Al Belanger, 90, Catholic social justice activist

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Al Belanger, 90, longtime Oak Park resident and Korean War veteran, died on June 8, 2011. Born in Chicago on April 7, 192l, the first son of Albert and Jeannette Hantz Belanger, he grew up in the Austin neighborhood and attended St. Philip High School, where he played clarinet in the band, wrote for the school paper, and was involved in Chicago Inter-Student Catholic Action (CISCA).

While attending Chicago Teachers College, he joined the USMC Reserve and worked with college leadership of CISCA where he met Southsider Patsy Lawson, whom he married in April of 1944. One semester short of graduation, he was called to active duty and commissioned as 2nd Lt. in the Marines. After his discharge he returned to Chicago where he finished his last semester of college and attended DePaul University Law School, passing the bar in 1948.

In 1950, his Marine Reserve unit was called up to serve in Korea. Though not required to, he shipped out, returning home on Christmas Day, 1951. He began working in personnel and then purchasing, taking night classes at the University of Chicago (MBA, 1961). The family moved to their longtime home on Gunderson Avenue in Oak Park in 1954.

Mr. Belanger's commitment to social justice began in high school and college with CISCA Social Action committees, historically important in the Chicago Catholic community's efforts during the 1960s. As a young Marine officer, he volunteered to help train the 51st Air Defense Battalion, the first African-American Marine unit at Montford Point, N.C. In 1964-65, he served as the first chairman of the Board of Governors of the Oak Park-River Forest Citizens Committee for Human Rights, which succeeded in halting housing discrimination and led to the peaceful integration of Oak Park. In 1977 he was a signer of "A Chicago Declaration of Christian Concern," the charter for the National Center for the Laity.

The Belangers were also active in the Catholic Church, playing an instrumental role in developing the Cana Conference for engaged and married couples, and later in the Home and School movement for Catholic schools. In 1963, he was among the first lay people to be appointed to the Archdiocesan School Board and became its first lay chairman in 1966.

In 1983, Al retired as purchasing director for Inland Steel Container. Not ready to leave the working world behind, he began a series of part-time positions, bringing his legal and business acumen to Morton Salt, Thiokol, and Rohm & Haas. He finally retired in 2000, keeping busy with golf and his weekly bowling league, and as an active member of Ascension Parish. Until his death, he attended daily Mass and ushered at the 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Al Belanger was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, John; his wife, Patsy (1981), and his daughter, JoAnne (2008). He is survived by his sons, Charles (Katherine), Patrick and Richard; his daughters, Marian "Buff" Lawson (Hal Angle) and Moira Belanger; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; his brother William and many nieces, nephews and dear friends who joined Al in celebrating his 90th birthday in April.

A memorial visitation will be held on Friday, June 17, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home, 203 S. Marion in Oak Park. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18 at Ascension Church, 808 East Ave., Oak Park.

In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to Ascension Parish or the Oak Park Public Library.

Reader Comments

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Mike Scotty from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2011 11:38 AM

All Oak Parkers owe a debt of gratitude to Al and others like him who helped shape Oak Park's future to that which we all enjoy today.

Mike Scotty from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2011 11:37 AM

Al Belanger's contribution to Oak Park's most noted social cause is evidenced in a 2-page spread (text of ad here) in an Oak Park newspaper in 1964. Al was chairman of a newly-formed group of residents who stood up for the rights of all people to live where they choose, a gutsy move for white Oak Parkers in 1964. The ad was the first in a series of efforts to mitigate the effects of white flight and redlining that was gripping the West side.

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