Anne Comeau - Transcript

Transcript of Anne Comeau
Interviewee: Anne Comeau
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Chicago, IL
Date: Dec. 1, 2015
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Time: 20:30 minutes

Copyright © 2016 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society interviewing our 2016 Living Treasure Anne Comeau. We are in her home and today is Dec. 1, 2015. First I’d like to congratulate you Anne on being a 2016 Living Treasure. Thank you for all the work you’ve done for the Edgewater community. Let me start the interview by asking you when did you come to Edgewater and why did you come to Edgewater?

(0:56)

AC: All right. Thank you Dorothy and thank you very much for the Living Treasure award. It’s quite an honor. The Edgewater Historical Society has done a terrific job in the past few years in maintaining interest in the community. The reason why I came to Edgewater – I moved here from Michigan in 2003. I had lived in Chicago before. I had lived in Ravenswood Manor which I loved. It was a great community, great activity and has the oldest home improvement society association in the United States. I wanted to get involved in the community again. When I came to Edgewater I realized it was a multi-cultural community with a lot of students from Loyola and other areas. I moved in an area across the street from Senn High School which has a fond memory because my sister had gone to Senn High School so she talked about it. Here I was in the Edgewater community getting myself ready to work in my new job downtown. One of my neighbors stopped me in the street as I was walking my dog and said, “We’re having a meeting tonight of the block club. Can you come? We need to have somebody involved because we going to be talking about the park; talking about traffic; talking about bumps. We don’t want that here.” So I said, “Well I’ll come. I’ll listen. I’m interested.” Then I joined the NET block club. Over the next year or so, because I was working full time, I couldn’t get too involved in community activity, but they asked me if I would be interested in participating in a group called the Edgewater Community Council. I’d heard a lot about the Edgewater Community Council and how they began in the 1950s. I said, “Sure, I’ll join.” I didn’t realize at that point you have to be elected to the Board so that was a little surprise. Nonetheless I managed to get on the Board and began participating. That’s why I moved into Edgewater and why I got involved in the neighborhood associations.

(3:11)

DN: What issues did you see that you wanted to respond to?

AC: I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to get involved in gardening and helping in the beautification of the area. That’s the kind of participation that I had time for. So that’s why I joined Edgewater Beautiful., It’s one of the committees of the Edgewater Community Council. There were many other people working on other issues – social issues at that time; a lot of people coming from the Balkans. So there was a lot of activity there but I wanted to continue to make the area of Edgewater a beautiful place, where people would want to come and live.

DN: So you joined the Edgewater Beautiful committee and did you stay on that committee over all these years?

AC: Actually yes. I stayed on that committee up until the time that the Edgewater Community Council (ECC) had some issues after 2012. But the Edgewater Beautiful Committee had morphed into something called the Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project and we were still involved in that. But in 2008 Edgewater Beautiful was given the charge by the Edgewater Community Council to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ECC. Our charge was to set up a plan for Edgewater to become a model green community, based on the Chicago Climate Action Plan, which is right here. (Anne holds up CCAP publication.) The CCAP was sort of the eye opener for all of us. We really had to think in terms of not just the state doing something’ the federal government doing something; or some mysterious person in the sky doing something at the U.N. (United Nations). It was really incumbent on all of us from the grass roots on - youth, older people, and retirees, everyone - to try to make a difference so that these next twenty - thirty - years we wouldn’t be in a situation where we couldn’t breathe; that the levels of the sea would be up around our ankles;; that the Great Lakes would be so polluted that we couldn’t use it for drinking water. We had to think in terms of the whole thing. We just can’t keep consuming. We have to think of our children and their children.

And so Edgewater Beautiful said “We’ll take that challenge. Thank you very much. And so the people that were involved in this were Allen Stryczek, my co-partner in the committee. Tom Murphy, who is an expert in energy efficiency, and many other people who began to work on the plan and its goals, and who are still participating. We would not have done anything without these very intelligent, creative and active volunteers. This is an all volunteer organization.

(6:29)

DN: I think I hear you saying that from your own personal perspective it’s not enough to let our elected officials suggest initiatives to keep our environment healthy but it must come from our local level. Is that correct?

