Maryon Gray - Transcript

Transcript of Maryon Gray Oral History.
Interviewee: Maryon Gray
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: July, 26, 2012
Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Total time: 29:18 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today’s date is July 26, 2012. We are conducting an interview with Maryon Gray at her home. Please tell us your name and address in Edgewater.

MG: My name is Maryon Gray. I live in Andersonville.

DN: Now, Maryon, how did you come to live in Edgewater?

MG: I first lived in Edgewater in Lakewood Balmoral, pretty much by chance. We rented the second story of a house there in Lakewood Balmoral about 1984. And then we were looking to buy a property and we like Edgewater. So we looked at various places in Edgewater and very happily ended up in Andersonville.

DN: Now, once you moved into this area, what was there about it that particularly pleased you?

MG: Well, my partner was really the one who said we should live in Andersonville. One of the things was that at that time, Women And Children First had just moved up here and things were changing but it was very different than it is now. One of the things that we liked about it was it was very much a residential neighborhood with a lot of people who had lived here for a long time and it was quiet.

DN: Once you moved into your house you begin to explore the area and you got involved with W.A.N.T..

MG: As a resident, I was interested in attending the meetings and finding out what that organization was like and I did that for quite a while. The way I got involved and want, my next-door neighbor two doors over was the president of one for quite a while – Dick Pallotta. But the people who live next door to me – Evelyn Buchanan, was on the nominating committee one year. She came and asked me if I would run for the WANT board, I’m assuming as a member at large. My thought about why they ever asked me was because as a new homeowner, after we finished making the inside of our house livable, I was spending a lot of time outside in my garden. I was one of those people who was working. We had a new house, a teenage daughter. I was out there very late at night trying to plant stuff and whatever. I figured that they thought that this is exactly the kind of crazy person that we need to be part of a community organization. So I got involved in WANT. I can’t really tell you how long or in what different positions I had with one. I started off as a member at large; I was the president for a while. I think I held some other different positions. For quite a while, Michaela Tomaschewsky and I did a lot of work with want. It was one of those periods where we had a lot of trouble getting other people involved. There is nothing new about that. It has been going on for a long time. I think in a lot of ways as the neighborhood has gotten nicer the need that the people feel for a community organization has decreased. Back, certainly before I moved in, there was a lot of activity in WANT in terms of Neighborhood Watch and the neighborhood was a little edgier. People were more concerned and more willing to come out. You see the same thing with CAPS. Now that the neighborhood is nicer people kind of take it for granted and we went through that too.

One of things that got people involved, at least briefly with WANT was the town zoning ordinance. I wasn’t the president then I was the past president. I wasn’t very involved in this, except as a general person who is interested in making it happen and doing what I could. That was something that generated a lot of interest on both sides. There were people who were in favor of it and people who were concerned about their home values and wanted to be able to sell to a developer if they wanted to. A lot of people came to the meetings. A lot of people joined up and got involved. Once that got settled, once we had the down zoning, people just kind of tapered off and went about their own lives.

DN: You have been involved with WANT also with regard to the community garden. Would you talk about that a little bit?

