Over the past two weeks, Oak Park has lost two consequential people. We want to take note.
Dr. Gerald Clay died Nov. 4 at 81. A remarkable and good man, Dr. Clay was an early leader on issues of equity, inclusion and educational advocacy in Oak Park. He founded APPLE — African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education — as the first organization respecting and raising the voice of Black parents in both District 97 and District 200. APPLE was a noisy voice that often annoyed and baffled school leaders who were still in denial about the profound roots of racism in our schools. APPLE was also pragmatic and nurturing in its work to gather Black parents as a cohesive force and in touching the lives of Black students, especially at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Dr. Clay was likewise instrumental in creating a program for young Black male youth as they moved toward manhood. Rites of Passage was profound and engaging for a generation of young men. And he was a co-founder with Lanny Lutz of Black/White Dialogue, an effort to bring Oak Parkers together for the hard work of talking about race.
Dr. Clay was also regularly in the ear of Wednesday Journal editors and reporters as we worked to grow our thinking on the insidiousness of institutional racism in Oak Park. He was smart, generous and kind. And he will be missed.
Thanks to George Bailey for his remembrance of Dr. Clay in last week’s paper.
Barbara Ballinger, Oak Park’s longtime head librarian, died Nov. 14 at the glorious age of 97. In a loving obituary by Jessica Mackinnon in today’s Journal, there are so many voices calling out the virtues and delights of this wonderful woman.
A true leader in growing and evolving our libraries into the essential and core institution it is today, Ballinger set the tone that public libraries were welcoming places, welcoming for all. She is also credited with helping birth the interlibrary loan system across the west suburbs in the 1970s, a service we now take for granted.
She also built the Hemingway collection and an Oak Park history collection at the library. In a long retirement she was active in the Hemingway Foundation, at First United Church, in the arts, and in social justice work.
Ms. Ballinger was gracious and persuasive, a gentle force to be reckoned with and a steady friend and colleague. There will never be another Barbara Ballinger.