Paul and Glynne Gervais were a young couple in 1960. The two met while attending Knox College, got married at Grace Episcopal Church and moved into their first apartment in Paul’s hometown of Oak Park. 

Now in their mid-70s, the Gervaises remember paying $115-a-month in rent on the 400 block of South Taylor Street. 

But times were different back then, and after a year their landlord tripled the rent on the mixed-race couple. It would be another eight years before either the village of Oak Park or the federal government would pass fair housing legislation banning such discriminatory practices.

“You couldn’t even file a lawsuit,” Paul, 75, said during an afternoon interview on the Gervais’ back porch at their home in Oak Park. 

The couple is one of the 60 seniors over the age of 60 honored as part of fifth annual Celebrating Seniors Week in Oak Park. The Celebrating Seniors Coalition holds the weeklong event to promote senior citizens and the organizations that represent them and to raise awareness about issues that affect seniors.

The couple moved to Hyde Park and wouldn’t return to Oak Park for another decade.

“People started moving to Oak Park because of the fair housing ordinance,” Glynne, 76, said, with Paul noting that within two years of the passage of the housing ordinance “Oak Park had turned the corner” on such discrimination.

The couple, now retired, remembered their decades of living in Oak Park over a glass of iced tea on their backyard patio last week. It’s the first time either have been made the 60 over 60 list, and Paul says in his short biography in the Celebrating Seniors magazine, “I have no notion as to why I received this nomination. Maybe it’s because I was the first boy born in 1940 at West Suburban Hospital.”

He goes on to say that he suspects the honor was bestowed upon him because “I was the man smart enough to marry Glynne Gervais.”

Glynne said she left her last paying gig, at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, in 2005, but Paul said his wife has never really retired. He described her as a “chronic volunteer” who obeys the first rule of success  — “show up.”

She is a former president of the Village Manager Association, a nonprofit organization that helps recruit and vet candidates for public office. Glynne also served as chair of the village of Oak Park’s Community Development Block Grant Committee; tutors English-as-a-second-language students at Dominican Literacy Center; and volunteers with San Jose Obrero Mission for the Homeless. And the list goes on. 

And while Paul credits his wife for her accomplishments, he’s no slouch either. He worked in various positions for the state for more than three decades, ultimately administering the Illinois food stamp program through the Department of Public Aid.

The couple said that although times have changed, they never thought that in their lifetime they would see an African American take the nation’s highest office. Glynne proudly pulled up a photo of herself with Barack Obama when he was campaigning during his first run for the Illinois State Senate.

“I was impressed,” she said of the experience. “There was this sense of here’s somebody who’s going places.”

Through the afternoon, the couple remembered their marriage day and now nervous it made the pastor to marry a mixed-race couple. This was at a time when mixed-race marriage was illegal in 27 states, Paul said. “Indiana would have put you in jail for it,” he said.

With still a hint of an accent from her native New Orleans, Glynne noted that racism is generational. “If you go down south, you’ll see people who’ve grown up in the south and they still carry ideas from their parents that go back to the Civil War,” she said.

While their stories are too numerous to tell in a single news story, the Gervaises, and all seniors, have important stories to tell. 

“We can learn a lot from what happened, and telling the stories make it real,” Paul said. 

The Gervaises are both voracious readers, love gardening and cooking. They encouraged seniors to get active and continue to learn.

“At 75 you can be vital,” Paul said. “You’re vital and important and you are part of the community and you should not feel dismissed.”

Contact: tim@oakpark.com

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