with Iberia.

“I called her mama,” said Yarbrough, among the legions of people who claim filial kinship to the widely known matriarch. “She told it like it is.”

“She was a fighter until the end,” said Allen, recalling her visits with Iberia in the matriarch’s final days. At 94, and bedridden, she was still strong enough to give orders, that indomitable will that once coursed through her son unabated. 

“That’s what we need in our communities,” Allen said. “There’s no giving up if you want change to come about.” VFP

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Communities Mourn Maywood Resident, Golden Apple Preschool Teacher

Dee Dee Farmer.jpg

Dee Dee Farmer, left, in the classroom doing what she did best. | Wednesday Journal file

Saturday, October 15, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

People in multiple communities are mourning the sudden passing of Maywood resident Deneita “Dee Dee” Jo Farmer, the popular Longfellow Elementary School prekindergarten teacher who died unexpectedly on Oct. 7. She was 65 years old.

Farmer, a 40-year veteran in early childhood education and a 1997 Golden Apple Award winner, was the head of the Oak Park school’s prekindergarten program.

Last February, the Oak Park newspaper Wednesday Journal interviewed Farmer at the Collaboration for Early Childhood’s 12th Annual Symposium, a day-long gathering of early childhood educators from all over the Chicago area.

“I was Peter Pan; I was never growing up,” Farmer said, referencing her childhood, which she cited as part of her motivation for teaching.

“So many things happen as a result of kids just mucking about with things that are in our environment,” said Farmer at the time. “I’m still Peter Pan; I’m never growing up. Growing up is dull. The kids keep me young, excited, invigorated and they give me a lot of joy and peace.”

Oak Park District 97 school officials released a statement on Farmer’s passing last week, in which they described the veteran educator as “a beloved member of our District 97 family who touched the lives of countless people during a remarkable career at Longfellow that spanned more than 20 years.”

Longfellow Principal Angela Dolezal said Farmer “has guided many students and assisted many parents with both educating and raising their children.”

Jill Pacyna, a prekindergarten teacher at Longfellow, described Farmer as “more than a co-worker. She was family.” Pacyna said Farmer “took me under her wing” since the latter’s student teaching days in 2001.

Farmer, who lived on Nichols Lane in Maywood, also deeply affected neighbors like JoAnn Murphy, Maywood’s deputy village clerk.

“She always made it a point to say hello and she was always willing to share her love of gardening and anything else she could offer,” Murphy said. “We could only wish our next neighbor to be as nice as she was.”

Farmer was buried last week at Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago. VFP

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Hundreds Mourn Proviso’s Political ‘Prince,’ Former Recorder and First Black State Rep Eugene Moore

Eugene Moore casket.jpg

A horse-drawn funeral carriage carries the body of former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore after his funeral services, held at the Second Baptist Church in Maywood, on Saturday. Moore, pictured below in his county office in 2008, died Tuesday at 73. | Below image: Kuni Takahasi/Chicago Tribune

Moore Headshot.pngSaturday, June 18, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || @village_free || Updated: 6:05 p.m.

A horse and carriage waited to receive the ivory white coffin of Eugene “Gene” Moore after the well-known politician’s Saturday funeral service, held at Second Baptist Church, 436 S. 13th Ave. in Maywood, where Moore was a longtime member.

To many of the more than 1,200 mourners who packed the church’s large sanctuary and basement overflow, the royal sendoff was the only one appropriate for a man the Rev. Marvin E. Wiley, pastor of Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood, described as royalty.

If Moore, who died on Tuesday from prostate cancer, was a local political king, he was also a kingmaker; spawning the careers of a council chamber-full of young up-and-comers who have settled into mature political careers of their own.

State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th), who called Moore her “political godfather,” said he “saw something in me that I didn’t know I had in myself.”

Moore encouraged Lightford, who was in graduate school at the time, to run for trustee in Maywood. It would be the start of a political career that’s spanned more than two decades. Lightford held up her own story as testimony of Moore’s penchant for identifying talent, before naming other political leaders who were influenced by Moore.

They include state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), former Proviso Township High School District 209 Board President Theresa Kelly and sitting Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon — all of whom were in attendance.

“I wouldn’t be county commissioner or anything if it weren’t for Gene Moore and the people of Proviso Township,” said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st).

A native son

Moore family II.pngBut before he was a local political heavyweight, he was the son of Sara Ella Burrell and Joseph Moore, born on July 19, 1942 in Baltzer, Mississippi. The family migrated to Maywood when Moore was still a boy. He enrolled in Washington Elementary School and was baptized at Second Baptist Church.

At his beloved Proviso East High School, he was athletic enough to earn a football scholarship to Otero College in La Junta, Colorado. An injury, however, would send him back to Maywood early. According to a close cousin, the homecoming may not have been as mandatory as it seemed.

