Waukegan homeless center renamed in lawmaker’s honor
BY DAN MORAN firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2011 9:58PM
Flor Luis-Washington of Waukegan, the widow of state Rep. Eddie Washington, speaks during a dedication ceremony at the former Staben Center in Waukegan, which is renamed the Eddie Washington Center for Men. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2011 2:10AM
WAUKEGAN — After Friday morning’s rainy weather forced celebrants to move indoors for the re-dedication of the Staben Center in honor of the late Eddie Washington, it was not lost on Greg Petry when power inside the South Avenue building briefly flickered as he paid tribute to Washington.
“This is Eddie talking,” the Waukegan Park District executive director said to laughter and applause. “He’s getting the message.”
The message from more than 100 people packed into the former Waukegan Fire Department station is that Washington’s spirit will live on through the mission of the center, which opened in 1993 to offer transitional housing and assistance to homeless men.
“Brother Eddie is definitely not dead,” said Brotha Chris Blanks of the National Action Network/Lake County, adding that “he is very much alive” through the ongoing work toward social justice and equality.
“He was truly a champion for the cause of homelessness in our community,” said 5th Ward Ald. Edith Newsome. “Even when he was down in Springfield, he never forgot about Waukegan ... He was always helping those who were less fortunate.”
Washington, who was elected in 2003 to represent the shoreline’s 60th House District in the Illinois General Assembly, died in June 2010 at age 56. With Friday’s honor, the former Staben Center at 422 South Ave. will now be known as the Eddie Washington Center for Men.
Among those turning out for the ceremony were Staben Center Advisory Council Chairman Phil Carrigan, Pastor A.C. Conley of Antioch Baptist Church in Waukegan, 1st Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham and state Rep. William Davis of Chicago,
Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones pointed out that the Staben House at 3000 Grand Ave., which serves homeless women and their children, will continue to carry the family name of former township Supervisor Milton E. Staben and his son, Peter.
“We don’t want to forget about the Staben name,” said Jones, recalling Milton Staben’s 16-year tenure as supervisor, and how his son, an attorney, would often represent homeless clients at no cost. Both Milton and Peter Staben died in the months before the Staben Center opened in October 1993.
One of the men who graduated from the former Staben Center, Barry Baker, told the crowd that he found it a safe harbor after losing his home a few years ago and seeing “everything I worked for my whole entire life sitting on the front lawn.”
“Eddie Washington was concerned with the success of the (center’s) program. That is why, in my opinion, the name change is fitting,” Baker said. “He recognized that the center was giving a hand up, and not a handout.”
After helping unveil new signage and cutting a commemorative ribbon, Washington’s widow, Flor Washington, told the gathering that she felt her late husband’s spirit reflected by the people who came out to pay him tribute.
“I can feel the love in here. When I came in this door, I felt like Eddie was here,” she said. “I can just feel that everybody here in this room today will be energized, because they can feel the inspiration.”