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updated: 2/13/2014 4:47 PM

Rolling Meadows woman believed in justice for all

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  • In 2011, Rena Trevor talked about marching for voting rights in Selma, Ala.

      In 2011, Rena Trevor talked about marching for voting rights in Selma, Ala.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

A longtime human rights advocate, whose passion stretched from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to helping Rolling Meadows families in crisis in the 1990s, has died.

Rena Trevor died on Sunday. She was 87.

The daughter of a woman who helped found the Chicago chapter of the Ladies Garment Workers Union, Trevor marched in Selma, Ala., was the welfare officer for Rolling Meadows and co-founded the Women's Center at Harper College.

Trevor studied journalism at the University of Iowa, where she met her husband, William.

The family moved to Rolling Meadows in 1956, and much of her exposure to social justice issues came through her early membership in the League of Women Voters. Trevor twice led the local LWV chapter as president, and during her last year was honored for 50 years of active involvement.

"We were always very proud of her," says Pat Lindner of Arlington Heights, who co-led the League with Trevor from 1996-1998. "She had a tremendous impact on the membership and was a real inspiration."

In the early 1970s, Trevor took on a new endeavor, as a co-founder of the Women's Center at Harper College.

"She was an active, vocal and staunch supporter of the Women's Program," said Kathleen Canfield, a former director of the program. "She was just a dynamo who was driven to help other women be successful."

Trevor served as director of the program until 1991. She also worked with Kris Howard to mount Women's History Week exhibits on the campus each year.

Upon her retirement from Harper, Trevor filled a volunteer job as Rolling Meadows' welfare officer, distributing funds from the city's temporary family assistance fund.

In 1995, with the fund in jeopardy during budget hearings, Trevor lobbied hard for it to be maintained. The issue eventually went to residents in an advisory referendum, which they overwhelmingly passed, leading city leaders to reinstate it.

In 1999, she was profiled in a Daily Herald feature for Martin Luther King's birthday, that talked with seven suburbanites, both black and white, who fought for civil rights.

She described how on March 7, 1965, she was watching television when newscasters interrupted with coverage of "Bloody Sunday," the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery that was beaten back on the Pettis Bridge.

"It was just horrible, it was just terrible," Trevor said. "I was so incensed I talked about it with some Leaguers from here and I knew we were going to go."

She and her sister, Mimi, joined up with a busload of marchers organized by an Evanston church.

She recalled that tension-filled day in 1965 when she and 30,000 others gathered in Alabama to make a second try at march from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights.

"We arrived in the morning, about 10 o'clock. It was kind of misty, cloudy, but it was warm," she said.

People had congregated at St. Jude's in Montgomery, which allowed the marchers to camp overnight.

"I remember the smell of onions because of the trampling of the ground where the onions grew. And you could smell the onions and the ground was red, red clay," she recalled.

"It was amazing because I would say there around 30,000 people, and yet it was kind of quiet. There was a tremendous mix, a tremendous mix, not only of races, but of housewives, professionals, celebrities, field workers. It was very eclectic."

Trevor was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her four children and two grandchildren.

A 10 a.m. funeral Mass will be held today at St. Colette Church, 3900 Meadow Drive, in Rolling Meadows.

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