Bobbie Raymond, open housing pioneer, dies at 80

Founded Oak Park Housing Center to maintain integration

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

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."

Email: Twitter: @OPEditor

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Reader Comments

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James Helfer  

Posted: November 21st, 2019 3:24 PM

R.I.P. Bobby!! Was a great friend of my mother, Susan Helfer!!

Valerie Lester from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2019 4:15 PM

Thank you Bobbie. Oak Park is is a better place for your creativity and energy. The Housing Center continues to work every day to make sure Oak Park is an integrated community. We will treasure your book, art and memory.

Mary Duggan Philbin from Oak Park  

Posted: May 12th, 2019 4:27 PM

If my husband John were alive today, he would say that every word in this article about Bobbie was true. I am still alive -- and I can verify it as well. She was a wonderful woman, and an Oak Park institution. It's impossible to say enough good things about Bobbie's positive impact on the Oak Park community.

Rick Kuner from Oak Park  

Posted: May 11th, 2019 5:13 PM

Bobbie Raymond had strong, positive, and lasting impacts on Oak Park. Over 40 percent of the housing units in the Village are rental. Bobbie's research identified problems in our rental market so she founded the Housing Center as the mechanism to create and implement innovative programs to address them. All of us are better because of her work and dedication.

Delores Palmore from Oak Park Il  

Posted: May 10th, 2019 7:32 PM

Bobbie you were simply amazing. I was a Volunteer at the Housing Center. Also earn great tips at Cheny Manison when Dr. Raymond had Parties / Gathering RIP

Denise VanDusseldorp  

Posted: May 10th, 2019 11:57 AM

In the late summer of 1973, when my husband Jon Van and I were moving to Oak Park because he had been recruited by the Chicago Tribune, I saw an ad in Ms. Magazine, to which I subscribed, about the Oak Park Housing Center. I was so impressed that there was a helpful ad in Ms. Magazine! The ad said to ask for Bobbie Raymond, which I did whenI called from Des Moines. Didn't get to talk to Bobbie, but got some info, and we ended up renting the top floor of a large two-flat in the 300 block of South Scoville Avenue. Five years later, we bought the house across the street and lived there until 1998. Oak Park was an incredible place where we reared our two daughters and made great friends. As you may recall, I wrote for the Wednesday Journal and I was VOP's press officer for four years, 1990-1994. I loved living in OP. Best to you from Denise O'Brien Van

Lin Von Dreele  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 1:27 PM

In 1975 our family was drawn to Oak Park directly because of Bobbie and the Oak Park documentary on WTTW. Volunteering at the Housing Center, she became my mentor, leading me to 23 years of community organizing and research in Chicago . Her dogged dedication to fair housing plus her multiple community endeavors greatly contributed to Oak Park's sustainable vitality which can only be praised as befitting a life well lived. Bobbie touched many lives, including my own. Blessings, dear friend.

Mona Blaber  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 9:45 PM

This is such a loss. Bobbie truly was the patron saint of Oak Park. Just yesterday I found my dad's folder from a 1980s Oak Park Exchange Congress. I didn't know until just now that Bobbie founded the Oak Park Exchange Congress, but even as a little kid I remember hearing lots about Bobbie Raymond and her innovative tactics to help stop redlining and block-busting. What a legacy she leaves. Thanks for making Oak Park strive for better, Bobbie.

Carol Schneidereit  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 3:05 PM

And no mention of her love of French! There was (is?) an Oak Park French Club of which she was a member. We met weekly to learn and speak the French language. When I moved from OP in 1991 she was still a member. Adieu mon amie!

Rachel Self Rettberg from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 12:46 PM

I had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting Bobbie last year at a book reading. I was struck by her passion and devotion to Oak Park and equity - and her feistiness! I learnt so much in the short evening about the Fair Housing Ordinance and the founding of The Housing Center (as it was named). Now, as I work for a non-profit in Austin, I am even more thankful for Bobbie (and others) for their tireless work to ensure that the devastating effects of rapid racial change did not happen in Oak Park. Thank you Bobbie! May her memory serve as fuel to keep fighting for equity in Oak Park and in neighboring communities.

Jacqueline Ross  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 11:23 PM

Bobbie and I were friends for many years. Her love for Oak Park was second only to her love for her family. She was a force to be reckoned with no matter what cause she took up. As a community we are diminished by her loss she will be missed..

