The Austin Green Team Memorial Recognition Ceremony is the day each May when families come out to see their loved ones honored. On May 19, the Austin Green Team honored nine individuals for their leadership and contributions for community. This year the team honored their first police officer, Jose Vazquez, who once worked in Austin’s 15th District.

Honorees this year were W.C. Wilburn, Rev. William Ivy, James Colvin, Anna Finkley, Mary Meeks, Marjorie Jones, Pat Bridge, William Webster and Officer Vazquez. Each individual’s name is engraved on bricks and a family member places it in a slot that has been prepared in the Memorial Garden. Recognition bricks are similar to Hollywood’s Walk of fame. Names of Austin community leaders, activists and contributors can be viewed at any time and the engraved names are eternal tributes to their service.

The ceremony always begins with prayer by one Austin’s stalwarts, Rev. Elizabeth Bynum. Mattie Holmes welcomed everyone stating, “A lot of the people we are honoring today did so much for people.”

George Lawson, vice president of the Austin Green Team, said to everyone, “Old scout leaders ask me what happened to scouting? There are no leaders. Where are the leaders coming from? We saw fit to have our ‘little sprouts’ to be ready to replace us, somebody is going to put my brick out here and so those little sprouts are all we got to look forward to, and we work with them. Lakesha Kneeland didn’t ask anybody to help her. We would be lost without her.”

The “little sprouts” came together to each recite an individual Bible verse under the leadership of Lakesha Kneeland.

Under President Mary Peery’s leadership, the Austin Green Team has one “big” dream, and that is to have a sign for the Memorial Garden.

“I won’t give up,” Peery said. “There have been a few leaders who said they will help, but so far we are still without a sign. Maybe it will take Mayor Daley to come out to our garden and see what we have done so we can get a sign. We seek the help of all our elected officials, organizations and community leaders.”

This past February, Officer Jose Vazquez, 34, was off duty and returning home from a second job and had just gotten some fast food at a White Castle for himself and his wife when he was fatally shot around 1:47 a.m. in an alley behind the 2500 block of West Harrison Street.

Former 15th District commander and now Assistant Deputy Superintendent Eugene Williams read a statement from Officer Vazquez’s family, who were on hand along with about a dozen officers from the 15th District. Some excerpts:

“In June 1998, Officer Vazquez joined the Chicago Police Department, and he was assigned to the Grand Central District where he devoted himself for six years before he was promoted to Special Operations in 2004. Officer Vazquez received two department accommodations awards, 38 honorable mentions, and two complimentary letters during his career. A very hard-working individual, Officer Vazquez carried out his demanding duties as a police officer, worked a second job as a private security guard and devoted time to his studies at Calumet College where he had recently received a master’s degree. A kind and truly remarkable human being, his dedication to public service never waned. Officer Vazquez will always be remembered as a distinguished son of Chicago.”

The Austin Green Team members are Paul Aeschleman, J.B. Carr, Maxine Creightney, Irma Ferber, Willie Ferber, Missouri Graves, Mattie Holmes, Donna Kanapes, Lakesha Kneeland, George Lawson, Bessie Luckey, Willie Macon, Juline McClinton, Bennie Meeks, Ellen Newcomer, Mary Peery, Vivian Reed, Mattie Riley, Julie Samuels. Vera Watson and Cora Williams.

Mary Peery welcomes new members and anyone who can help with getting a sign can call her at 773/287-4129