Posted by StreetWise in Magazine ArticlesDespite plenty of changes in its economy throughout the last 25 years, Edgewater has remained a viable urban community and a promising example to other Chicago neighborhoods still trying to find solid ground. At the root of its success are its people. The Edgewater Historical Society recently honored 25 “Living Treasures,” individuals who took the initiative to make Edgewater what it is today.
One treasure is Almaz Yigizaw, a local businesswoman and restaurateur who came to Edgewater in 1982. An Ethiopian refugee, she learned English, attended high school, and graduated from college while working to support herself. With her love of cooking, boundless energy, and savvy business expertise, she opened the Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant and Bar in August 1996, the first of its kind in Edgewater. She has become an important figure in the African community, teaching English and other skills for employment to Ethiopian immigrants. The restaurant has become a popular hosting spot for fundraisers and meetings for all members of the community.
Also among the 25 individuals recognized were Rae Ann Cecrle and her husband, Robert. After purchasing property on Winthrop Avenue in the early ’80s, the couple created an organization with neighbors to help place an end to crime and substandard housing in the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor. Their efforts have attracted millions of dollars in redevelopment.
Rae Ann’s latest venture is Edgewater Artists in Motion, a project dedicated to bringing the work of local artists to empty storefronts. When accepting her award, she enthusiastically announced that Artists in Motion would be hosting an event in September that will showcase the work of seven local fashion designers.
“The fair is to promote the enjoyment of living and shopping in Edgewater,” she said, wearing an ensemble created for her by one of the artists.
Though he was unable to accept his award in person, Tom Robb was recognized for his persistent efforts to help those struggling with homelessness in Edgewater, particularly during the darkest days of the recent recession. He directed Care for Real, an organization at the forefront of providing food and clothing to those in need.
Retired State Sen. Arthur Berman grew up in Edgewater. He saw a void in Chicago’s school system, one that was putting the neighborhoods’ children at a disadvantage when it came to their education.
“Every morning I would wake up and ask myself, ‘why am I successful?’ and I said it’s because of my parents and my teachers.”
At the time, school board policy was not in the hands of parents or teachers. To give back to those who had shown him the path to his own success, Berman got to work creating local school councils that would bring democracy back to education.
The senator also saw a need in Edgewater for an indoor park facility, one that would allow people of all ages to enjoy community programs. Despite a few bumps along the way, the Broadway Armory, once a military facility that was no longer being used, was transformed into an activity center.
He says that the key to the success and vibrancy of Edgewater is that “It has been and continues to be a cooperative community. People have worked together to continue and maintain the community.”
Throughout her five terms as the 48th Ward Alderman and her 25 years of public service, Mary Ann Smith pushed hard for human rights legislation, curbed nursing home voter abuse, and spearheaded the designation of two national historic districts in Edgewater. She coined the phrase, “Edgewater is a place you want to be, not a place you want to flee.”
She said to the audience, “You see communities struggling to maintain their identity against all odds, which is where we were at one time. So I just wish everybody could see how the pieces fit together because if they were here today, they would understand that communities don’t just happen. It’s piece-by-piece fitting together, thanks to all of you.”
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By Lauren Jensik