Mary Peery, the well-known founder of the Austin Green Team, died on Friday, Nov. 10 after a lengthy illness. She was 91 years old. Green Team member Vera Watson confirmed Peery’s death earlier this week.
The Green Team, an organization that’s become renowned for its prolific planting of gardens throughout the West Side, was founded by Peery in 1995. She had been the group’s president since her retirement in 2016, Watson said.
“She was not only concerned about her block, but other blocks that had vacant lots in the area, so she began to recruit other people and showed them how they could turn ugly vacant lots into beautiful flower and vegetable gardens,” Watson recalled, referencing the Green Team’s origins.
In addition to the organization’s flagship garden on the corner of Huron and Latrobe, the Green Team has seven other gardens that it planted, all under the steady, guiding hand of Peery, who Watson said had to have been born to garden.
Peery was born on Dec. 16, 1925, on a farm in Roxie, Mississippi, where her father raised vegetables that he sold. She was the oldest child and fell in love with gardening while farming beside her father.
She moved to Chicago, got married, birthed two daughters — Neva Hardaway and Geraldine Green — and got a job working in a steel mill for 30 years before flourishing in retirement. The Green Team, Watson said, grew out of Peery’s backyard garden.
In 1989, Peery was instrumental in the demolition of an abandoned building on her block. And along with her sister, Leola Spann and the Botanic Gardens, she started the first community garden in the Austin area.
Peery went on to local renown through her gardening efforts, winning a slew of awards, including an acknowledgement from former Chicago mayor Richard Daley. Her photo currently hangs in the Daley Center, Watson said.
“She labored so hard for freedom for over 30 years in the Austin area,” Watson said. “When we’d be out in the garden and it looked like it was going to rain, she’d tell us she had a line through to God and that it wouldn’t rain until she got her work done. And right when we got the last shovel on the truck, it would pour down. She’d say, ‘Thank you Lord, my work is done.'”
Peery’s viewing will be held on Friday, Nov. 17, at Jordan Shepherd Funeral Home, 418 S. Cicero, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Her funeral will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18, at the JLM Center, 2622 W. Jackson. The wake will be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., when the funeral will start and last until 12 p.m.