“According to his cousin T.J., injuries might have been part of it, but basically it was all homesickness,” said his cousin Curtis Montgomery. “He wanted to get back to girl he left behind and who he’d eventually marry.”

Moore found work at the American Can Company in Maywood before eventually establishing a solid clientele with Metropolitan Life Insurance.

“He had lots of clients and one of the reasons he had so many was because of his personality and his professionalism,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) in an interview on Friday. Davis said Moore solicited the first major contribution he received when he ran for Congress in 1996.

“When he was in insurance, Gene was a consumer-oriented person in terms of supporting consumer’s interests, even though he worked for a corporation,” Davis said.

Moore first delved into politics in the 1980s, when he ran, unsuccessfully, for a trustee seat in Maywood. Montgomery, who volunteered on that first campaign, said his cousin’s work ethic, even then, was exhaustive.

“He was a hard worker,” Montgomery recalled. “I’d say, ‘Gene, we just did this last week, we have to do it again?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, Curtis, we got to do it again. You have to keep pounding until you get it in their heads.’”

Moore’s message stuck in his 1988 campaign for a seat on the Proviso Township Board of Trustees, a position that would provide a path to Springfield. In 1992, he saw an opening when the boundaries of the 7th District were redrawn.

“When the area was redistricted so that African-Americans could elect a black state representative for the Proviso area, I immediately supported Gene Moore,” said Davis, who was a Cook County commissioner at the time, “even though there were people in Chicago who wanted to run.”

Emboldened by his connections and his work ethic, Moore won, becoming the first African-American to represent the state’s 7th Legislative District. Although his ambitions and talents would take him to Springfield, his heart didn’t stray too far from Maywood, relatives said.

‘A politician’s politician’

Moore with Obama.png

Eugene Moore, far left, with Larry Rogers, Jr., Sen. Barack Obama and Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. | wardheeler.org 

Before taking his seat in the state legislature, he charged Montgomery with taking care of his mother Sarah while he was away — it was just one signal of familial devotion that would stay with Moore throughout his life, despite the energy and time devoted to politics.

During his eulogy of Moore on Saturday, Dr. Eric King — a longtime education administrator who was with Moore in his final days — recited the words of some of Moore’s family members, including his son Eric.

“My pops is my everything,” King recalled Eric saying. “He’s my hero. He’s greater than Walter Payton or Michael Jordan or Ali. My pops — he’s the greatest. He taught me to discipline myself, how to accept criticism and how to be on time.”

Despite his busy political career, Moore also raised his granddaughter, Cheyenne, and her brother, Chase, as if they were his own children.

“My father passed away at 11 and my grandfather stayed by my side,” Cheyenne told King, who also recalled the words of Moore’s grandson.

“I am what I am because of what my granddad taught me,” King said, channeling Chase, who noted that, while he played football at Proviso East and during college, Moore was a constant bleacher presence.

“Figuratively speaking, I was attached to his hip,” King recalled Chase saying. “I am a walking image of my granddaddy. He played the role of father, mother, guardian — everything. Even down to the suit I wear, I owe to him.”

In 1999, Moore was tapped by Cook County Democratic heavyweights like John Stroger, Jr. and John Daley to finish out Jesse White’s term as Cook County Recorder of Deeds after White was elected Illinois Secretary of State.

Moore would stay in the position for more than a decade, using his perch atop the county’s records office to overhaul its efforts to combat property fraud and theft. He also modernized the office’s data-collecting and data-processing capabilities.

But the most lasting aspect of Moore’s political legacy, the many hundreds gathered Saturday said in different ways, was his heart for putting them ahead of himself.

“He helped the homeless become homeowners, he helped so many people realize their athletic dreams, to accomplish their higher education aspirations and achieve their career goals,” King said.

When, in a physical display of Moore’s influence, King asked former Proviso East athletes and students, and former and present Maywood residents, to stand, the entire sanctuary of mourners rose to their feet.

“Gene was always willing to put the needs of others before himself and building lifelong relationships,” King said.

Jonette Greenhow, a Maywood employee, said Moore gave her one of her first jobs — not in politics, but in a beauty salon washing heads; although one of Moore’s campaigns, she recalled, would be the first one on which she volunteered.

Montgomery recalled a waitress who, after the end of one of Moore’s campaign events, was weeping in a corner.

“Gene came over to her and asked her what was wrong,” Montgomery said. “She told him that she had worked all night long and had lost all her tips. She didn’t know whether the money was stolen or on the floor. So, Eugene, being the person he is, asked her how much she lost and she told him. And he gave her a $100 bill to replace the lost tips.”

King, channeling another of Moore’s cousins, Maywood resident Loretta Robinson, said, “Gene was a politician’s politician. What’s that? Loretta said, ‘When he’s not running for office someone else might be running and he’s working for them.’”

Moore, the man 

Eugene MooreMany mourners also recalled the man who was more than the politician — a dresser whose sartorial sense was passed on from his father Joe.