MG: You would probably have to tell me to stop about the garden! We started the garden in 1995. Our garden runs from Berwyn to Balmoral on the east side of the tracks it it’s a relatively wide area along the tracks. It’s about 25 feet, which is much wider than most of the areas that run along the tracks. For many years, as long as I have lived in the area, and I’m sure many years before that, it was basically just a dumping ground. It’s railroad property. But the railroad never took care of it except they would come maybe twice a year with a power mower. One of the projects that want did every spring was we would go out there and try to clean up. Pick up the garbage. We would cut down all the grapevines from the fence. So the thing that inspired us to try to make the garden. There was, a woman who came, moved up here from Hyde Park, who had done, not so much community gardening but gardening in public spaces in Hyde Park. She started the plant stuff down by the sidewalk at Berwyn. And there’s still an area there that we refer to, those who’ve been in the garden a long time, as Hays garden. We found out, low and behold, that you could grow stuff there and it could be something different than what it was. Michaela Tomaschewsky and I went and we talked to the Alderman and talked to him about whether or not there was any city money or anything we could use to make the garden over there. At that time he was supportive but he didn’t really have any practical suggestions about it. And then shortly after that, I don’t remember where, but we saw something about this program called… And this was a group that was focused on community gardens. What they did was they took individuals, high risk individuals, whether ex offenders or people who had a lot of trouble finding a job and trained them in landscaping. And those people would come and help us plant stuff. We got a grant called Points. We could order stuff from them with these points. We were actually one of the first gardens that was accepted into this program. We went about applying and what we are interested in doing and gave them some idea of how we wanted to do it. That was in the spring of 1995. We elected actually not to start in the spring. We elected to wait and do it in the fall for our planting because we wanted to have time to get it organized. We spent that summer, a group of us who went through the classes that the organization offered – I believe it was Bill Coons, Dick Pallotta and myself and a young man by the name of Don Hillier. And we intended to attend classes and talk about community organizing and different kinds of plants and a plan for the garden – very comprehensive. After these classes we spent the summer basically trying to organize people to be part of this project. We did a lot of cleanup over there. We had different dates just for cleaning up and we had meetings, we have a lot of meetings at the Summerdale church. In September of 1995, we had our big planting and a lot of the major trees and shrubs that are in the garden today come from that initial planting.

Over the years we’ve done a lot of different things. We’ve worked with the Chicago Botanic Garden; we worked again with this group from the city for different smaller things. That whole terrorist area in the middle was kind of collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden, they gave us a grant. One year and we got the different plants and we planted them. But we really wanted to do a raised bed over there. So the next year, we were able to get a grant from the city program. They love to do the heart shapes. It’s one of the things that they train their people to do. So we took out all the plants; we did the tiers; we did the rocks; we did the heart-shape in the back and put all the plants back in. It’s kind of an example of what you have to do with this community group. You just deal with what you got and make the best of it to make it work.

We’ve been very lucky over there. We have a core of people, about 10 people that that are dedicated to the garden. We have a real set schedule of days that works really well for us. Every year we are starting earlier and now we started the end of March and we do a workday at the end of March just cleaning stuff up, raking the leaves. Then at the end of April or the first week of May we start weeding and stuff. Then after that we do once a month on a weekend and twice a month on a weekday evening. Like any other community thing the hard part is to get people to come out and help. We find that most every year there’s one new person who comes and him and come several times during the year. It’s so funny, because we get so excited about it. Now we have this new person, and that kind of keeps us going. Especially at the beginning of the year we get a lot of people who come out and help. We get maybe 15-20 people for the first one, the second one, the third one and then come the summer people are busy. The garden looks great; I don’t know what it is but tends to come down to being the core group of folks again will come out there. So that’s the challenge that we like any other community group faces – the continuation. And none of us are getting any younger. It amazes me how beautiful it looks. When I stopped to step back and just kind of look at it. I go, wow! This is really a wonderful thing.

DN: And it’s a living and breathing thing. It’s a real testimony to, it is a visual and material manifestation of what a group of sensitive people can do and create. When you walk through it I think that it has a special ambiance. You can feel the beauty and the power of this effort that it took to make this. And I’ve noticed that there are so many people who stop to enjoy it. It’s very rare that I ever drive by or walk by there that somebody isn’t walking in the garden or sitting on one of the benches.

MG: It’s very true. That’s one of the things that were happiest about. As you can tell it was deliberately designed as a strolling garden. That’s its purpose. And we can see that the dog walkers are there; the families are there; the Montessori school brings kids out there on a regular basis. They look at the leaves they make little drawings of them and rubbings. We find this year, actually the last couple of years, the main people that have come and assisted with keeping the garden. So beautiful, are people who enjoy it. These are not necessarily people from our neighborhood. People who ride their bikes by on a regular basis. People who walk through on a regular basis. They’ve seen the signs that we post there on a regular basis. And they come and they help us. It’s really very gratifying that people are willing to give back from something they enjoy so much.

