WATERTOWN — The beauty of it all overwhelmed her.
Edna White couldn’t believe that a project she helped launch had finally come to fruition. In the middle of a busy neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, she and other volunteers created a community garden in 1993.
As the editor at the time of the local weekly newspaper in that area, I took photos of work being done at the garden shortly after the initiative began. At one point, Edna stopped to behold the wonder of what was occurring.
The garden was in the early stages, to be sure. But Edna visualized what would be planted in each part of it and how lovely these additions would look. The notion delighted her to no end.
This site is unique among community gardens in that it has “native prairie grasses and indigenous plants mixed in among raised vegetable beds and staked tomato plants,” according to a story published Oct. 13, 2017, by the Daily Southtown.
It took years to clean up the space and test the soil before it could become a community garden. And the garden eventually had to be relocated to a nearby spot because of the construction of a new police station.
But it remains a jewel in the Chicago community in which I grew up. And Edna White was one of the pioneers who helped push it through.
My thoughts recently turned to Edna for a couple of reasons.
The office shooting in Watertown on April 28 shocked city residents. Public violence has been a growing concern across the country, and the deaths of Maxine M. Quigg of Wellesley Island and Terence M. O’Brien of Black River stunned those who were close to them. They co-owned Bridgeview Real Estate Services in Watertown, and both were well known for the leadership roles they took on.
This reminded me of the grief that spread throughout my neighborhood in 1993 when Edna White died following a violent altercation. In her quiet way, she exemplified good citizenship and effective community activism.
Edna also comes to my mind on Mother’s Day. While she and her husband never had children of their own, she grew close to the son of a dear friend of hers — in fact, he regularly called Edna “Mom” and relied heavily on her after the death of his own mother.
Tragically, Edna died at his hands. A troubled young man, he was in and out of prison. She gave him money from time to time, but he often used it to buy drugs.
So Edna resolved to help him in other ways but to stop giving him money. On a July day in 1993, he stopped by her house for a visit. He asked for some money, but she refused.
While Edna was out of her living room for a moment, the young man grabbed her purse to look for some cash. She took it back when she returned, and he grew furious.
Edna had previously given him an apple to eat along with a paring knife. Once she took back her purse, he grabbed the knife and plunged it into Edna’s chest. She soon bled to death inside her home.
The young man couldn’t believe he killed the woman he looked upon as his own mother and fled the scene. He eventually pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.
Edna’s death at the age of 79 saddened everyone who knew her. She left an indelible impression on our community, one that lingers today.
The community garden Edna helped start just months before her death was later renamed in her honor. Here is how the garden is described in the article by the Daily Southtown:
“It is a place where butterflies linger on the petals of asters, tomato vines now hang heavy with fruit and sunflowers reach to the heavens. Just a stone’s throw from the intersection of Monterey Avenue and the I-57 expressway, the Edna White Memorial Garden, one of Chicago’s first community gardens, is known among locals as a place where bees come to bulk up and humans come to let go. Nestled between Morgan Park High School and the Chicago Police Department’s District 22 station, the garden is an acre of colorful loveliness amid a landscape of pavement and brick.”
Nothing can replace the wonderful people in our lives who die. While death is inevitable, we humans have trouble dealing with it because of the void it leaves in our hearts.
This sense of loss is exacerbated when deaths result from violence. Good people being murdered is incomprehensible.
So their absence will remain with us forever. But the work they accomplished continues to benefit others.
In this way, their legacy survives. And whether it’s in Northern New York or on Chicago’s South Side, this is a true blessing. We should all strive to leave our mark in such a noble manner.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.