By Karen Ann Cullotta, Tribune reporter | 12:21 p.m. CST, January 28, 2014
When Wilmette officials announced they were resurrecting the tradition of honoring a local person of the year, housing advocate Gail Schechter quickly nominated a fellow advocate she said is known for her calm and grace when building bridges between disparate factions of the community.
“Lorelei (McClure) is one of these people who is a little like Nelson Mandela — very commanding in a quiet way and never letting us forget the oneness of humanity,” said Schechter, executive director of the non-profit Winnetka-based Open Communities. “She is now building Wilmette Cares, but she’s been a leader working for racial unity for decades.”
McClure was honored by the Wilmette Human Relations Commission this month for her volunteer work in the community.
The chairman of Wilmette Cares and a former official of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the U.S., McClure was appointed by Wilmette village President Bob Bielinski in November as one of seven residents on an ad hoc committee seeking private funds for the village’s housing assistance program, which was discontinued as part of budget cuts.
“We have very talented volunteers in the village,” said Bielinski, who attended a recent ceremony honoring McClure. “The ad hoc committee’s work is going tremendously well, and it’s amazing how much they’ve done already to contribute to the entire community.”
A former chairman of the North Shore Race Unity Task Force, McClure helped to create the “Putting Race Unity Into Practice” curriculum for Chicago and suburban schools in 1997 — a leadership program that was recognized by the White House, Schechter said.
In addition, McClure was one of the founding committee members of RELATE — Religious Leaders Acting Together for Equality — a social justice unity group formed following the July 1999 racially-motivated shootings and murder of former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong by a Wilmette native, Benjamin Smith.
Smith, 21, who killed Indiana University graduate student Won Joon Yoon, a Korean, outside a Bloomington, Ind., church, also shot Orthodox Jews and Asians on Chicago’s North Side before committing suicide, according to Tribune reports.
McClure helped write a mission statement from RELATE that was signed by religious leaders denouncing “fear of the Other” in the North Shore, which they said stemmed in part from segregated housing, Schechter said.
The following year, after a white supremacist group announced plans to stage a demonstration at the Skokie Circuit Court, McClure joined forces with another Baha’i member to distribute stickers to residents declaring, “No Room in my Heart for Prejudice,” Schechter said.
Gerald Smith, chairman of Wilmette’s Human Relations Commission, said McClure was chosen from among several person of the year nominations, all of which detailed wonderful contributions volunteers are making each day in the community.
“We wanted to recognize an individual who has been exceptional in giving their service and time in the community, and we were all just taken by Lorelei’s commitment and service,” Smith said.
For her part, McClure quietly accepted the award, thanking her supporters but also pointing out that her appointment to the new housing committee speaks volumes about the importance of respectful partnerships, even when there are differences of opinion.
“They knew that as chairman of Wilmette Cares, I am rooted in the idea that the village should take on a greater share of the affordable housing program — administratively, financially and philosophically,” McClure said. “Yet the village still appointed me to the ad hoc committee in the face of that. We have a really sincere relationship with President Bielinski, who has showed he is open to listening to us.”
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