Troy McMillan - Transcript

Transcription of Troy McMillan
Interviewee: Troy McMillan
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: February 6, 2013.
Place: Chicago, Illinois.
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Total time: 14:54 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: So once again were interviewing Troy McMillan at the Edgewater Historical Society on February 6, 2013. Let me congratulate you on being one of the Living Treasures of Edgewater. We very much appreciate all the work you’ve done for the community of Edgewater. Could you tell us a little bit about how you came to Edgewater?

TM: Well, I think that Edgewater just kind of called my name really. I was born in Chicago, but never lived here. I come from a military family so we lived everywhere and pretty much everywhere. When I came back to the states, I was in Maryland and life it happens, I came here to Chicago, actually for a funeral, unfortunately. And I found family that I didn’t even know that I had, really. So we connected and I was going through a life transition at the time. So anyway I just said to my kids, “Hey, how about moving to Chicago” and pretty much that’s what we did for the next year. We ended up back here and it’s been great. And Edgewater was the neighborhood, because of its closeness to the city, its proximity to the lake was important and the red line is right here – it’s there.

DN: Once you moved to Edgewater, how did you get involved with other groups in Edgewater?

TM: Well, we have this family saying, “Bloom where you’re planted.” And I’ll tell you the other one a little bit later. But the bloom where you’re planted to me means that wherever you are, make sure that you know who your neighbors are. You want your neighbors to know you. You want to feel like this is your home. And so by doing that… yeah… I sought out the block club. It was an easy sell really. I went looking for whatever community group that existed for the neighborhood.

Started with the alderman’s office and then found out about the block club structure. I had lived on three continents and I want to tell you the block clubs structure here in Chicago is wonderful. It’s organized; it’s cohesive; it brings folks together. I think they are really helpful. So I found my block club, and went to the first meeting, my first block meeting and remember seeing this fiery redhead president and she was just talking about the community and what we needed to do, and some things were not going like the community should go. Things that were working well and she was giving a call to arms and it was great and I remember looking at her and thinking I want to be like her when I grow up. Yeah and so I just continued to go to meetings and trying to start getting involved that way.

DN: Did you serve on any of the positions in the block club?

TM: Yes. Yes I did. I was treasurer and block club rep first. So, my block, I was the rep for that block. And then I moved up to treasurer and then ultimately I was president of Edgewater North Neighbors. I succeeded a really good friend of mine, Pat Sharkey, who was just a wonderful community activist herself. And it’s so funny how we met. Both of our kids were over at Northside College Prep and we started a group. And they needed a treasurer at the time and we had e-mailed back and forth, her and I. But we had never met in person. So I was kind of on the fence about doing it. And then I decided okay I’ll go ahead and do it. And then we are at a block party and it was wonderful. We started talking about our kids. And she said wait are you pass go.com? And I said wait are you blue sky one.com? And that’s how we met. We found out we lived right across the street from each other.

DN: After having a virtual relationship, you had a real relationship.

TM: Exactly and it was much better.

DN: Can you tell us a little bit about your efforts with the community garden and how that came about? How it’s going?

TM: Well, the community garden Vedgwater, which is simply putting veggies and Edgewater together. It was just a wonderful; I’m not even going to say it was a labor of love, because every step in doing it was just great. So, there was an empty lot at the corner of Rosemont and Broadway. And it had been empty for years and years and years. And there were different developers that wanted to come in and put up monstrosities, really tall buildings which is nothing wrong with tall buildings, just not on that corner. So we fended off just a lot of really hideous proposals.

And then it was 2008, and nobody would come to us anymore. And we found out that Loyola had purchased the property and in one of the days in our block club meeting we talked about a community garden. And we had known the Peterson community garden project, shout out for Peterson garden project – Amanda Joy and they were doing a phenomenal job in the 40th Ward at Peterson and Campbell. So we went over and took a look and struck up a relationship. Those folks are just phenomenal with the operation of it. So we started a collaborative agreement with Loyola. We voted a proposal, took it to Loyola and they said yeah which was great. We could use the property so we did a cooperative agreement with them and with Peterson garden project and Edgewater North Neighbors, the alderman, Ald. O’Connor was instrumental. And it just all came together. And I would say a year later we had a garden.