DN: What about the business liaison that the garden has? How do businesses work with you as far as the garden or other features? You talked about Citicorp or Greencorps collaborated with you. So are their businesses or other organizations are collaborating with you on the garden?

MG: Not really that much. When we started out we had a lot of big community workdays trying to generate a lot of hoopla about it. We used to ask the different businesses for donations of food. Wickstrom’s Deli when we first started out was wonderful. Mister Wickstrom still remembers us at the garden when he comes around Andersonville to do different presentations. When we did the first Greencorps, one of the things that Greencorps always remembers about us, one of the reasons they’re willing to come back and do different projects is that they remember that we feed them. Wickstrom did a lot of donations of different deli platters and stuff. Most recently we were able to get some pizzas at a good price from Ranalli’s. Ann Sather’s, Pauline’s is supportive. We used to have deal with them that the gardeners could go and have a coffee or iced tea, or anything they wanted like that. But they have donated a lot of baked goods. We haven’t really gone back to them much in the last few years. We’ve kind of, since were not getting that many more people outside of the core group, it’s not so much about the eating and drinking. It’s more about getting the work done area.

We feel that especially in this kind of economic situation, were reluctant to ask businesses to donate a lot of stuff. We know that they are not operating on a big margin at this point. This year, Walgreens was very helpful – the new Walgreens on Catalpa and Clark. They donated a lot of leaf and garden bags, which are a big part of our budget. That was very helpful. We also have a lot of people from Walgreens who came over and helped us on several occasions. We have also worked with some of the schools. Every year we put out information to the schools – to Amundsen in particular and Saint Gregory’s and Senn for any of their students who need to have their community service hours. That were a great place to do their community service and we do from time to time get these kids. This year we had a whole group of boys from Saint Gregory’s who came over and saved us when we redid our path.

Every other year we redo the path to the garden, which means that we have to dig out all the weeds that have grown on the edge and will widen the path and then put down new chips. The digging it out is the hardest part. And so some students from Saint Gregory’s came over and dugout three quarters of our path for us on a school day. So many of us are retired now, we had a good group of people who were able to go over there on that day and assist us with that. The Instructors who do the community service work at the different high schools are always very helpful and I talk to them as well and they make sure the information gets out. And we have had a number of kids from Amundsen who come over there as well. That’s always good.

DN: Do you feel that a community organization or team effort depends upon those threads and those connections with other community groups and organizations to survive and thrive. In other words, what would the garden have been without the support of the business community, the service learning hours. I realize that we have to make that effort to reach out to them, but I’m talking about the community organizations and how they would help.

MG: Yes, it’s very important in terms of the material assets that we get from them. It’s also important that because of that infusion of energy and interest. One of the things that’s important to us is hard to measure, but we know that the people in the Chamber of Commerce and a lot of the businesses they talk up the garden a lot. When you go over there that’s one of the first things that people mention is the garden and it makes us feel very gratified that people really do recognize its importance to the community. When we started out, we haven’t done as much lately, we were very involved with the other community garden in the neighborhood. Ours was the first in this area but before we started out we went and looked at a lot of other gardens, who were along the railroad track. There are a lot of community gardens. There were at that time some in Lakeview and we looked at them, not so much to talk to the people who ran them because we really didn’t know who they were. But we look at how they were laid out. And that was really inspiring.

DN: What about Bowmanville?

