For years, Mary Peery — the revered founder of the Austin Green Team and perhaps the West Side’s most prolific planter — presided regally over these brick-laying memorials at Heroes Park, on the corner of Washington and Laramie.
The bricks are reserved for local community leaders who have died and left enduring legacies on the West Side. On May 19, Peery, who died in November at 91, now has a brick of her own in the garden. It will lay beside that of her husband, Joe Louis Peery, who preceded her in death.
Peery’s headstrong personality is the stuff of lore, her stubbornness so strong that there were trace elements of it during the overcast ceremony.
“She’s smiling down on all of us and I know she’s up there telling somebody what to do,” said Vera Watson, an Austin Green Team member who worked closely with Peery. Watson called her “the first mother of all of these gardens.”
Other bricks were given in honor of local leaders like former Chicago Police commander Claudell Ervin, the father of Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who died in December at 74.
“Austin has always been part of me and I think this is a befitting honor for him and for the number of years he worked in Austin,” Ervin said. “This is really an honor for him and for the work that he’s done.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago police officer, said on Saturday that he recalled Claudell Ervin from his days as on the force. Ervin said that Ervin was his commander at the police academy.
He really laid the foundation for all police officers coming through that training academy that he commanded,” Taliaferro said of Ervin. “He talked about respect and how we would have to give it in order to get it from others. I took that with me throughout my whole career.”
When it was time to rest Peery’s brick, the largest of them all, into its cavity, a groundskeeper broke his mallet.
“Stubborn, just like Mary,” someone quipped, inciting laughter — the tears, having been shed earlier in the ceremony.
“There’s a little joke,” said George Lawson, a member of the Austin Green Team. “I used to tell Mary where I wanted my brick to go. Mary would say, ‘Don’t worry about it. They’ll find a space for you.’ Now I have the honor of giving Mary’s brick. There are so many of you here to honor Mary, as if she’s here herself.”