AC: That’s correct. You and I can do recycling. You and I can reduce our energy consumption. You and I can think about solar. You and I can get involved and talk to our neighbors. We can make things happen and we have because more people recycle than before. More people think about not just throwing away their clothing and lamps and that kind of thing. We reuse them. We think about the coal plants that were closed down, I think, in the area of Little Village. In that area they had two coal plants. It had nothing to do with coal consumption here, but they polluted this area all around Chicago. We were involved in helping get our elected officials…. As individuals and voters we said to our aldermen, “We feel this is wrong. We should work hard to close those coal plants.” And the city did do that. We were one of the voices. That’s one of the initiatives we tried to do at the local level.

(8:20)

Let me give you another example. We had a climate change council with Tom Skilling [WGN Meteorologist and Edgewater Resident], Mark Mesle of the Climate Reality Project, as well as U.S. House Rep. Schakowsky. That climate change discussion was not just to preach to the choir but was to remind Rep. Schakowsky; remind people like Tom Skilling that there were local people involved and worried about climate change. One of the results of that and other presentations, were letters sent to the E.P.A. [Environment Protection Agency] and all our elected officials that said, “We want you to vote for the Clean Power Plant/Clean Water Act” and that has happened. So we’re pretty excited about the fact that we are small and part of a lot of other people and other groups involved [in this discussion].

DN: One of my questions was going to be what difference do you think the individual can make? But I think you’ve sort of answered that question. Let me try to restate: you feel that the individual can personally involved themselves in recycling, reusing, redeveloping resources, but they can politically and socially come together to join organizations and committees that can work with elected officials to effect real change at a larger level.

(9:40)

AC: Um-hm. So what we have done, partially to do that, is made connections with other organizations such as Loyola and as you know they are a very green university. They are also a very active university. They are active in environmental sustainable issues. We cooperate with them in that way.

We also cooperate with Senn High School and we’ve had Senn come out as one of my groups in the Parks. I’m involved with Parks and we had a landscaping class and brought kids out to learn about gardening; to learn about landscaping; to learn about trees; to participate in Nature. In the middle of the city many kids don’t know about growing food, about participating in Nature; how the circle of life goes; how the trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Those are all classroom things. We can teach that but until you actually put your finger in it [soil] sometimes it doesn’t come to you. So that’s all the things we try to do, individually and with Loyola also.

(10:58)

We’ve gone down to Springfield during the weeks celebrating Earth Day to lobby politicians. Now you can talk all you want to some politicians and they won’t pay attention. But there are some politicians that do pay attention. Also it shows the interest when you have students come out. They have philosophy majors and all kinds of majors. They come out and they talk to politicians. Eventually, after awhile, the drip drip drip of information comes through. Even the most cynical politicians understand that votes come from youth, not just from older people – from all of us as we participate. It’s a movement. As you know the Paris Climate Change Conference is happening right now and what an interesting thing after those terrorists did what they did. Paris was shut down and how many thousand of empty shoes were put in the Place de Concorde to show that these [shoes] represent people who are hoping that these politicians will make a change. I mean this is a serious business. As you said, individuals can make a difference, but it has to rise up from us. We have to make that effort ourselves.

(12:20)

DN: So you feel the most important start of change is at the grass roots level – the individual making a difference in their personal life and then coming together with other individuals to band together in some ways and reach out to larger structures. Now you are part of an all volunteer effort. Can you speak a little bit about why you personally feel it’s important? You could be sitting reading a book or watching TV instead of volunteering to do this kind of work.

AC: You can read a book and watch TV only so long before you start to atrophy. As we all know the human brain, the heart and soul, is more engaged when we’re involved with people; when we’re involved in a project or crusade. That’s kind of what this is in effect. When I was working, I didn’t have time for this kind of thing. This is my second level of work. And my second level of work I hope will make a bigger difference than my first level of work, which was making money, which was fine. I live in a nice way; in a nice way; but it is not the only thing in life. You have to feel that you have made a difference. And if you haven’t made a difference, you better start now.

