Footprints from OTTA’s Past! I am re-presenting a column that was printed in VOL 3, N0.1 from the January-February 1964 Old Town Newsletter. It was titled—An Orchid to Jessie Blouke. The history this article provides is most instructive. “This column represents a belated bow of salutation and recognition to the very many dedicated individuals who both pioneered and labored hard and long to make the Old Town Triangle what it is today”. Our very first special orchid goes to Mrs. Jessie Blouke, 1810 N. Orleans St.
In 1941, when Jessie and Pierre Blouke moved into 1810 with one child, the entire area was a virtual slum, due for land clearance at some nebulous future date. Taking their courage and pocketbook in hand, they dared to modernize and deconvert 1810 into a single-family dwelling. 1944 now saw 3 children in the family, and the first neighborhood cooperative play area in their front yard—organized with 10 other families. Two national magazines thought enough of this effort to write it up… the play area was the direct precursor of the Menomonee Club, first germinated in 1945. The Blouke’s roots were down deep in the area by now (4 children in the family) and things were starting to change for the better.
As one of the founding “Mothers” of the OTTA, Jessie Blouke devoted “blood, sweat and tears” to making it both feasible and workable. Because of her devotion to duty, she was also made Director of the Menomonee Club in 1949.
Jessie was one of the very first pioneer-founders of the Old Town Art Fair in 1950—which started off merely as a neighborhood get-together, with everyone invited to participate in showing their amateur or professional skills in a wide gamut of creative effort. She also served as Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Art Fair. The YWCA nominated Jessie as Volunteer-of-the Year in 1954; she was one of 6 finalists at the State Street Council Awards.
Finding spare time palling, Jessie in succeeding years managed to run a busy household and serve as: Chairman of NCCJ (National Council for Community and Justice) Brotherhood Week; member of Board of Metropolitan YWCA; committee member at Parker School, Menomonee Boy’s Club and the Triangle Association; member of the Governing Committee for the Lincoln Senior Center; organizer for “Inurbia Tour” for Francis W Parker; member of the OTTA Board of Directors; member of the Executive Committee Women’s Board of Parker School; member Board Director Lincoln Park Zoological Society and serving member of the Community Board of the Joint Youth Development.
Space prohibits the inclusion of many other activities…all of which kind of leaves one rather breathless. And today—ask a volunteer to work on a necessary neighborhood project…ask for a chairman for a needed committee—and you are never turned down by Jessie Blouke, who carries a volunteer work schedule that would stagger most people!”
It is on the shoulders of founders like Jessie Blouke we do our best to continue the magnificent history of our beloved OTTA and its neighborhood involvement. We always have room for more volunteers. Please encourage your friends and neighbors to join the OTTA—we need everyone’s help in maintaining the vibrancy of our beloved neighborhood association.