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updated: 8/8/2013 6:51 PM

Woman, 90, was part of one of Elgin's pioneer black families

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  • Mary Louise West

    Mary Louise West


A member of one of Elgin's pioneer black families who died earlier this month at 90 is being remembered as a devout Christian who never failed to enjoy life.

Mary Louise West died Aug. 1 of a stroke she suffered the day she was going to be discharged from the hospital after a lung cancer operation, said her son, Lewis West, of Elgin.

"First and foremost, she was a Christian. She loved life, and she loved the Lord," he said. "She was 90 going on 50 -- she drove, she cooked all her meals, she did everything."

As the matriarch of the family, his mother liked to tell stories about the family's migration from Alabama in the 19th century, her son said.

Her grandmother was an infant when she arrived in Elgin in 1862, along with other freed slaves.

"She loved Elgin. In her younger days she bought property in Colorado. She was thinking of building a place out there. But she never did," West said.

His father, L.C. West, lives in a nursing home, he said.

Mary West attended Shorewood Bible Church in Rolling Meadows, and she went to Bible study in Huntley once a week.

"When the weather was bad and they were thinking of calling (Bible study) off, mom and her sister (Nioma Howard of Elgin) would show up. They were dedicated," Lewis West said.

Always outgoing, Mary West had a lot of friends and was an enthusiastic member of an exercise group at The Centre of Elgin, her son said.

"She was a good listener, and she gave you her advice -- whether you wanted it or not," he said.

She was also was a longtime member of the ladies auxiliary of the Elgin Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a member of the Mary Wheeler Chapter of the American War Mothers.

Mary West graduated from Elgin High School in 1941, and worked for 35 years as a medical secretary at the Elgin Mental Health Center, formerly Elgin State Hospital.

That's where she met her friend, Ina Dews, of Elgin, who started working there as a seamstress in 1967.

Mary West was very giving, but also very determined, Dews said.

"She always had high goals. She loved to travel, and after she retired, she really traveled" to places like Alaska and Europe, Dews said. "She was great in many ways, and she followed her dreams."

Mary West is also survived by another son, Kendall West, of Elgin; another sister, Wanda Austin, of California; a stepdaughter, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. followed by a service at 11 a.m. Friday at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1100 Summit St., Elgin.

The Rev. Richard Jordan of Shorewood Bible Church will officiate. Burial will be private.

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