Kathleen Marie Garness from Forest Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 10:19 PM

Bobbie and I bonded over art and orchids. We were both involved with the Oak Park Art League, and for years she ran Sunday figure drawing sessions there. My son and I once visited her at her summer home in Door County; she was thrilled to show off her yellow ladyslippers. Some years later, I brought some of her watercolor paintings up to the Native Orchid Conference at the UW Green Bay to exhibit, when I was invited to speak there about orchid conservation. Our most recent conversation was about her concern for her artwork - she was going into the hospital (she refused to tell me where, which was typical of the private person she was) for an operation, and wasn't sure she would make it through. I'm so sorry to hear of my dear friend's passing. Bobbie loved her son and grandson above all else; was a strong advocate for nature, for the arts, for basic human decency and fair play. She did everything with intention and passion, and with a view of how to make the world a better place for others.. Our community has lost one of the kindest, most generous, spirited, and persistent people ever. I will miss her.

Julie Carpenter from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 7:17 PM

Agree with Carollina Song. Bobbie was a FORCE and enjoyed many interests and accomplishments. I am privileged to own several of her figurative paintings from her time at the Oak Park Art League (OPAL), where she was involved for more than 40 years as a board member and facilitator of the Sunday figure drawing sessions. She was passionate about her involvement at OPAL and so many other Oak Park institutions. She will be missed, but her venerable spirit will live on!

Tony Martinez from Chicago   

Posted: May 7th, 2019 6:58 PM

Bobbie was a wonderful member of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation family. Her contributions are countless. We will miss her dearly.

Dick McKinlay from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 6:40 PM

Bobbie Raymond was one of the most important founding pillars of a renewed, revitalized and progressive Oak Park. I first met Bobbie shortly after my wife and I moved to Oak Park in 1970, when we were all involved in a formative Economic Growth Group, which ultimately was one of the forces supporting the formation of the Economic Development Corporation. But Bobbie's overriding commitment was to combat racial segregation and provide for equal housing opportunity and racial diversity throughout the village. This gave birth to her founding the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which helped establish Oak Park at that time as a national symbol of successful suburban "integration"?"a goal that has proved to be more challenging and elusive than it first appeared, but one which she never stopped pursuing in all of its broader connotations. But Bobbie always had several additional goals that spanned the breadth of the revivified community she helped to create, whether as an artist member of the Oak Park Art Center, a dance student and supporter of the Academy of Movement and Music, a founder of the First Tuesday cinema, or a member of one of the many groups and associations which have flourished in Oak Park since she and other visionaries committed to the reshaping of this community. Her contributions are woven into many strands of the fabric of Oak Park, and will not be soon forgotten.

John Abbott from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 6:16 PM

So sad to hear this. We knew her mainly from her stewardship of the Alumni Association, yet another way in which she made a difference in so many lives. A life well worth celebrating, and an inspiring example for generations to come.

Sharon Cassin Frame from Madison WI  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 5:53 PM

Very, very sad to hear this news. Bobbie Raymond was a big part of our Cassin family life, as we kids were growing up. She was a coworker and community collaborative partner with our mom and dad, along with so many wonderful people in the Open Housing initiative in Oak Park decades ago. I will be seeing my mom, Ginie Cassin, later today and spending several days with her in Madison WI. I will be sure to let her know of Bobbie's passing. Rest in peace to a real mover and shaker in Oak Park, and a strong mentor for the Cassin family. Tim Cassin Sean E Cassin Brian Cassin

Al Rossell  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 5:42 PM

She was wonderful to work with and a breath of fresh air, particularly in the early days of Oak Park's acceptance of open housing. The housing center and assistance to the real estate industry played a great role at that time. She stood tall amongst the bigots despite her tiny size. Great lady and great legacy. RIP

Barbara J Plona  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 5:11 PM

I did not know her....but I knew of her. And I know that Oak Park is a much, much better place because Bobbie Raymond was here.