DN: So when was that?

TM: That was 2012. We tried to get the garden going on Earth Day 2011 but it was just so close that it just couldn’t work. So we did the proposal and him and submitted it in January of 2012. And Loyola signed it on Valentine’s Day of 2012…

DN: Very cool.

And we got the keys and got to work and we have 187 gardeners and in addition we have 10 beds and everything in those beds goes to the food pantry, Care for Real. Shout out for Care for Real. They’re wonderful. They do some great, great work too. And now there other programs that we have in the garden. So we can’t wait to get it going again.

DN: How do you feel the garden has encouraged community in your area?

TM: Well I knew the gardens… There are certain things that just bring people together and gardens do that. Parks do that, gardens do that and I just wanted us to know each other… all of these neighbors should know each other. Because if we know each other we want to help each other… we protect each other… and there’s more at stake and we help each other and there’s a comradery there. Okay. And I remember I got interviewed shortly after the garden was up and going, and somebody asked me the question, “What did I hope to gain during this season?” and I said, “Well I guess vegetables would be a good thing because it is a vegetable garden. But my goal, what I want to see that the neighbors know each other’s names… Everybody knows each other’s names.”

DN: Why do you think that some people feel encouraged to go out of their homes to build something in the community while other people don’t? What do you think is the compelling force that pushed you… what prevents other people from doing that?

TM: Really my background and my family. We’ve just always been part of the community were ever we lived. I mean, if we lived in Germany you got to know your German neighbors if we lived in Belgium you got to know your friends your French Belgian neighbors.

I think it has to do with something that my dad always said, “Service is the rent we pay for time on this earth." I’ll say that again, “Service is the rent we pay for time on this earth.” He didn’t coin it though. It was Shirley Chrisom who coined it. But it was definitely a mantra in our house. I think some people whether they have that mantra or not or that saying, that’s how they feel, the feel of their home and they want to be out in the community. Others you know tend to want to be inside. That doesn’t mean that they’re not helping their families. They have an internal family that they are helping. So, so what was it Atticus Finch said, “You don’t know a person to the color of their skin.” So that sometimes people who maybe aren’t prone to go outside of their immediate family, community. They are doing some wonderful things too.

DN: Good answer. Do you think Edgewater is a special community regard to other communities you’ve lived in? What makes it special in your view?

TM: Well, the diversity that is here. I just think that if you looked up the word diversity, Edgewater would just pop up. Enough said. It epitomizes diversity in cultures and languages and way of life and restaurants. So Edgewater,… I would be surprised if I wasn’t here. Living in Illinois, as I do, I would be surprised that the forces that came together would not have placed me in Edgewater.

DN: What do you regard as your most significant personal accomplishment or achievement?

DM: Well, of course the wonderful things like family, and family life and home life are of course are wonderful. I’m going to say that I kind of thought about that question a little bit and it hasn’t happened yet. It just keeps going. Everything that you do just kind of builds on itself and just makes you stronger and more determined to build community and whatever your community looks like. So greatest accomplishment? They are all good.

DN: I think the last time we talked you said the journey was inspiring.

TM: Yes, yes, it’s continuing to go.

DN: And finally, what advice would you give to the younger generation?

TM: I… what I tell my own kids. Get involved. Look around. You’re… no man is an island. No woman is an island. Look around. See how you can get involved. And depending on your time and your energy level. Sometimes you might want to go full fledged into the presidency of a block club but you might want to work on a small project say some wood work. You might want to put those woodworking skills together in the garden. There’s a call on one weekend, one weekend. You come out and you help cut the wood and maybe you meet a few people. So I think take a look at how capable you are with your level of involvement and dive in there. It’s so wonderful.

DN: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share with us that I didn’t ask you specifically about?

TM: I just think this whole Living Treasures of Edgewater is a wonderful idea. I have met so many incredible people in this neighborhood that I just feel honored to be mentioned. So thank you.

DN: I am going to conclude the interview at this time.