(14:50)

DN: I’d like to ask you what you feel is left to be done? Would it be environmental beautification and not just beautification but the health of the environment? It’s not just making it pretty. It’s making it a healthy place to live.

AC: You’re absolutely right. If we don’t have a healthy environment, I don’t mean just grass and trees; I mean a healthy environment with the air and water. None of us are going it find it livable. Our envelope of earth is fragile and you only have to look at history or at Mars for example, for what happened with its atmosphere. It doesn’t take much to make things tip. So we have to be very careful about our own steps that we take. The most difficult thing in this whole situation is to get everybody to understand that it’s crucial; to get everybody not to think, “Well I have to have supper tonight. I don’t understand why everybody’s getting so worked up about this thing. So the air’s a little foggy. So what? Or maybe there’s lead paint underneath my window sill. It’s okay.” It’s not okay. None of it is okay. We really all have to take time to think about our next step to make sure that the future is livable.

DN: So I think you’re saying there’s a lot of work to be done. People are coming together, but people need to be vigilant and do even more.

AC: That would be correct. People need to make a living. It’s not just coal and oil. We can make a living. Millionaires can get rich. We want them to be rich. We want all of us to have middle class [lives]. We want the poor people in Africa, in South America, in wherever else in Asia to have clean power so that they too can rise up into the middle class without having the consequences that we made by using oil and coal. I think there’s a change in attitude and I was heartened to see some of the announcements that were made as a result of the Paris conference.

(16:20)

DN: I’d like to go back to your talking about working with Senn students and having them actually plant seeds in groups; or working in nature to do things. You talked about the abstract learning going on in the classroom to the actual physical experience of doing that. What do you see happen to the students who have that experience? What difference did it make for them?

AC: It’s rather interesting. I’ve had students who came to our classrooms and did landscape work and talked about how to plant things and how you raise them and what you do next. They’ve come back to me when I’m working in the garden. I work in the Thorndale garden on the corner – and they say, “That was the best time I had. I really enjoyed learning about that. I didn’t realize how roots and things make a difference. Thank you so much for that. Thank you so much for making it more interesting for me.” We love to hear that. It’s nice to see them come back. Some of them have already graduated. They’ve gone on to college. Well good for them. Good for them. Whatever they carry with them – whether it’s an appreciation for the life that’s around them or if it’s a way to make a living in this kind of atmosphere. I think it’s great. That was very heartening for me.

(17:50)

DN: What advice would you give young people looking back at your career and the importance of volunteerism?

AC: Well, number one I would say whatever you do, do it with a passion. Believe in it. Whether it’s a regular job or anything you get involved in. You have to have a reason to go to work every day and say, “I’m really excited about this. I’m going to be making a difference.” In my case I was working in health insurance. I thought I was bringing health care to people. I thought I was making a difference. In volunteering and doing my volunteer work with the youth, you always have to do something else beyond your regular day job. You have to give more of yourself if you can, if you have the stamina to do it. And what’s funny about it is that you don’t think you have the stamina, but all of a sudden you get more engaged and you get energized. You get more stamina and you do have the stamina. Busy people become busier because they are busy and they understand that they have the capacity to do a lot more. So lazing around in my lazy boy is not an option … until I can’t move my body anymore which is always an issue I guess when you get older.

DN: I’ve asked a lot of questions. I’d like to ask you Anne if you have anything else you’d like to share with us because this is your interview?

(19:22)

AC: I’d like to thank everybody in the historical society for taking these [oral] histories and talking about it. We had a ten year plan. This is the environmental project plan that we wrote up in 2010 and published it [holds up The Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project publication]. Paper. Crazy, huh, for people who care about the environment? Well we haven’t done that again. The plan has changed. We have it onsite. We have a website [www.sustainedgewater.org]. We use social media to advertise and that’s where all of us can get involved. We can get involved in social media, not in a negative way, but in a positive way. I mean I’ve seen so much negative stuff on social media and there are so many cynics out there you wonder what kind of lives do they live? So try to be positive; do your best to engage other people in these positive kinds of activities, whether it’s environment or whatever you choose – religion, whatever.

DN: Well I think that completes the interview. Thank you so much Anne. It’s been a delight to talk to you.

AC: Thank you so much.