Joyce Wiedemann  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 5:05 PM

She changed families and lives... I am a product of that "Integration" experiment.... my son will graduate from Howard University and my youngest Rachel graduated from Wayne State and is a practicing therapist.. My life in Oak Park stands as colossal... I stand in gratitude ..... simply and humbly put. Joyce Wiedemann

Janet Haisman  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 5:02 PM

One can tell that Dan Haley KNEW Bobbie Raymond and her vital involvement in Oak Park over her lifetime. It's great to have this outlined so well, and it's a history that all of us should remember and pass along to the youth and newer members of our community. Of course, she did not do this alone, but she was, indeed, a driving force. May she rest in peace.

Jay Schulman  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 4:56 PM

Her backyard has been empty the past few weeks as she hasn't been able to be out in the garden that she loves. It will be hard to imagine her garden without her.

Suzanne Vestuto from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 4:43 PM

We'll miss u Bobbie!! A force for good & decency in fair housing & so many aspects of life in our beloved community! All my very best to her family, her former staff, friends & neighbors! ??'???'?

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 4:26 PM

"Foundational." That is exactly right. Bobbie was such a little thing physically and yet a towering, forceful presence. In addition to the Housing Center, off of the top of my head, i know that Bobbie Raymond left her imprint on the schools (especially OPRFHS and its Alumni Association), the Community Foundation, the League of Women Voters, the Art League, the garden club, Harrison Street, and probably dozens of other organizations and activities that I'm not recalling or didn't know about. Because she was interested in EVERYTHING. She will be missed.

Stephanie Clemens from OAK PARK  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 4:18 PM

Bobbie Raymond was a dear friend - she loved dance and was a great support to the Academy, MOMENTA and the Doris Humphrey Society. She took classes for years, and was often lost in a group of children as she was so tiny and looked so young!

Theresa Guarino Lipo  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 4:11 PM

No one was more dedicated to Oak Park and River Forest High School. Thank you from generations of alumni.

Jack Crowe from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:52 PM

A life well lived.

Renee Geweniger Zoltowski  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:44 PM

Bobbie was a friend and a wonderful human being. She wrote a children's book about sea creatures and donated hundreds of copies to children in Jamaica, her favorite destination. I will miss her.

David Gullo  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:31 PM

Jim Kelly is spot on. One of Oak Park's saints has passed.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:15 PM

And typing on my phone, I misspelled her name, twice! Oh, Bobbie, I know you'd have a word or two for me about that!

Jim Kelly  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:13 PM

It's impossible to exaggerate the value of her contributions and spirit that she generously bestowed on Oak Park during a half-century of selfless service.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:13 PM

I am so saddened by this news...Bobbi made it seem like she'd live forever. I am so grateful to have had the times I had with her. Peace to you, Bobbi. And, thank you.

Gregg Kuenster from River Forest  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:04 PM

Bobbie was a friend and neighbor most of both our lives. She had a sweet disarming manner and was not shy or versed in political correctness. Recently she was supportive our struggles with racism in River Forest. She encouraged our recent foray into local politics. She would give us advise in a way that would appear to be ordinary conversation rather than direction. Many times this advise was given in four feet of water at Rehm pool. She was a smart coherent small pale skinned super sweet pea up to the very end. We will miss her dearly. The Kuensters

Elizabeth Titus Rexford  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 3:01 PM

What sad news! Bobbie spoke with a clear and impassioned voice whenever she saw injustice. I will miss her terribly.

Donald Vogel  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:49 PM

A towering oak has fallen. Rest In Peace.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:44 PM

We were neighbors of Bobbie for many years. In addition to her work with the Housing Center, she served on many boards and loved gardening. She was a regular at our block parties and always shared stories about Oak Park history.

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:30 PM

It was an honor to work with her!

Susan Beyersdorf Beach  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:28 PM

Bobbie was a long time friend and neighbor whose commitment to Oak Park never wavered. She will be deeply missed.

Cathy Craddock  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:25 PM

My condolences go out to the family of Bobbie Raymond, she will definitely be missed. She would always tell me about her grandson, and ask how my grandchildren were whenever we saw each other. A very wonderful person

Karen Herman DeMuro from PLAINFIELD  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:24 PM

Bobbie was a force to be reckoned with! A visionary in the purest sense of the meaning and a significant player in Oak Park's history. Prayers and thoughts for her family.

Yves Hughes  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:21 PM

RIP Bobbie, you will be missed.

Susan M. Bending-Wienke Roberts  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 2:20 PM

Thank you Bobbie Raymond for your contributions to Oak Park.

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