Moore, who many also called “Geno” or “Gene,” was fond of straw fedoras — some of which, Montgomery said, he got straight from Panama — and suits that were patterned and well-pressed.

Besides politics, Moore’s chief passion was dancing.

“You all know Geno. He was suave and he loved to get his step on,” said Lightford, who recalled the many West Side steppers’ sets to which she accompanied Moore. That willingness to mingle and mix it up “on the ground,” Lightford said, was what endeared him to his constituents.

It was also what fueled a political career that, years after Moore retired, is still remembered with respect even by his erstwhile political rivals.

Karen Yarbrough, who succeeded Moore as 7th District State Representative, Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman and Cook County Recorder of Deeds — the latter two positions she currently holds — remembered Moore as a “very well-known and well-liked community person.”

In 2006, Yarbrough defeated Moore in the race for Proviso Township Democratic Committeeman. In a written statement, she said, “While many felt we were enemies, I’d rather think we both were very competitive along with having divergent points of view.”

“We were blessed that he was able to visit the [Cook County Recorder’s] office recently to see our history mural and to connect once more with the many friends he had, and still has, in this office,” Yarbrough said. “I am thankful to have been able to honor him and his public service in that way.”

During remarks Saturday, Rev. Wiley recalled his last conversation with Moore as the beloved politician lay dying.

“June 14, 2016, I made my way to Gene’s bedside,” Wiley said. “I didn’t want to go, because I’d heard what condition he was in; but I made my way, anyway. For these last 25 years, I’ve called him not Eugene, but Uncle New-gene. I said to him, as he lay there, ‘Man, they’ll never forget you. You’ve done too much.’ I went to college, but I said to him, ‘We ain’t gone never forget you,’” Wiley recalled, before referencing a Biblical passage from II Samuel.

“A prince has died,” he said. “A great man has died.” VFP

Moore leaves to cherish his memories: his children DaWanna (Omar), Natalie and Eric Moore; siblings Barbara (Michael), Anise, Freddie and Michael (Deborah); six grandchildren: Johnnie, Chase, Jelissa, Darius, Jenise and Cheyenne; four great-grandchildren: NeVaehiza, Nyla, Marquise and Nylin; and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews, family and friends. 

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A Sendoff Fit For A Queen; In Lieu of Annual Luncheon, Operation Uplift To Host Fundraiser April 30

Mildred Sykes

Mildred Sykes | Facebook

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Mourners packed the 1,200-seat sanctuary of the Second Baptist Church, 436 S. 13th Ave., in Maywood last Saturday to celebrate the life of Mildred Jean Sykes, who died on April 1 at the age of 82.

She was simply “Mily” or “Granny” to community members and the countless patrons who frequented the grocery store she founded with her late husband Robert Sykes, Sr., in 1965. The store, located at the corner of 13th Avenue and Randolph, was called Bob’s Grocery and it grew into something of a Maywood institution.

Despite its name, the establishment, which closed at least a decade ago, served an array of purposes besides selling food and goods. It was a gathering place for many and a bank for some.

The couple would often extend lines of credit to people when they couldn’t pay for the groceries, sometimes refusing repayments.

“People would ask Mrs. Sykes for different things when she was getting those dishes ready for us and neighbors and others who were in need of a meal,” said Preatha Rouse, a longtime family friend and member of Second Baptist, where Sykes was a lifelong member. “When my mother sent money to repay her, most of the time she wouldn’t accept it.”

The corner grocery was also a source of employment for virtually all of Sykes’s 30 grandchildren. One of them, Shameka Johnson, called the matriarch “my rose, my hero, my friend.”

Sykes was born Nov. 12, 1933 in Henderson, Texas to DeWalt and Orene Reedy. She moved to Maywood in the early 1950s “as a graduation gift from her cousin Jewel Brown,” according to the obituary. Shortly afterward, she met and married her husband Robert — the “apple of her eyes.”

The couple had five children by birth — Brenda, Marilyn, Robert, Jr., Patricia and Tracy — and adopted a son, John.

Mildred was active in the Maywood Chamber of Commerce and the John C. Vaughns Scholarship Fund Cotillion. She could often be seen “driving her little blue car around town taking friends to the doctor, grocery store, banquets” and anywhere else they needed to go.

Many of those people were among the hundreds in attendance at the Saturday service who witnessed a family member place a sparkling diadem on Sykes’s purple casket.

“She taught me how to become an independent lady, a mother, and the importance of giving back to your community,” wrote her daughter Tracy Sykes in a tribute printed in her mother’s obituary.

Sykes leaves behind 30 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren, six siblings and a host of relatives, friends and grateful neighbors.

Operation Uplift to host reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon

West TownOperation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.

“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth,  community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.

The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.

It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.

Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.

For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email operationupliftinc@gmail.com. VFP

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