Contributing to the community

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
The village of Urbancrest recently recognized nine individuals who have made significant contributions to the community at its annual Black History Celebration. While a majority of the honorees have passed – the exception being Prudence Graham-Duncan, Steve Gibson and Deborah Wallace – their relatives were in attendance at the ceremony to honor the efforts they made toward making the village “a more prosperous place to live and thrive.” Pictured here with Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. at the ceremony are two of the living honorees and the relatives of those who have passed. The names italicized in the parentheses denote the names of the deceased recipients. First row from left to right: Lora V. Yanni (Grace W. Hairston), Tracy Turner (Oliver Walker), Terry Thomas (William Trout) and Sandra Saunders (Mary Evelyn Vester-Cray). Second row from left to right: Deborah Wallace, Nathaniel Collins (James Henry Craig), Timothy Burge (Lois Burge), Steve Gibson, and Barnes Sr. Neither Prudence Graham-Duncan nor a family representative were able to attend the Feb. 23 ceremony.

The village of Urbancrest hosted its 16th annual Black History Celebration on Feb. 23. Nine individuals were recognized during the ceremony for their contributions toward the development and the advancement of the community.

“These people have put so much time and effort toward making this village, this community, a more prosperous place to live and thrive,” said Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr, who also served as the emcee of the night’s ceremony.

Those honored included some of the first members on the village council and several community activists and advocates.

Receiving the Distinguished Service Award, which typically goes to community members who have served in the administrative office, on the village council, or on a public board, were:

•James Henry Craig, a council member who served in the early 1950s. In addition to being known for his volunteerism, he was also a supportive husband to Ellen Walker Craig-Jones, the first African American woman elected to a municipality in the country.

•Mary Evelyn (Kemper) Vester-Cray, a council member who served in the mid to late 1950s. She was known throughout the village for her humanitarianism.

•Prudence Graham-Duncan, a council member who was known as an avid community leader and an advocate for the Girls Scouts.

•Grace W. Hairston, a council member who served in the late 1940s. She was known as an advocate for education who initiated the purchase of the first school bus for students in Urbancrest.

•William Trout, a council member who served in the late 1940s. He was also known as the beloved Deacon at Union Baptist Church.

•Oliver Walker, a council member who served during the late 1940s. He was known throughout the village for his volunteerism.

What made the recipients of the Distinguished Service Award so special, said Barnes, was the fact that they “laid the foundation” for what the village is today.

“They were the founding fathers and founding mothers of Urbancrest, of everything here,” he said. “Because most of them served back in the 1940s and 1950s when the village was just getting itself established, they actually laid and built the foundation that we are standing on today.”

He went on to say that he believes the village has been “blessed” by their involvement with local politics and their willingness to help others in the community.

“We are blessed because they believed in ‘us and them’ and not ‘I and me,’” he said.

Receiving the Mayor Ellen Walker Craig-Jones Community Service Award, which typically goes to residents and non-residents who have made a significant contribution to the community through an act of kindness or through service were:

•Lois Burge, a former member of the board of zoning appeals who was known for her willingness to “lend a hand and an ear” to anyone in the community.

•Steve Gibson, the chief executive officer of American Awards who has volunteered and made financial contributions to causes and events within the village.

•Deborah Wallace, a longtime resident who is known for her “helping spirit” and her willingness to donate her time and possessions to those in need.

What made the recipients of the Mayor Ellen Walker Craig-Jones Community Service Award so special, said Barnes, was their willingness to give their time and resources to causes that would benefit the community as a whole.

“They put in extra effort to make sure that when things needed to be done in the village they got done,” he said. “When other people would say ‘no, they were the ones who would always say ‘yes.’”

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