MG: We were the first. And then when Bowmanville wanted to start theirs, they talked to us. In terms of giving them information and helping them about how we did it and stuff, Betty Redman was in charge of the garden over there, like myself. She still is the chairman of the garden committee and she and I talk from time to time. One of the things… Actually this year we were able to do is they have a vegetable garden immediately on the west side of the tracks there. They have a wheelbarrow that they chain up there. We borrowed the wheelbarrow on one of our garden. Days and Betty told me how unchain it and use it. And we were able to do that. Also, the WARE garden, the gentleman Horst, an older German gentleman, was involved with us when we started our garden. He came over to help. He was a friend of Hayes, the woman who originally did that planting just because they were both avid gardeners. So, working in our garden gave him the inspiration to start that WEAR (West Andersonville Area Residents) garden. It’s all very intertwined.

DN: I’d like to return to your history with WANT, the WANT board that you were on starting out as a member at large. And then different kinds of functions and then becoming president. Why did you become president? What were the circumstances that happened?

MG: It didn’t strike me as being a big deal, frankly. I have seen since then that we had a pretty good system. We have a board in place, the thought behind it was that the person who was the vice president would come on to be president. It turned out that that didn’t work out in that particular case. And we had a lot of trouble coming up. No one wanted to be president. It was just like, somehow the thought of having that title just scared people. The people who are on the board were ready to do the work. They were just scared of that particular title and they talked about doing a steering committee or whatever. You can call it anything you want; you can even change the bylaws, but at some point the buck has to stop somewhere. Liz Sheldon stepped up and agreed to be president. She was the one who headed up WANT when we did all that down zoning. I really don’t recall anything special about becoming president. I’m not scared of running things. It’s part of my nature. It doesn’t concern me. I like running things. I don’t want to do it forever.

DN: What do you see right now looking at want is an organization, what do you see the future of WANT being? Without any disputes in the neighborhood going on?

MG: I have no idea. I have seen the cycles and they repeat themselves. At one time we really had a thought of somehow just having a caretaker organization. We have all this money and I’ll talk about that for a minute. WANT has some money in the bank that actually comes from what we used to do every year on Paulina we had a flea market in August. That was WANT’s big fundraiser. I don’t know how many years it went on and WANT made a fair amount of money from it, renting out the spaces two different people wanted to come to the flea market. I actually had the code, chairperson of the last flea market we ever did. It was one of those things that I have seen happen in various community things where Dick Palotta had done that many years he had run the flea market. He didn’t want to do it anymore and he rode up very nicely all the information about how to do the flea market. Very nicely written up. So Dave Allen and I agreed to be the co chairs of the flea market.

After that it was just decided that there were just too many other competing things. Back when the flea market started there were not a million other things every weekend in the city. It was just general citywide things. We just weren’t getting the people there anymore; then the vendors weren’t that interested in coming. So we discontinued it. I don’t say I missed the flea market. The flea market was kind of a scrunchy thing; it was a wonderful way for WANT to make money. Some of that money from the flea market is what WANT still has in the bank as backup money. I know at one time there were some of us who were considering it to have some kind of a caretaker board and watching over that money, so it wasn’t squandered or given away miscellaneously, but not really have a community group.

But things always work out. There were more people who were willing to come forward and keep the group going. I have no idea how to make it more robust group. I see this quandary the board goes through on a regular basis – who’s going to help? Who’s going to do anything ? What can we do to have people come to meetings? We’ve had those same discussions for years and years. If I knew the answer, I would say it but I don’t.

DN: I want to conclude the interview by asking you a question of purchase personal nature. What you regard your most satisfying personal accomplishment to be?

MG: I thought about that because you told me the question ahead of time and it really doesn’t have to do with the things I’ve done in the neighborhood. When I come right down to it, it’s about helping to raise my stepdaughter who’s forty five now. Some of my grandchildren, who lived with us for a while or who lived in our building. But personal achievement, it wasn’t something that I ever thought I would do – having children of my own.

DN: The other question I want to ask you is, what advice would you give the younger generation?

MG: I thought about that one too and I don’t have anything to say profound about it. Keep on trucking. Whatever it is you’re interested in doing, even though it seems frustrating sometimes to get people to join in and do it, do it anyways.