By Dan Haley
Bobbie Raymond, a foundational figure in Oak Park's long experiment in racial integration, died Tuesday morning at Rush Medical Center in Chicago after an extended illness. She was 80.
Raymond was the founder and life force of the Oak Park Housing Center, a nonprofit focused on maintaining racial integration in Oak Park. It opened in 1972 in the basement of what is now First United Church.
The Housing Center grew from Raymond's 1960s master's thesis on integration and was a critical piece of Oak Park's visionary efforts to discover if long-term residential integration was possible.
With political and market forces conspiring to speed the resegregation of Chicago's West Side, many experts predicted that Oak Park would soon follow that path. The Housing Center was created to mitigate white flight, address issues of redlining and to boost white demand for housing in Oak Park.
"I and the staff of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center will greatly miss our strong founder, mentor and friend, Bobbie Raymond," said Michael Stewart, technical assistance/marketing director of the organization. "She was a very strong and feisty woman that loved Oak Park and did her best to work towards a strong, integrated, diverse and artful Oak Park and surrounding community."
After her retirement from the Housing Center, the native Oak Parker and Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, pursued her many other interests including painting, gardening, play writing, traveling.
She was a key figure in the rebirth of the OPRF Alumni Association and took great pride in its efforts to fund life-changing summer learning and travel experiences for high school students who were unlikely to have such opportunities.
But it was in housing and integration that Raymond, a former child actress, made her mark. As part of her work at the Housing Center, Raymond helped found the influential Oak Park Exchange Congress, which gathered the few like-minded communities from around America to share best practices on integration efforts. She was also among the founders of A Day in Our Village and a housewalk in the Austin neighborhood.
Sandra Sokol, former Oak Park village clerk and a longtime friend, said, "Oak Park was her life. She helped put Oak Park on the map."
Sandy Burns, Raymond's attorney, confirmed her death, reporting that Raymond had been "ill for a while. There were ups and downs." Burns said a memorial service will be planned.
Rob Breymaier, a successor of Raymond's in leading the Housing Center and also a District 97 school board member, said, "No other person has had such a profound and lasting influence on Oak Park."
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